Last week, I spent a five-day holiday at Center Parcs Aisne. For those who are not aware of Center Parcs, it is a Dutch-owned chain of family vacation spots – kind of a Club Med for the rest of us (Nota bene: I am going (for the first time I might add) to a Club Med this summer so stay tuned for my review of that :) To be honest, I think that I have an anti-Club gene but now that I am a dad, I feel it is one of those concessions I have to make – like no sleep for 4-5 months, etc. I had two previous “club-like” experiences, neither of which was encouraging: Center Parcs Sologne back when I was single and there was a team-building exercise for work (hated it) and the Peloponnese in Greece in a run-down ex-Club Med spot full of Austrians on vacation (hated it). Suffice it to say that I had apprehensions about my stay…
On the positive side, our lodging was great – a two story two-bedroom house right on the Lac d’Aillette. The view outside was beautiful – ducks, white headed gallinules, swans, and finches galore. Also, the grounds were in a forest and, other than check-in and check-out times, there were almost no cars. The preferred mode of transportation is bikes (it is a Dutch-owned spot after all). So, it is nice to know that your kid is unlikely to get mowed down by a car should he bolt out the front door. And, for the kids now that we are talking about them, the BIG ATTRACTION Aquamundo is great. Its basically a covered water park complete with a slow “river”, a rapid “river”, water slides of all shapes and sizes, a wave pool and a water mill with ubiquitous splashing about and a massive bucket containing 900 litres of water that would get regularly filled up and dumped out to the joy of the kids both young and old.
On the other hand, the food sucks, the service is, well, barely service. There is not a single decent baguette, piece of cheese or expresso on the entire domain which does give you the impression of being in Holland rather than France. (My Dutch friends are gonna kill me I know!). I had one confrontation with management over their full-pension “tickets” that were unusable at 14h when we stumbled out of Aquamundo, shivering and hungry and the snackbar wanted me to pay cash. Anyway, details aside, it was a case of poor documentation and confusing instructions to the staff. The other thing that pissed us off was that my wife called Center Parcs several days before we left to ensure that there was a washing machine for at least one load of baby clothes during our stay. Over the phone, they assured her that there was no problem. Well, when I was on-site and asked the same question, there was “no problem” if you were willing to drive 15km to Laon and hunt down the local wash-n-dry.
So, if you are thinking of a Center Parcs vacation here in France, follow a couple of rules:
1/ Bring your own food and coffee or temporarily lower your requirements and expectations to close to zero
2/ Unless you are staying within 100m of the Dome, do NOT take half- or full-pension because it is nearly worthless. Instead, ask for a Center Parcs charge card and pay everything using that. We lost about 240€ due to the pension scam.
3/ Reserve any activities for your kids within 24h of arrival because at hour 25, EVERYTHING WILL BE GONE.
4/ Bring your own hand-wash detergent for any emergency washing that you may need.
5/ Bring a book because you can only stand Aquamundo for so long and there is NOTHING else to do, especially if you don’t reserve in advance or within 24h of arrival.
6/ The grocery store is not overly priced at all but its hours suck (9-12h, 16-20h) so be warned!
7/ The food at Marché du Monde is particularly bad, the Italian pizza isn’t bad, the creperie is OK (during the rare moments that it is open). The one almost passable restaurant is the Embarcadère but the ice cream is really nasty.