This was our third trip to Center Parcs as a family. We love that it’s a place where you can get active, spend quality time together and is fun for everyone, any age and arguably any pocket.
Here’s our Top Tips and ideas if budget is a bit tight (like ours). But if not, don’t forget my invite when you book your waterside lodge or luxury tree house 😉.
When and Where to Book
The only time we’ve ever been is in the winter months – end of January and beginning of February to be exact. This is the cheapest time to go, other than last minute deals but you’d have to be very flexible to take advantage of them. With three families to organise last-minute isn’t going to work for us!
We’ve only ever been to Elveden Forest Center Parcs as once inside you could be anywhere. The kids’ don’t really care either as long as “we’re on holiday”. Plus, why not take advantage of a shorter trip and spend as much time as you can enjoying yourself and not traveling. With that in mind I’d suggest just picking your closest venue as the formats are near-enough the same and as I’ve said… once you’re in, you really could be anywhere.
A January break next year in a four-bed woodland lodge will cost you £779 (6 adults 2 children 1 baby). Plus if you book straight after your last stay you can save even more with their lowest-price-guarantee offer, free insurance and £25 resort voucher.
You can enter the park from 10am, so park up and start having fun straight away. Avoid the 3pm rush – nobody wants to queue with overexcited toddlers in the car 😬.
Hiring bikes at Center Parcs can be pricey and to be fair my mum and sister managed without bikes as it’s really not as long a hike as you think to the main areas and we stayed on the outer edge. That being said it is great for cycling, especially for little ones if they are still learning. The roads and tracks are smooth and after drop off there’s no cars on site.
We invested in a new set of Thule roof bike rack pro ride bars (say that with your mouth full) after our last trip to Rutland Water ended up with me mounting the car to try and hold a lesser brand on! 😮 They were fantastic once assembled and we could get the bikes on and off quite easily and were very secure. We did wait until the afternoon of the first day to get the bikes off though choosing to use our trusty festival buggy to transport the kids which also came in handy on the last day as we had put the bikes back on and parked the car. This way the kids could get straight to the lodge while one of us fetched the car as sometimes there can be a queue to get in and it was better for the kids and our eardrums.
Also if you need to leave early on the Monday like I did 😭you can get a ticket for an hour to take your car on site to load otherwise cars aren’t permitted over the weekend which I think is wonderful and great for beginners and just feeling safe and at one with nature… ooooo spiritual!
Eating in and out
For most of the break we cooked at the lodge, it’s very well equipped with almost everything you could need from pizza cutters to serving tongs, just a few more dishwasher tablets would have been good and we did forget our cooking oil 🙄. I’m sure though if you asked at guest services they would provide you with a few more. Mum went through the loo rolls and they happily obliged. Logs can be pricey at the supermarket but I’m sure you can get these type (smokeless) from other shops.
As we’ve done before, we brought a selection of ASDA’s £3.50 pizzas for the first night, ready-to-cook lasagne for the second and lots of snacks and bits to make sandwiches for our lunches. We made a pack-up each day to take into the pool, but actually the kids’ meals you get at the Canopy Bar are very reasonable and well portioned with a kids’ hot dog, chips, cookie and drink for just over a fiver. If you manage to get up early you’ll get your pick of the seats around the pool. We camped out near the children’s area and Starbucks hut, which was very kind to give us iced tap water.
The kids’ enjoyed a couple of treats during our stay with an ice cream only £1.50 from the treat kiosk (with a generous scoop) and a cake each at the village store (huge, tasty and again not overly priced). In fact I thought the supermarket prices weren’t really that bad. We had avoided the shop like the plague, but when Mother Nature took me by surprise I had to make the trip and yes it is more expensive, milk is about 20p more and 30p for bread but there are lots of price match deals and a bottle of Pinot is just £7! So fine if you find you’ve left something. Wilba enjoyed pushing round the little trolleys which did mean we ended up with some other purchases, but nothing which broke the bank.
The last evening we booked a meal at Huck’s which is our favourite eatery on-site, although I’ve heard the Indian is really nice too. You pay £5 a-head to book a table which then goes towards your meal, this does make the bill feel lighter and there are cheaper options on the menu but a main meal still starts at around £10.95 and a basic burger is about £16!
Drinks wise I didn’t find the wine too expensive but the spirits were and there was only sweet bottled ciders and no Norfolk Gin, the cheek 😉. It was a great meal with a great soft play (most of the restaurants have them) but I was a bit disgruntled that my son couldn’t swap peas and sweet corn for beans especially since they were available on the kids buffet where incidentally the same peas and sweetcorn could be found? I had a look at the kids buffet and wasn’t overly impressed, I would stick to ordering off the menu so you know its been freshly cooked and there’s lots to chose from, the macaroni cheese is lush!
The pool is obviously the biggest draw and where we spent most of our time. Lockers now use your wrist-bad lodge key to lock them so there’s no need to root around for spare change or extra keys. Also, if you do forget your locker number there’s a handy scanner that’ll tell you. They’re not the biggest but you can get an additional fob from the pool kiosk desk at no extra charge if you need more space.
Speaking of space, we struggled to ride tandem with our inflatables and did wonder why we were the only ones with inflatable rings around our heads, turns out just as you get in the pool there’s an inflation point which saves the huffing and puffing.
Don’t forget to take towels for the pool, they do have them in the lodge but shouldn’t really be used, although we did sneak a couple in the last day when ours got a bit whiffy, so if you have space pack a couple. Towels can also be hired at a cost.
Cameras are permitted pool-side (not in changing areas) but just make sure your only taking pics of your own family and it’s worth investing in one of those waterproof pouches and they are lot of fun. There’s also a pool-side photographer swimming around for a few hours each day who’ll happily take some photos with no obligation to buy them later. You can save these photos along with any from the Cyclone into an album so you can look through them later during your stay just in case. Just ask at the photo help desk to get started.
We didn’t get one, but cabanas start at £40 for 3 hours and maybe worth a splurge if you have elderly guests or babies in your party as you get a TV, towels and private seated area. We were having far too much fun in the pool to sit down though and if your patient a spot usually turns up with some seats!
Don’t forget to take 20p if you want to dry your cozy. Hairdryers are free.
Activities can be pre-booked as soon as you make your booking which is wise if you want a specific time to fit around little ones, but don’t despair if activities become booked up, always inquire as they sometimes add sessions to accommodate their guests. Bowling is not bad for a large group but the time does go quickly and it will stop you playing even if the game isn’t finished so make sure everyone is focused… not that I’m competitive or anything.
Every night at 7pm there’s a kids’ disco in the Sports Bar area which my two loved and the DJ plays a few games with prizes (all of which is free), after that it’s an adults disco but I’ve yet to see that full and kids are seemingly still welcome.
The roller skating was great fun and at £7.00 per person, similar to our local rink, the staff were amazing and great with the kids. All the safety gear, knee pads, wrist pads, shoulder pads etc. are all included which made it a really safe activity and gave the boy in particular lots of confidence to go for it!
Badminton is good value for money too as long as you take your own rackets and shuttles, we really enjoyed this and there’s lots of places to sit and watch if it’s not your thing, the sports bar has pool tables and they are quite a few dotted around the complex and in the bowling bar then there’s the kids parks which are free to use and soft play areas which are in most of the restaurants.
There are literally hundreds of other activities from mini scientists to climbing walls and sharks and mermaids, but we found fun just being together and not having to rush. One or two activities is really all you need when you’ve got young kids, if that! and if all fails don’t forget a few good DVDs and some playing cards… everyone loves snap.
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Have Fun Crumblers!