Center Parcs (on a shoestring!)

Center Parcs is a relatively well-known brand across Europe as a short break woodland retreat. It’s aimed at families, but for our first trip of 2016 we went to Elveden for a 5 day break with 4 of our friends. I’m going to tell you why this destination is great for young groups, and how this infamously expensive resort can be done on a budget!

Check out what we got up to here:

In case you don’t know about Center Parcs, you stay in your own little lodge in the middle of the woods, and there’s a whole host of activities you can do on site (most are chargeable). Each location has a free (amazing!) swimming pool, and their own cute little village with various restaurants and shops. Cars are only allowed in the park for unloading, so it really feels like a proper break. You can do anything from high-rope assault courses, to archery, to a spa day – the options really are limitless! But with high lodge fees, and booking activities on top, things can get expensive really quickly.

A brief note on TRANSPORT: you would find it difficult to go here without a car. The parks aren’t easily accessible by public transport, and you might struggle to bring everything you need, and have nowhere to store it before going into your lodge, so try to bring along someone who can give you a lift!

As I said, Center Parcs tend to advertise for families, but it’s actually the perfect location for big groups. There are a few reasons for this:

1 – once you’ve paid for the accommodation, everyone can spend as much or as little as they like; you could book multiple activities, or stick with the free swimming pool and woodland walks to save cash.

2 – you don’t feel like you have to do everything together all of the time. Anyone can do an activity on their own and the lodge is just a short walk back.

3 – the lodge gives you space to hang out together and spend time together without being cramped (as you might be in a hotel room); it’s great for playing games, roasting marshmallows, or having a few drinks in the evening.

ACCOMODATION: Booking a lodge in high season could mean a huge bill into the 1000’s. However, if you’re happy to be flexible, you can go for as little as £40pp for four nights. TIP: There are two weeks in the year that are the absolute cheapest – these are the last week or so in January and November (they exact week will vary year to year).  Between the 6 of us, we paid £40 each for our late January break – we did the same the year before, too. If you can’t rope in your friends, you can always stay at the hotel which can be cheaper, although bear in mind there’s no kitchen. Booking weekends is typically more expensive for less time, and prices vary between locations, so if you can be flexible, check out different resorts. TIP: We headed up early to make the most of the day – you’re not allowed in your accommodation until 3pm, but you can make use of the swimming pool and other facilities beforehand.

TIP: the really great thing about the lodges is you get your own kitchen! Eating at the restaurants will get expensive, and the on-site supermarket is expensive. We stock up at the supermarket before we go, and take turns cooking – one pair a night, and one evening meal out. You will save a fortune by doing this, and one night cooking isn’t a chore! There’s also a fireplace, so you could bring some fuel and marshmallow for a cosy night in.

THINGS TO DO: Here is where the fun begins!! The only thing that is included in your booking is the Subtropical Swimming Paradise (aka swimming pool.) This isn’t just any swimming pool though! It’s amazing for all the family – there’s wave machines, lazy rivers, a variety of slides, jacuzzis, a lagoon, outdoor pools, a cold plunge pool, and the beat part of all – the rapids! We spent hours in this pool and went once a day – it’s definitely a staple activity, especially as it’s free! TIP: swimming in the evening is a great option; it’s a lot quieter and it looks amazing outside all lit up!  

After you’ve gone for your swim, you can take part in as many extra activities as you like. I recommend the pottery painting; it’s relatively cheap but takes a long time, and you get a lovely souvenir. It’s super relaxing, too! We’ve done the treasure trail before for free by finding the first post on our own (you’ll see them dotted around). Badminton, crazy golf and table tennis are cheap options, too. TIP: Bring your own bike if you can; it’s designed with cycles in mind, but it’s a relatively expensive £25 (ish) for the duration of your stay. There’s really no end of choice when it comes to activities, and there is something for everyone. As we booked for January, we asked for vouchers for activities for our Christmas present. If you save a little each month, you’ll be able to do a few different things during your stay. There are no vouchers – ever! – for Center Parcs breaks or activities (note one exception: if you book your next stay within 1 month of your break, they will give £25 in Center Parc vouchers.)

TIP: Whether you book your activities before you go or when you get there, the prices don’t change except for World of Spa which is cheaper to book before you get there.

So there you have it; with a little bit of planning and flexibility, you can make Center Parcs an affordable trip for a group of friends.

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