Center Parcs has historically been a family favourite for us and over the last 17 years, I have visited their holiday villages at good number of times. We have explored Elvedon, Sherwood and Whinfell and stayed in a variety of different types of accommodation (sadly, I still have yet to try out their treehouses – one can only dream..!) but have never stayed in their budget accommodation.
After taking a year’s Maternity Leave, just the thought of Center Parcs was very much a luxury, but when my sister-in-law suggested we book both families in for an anniversary treat (coincidentally we have both been with our retrospective partners 20 years!) we decided it was worth a go.
Being on a budget, we opted for the lower priced accommodation. We also made sure that we kept all the additional extras to a minimum and therefore didn’t hire bikes, request a location on the site and only pre-booked two activities in advance.
On arrival we were greeted by the usual Center Parcs excellent hospitality and informed that we could gain access to our lodge at 4pm (you can request early check in, again, at a cost!). You can use the site from 10am on the day of arrival and so we made sure that we left early to take advantage of this and make the most of the first day of the holiday.
After an initial walk to explore and let the children get rid of some energy after being stuck in the car, we ended up in the Jardin de Sports, the main sports centre on the site. Whilst grabbing a coffee we discovered that there was a roller skating session and so quickly booked the 6 year old and 8 year old in while I volunteered to supervise the activity. We were provided with access to safety equipment and asked to sign a disclaimer if we didn’t want these and then quickly got on with the skating. I have to say, it was a little like being transported back into a 1980s Roller Disco with the music playing and the children loved every minute of it. Once I realised they didn’t need my assistance, I happily spent the rest of the hour skating round and clocking up the exercise minutes on my Apple Watch. Meanwhile, my husband took the teenager off to play pool and the aunties looked after the baby, who was more than happy to watch the skating and dance to the music!
Once the skating had worn us all out, we headed to the swimming pool to take advantage of the lull while everyone else checked in! This worked well and we all managed to get round the flumes a good number of times before heading off to our lodge.
I have to say, although we knew we were booking a low cost option, we were quite disappointed by what we saw on entering the lodge. We worked out that the lodges were probably around 25 years old and this particular lodge was most certainly showing its age. The interior was very dated and a little shabby round the edges and basic means basic – no dishwasher etc. (it does make this clear on the website). After a quick look around, I also discovered that the lodge wasn’t very clean; the bathroom was grubby, cups and plates weren’t clean and the radiator was broken revealing a disgustingly dusty interior that my 11 month old went straight for! Considering that this was a lodge for 8, the cooking resources were also very limited with only one large saucepan – certainly not enough to cook spaghetti bolognaise for 8! Most worrying perhaps was the travel cot mattress which wasn’t in a very pleasant state. I quickly headed up to Customer Services and I have to say, was impressed by their response. They listened and noted the concerns I had and were very quick to try and rectify the problems. Although this did take some time (we eventually were offered the opportunity to move on the second day but declined this based on the fact we didn’t want to have to pack and unpack again) we did end up with the items being replaced or supplemented and a new travel cot mattress. The staff were very keen to ensure that we were looked after and checked on us again the next day.
After the initial teething problems with the lodge, we then settled down to enjoy our holiday. Day one, we headed to the High Ropes Course which was an activity that accommodated all the older children aged 6, 8 and 13. This was a well supervised course and the staff were excellent with the children, good time was had by all! The other activity the two eldest children had booked was the Scuba session. Again, this was a well-resourced and supervised session which the children enjoyed – they even paid extra to get the underwater photo as a momento! Apart from the session on the driving range for the older children and the Adventure Golf on the last day for us all, the rest of the holiday was passed with use of the swimming pool, feeding the plentiful ducks and exploring the site. Thus keeping the cost of activities down to a minimum.
Food (especially with a teenage boy on hand) was planned in advance and we each took it in turns to buy food and cook a meal. This worked well and meant that we knew what we were eating and when and also kept the cost down as we brought all but the fresh ingredients (meat etc.) with us. There is a supermarket on site which is well stocked, however, I did find that fresh items, such as meat, ran out quite early in the day and it was a little pricier than your average supermarket – something to consider before you go. We made sure we took an awful lot of snacks with us and I have to say, taking a supply of drinks and snacks with us really did help as there are so many different places to buy food and drink the temptation is all around. We did allow ourselves one meal out, this was at ‘Huck’s’ the American Diner’. We chose this venue as there is a soft play on site and access to computers with a limited number of games. The children can eat from a buffet, meaning they can pretty much eat straight away and there is plenty for them to do while the adults enjoy a (relatively) peaceful meal.
So, although the budget accommodation was disappointed, it could be argued that you do in fact get what you pay for. It was interesting that when we spoke to another visitor, there with her family for a wedding anniversary, she commented that ‘anyone visiting Center Parcs, no matter where they stay, is in a privileged position’ and I can see her point, at £600 per family of 4 (2 families sharing the lodge) it certainly isn’t cheap for a 4 night / 5 day break. However, it hasn’t put me off visiting, I will just be more cautious about what I am booking…one of the members of staff commented that the budget accommodation was under review and they were aware that it needed updating.
Although pricey, Center Parcs does offer the opportunity to entertain children of all ages whilst you are cocooned inside their bubble; being amongst the woodland with the absence of cars does provide a certain sense of peace and the Center Parcs formula hasn’t quite been replicated by anyone else just yet. However, I would almost certainly share with another family in order to keep the cost down and plan and take food in advance. There is no doubt, it isn’t your average annual holiday, but something to be kept as a treat where you can build memories as a family in an environment that caters for all ages.
Guest Post by Rachel Beyer