The autism guide to Center Parcs De Kempervennen (and why we loved it)

For the last few years we’ve booked an Easter holiday with two other families.

It’s always been a successful trip. The Bears love playing with their little cousin and Big Bear has always got on remarkably well with the daughter of our uni friend.

It’s safe to say the trips are becoming more adventurous. The first year we spent a couple of nights at an airbnb in Lincolnshire. Last year we stayed in a house in Norfolk for a long weekend. This time we booked seven nights at Center Parcs in Holland. We did look at going to a UK Center Parcs but even when we’d factored in the travel costs, it still worked out about £600 cheaper to go to Holland.

This year we had the new dimension of a fourth family – another friend from uni, his wife and their two daughters – so this time there were four families and seven children.

 

 

Getting there

 

 

We tried a couple of travel options. On the way to Holland we drove down to our Essex friends’ house, stayed the night, and then took a short crossing from Dover to Calais and drove through France, Belgium and Holland to get to our destination, which took about four hours.

On the way back, we drove a couple of hours to Rotterdam and got the overnight ferry to Hull, which was much closer to home. We booked priority boarding for a small extra fee which meant we were first on and off the ferry.

Both journeys went surprisingly well but of the two, the overnight ferry was probably the easiest, albeit with less sleep due to two overexcited boys.

 

 

Accommodation

 

 

We stayed in a 4-bed Premium Eden Cottage at Center Parcs De Kempervennen with my brother-in-law’s family. Even though we booked eight months in advance, the site was already pretty full. We needed three cottages next to each other for our four families and the only location available  was right at the back of the site, a 25 minute walk to the centre where a lot of the activities take place.

I thought that this would be too much for The Bears. Their hypermobility means they tire easily. However, we took their scooters and this helped to speed up the journey. When they got tired we just pulled them along on the scooters.

I’ve heard some people complain that some of the cottages at Center Parcs De Kempervennen need updating but ours was lovely. There was plenty of space in the open plan living room and kitchen/diner for both families and a lovely patio outside which backed on to the woodland which was perfect for an Easter egg hunt and running around.

 

 

Two of the twin/double bedrooms – off the hallway – shared an en-suite bathroom. The other two twin/double bedrooms – off the lounge – were next to each other and there was a separate bathroom with a shower and jacuzzi bath. Annoyingly, the toilet wasn’t in the main bathroom. It was located in the hallway. An inconvenience when Big Bear needed the toilet in the night.

The kitchen was well stocked with pots, pans, crockery and a selection of glassware. There was a dishwasher, a hob and a microwave but no oven   and also no barbecue. We received a welcome pack with three dishwasher tablets but I recommend taking a few with you rather than having to buy a large pack in the supermarket.

Other items that would be useful to take are: bin bags (the onsite shop sold them but they were too small for the main kitchen bin), washing up liquid, soap for hands, a small bottle of cooking oil, foil and a couple of plastic takeaway cartons for leftover food if you’re planning to cook, and a couple of tea towels.

The living area consisted of a huge corner sofa, two chairs a TV and DVD player.

The one thing we didn’t realise before we arrived was that the wall between our cottage and the one next door in the main room, was a partition wall. It meant that we could hear their louder conversations. In turn, I’m certain they heard Big Bear (who only has one volume: LOUD) all the time and Little Bear’s meltdowns. Anyway, there wasn’t anything we could do about it and it was fine but something worth checking when you book.

 

 

Activities

 

 

There are around 100 activities on offer at Center Parcs De Kempervennen, including a snow dome where children over 5 and adults can have ski or snowboarding lessons. There are also cycle trails through the forest, a mini crazy golf course and indoor climbing among many other things. With so many activities on offer its easy to find ways to keep kids of all ages occupied and many of them are actually free too.

A good idea is to work out which activities you might want to do before you go or as soon as you get there and use the digital booking screens in the main dome to secure the slots you want during your stay. We left it a few days and then found ourselves a bit restricted with the times on some of the activities.

