When it comes to holidaying in the UK, one of my favourite places to visit has to be Center Parcs. With forest-centric sites spread across the country, it’s a resort that has something for everyone; kids or no kids. But mention you’re thinking of it and the general response tends to revolve around the price. Yes, it’s true that you could find cheaper holidays elsewhere; both in the UK and abroad but a trip to Center Parcs doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some of the ways we helped keep costs down on our latest trip to Center Parcs…
HOW TO VISIT CENTER PARCS ON A BUDGET
1. BOOK CAREFULLY
Like most companies, Center Parcs prices vary hugely depending upon the time of year, the school holidays and whether or not you choose to go on a weekend. Use the random school inset days your school allocates to squeeze in a cost effective long weekend without the price rises seen around bank holidays. To get the most for your money, look for off-peak midweek breaks from late Autumn through to Spring time. To give you an idea of the money you’ll save; a three bed lodge varies from £949 for the weekend in August down to £659 for a weekend in November. Switch to a Monday to Friday break and you can get down to £379 in November for a six person lodge, even cheaper if you only need two bedrooms! *prices correct at time of publication
2. DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT FROM YOUR ACCOMMODATION
Center Parcs offer a range of different lodge types from their original woodland style two bedroom lodges right up to the tree houses. You’ll pay a premium for things such as en-suite bathrooms so decide how much you really need that and whether it’s worth the additional cost, especially when some of the bigger lodges have a family bathroom, separate shower room and another toilet instead of en-suites meaning there are plenty of facilities to go round. Remember that you’ll spend a huge chunk of your trip away from your accommodation so may not need all the bells and whistles. For example, with our recent booking we could have paid an extra £700 for the next lodge up; the only difference? A private hot tub.
Find the lodge you want and then look at the next grade down; will it meet your needs for your stay? It could save you a fair bit. Likewise, always look at the next one up as well; we’ve found that two and three bed lodges often cost the same or have a very small difference (£50) and could allow you extra room or to take additional people and spread the cost.
3. BOOK SHOULDER WEEKS
Last year we (completely unintentionally) managed to book the week before the Christmas breaks started. It meant that throughout the week, different bits of the Christmas displays started appearing. There was no disruption and by the end of the week we were walking around in the illuminations and experiencing the Christmas grotto. The Christmas breaks start on a Friday meaning if you’re leaving that day, everything will be ready for those arriving, giving you the chance to experience their winter wonderland without the premium cost.
4. TAKE YOUR MEALS
One of the easiest ways to stick to your budget is to take your own food with you. All Center Parcs accommodation is self catered allowing you the flexibility to choose between taking your own food or making the most of the many on-site restaurants. There’s a well stocked supermarket on site which can help fill in any gaps but it’s priced at a premium compared to off-site supermarkets. All kitchens are fully stocked so there’s no reason why you can’t eat your normal meals just like you would at home; just be warned that your food will need to last in the car until you can get into the rooms at 3pm (ice blocks and/or freezing your meat are two things that will be your friend here!). If you’re unsure about how you’re going to fit it in, do a quick search for local supermarkets near your Center Parcs site. You can go on and off site as much as you want so it’s easy to click and collect an order or do a top up shop. Just bear in mind that if it’s outside of the changeover window, you’ll be walking back to your lodge from the carpark with a whole heap of shopping!
5. TAKE YOUR OWN BIKES (OR WALK!)
Hiring bikes is easy to do but if you’re looking to keep costs down then take your own bikes. If you’re unsure, you don’t have to hire bikes; it’s easy to explore the site on foot! We stayed at the Longleat site which also features a land train due to it’s layout, it was great fun to catch and go for a ride around (an activity in itself for the toddler!). If you’re taking small children, there are plenty of spaces to park prams and pushchairs around the site, including next to the main pool complex so you don’t need to worry about having to carry them. If you get there and change your mind, you can always hire bikes during your stay, it’s a little less cost efficient than doing it at the very start but it takes the worry away by giving you the option.
6. MAKE THE MOST OF FREE ACTIVITIES
Whilst there are more activities available than you can shake a stick at, there’s plenty that you can do for free on site. The swimming plaza is free and with baby and toddler play areas, slides, indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, it’s an easy way to spend half a day. Take a walk to the lake with the beach by the side for some fun in the sand or wander around the site and make use of many of the outdoor play areas designed for all ages to use.
Make sure you check out what TV equipment your accommodation comes with. Most have a DVD player so rather than renting DVDs onsite, bring some of your favourites with you for rainy afternoons and lazy evenings in. Chuck in a board game as well to ensure you’re well occupied in your down time!
7. IF YOU DO ACTIVITIES, PICK WISELY
If you do decide to do a paid activity, there are plenty to choose from, some more cost effective than others. With a toddler and a small baby, we knew we didn’t want to do much but decided to throw in a trip to the bowling alley for the toddler’s first game whilst we were there. Looking back, we probably shouldn’t have bothered as he was exhausted and definitely struggled to grasp the taking turns element but it was nice to do something different. Bowling is one of the few activities where I feel you get decent value for money compared to the cost in the ‘outside world’ as you pay for the time rather than a set number of games. If your little ones are itching to do something, why not pick one activity for the week to splash out on?
Related post: Need a travel pushchair? Here’s one we recommend.
8. BOOK AGAIN QUICKLY!
If you have a great stay and know you want to visit again then make sure you take advantage of Center Parcs’ ‘Come Back Soon’ offer. An email with full details will be sent to you following your stay making booking simple. You get vouchers to use on site for each lodge booked and a low price guarantee, meaning that if you see the price lower between booking and your arrival, you can contact them and they’ll amend your price to reflect that. It does mean you’re responsible for keeping an eye on the price but if you’re going to book anyway it’s a nice way to get some extra benefits and a bit of a deal. Center Parcs don’t often offer deals so make the most of this one!