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What To Expect At Center Parcs

Author: Becky Sappor

Since Leo started school and I made friends with all these new moms, most of whom have older children I heard so much about Center Parcs but we’d never been. So we decided to book a four night stay in May. I had a vague idea of what it would be like but I thought it might be helpful to share a post with you on what to expect at Center Parcs if you’ve never been but are considering booking.

Firstly the price hike in school holidays is astonishing. Yes supply and demand and all of that but I just don’t know how they can justify it. We took Leo out of school the week before half term (which also happened to be the week before he turned five so no risk of incurring any fines) and I’m glad I did as I think I would’ve felt a little underwhelmed if I’d have spent £1500 for 4 nights in what was essentially really basic accommodation.

I’ll elaborate. Don’t get me wrong the accommodation was fine but it wasn’t £375 a night fine which is what it would’ve worked out as for the four of us had we gone the following week. We went for a three bedroom ‘new’ woodland lodge. New in that these cabins are freshly refurbished and refreshed. I would question that. Maybe I’m picky but a soap holder hanging out of shower tiles strikes me as unkempt not newly refreshed. Amenities were pretty good and we set up the fold-out cot provided for Tayo which just about fitted in one of the rooms. (If you plan to use the cot you will need to take cot sheets with you as they are not provided). The boys shared so we had one room spare which was good because otherwise we would’ve struggled to have space for suitcases – the third room acted as a bit of a storage room. It cost about an extra £30 to have a three bed over a two so definitely worth it in my experience.

Living and dining areas were really comfortable and the kitchen amenities were good. Don’t worry about taking dishwasher tablets with you and you are provided with some washing up liquid and cloths a well so as far as cleaning goes they give you just enough – I did take a pack of anti-bac wipes with me and they always come in handy. You may want to take kitchen towel if it’s something you use often at home as this isn’t provided. I took food to feed us for lunch times and two of the four nights of our stay. The fridge was just big enough to hold most of what I took but luckily I had a cool box for a few yoghurts and smoothies (and beer!) I’d packed. So advice if you have this size lodge – don’t take too much chilled or frozen food. The fridge was counter height – it had a veg drawer – without a lid so that was essentially one shelf, it then it had one other shelf and the top shelf was a small freezer section so very limited space. I’m assuming if you have a bigger cabin you’d have a bigger fridge – I’m sure one of you lovely readers can clarify that 🙂

On to expenses when you’re there. Did we spend a fortune? Yep, pretty much. But you don’t have to. We went to Elvedon Forest and they have a small man-made beach – where we spent a large part of two days of the five days and a couple of hours on one of the other days This was free so take your buckets and spaces and you’ll have a lovely time – provided the British weather plays on your side.

Another freebie is the swimming pool. We didn’t spend much time in the main pool area because it was a bit too deep for Leo and he was a few centimetres too short for the flumes – much to his dismay, but the children’s splash area is fantastic. There was a larger splash area with smaller flumes for older children and then a smaller (but still ample sized) shallow area for toddlers. Tayo loved the little slide and the water tables and guys, it was SO warm – not like sweaty warm but like you could pretend for 3 seconds that you were chillin in a jacuzzi until you got a massive splash in the face. But still excellent. Anyone else get confused on their first time to Center Parcs about how the changing rooms work? I did have to laugh at myself. You go in one door to your cubicle and then out the other side to get to the pool and I was SO confused I kept going back out of the ‘in’ door. Honestly – I blame that sleep deprivation.

You can book your additional activities before you go (as I say with the park and the beach and the pool we didn’t need to do anything else if you didn’t want to) but we waited until we were there and luckily we were able to do everything we wanted to. We obviously went with the our sons so the activities were focused on them (luckily Leo loves badminton so me and Anthony were able to have a couple of highly competitive rounds in between Leo’s play) but there’s lots to do if you going as a couple/adult group from tennis, to ariel adventures and quad biking etc. You could also obviously make full use of what the swimming pool has to offer. I did also attend the gym (there is a small extra cost for this) whilst I was there – it was basic but decent enough to get in a good little work out. And of course there is the spa and I know a few women who have been on weekend spa breaks with friends so there really is something for everyone.

