We’ve just arrived home from our first Center Parcs holiday and wanted to share a few tips about our experience and importantly the things you need to remember to pack. This blog post should save you a lot of Google searches…
30 Things You Need To Know About A Center Parcs Holiday
(This is based on a stay at Woburn Center Parcs in a 3 bedroom executive lodge)
When you arrive1. When you arrive you’ll be directed to check in bays before you enter the park. You’ll be given wristbands which unlock your lodge and are your keys for any lockers you might use in the pool.
2. Check in is from 3pm however you can arrive, park in the car park and use the facilities from 10am.
3. We arrived at about 2pm, parked the car and went to have a coffee in the village which was a short walk from the car. As we had hired our bikes in advance (which I would recommend) we picked these up just before 3pm and the rush then went to the lodge before getting our car. This worked well and meant once we had unloaded the car we were ready to explore.
4. You can have cars on site for unloading until 10pm on the night you arrive (just in case you’ve forgotten something or need to take a trip to a supermarket). After that they need to be in the car park.
What to pack
(This covers a family with a four and a one year old)
For the kitchen
5. Our kitchen was well stocked with utensils (cooking ones and things like can openers), plates, glasses, chopping boards and pans. However, if you plan to mostly cook in like we did I would recommend bringing a bigger frying pan (if you’re going to do a family meal like a spaghetti bolognese as an example) as we found the one there quite small for a family meal. The fridge isn’t huge but we found we were able to fit everything we needed for a family of four for a week and a big whole milk for our girl’s. This was helped by having a separate wine fridge where we kept all of our drinks!
6. If your little ones need non-breakable plates and cutlery bring those as there wasn’t anything for little ones in the lodge.
7. There was a coffee machine in our lodge (Tassimo) and they provided a few pods to start us off, you can buy more in the Pac Market.
8. You’ll need to bring dishcloths, tea towels, kitchen roll, cooking oil, salt & pepper, mayo/ketchup, a couple of shopping bags, bin bags, anti-bacterial spray, washing up liquid and dishwasher tablets. If you forget it’s all available in the shop!
8. We took most of the food we needed for the week. We ordered an online shop the morning we travelled, put it in cool bags and it was fine when we unpacked. The shop at Center Pacrs does have a good selection (and the girls loved the mini trolleys) but I think buying in advance was the most cost-efficient way to do it. To give you an idea of meals we had over the four nights we had; a BBQ (outside), spaghetti bolognese, home-made pizzas (a shop bought base) and fajitas.
We also took everything we would usually have for breakfast, bread for lunch and additional food for our toddler.
For the bathroom9. We packed all of their shampoos etc. I wish I had packed an after swimming shampoo as we spent a lot of time in the pool!
10. We stayed in an executive lodge and there was shampoo and shower gel but if you’re particular about your products take your own.
11. If you have a little one who needs a potty/toilet seat etc bring your own. This is something we forgot!
The rest of the lodge
12. The living area was big and perfect for our family of four. We bought a big bag of Duplo which kept the girls entertained and if they needed a rest we found Cbeebies on the TV.13. We found the lodge on the warm side so if you have a little one in a sleeping bag take a couple of tog variations and a thermometer so you can change if needed. We found it quite hard to cool the room down and didn’t want to leave the windows open at night.
14. You can request (in advance) a wooden cot, bed guards and high chairs. They should be in your cupboard which has the blackboard in the outside but check when you arrive, as our bed guards weren’t there. They were however quickly delivered, along with the highchair.15. Outside you’ll find a table and chairs, BBQ (not in all lodges), but you’ll need to buy a disposable tray as the BBQ is just a brick stand. In our lodge we also had a sauna, so check in your lodge what you’ll have.
Around Center Parcs
16. We hired two bikes and a trailer for our two. They absolutely loved the trailer (we found it quite tough on the hills) but with the age of the girls, it worked perfectly. We bought our own helmets and locks were provided by the hire shop. We booked our bikes and trailer in advance and I’d recommend doing this as trailers were popular.
