NOTHING says Christmas like a forest blanketed in white snow, lit up by thousands of twinkly fairy lights and, of course, an encounter with the man in red.

However, as people across the land get into the Yuletide spirit, my family had a couple of hurdles to overcome this year before our Christmas preparations could begin in earnest.

First of all, my youngest daughter Evelyn’s birthday falls in the middle of November, so like most children, she insisted her ‘big day’ takes priority over any Christmas planning.

Secondly, as she turns the grand old age of eight, she is also transforming into, how can I put this… a Christmas ‘non-believer’.

So could our Winter Wonderland trip to Center Parcs Sherwood Forest get us into the festive spirit, and also squeeze out one final year of Evelyn believing the magic of Christmas?

The site in Nottinghamshire is beautiful all year round – the main buildings surround a serene lake dotted with pedalos, while tall birches and lush pines sway in the skies above.

But in the winter, Sherwood is even more pretty. By day, the leaves are a kaleidoscope of autumnal greens, yellows and reds, then, at night, huge Christmas trees are lit up to the nines, while angel statues and silver reindeers lurk in the woods.

The Met Office may not be able to guarantee a white Christmas, but Center Parcs certainly can, with the village transformed into an enchanting wonderland with a crisp blanket of snow.

Our Executive Lodge for the weekend added to the wintry feel. An enormous sofa next to a roaring log fire and large windows looking out to the woodland – we could have easily been in a remote cabin in Scandinavia.

After riding our bikes in the chilly woods, it was heaven to come home to mugs of hot chocolate and mulled wine, before warming up in the sauna and toasting marshmallows on the fire.

But Center Parcs is not all about relaxation – there is far too much excitement and adventure to be had.

We spent a sizeable chunk of our weekend in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, within its maze of meandering water slides and a half-hourly wave display.

The best bit is still the outdoor rapids – it’s a bizarre and brilliant sensation to swim outside, with steam rising from the lovely warm water into the crisp winter air.

However, for true water-based relaxation, Aqua Sana is the place to be.

My wife Rachel took time out on the Sunday to get pampered in the enormous spa, swimming in the infinity pool among the trees and visiting all three floors of steam rooms, saunas and relaxation zones.

She was also treated to a Swedish Full Body Massage, which I’m told left her so relaxed, she struggled to get on her bike and pedal back to the lodge.

In between the swimming and cycling, we were booked in for a Saturday night meal to celebrate Evelyn’s birthday at Huck’s American Bar and Grill.

Despite all this adventure and grub, our main objective was still to get into the Christmas spirit, so we booked in for a Family Festive Cupcake Decorating session in the Activity Den.

In this creative class, we learned the tricks of the baking trade from expert Chloe and each created six cupcakes which we took home in a presentation box to share with family and friends.

Another great feature of Winter Wonderland is the spectacular fireworks display and carol service which takes place over the lake every Tuesday and Sunday evening during November and December.

And last but not least, we visited Santa’s Woodland Village and Workshop.

Here Evelyn met the man himself, Father Christmas, which was, as I’d hoped, the highlight of our weekend.

I’ve never been sold on queueing up at a shopping centre and plonking my child next to a portly man wearing a nylon beard. But in Sherwood Forest, this was something different.

Evelyn’s face was a picture of joy, and even 11-year-old Isla couldn’t resist getting in on the fun. This was as festive as we’ve felt in years.

Thanks to our weekend at Center Parcs, Evelyn had the ‘best birthday ever’, and was now excited for the next big day on December 25.

One thing we all believe in and agree on is that Winter Wonderland is a must in the run-up to Christmas.


Richard Jones and his family stayed in a three-bedroom Executive Lodge at Center Parcs Sherwood Forest for three nights during Winter Wonderland (November to January 1), with prices starting from £849. They enjoyed a number of activities, including Family Festive Cupcake Decorating (£25pp), a visit to Santa’s Woodland Workshop (£15pp) and a spa treatment at Aqua Sana (from £39).

For more information about Center Parcs, visit or call 03448 266266.