It was lovely to ditch the car and pick up a bike for a few days. When you arrive you check in – whilst still in your car. Like a drive through. They give you your room keys which come as a wristband. The keys open your front door and also act as a key for the lockers in the swimming pool changing rooms (they are waterproof).

And a final few things to tell you. We took a bike seat for Tayo (we rented bikes which I thought were good value at £31 for the four days) but you can’t attach your own seats to their bikes so that was a lesson learnt. The shop is not too badly priced – you’re essentially having to buy things for full price instead of the constantly discounted prices you might be used to paying in your local supermarket. When it states ‘fire up the coals in your brick-built barbecue’ it’s not quite as straight froward as that. There is a brick construction in your outside area with a metal rack. But that is it. I think the best way to BBQ there would be with disposable ones that you can put on said metal rack… I’m not exactly sure where you’d put your coals! The wildlife watching is wonderful. We had deers in our ‘back garden’ every day, there are hundreds of squirrels (that made us decide that we would never take our dog with – she is obsessed with squirrels) and we had ducklings at our back door – it was really magical for all of us.  And more than anything we had five days (you can stay until midnight on your last day – although bikes and keys have to be handed back by 10am) of quality time together without the hassle of having to get to an airport and manage two children on a flight (although we are doing that in August so wish us luck!)

Have you been to Center Parcs? What are your top tips for any first time goers?



Author: Becky Sappor

36 thoughts on “What To Expect At Center Parcs

  1. We went once, with friends, and it was awful. Completely overpriced for cramped, basic accommodation with hardly any amenities at all. Apparently we were in a “new” 3 bed lodge which, whilst decently decorated, was tiny. The pool was manky and dirty (as well as being completely packed out) and the shop was ridiculously expensive. It’s really difficult to actually do self-catering as the kitchen is so tiny and there’s hardly anything to cook/eat with! I did go to the spa with friends and that was exemplary but we had to pay for it.
    In comparison, we’ve recently had a week in Cornwall at an unbelievably beautiful 3 bed cottage with huge garden, incredibly well stocked up (loo roll, washing up liquid, soap, kitchen full of every single thing you could ever need, 2 bathrooms – I could go on) for just over £400. This was in May and obviously outside school holidays! I think Centre Parcs is a huge rip off and we won’t be going back. I’d rather spend the money on a fab self-catering property and get out & about in the local area, visiting independently run attractions / cafes / pubs and contributing to the local economy.
    I know loads of people who love CP and all that it brings but it is not for us! 🙂

    1. Sophie the cottage sounds gorgeous! How did you come across it? Was it through an Air bnb type website?x

  2. I agree, I went to CP with 5 month baby and two teenagers and three adults thinking it would cater for everyone. Absolute rip off for what it is which put a dampener on doing activities or eating out. Weather was awful as well, so couldn’t enjoy the outdoor activities. As pp says, I know lots of people who love it, but I just can’t understand why.

    1. I think the weather would make a dramatic impact on your experience. We were very lucky and the weather was beautiful so we were able to play on the beach a lot but we did say when we were there that if it had’ve been the winter months we would’ve struggled to entertain without spending a fortune x

  3. We’ve been to Center Parcs loads and are in fact going again for a weekend later this year. It’s not somewhere I would ever dream of going without kids (although the spa is lovely) but for my kids, it’s somewhere close to heaven!

    Yes, I accept that the accommodation is a bit grubby (I always give it a once over with antibac wipes when we arrive) and the bathrooms are dingy but for us, the facilities make up for it. We spend half of every day in the pool which is free and brilliant for kids (we’ve been taking our girls down the grown up flumes on our knees since they were toddler and have never noticed the height restriction – ooops) and then either on the beach or in play parks. I love the fact that it’s safe for the kids to cycle round and as a city based family, they love having the wildlife literally on their patio.

    I can appreciate that as the children become teenagers and want to do more and more activities then it could become eye wateringly expensive. However, at the moment it makes a great family short break.

