First of all a general review of the fantastic new Center Parcs and then a few tips and bits of information for families with an autistic family member that might be useful.
We've been to other Center Parcs in the past and we've always had an amazing family holiday, this was no exception. We arrived for early check in and got through the gates with only about half an hour queue and went straight to our accommodation which was great, all very comfortable and well-appointed and the free wifi throughout Woburn was very useful.
From there straight down to the swimming pool which was amazing, we were in it for at least 5 hours per day and the children would have happily stayed for longer. Particular mention to the amazing staff in the swimming pool (and elsewhere) who were all helpful, friendly and looked like they loved their jobs. These staff are a fantastic asset to Center Parcs, particular mention to Jono who ran the aquajetting course my 8 year old son went on (recommended). The wrist bands were very convenient for the lockers and for buying snacks in the pool.
Now for the bits that might be useful for families with autistic members. My daughter Jessica is 6 and at 1.2 metres tall she was able to go on all the rides which was fantastic. She is non-verbal but the main challenge we currently face is that she doesn't perceive any danger of being separated from us so, to allow her to play freely, we are always checking routes in and out of an area so that we can monitor her whilst giving her a bit of space to roam. She doesn't have issues with loud noises or busy environments and can cope with unfamiliar settings. It is worth mentioning that she is very confident in the water and doesn't require buoyancy aids which means she was able to go down the rapids. CP will not allow children to go down the rapids unless they can swim without floats so bear this in mind if your child needs them to avoid disappointment, the same could be said for the height requirements on the slides. Some are 1.1m, others 1.2m, so worth checking to avoid getting to the top and being turned away.
One of the pleasant surprises was that we hardly had to queue for any of the slides, even on the change over days. I think this was because there were so many different areas in the pool with loads of things to do so it never felt busy and it was always easy to find a seat.
There's a great play area in the pool for children with no height requirements and 3 or 4 great little water slides called Venture Harbour which was a real hit with Jess and also her older brother who is 8. Their 2 year old cousin enjoyed it too. My one criticism is that it first looks like an ideal space to "control" as it's all fenced in however there is a small exit to the rear of the area leading to the outside area of the pool. It was possible to keep an eye on this but it did make it harder to allow Jess the sort of free play she likes without having to watch her every second.
I had a similar issue with the playground attached to "Hucks" restaurant, on arrival I did my usual inspection of the area and despite my huge experience in this area I completely missed a second gate into the playground. I thought I had the only way in or out covered only to subsequently look up to see that Jess was making a run for it and was already 200 metres ahead of me!
In the accommodation patio doors and the front doors could not be key locked from the inside but one would expect this, in addition one window only can be fully opened (the rest have retainers on them). The front door did however have a chain on the inside positioned up high which stopped Jess escaping that way.
For peace of mind my wife slept in a room with Jess and we used a Howsar portable door lock to lock the door from the inside. £6 well spent on the Howsar! Sure Jess could have disassembled it but once it was on she just settled in for the night instead. A couple of portable door alarms might have been useful but it was easy enough to keep an eye on her during the day.
All in all a very autism friendly place, I appreciate the challenges vary from one person to another but we found it easy to have an amazing family holiday that we all enjoyed.
I should also mention that CP quickly responded to my requests for information and were able to accommodate us on a couple of things we needed.
All in all an amazing family holiday and one that really worked for us a family. We'll be back next year.
- Also Known As:
- Center Parcs Woburn Forest Bedford, Bedfordshire