17. We loved spending mornings at the pool. We bought our own towels but they can be hired. Lockers are operated with your wristbands and there are plenty of family changing rooms. The pool opens at 10am and we found it good to go early, have a play then a snack before heading back for lunch.
18. There were two areas for little ones. Venture Bay and Venture Harbour. The girls loved Venture Bay with the splash areas and gentle slides. There is a main pool with a wave machine (operates at quarter to the hour and quarter past for four minutes) the girls loved this! There are lots of water jets and shallow water so very little ones are easily occupied. You will also find playpens and changing mats all over the swimming pool area which would be very handy with a baby.
19. For the older pool goers, there was outdoor wild water rapids and three slides. I am assured by my husband they were great fun! There is also a lazy river which Amelie and I really enjoyed.
20. We bought swimming aids for the girl’s but there are aids available to borrow just by Venture Bay – they are not life jackets but helpful for little ones who need a little extra buoyancy.
21. You can sync your wristband with a credit card which can then be used as a cashless way to buy snacks and drinks in the pool. There was a Starbucks and a cafe inside the pool area and lots of seating. Cabanas can also be hired around the pool area which would be great if you were spending the day there.
22. You really are spoilt for activities when it comes to Center Parcs. Before you leave you’ll be sent a programme for the week. Check this for some of the free activities like the children’s entertainment on a Tuesday and a Baby Dolphin session (they open the pool an hour early for toddlers, have a song and provide floats, toys and watering cans). This was in the pool on a Wednesday but check before you go, this was the programme when we went. We found it a little difficult to find activities suitable both for Amelie, four and Evie, one as many activities started at two and even though Evie is very able we couldn’t book her onto them so we’ll look forward to trips when she’s older and we can do more together. She was very happy with pool and playground time though!
23. There are two good outdoor play areas. A small one by the Pac Market and Hucks in The Venue area, the larger play area is situated behind the swimming pool, you need to walk up by the shops to the right of the swimming pool and you’ll find it.
24. Amelie really enjoyed a teddy bear making session and short tennis, but these were the only additional paid activities we did this time.
25. If you’re forecast rain don’t worry there is still lots to keep little ones amused. There are pottery classes, cupcake decorating, tenpin bowling, indoor sports, the spa, a creche for little ones and so much more to list! Take wellies – there will be lots of jumping in puddles little ones can do!
26. There is so much to do without spending money on activities. There is a treasure nature trail signposted all around the village, a beautiful lake with a little beach and we just enjoyed walks where we tried to spot animals and things like pine cones.
27. Activities are popular so I would recommend booking the ones you really want to do in advance. There is a Center Parcs app, which although not the most user-friendly (there is no search option) you can get an idea of the activities you might want to do. As we hadn’t been before we didn’t book anything in advance as we didn’t really know how our days would pan out, however, we did find an afternoon activity quite fun to do so if your little ones are the same age as ours I’d recommend having a few ideas up your sleeve.
28. We tended to eat in our lodge but did treat ourselves to eating out a couple of times. There are places to eat for all budgets and all tastes. We tried lunch in Leon, snacks in Starbucks and lunch in Strada. There is also an Indian restaurant, Cafe Rouge, sport bars and a dine-in option.
29. Lots of the restaurants have play areas in them (Strada had a really nice one, as did the pancake restaurant), so if you have little ones that can’t sit still this is a good option.
On your last day
30. We really didn’t know what to do on our last day, whether to leave at 10am when we had to vacate our lodge or stay on site. We found the best option for us was to load the car at our lodge around 8am, return the bikes soon after, then park the car back in the car park around 9.30am before heading to the pool ready to go in when it opened at 10am. This gave us a morning in the pool which the girls loved. We then had lunch at Strada before walking back to the car for naps on the way home. Remember to take everything you need and a buggy – after cycling everywhere the walk was quite long for the little ones, especially after a morning in the pool!
They are my 30 top tips for a holiday at Center Parcs. We absolutely loved our holiday there and can’t wait to return!