    1. Ah Ellen sounds like you have a lovely time! The cycling around is fab isn’t it and Leo loves his bike so he was really pleased to be able to be on it every day.

  4. Oh no I’m panicking now as we’ve booked to go in September for the weekend with our baby – was planning to self cater and hang at the pool a lot to save money…

    1. Emma that is absolutely doable! The sofa in our villa was really comfy and you can take your DVS etc with you and cosy up at night and the baby/toddler part of the pool was really warm and lovely and you can grab a bite to eat and a coffee in the pool as well. Have a lovely time xx

  5. This is really interesting.

    I must be honest and say it had never appealed to me – like Sophie I’m a fan of getting out and about and I worry about feeling trapped on site. However, so many of my friends with immaculate tastes have been and booked and repeatedly go so I’ve been tempted. None of them have ever mentioned cleanliness as an issue and I’ve had friends do all of them. Likewise, my MIL who likes things NAICE said the Lake District one was immaculate but they did have the 4 bed en-suite in every room option. Their tips were eat in because the food is nasty and overpriced.

    I’m tempted by Huttopia which seems to be a European tented version of Centre Parcs. Has anyone experienced it?

    1. Same here! There’s really not much about it that appeals to me and my husband but my sister and my best friend both love it and I completely trust their opinions, so I just don’t know what to make of it at all! I guess I’m going to have to go and find out for myself one day!

  6. I’ve always loved holidays at centre Parcs. Not been yet with my son as my husband is a teacher and as Becky mentioned the prices in the school holidays are very high! I think if you can fill the house more and spread the cost with family or friends then it might be workable. Biking and swimming were what we mostly did as kids as that’s free – but the spa is so lovely and the evening offer is pretty good. I’d split eating out and take food with you- we were impressed by the kitchen facilities we got at Sherwood 3 years ago.

    1. Yes Amy I think it would work out much more financially efficient in a larger cabin 🙂 I was glad we split the eating in and out evenly because at least then it feels a bit like you’re on actual holiday and not washing up every night 🙂

  7. We’ve been to the one in Cumbria and thought the accommodation was lovely, spacious and not at all run down, and we only had a basic 2 bedroom. Sounds like it can be a bit hit and miss at other parks.
    We went with our 2 year old plus some of our NCT group and had a great time. Maybe with older kids there’s a need to do more pricy activities but we did pool every morning (and my daughter had to be carried out every day as she would have stayed for the whole day!), then packed lunch and back for naptime before meeting up with friends for dinner. Definitely not cheap for eating out if you did lunch and dinner but we took plenty of food and did a couple of group dinners that worked really well.
    We went in February and paid around £300 for the 4 nights which felt like good value

  8. I might be in the minority here but I don’t get the love of Center Parcs. I have been twice (with family) but I’m not one for organised activities and the cost makes my eyes water, much rather a self catering cottage / Airbnb. Also I think to make the most of it, kids need to be of a certain age, a 10month old was quite restricting.
    I would recommend Bluestone in pembrokeshire which is similar to Center Parcs (and much cheaper) plus you can use the pool even if you’re not staying there or Forest Holidays which don’t have activities but come with a hot tub!

    1. Sarah my friend has mentioned Bluestone to me ands he really enjoyed it there 🙂 We did Forest Holidays once before we had the boys too and I really liked the accommodation and the hot tub! 🙂

  9. I was a bit wary of Center Parcs, but we’ve been twice now and are already booked in for next year. We’ve opted for the 4 day long weekend and are taking or eldest out of school for one day, as it’s so ridiculously over priced.

    We go to the one in the Lake District with a group of friends split between two houses and love it. The houses are modern, but fairly basic so we take a few extra supplies with us. We generally pick up supplies at a big supermarket en route and eat in for most dinners and a couple of lunches. A pre made frozen lasagne or curry makes it simple enough to re-heat food.

    For us the biggest draw of Center parcs is the pool. All the kids love it and the splash areas and we can easily spend 2-3 hours there every morning. The only other activities we have paid for are roller skating and bowling, both of which seemed good value for money ( Oh- and the spa for the ladies in the group to have an evening off.) There are plenty of parks dotted around the site, plus soft plays in both the pubs, so lots to keep them amused. We also spend time just scooting around the site and hunting out bears.