If you decide to use the kids club or any of the activities where you leave the children, it’s best to speak to Center Parcs before you arrive to check how they can best accommodate your needs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most Center Parcs locations are understanding and willing to help families with additional needs access their activities, although I couldn’t see any information about the support they offer on their website.

We received a number of vouchers that we could exchange for activities including bowling, pedalos, and kids craft and baking sessions.

Activities we took part in during the course of the week included swimming, kids safari, bowling and pedalos

 

Swimming

 

The pool at De Kempervennen has all the facilities you would expect from a Center Parcs and it’s all free: slides, rapids, an outdoor pool, toddler and baby area, and a wave machine. But it also has an outdoor snorkeling pool where you can snorkel past the tanks of fish or dive deeper down for a closer look.

 

Kids Safari

All the kids loved putting their safari hats on and driving the jeeps around a dirt track. It took a few laps for Big Bear to stop driving into trees and over the barriers but eventually he managed to follow the track to the end. A 25 minute session costs 13.50 euros and officially children have to be over the age of 5 to take part. However, Little Bear, age 4, was a passenger in one of the jeeps. Nobody actually checked and he loved it.

 

Bowling

This was one of the free activities we exchanged for vouchers. Our four families booked two lanes for an hour. Some of the younger children, including Little Bear, quickly got bored of waiting around for their turn. If we were to do it again, it would probably work out better having a lane per family to speed things up a bit. We didn’t get through each of our 10 turns within the hour.

 

Pedalos

This was another free activity we booked with vouchers. We’ve never taken The Bears on a pedalo before. Initially it was quite stressful as Big Bear couldn’t/wouldn’t sit still and we were worried he was going to fall in the water. After the first few minutes, however, we settled into it and pedalled  around the lake. You can either book the standard green pedalos or, if you want to be fancy, you can pay extra and choose a swan or a mini boat.

 

Aside from swimming and the bookable activities, we went to a couple of the play parks. There is also a water play section with rock pools where kids can splash around in their wellies, which The Bears enjoyed. There are also trampolines, where you can pay a euro for a bounce, and a children’s farm with a few animals, including donkeys, and even a beach.

 

 

Amenities

 

 

There is a laundry on site, a central dome with a few places to eat, a couple of souvenir shops, a couple of small indoor play areas, the bowling alley and arcade machines, and a small supermarket. Savvy shoppers should visit the larger Carrefour supermarket a few miles away to stock up for the week.

 

 

Food

 

 

The main restaurants area located under a central dome, which gets particularly hot in the sunshine. A stream with fish, turtles and stepping stones runs through the building, which is either brilliant for keeping the kids occupied or hugely stressful, depending on your children and the level of supervision required.

There are a number of cafes and restaurant you can eat in. We ate in the Grand Cafe a number of lunchtimes. It had (for the most part) delicious food and an extensive menu and good children’s options that aren’t just nuggets and chips (although there were those too). There is also (free) children’s entertainment in the form of discos and shows on the cafe’s stage later on in the afternoon.

Towards the end of the week we were getting a bit bored of the dome options and cabin fever was starting to set in a little so J and I asked reception to book us a cab to the nearest village, about a mile down the road, where had a child-free date night at Worst, nice a bar and restaurant serving European food, with a bit of Mexican thrown into the mix.

We also had lunch one day at De Famille Suykerbuyck Pancake House, just down the road from De Kempervennen, which I definitely recommend. The staff are friendly and understanding of additional needs, the pancakes are divine, it has a great outdoor play area, an inside model train track, and when you order kids pancakes they give them a token to spend in their little toy shop. Winner!

 

 

Conclusion

 

We loved our stay at Center Parcs De Kempervennen and it’s great for children with additional needs. The fact that cars are banned once you’ve checked in is a major advantage. There are so many different activities, it should be possible to find something every member of the family will enjoy. The fact that lots of them are free means that you don’t have to spend money when you’re there. In fact, the only activity we paid for was the Kids Safari. It’s great value for money and we’d definitely go back again.

 

  • Looking for more ideas for holidays and days out? Join my free Facebook Group – Travelling the Spectrum – for lots of suggestions, hints and tips from real parents.

 

 

 

 

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