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?