A FEW weeks ago I stumbled across an old Polaroid in a drawer at home.

It was a cute momento of my youngest daughter and her older cousin with Father Christmas in his wooded lodge when they were just seven and eight years old.

With their cheeks reddened from the cold, excited sparkling eyes and beaming smiles it captured an idyllic Christmas moment that was enough to bring a slight festive flutter to the heart of even the hardest of news editors.

It was taken during a memorable family get-together one December at Center Parcs in Longleat, Wiltshire.

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The timing of finding the picture could not have been more apt because it was just a few days before we embarked on a repeat weekend break.

But this time it is eight years on and those little kids giving Santa a hug have turned into grumpy teenagers infatuated with their phones.

They’re also more keen on spending a majority of their spare time shut in their own bedrooms with facebook, Instogram and a Playstation.

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Donning their woolly hats, scarves and gloves and pottering around a forest in the winter on a bike with their mums and dads certainly wouldn’t top their usual weekend to-do list.

So could the sparkle of 2005 be refound and Center Parcs work its Christmas magic on a rather more cynical 15 and 16-year-old?

The answer was never in doubt. Of course it could.

From infants to great-grand parents and primary school children to hassled mums and dads, it’s impossible not to touched by this incredible Winter Wonderland.

Once inside the resort a strange feeling of family harmony and goodwill to all parents seems to engulf all, even the teenagers.

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All the stresses of daily, and school, life appear to have been left behind on the other side of the security barrier at the snow covered entrance.

The entire village has been transformed into an enchanting forest of spectacular Christmas trees, glowing reindeer decorations and sparkling trees.

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There are glistening lights and glittering decorations everywhere and Santa Claus himself, in his Woodland Workshop.

Live reindeer are on site to pat and a huge animated Rudolph and friends fill the air with seasonal tunes – all bringing the anticipation of Christmas.


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Children can also make their own Christmas wreaths, cards and stockings as well as enjoying all the delights of the Elf Workshop.

be complete without a pantomime and this year you can enjoy a performance of Aladdin.

But while all this certainly got us in the mood for the big day later this month there were a few other Center Parcs attractions that made our break complete.

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What two teenagers would not enjoy grabbing hold of a rifle, slipping on some protective overalls and goggles and running round a forest, like somthing out of Call of Duty, blasting each other with paint balls. They returned a bit splattered but absolutely loved it.

Then there’s the incredible indoor and outdoor swimming complex complete with slides, lazy river, wave machines, Jacuzzis and the legendary rapids – a fast flowing outdoor array of slides and lumps and bumps – that kept our two happy for hours on end.

While the teens were easily amused that gave us the opportunity to do our own thing and indulge in the adult jewel in the crown of the village – the Aqua Sana Spa.

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There we could hide for three hours and totally chill out, free from mobile phones, TVs, internet and children, in 15 different sauna, steam and experience rooms that leave you totally relaxed and invigorated.

It also helps to ease any aches and pains you may have from over-doing it earlier in the gym or in one of the scores of exercise and dance classes on offer.

And after all the hard work of relaxing in a Spa for hours you can treat yourself to a nice meal in one of the many different restaurants.

We chose the contemporary Rajinda Pradesh restaurant and enjoyed a sumptuous four-course meal of classic Indian dishes, which we all agreed was a superb way end to a day.

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Our weekend came to a spectacular end when we joined hundreds of other guests around the village lake for a glass of mulled wine, some roasted chestnuts and an incredible festive fireworks display.

And then, if that wasn’t enough to set you up for Christmas, as the display drew to a close, Santa himself drifted across the lake on a boat to wave to the huge crowd – much to the delight of lots of overexcited young children around us.

Next morning we were all packed up and back in the car for the 45-mile drive home to get the deccies out the loft and start planning our Christmas shopping.

I think I know what will be on the my daughter’s list this year – a return trip to Center Parcs.

And do you know what? I think she might just be lucky.


CENTER Parcs at Longleat is set in the middle of an enormous forest. The easiest way to get about is by bike, which you can either hire on site or bring with you.

Nothing, though is too far to walk, and there is a land train which runs regularly through the village.

Accommodation includes flats, lodges villas or tree houses.

We stayed in a three bedroomed Woodland Lodge, which included a fully fitted kitchen, lounge and dining area and was perfect for six adults.

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Prices for a Winter Wonderland break in a three bedroomed Woodland Lodge start from £279.

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Although fully booked, top of the range accommodation is the twostorey treehouses which are the height of luxury, with four en-suite bedrooms and their own balconies, opening up to fantastic forest views.

The fully equipped kitchen includes a wine cooler, coffee maker and blender.

The family lounge is home to a flatscreen TV – including Sky channels and Blu-ray player – while there area also iPod docking stations throughout.

Walk across your own private bridge to your games den where you’ll find a flatscreen TV, pool table, games console and Blu-ray player, as well as bar area with fridge and ice maker.

To help you unwind after an active day, there is a state-of-the-art Physiotherm infrared room and an outdoor hot tub.

For more information or to book a short break at Center Parcs call 08448 267 723 or visit centerparcs.co.uk.