    I think the big draw for us is spending time with friends in a safe environment with plenty of space for the kids. We’ve done plenty of other cottage/hydro/large hotel holidays but they are never as geared towards the kids, so we find ourselves having to head off site.

    Personally I love getting up in the morning and going for a run with a few friends, the pool until lunch, then home for food, then a scoot to the pub for a cheeky drink whilst the kids enjoy soft play, then a bear hunt home for dinner. Kids into bed and the adults sit round with a glass of vino and a few games.

    The only frustrating thing about Center parcs is the size of housing, 4 bedrooms is the maximum size, and with 8 kids and 4 adults that would never work. So we have to juggle between 2 houses and put all the kids down to sleep in one house and then move them to the other when parents go to bed.

    1. Sara your days at CP sound just like ours (except for the two houses as we go with just one other family) and we love it. The children all have a fabulous time and we enjoy watching them have fun whilst we get to catch up with friends and have a few glasses of wine. I’m also a bit of a big kid and can’t get enough of the water slides.

  10. I can’t really comment on center parcs as I’ve never been (the cost is eye watering) but just wanted to touch on your opening line of making lots of mum friends now your son is at school. We’re coming up to the end of my daughters first year at school and I’ve not made any mum friends! 😢 I’m still only really at the ‘hello’ ‘nice weather’ stage. Is it just me??

    1. Hi Lucy! I had to comment; I’m exactly the same. It’s friendly enough at the school gates; but certainly no more than polite chat. I feel like everyone else has made great friends who socialise and I feel like a real outsider. It’s horrible, and never how I thought it would be. A few weeks back I was chatting to a group of mums who had all organised a night out sans-me and made it very clear; all very awkward. I came home and cried! Sorry for the totally off topic post but had to reply! xxx

      1. Aww that’s so mean! I haven’t experienced complete exclusion like that (yet!) but certainly felt like a spare part on the periphery of a conversation and no one is making an effort to attempt to include me! I’m shy and not very good at small talk which doesn’t help matters! I hope the situation improves over time (for both of us!) as I don’t have many friends with children and could do with some! Xx

    2. Oh Lucy I’m sorry to hear that 🙁 When Leo started school one of the ‘experienced’ moms who has a daughter in an older year stood outside the school doors handing out a piece of paper with her phone number on it which said ‘if you want to join the reception moms whatsapp group please text me’ and the rest is history – I have been very lucky. Not everyone joined but I have found that I’ve been able to chat to those who aren’t on it at birthday parties (there seems to be one every blummin week!) Everything crossed that you find one or two that you click with soon. x

      1. Have never been to centre parks but always wanted to go as my sister-in-law and nephews love it. Self catering really works for us as a family when we holiday and love biking so hope to try. But just to add to the conversation on mum-friends. We are coming to end of reception year and I have absolutely no mum friends, nor did I have any from his nursery either. My son is disabled, visually impaired and autistic and Everyone avoids us both like we have the plague. Just stare at us and never speak. No birthday invites at all this year for my child. Only the head of governors has made friends with myself and my son, met whilst he was waiting for his daughter. So just one dad-friend on our end.

        1. It’s a bit mean girls isn’t it Fern. Will be thinking of you and Lucy on the school run tomorrow morning, rest assured it’s not just you X

        2. Fern this is so dreadful. I feel terrible for you and your son and I honestly didn’t think that people could be this rude or awful. Wish he was at my daughter’s school and he would certainly have one birthday invite this year x

  11. I can’t comment on Centre Parcs’s either, it’s never really appealed but is that right, that you can legally take under 5s out of reception for holidays? If so, as the parent of a summer born child starting school in September, that’s an amazing discovery!

    1. Hi Emma. They don’t legally have to go to school until they are 5 so fines can’t be enforced until then – as far as I am aware and have been told by friends/teachers x

    2. Hi Emma – I too have my eldest starting at reception in Sept and she isn’t 5 until May and yes, she’s allowed term time holidays until her 5th birthday which is pretty much the whole of reception year, without a penalty. Good news or what?!

