Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hell is 'The Subtropical Swimming Paradise'

The words 'subtropical', 'swimming' and 'paradise' are quite lovely and evocative even as they stand alone. Strung together and they conjure up something quite exotic and sublime. You might imagine topless women, the kind in Gauguin  paintings of Tahiti, serving you Pina Colada's from coconuts. And strange and beautiful coloured birds setting down to bath in fresh water that has cascaded down from a nearby waterfall.  You may even imagine yourself wading through crystal clear pools, and in my case, with Jessica Biel's body, wearing a daring bathing suit.

OK, so being a realist,  I had some idea that the ambitiously named 'Subtropical Swimming Paradise' here at Center Parcs couldn't possibly live up to my fantasy. And then there's the bit about it being a child-friendly place, so the topless Tahitian thing probably wouldn't go down too well either. So I had to have an open mind. And, is it turns out, way open would be best.

It wasn't like I imagined, nowhere near it. In fact, imagine the North and the South Poles and triple the distance between in terms of how wrong I was. The name, however, proved to be more accurate than I thought. 

They certainly got the 'subtropical' bit right, if by that you mean exceptionally hot, steamy and smelling like the output of a giant air conditioner expelling the odour of 500 people strong. And as for the swimming bit, there were people doing that too, what seemed like hundreds of them. And being a massive enclosed space with all these people and children swimming and yelling in the hot steam, let's just say there was some resemblance to what Bedlam might have been like at bath time in its heyday. 

The whole 'paradise' thing is what I have the biggest problem with however. Personally I thought it more closely resembled hell. And as I sat there in a little wading pool with Julia trying to hear my thoughts amidst all that chaos, I imagined myself working my way through an icy cold six pack of beer. And then another, somewhere far far away from that place.  I wonder if you can sue an establishment for driving you to alcoholism?

It might be that it's the weekend, and things will thin out in this coming week (we pray) as people return to work, meaning we may venture back there for another bit of swimming. Julia seemed equally effected by all that chaos and did a fair bit of on-off crying, which brings me to something Roberto and I have concluded - this isn't really an ideal place for babies. Were she a few years older she would most likely be joining in with all the other crazies; running around, splashing and being offensive, but for now she just seemed small and overwhelmed. 

She is also a bit on the small side for the bike trailer, and although fastened in tends to flop uncomfortably to one side. They are not the best designed in terms of back support, so probably better suited to slightly older children who readily sit up and forwards of their own accord.

But getting back to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, it had nothing on the Subtropical Swimming Paradise's changing rooms. Come gather all ye obsessive compulsives for a horror story to keep you up at night: Dirty, as in the floor, and wet too, and you weren't allowed to wear shoes (a wise move otherwise there would be even more dirt), even pool-side flip flops, once you had changed and were making your way to the pool. So we had to walk, barefoot, on this wet dirty tiled floor so that whatever the hell it was down there stuck to our clean feet. And don't even get me started on my fear of athletes foot. 

Then, on our return from the pool, I had a tired, crying, wet Julia in my arms, and an overwhelming smell of diarrhoea, that someone had just unleashed into the airwaves of the giant busy unisex bathroom/change rooms, hit me.
I was having flashbacks, to be sure, and the heat and stench were nauseating. Plus throw in about ten babies and children (including ours) in the various stages of crying/screaming.

I have come to the realisation that while I am a person with a child, I do not care for places that cater for people with children. It's just too anxiety provoking.

Saying that, I think this place is in many ways perfect for children, albeit, as I mentioned earlier, ones older than babies. There is plenty to do, then there's the bike riding, and of course lots of places to eat in and even order from in the evenings in the form of takeaways. So you don't have to get too bogged down by the self catering thing. Personally I think the words self-catering and holiday are mutually exclusive, but there are some people who quite enjoy cooking without the stresses of normal day to day work and life.

There seems to be a lot of family bonding going on, especially with the bike riding, and I imagine in a few years Julia will love it here. And when she comes here with her friends and their parents that are not us, I'm sure she will have a great time.


Deirdre said...

ACK! The description of the floors had me quesy! Not to be too nosy, but what and where is this "Center Parks"? It sounds like a nightmare!

letters from london said...

Hey Deidre,
To be fair to this place the mess on the floor was the result of it being rainy and we are in a forest. So with people coming in from the pool with wet feet, and people arriving with their shoes trailing in bits of leaf, sand etc from outside, it's bound to get grubby. I think it's unavoidable, as they can't be mopping up 24-7 especially with all those people. Unfortunately public change rooms and this sort of thing just really touch on my various anxieties about cleanliness, which, admittedly, are of the OCD variety. I'm sure many other people will have no problem with it whatsoever.

We are in the Longleat Forest in the UK, and it's basically a big family holiday place with self-catering accommodation.

Lorna said...

I have become addicted to hearing the next installment from Centre Parks! Definitely the most amusing thing that happens all day when staying at home with a 14 month old. I've wondered about going there now that we have Benedict, but am rapidly re-thinking, at least until he is a bit older. The thing that I find most amusing - when I first met Rob, over 10 years ago, he would have lynched me if I had suggested him visiting somewhere like CP! Oh how times change once you have a baby. Hope the rest of the holiday is more fun....! Lorna.x

letters from london said...

lol, in Roberto's defence, he wasn't keen on coming here, it was my idea. I didn't want to put Julia on a plane again this year (we have a big long trip coming up in Feb)and we wanted to have a week or so away that wasn't too much of a drive from home. In reterospect (isn't that always a great thing?), I would have gone abroad because the weather here has been shyte - well it is England in September. The bike riding (a big reason for a lot of people to come here in the first place) a bit redundant because of how small she is, and it's very very busy.So yeah, not my best holiday choice so far.

Deirdre said...

Oh dear! I may need to amend my list of "Things to Do When I Visit the UK":

1) start each sentence with "I say old chap..." and end with "what what"
2) Visit Centre Parks
3) tie Keira Knightley down and forcefeed her a donut.

Isn't Longleat owned by some theatrically eccentric peer?

Anonymous said...

only a fool goes to Centre Parks. A place full of familes. Sounds like you got what you asked for.