  12. We went to Center Parcs a couple of weeks ago for a long weekend & my little boy (who is 3) really enjoyed it, if I am honest I don’t think I would go there without kids but that said the spa’s are really good, I think they are a real highlight. It’s a nice safe environment in the forest which is very nice. I think the lodges are a bit hit & miss, we went to Elverden & it was obviously refurbished as I thought it was nice. Longleat on the other hand was the opposite, lodges really tired & lots of things damaged &for the price pretty basic. We can go out of school holidays but I still think it’s soooo expensive. However when we got there we normally just go cycling & to the swimming pool & slides so aren’t spending any extra on activities. The pool area for little ones has got to be one of the highlights, great children’s area.
    I think the food options are expensive & not great at Center Parcs, if we go again I will remember to take more stuff with me. I think the restaurants are good for those with kids under 3’s, they are open at 4/5pm so if you have a little one who eats early you can always find something open which is nice.
    I have friends who go to the Center Parcs in France as apparently it’s cheaper then UK ones in summer holidays.

  13. I’ve been twice, once to Sherwood on a hen do and once to Woburn. Sherwood was awful, it was damp, the cabin smelt of urine, and it reminded me of being on a school trip in the early 90s. I vowed never to return. My friends persuaded me to try Woburn for a girls weekend as it was newly built, and it was completely different. We used the spa which was great, and the restaurants and bar which were ok. We had a 3 bed lodge and it was nicely done but bearing in mind it slept 6 and there were only 5 of us, we had to cook spaghetti bolognese in two pans as there were no pans big enough. I’ve looked at going with my family but husband is a teacher and the costs are ludicrous, if I’m spending that much I’d rather go abroad.

  14. Quite a few negative reviews here but I love Center Parcs! I agree some of the accommodation is a little tired but never find it that bad?! I’ve never really stayed in posh places though so maybe I just don’t have anything better to compare it to! We always have a great time and the kids LOVE it. The swimming makes it, and just pottering around the forest. It’s such a gorgeous setting I struggle a bit to understand how you could have a bad time! You don’t have to do any activities if you don’t want – we rarely do. Swimming and playing outside seems to fill the days. Agree the school holiday prices are crazy but they seem to be crazy for all holidays not just Center Parcs! X

  15. We visited Woburn two weeks ago (me and my husband with our 4 year old daughter and 2 year old son) and really enjoyed it. Mornings were spent in the pool, back to lodge for lunch, then beach and play parks in the afternoon. Ate out for dinner two nights but otherwise brought all the food etc we would need with us as shops on site are overpriced. Accommodation was fine but nothing to write home about. Only paid for pony riding for our daughter and a pedalo ride and I can see how it could become very expensive if you did a few activities. I would 100% visit again as our children loved it and I loved how they could get around on scooters and bikes but wouldn’t pay to go in school hols as the prices get ridiculous.

  16. Would 100% recommend Bluestone. We’ve been twice in the last two years and have managed to stay in a lovely 2 bed 2 bath house for £250 for 4 nights. The accommodation is really nice. You can use the pool for free and there’s also a large indoor soft play with bouncy castle, mini golf etc. Plus there’s acres of woodland to explore. There’s a spa and lots of activities you can pay for plus, a kids club. There’s also loads to do in the surrounding areas and some of the most stunning beaches I have ever seen. I must admit we’ve been very lucky with the weather each time with been though.

  17. Whinfell Forest (cumbria) is only half an hour from us. We go for the weekend in Nov for the Winter Wonderland and it’s truly magical. We’ve been for the last 3 years. We have a large lodge split between 8 of us keeps the cost down as does taking our own food and eating out is kept to a minimum. The standard of lodge is amazing and I can’t fault it. I’ve also just come back from a girly weekend there and that was just as good too. It will always have a special place in my heart as I went into labour there last Nov and returned back to our lodge with our beautiful baby girl. We took her to see Santa the next day and it was just perfect. We love it. Xxx

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