Photography: George Rockett & Zoe London | Words: Zoe London
Holidaying at Center Parcs is a tradition i’m so glad my parents started when we were young. Here’s why…
I do think whilst holidaying in the UK is generally on the rise, it seems to be overlooked by bloggers looking to warmer shores and more instagrammable locations, but there’s something to be said for the humble British holiday. We’ve been holidaying at Center Parcs since I was a little baby – back in 1989, yup, really – and we still keep up the tradition nearly every year now. What is it that keeps bringing us back? Well for starters, it’s quite an affordable trip away that involves little travelling, no long waits at the airport and generally a sense of escapism away from home, whilst still being at home. I adore Center Parcs, and if you’ve not been, I think you’d enjoy it too.
Our most recent trip was in March this year and of course as with the unpredictable British weather, that weekend it decided to snow. Classic March weather…!?!? So that’s why all my photos look a bit snowy! It wasn’t super quiet, and it wasn’t totally busy. We do usually go around March/April time as this seems to be a good time to go that’s both affordable and relatively quiet – any time off school time is always good in my books! – but we have also gone in November before, and of course in the Summer in the past. There are a few Center Parcs locations across the UK – five to be exact – but we usually favour the ones nearer to where we live, which are both Woburn Forest, and Elveden Forest. These photos were all taken at Woburn, but our general consensus is that we do think Elveden is better. Elveden is a little bigger, and offers a few more in the way of activities, with a larger pool area and generally spread across more land. However, Woburn is really quite close to London, and that does make it an ideal location for city dwellers looking for a weekend in the forest. It is of course, still lovely, and as it’s quite new it feels fresh and new too. We also favour weekend breaks over week stays, but we have stayed in the week before, and again if you time this right there’s minimal school kids which is always good for a relaxing weekend! You can get breaks at Center Parcs for quite cheap, we’ve paid anything from about £300 for the five of us to £500 for a weekend stay.
That fee covers your villa cost, and more or less everything else is paid for on top. However, there is a little gem of the Center Parcs franchise in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, the epic swimming pool that is free to enter. I have so many fond memories of spending entire days in here as a kid, and daydreaming of going back to the pool all year until we got to go again. With a tropical temperature inside and choc full of beautiful plants, it’s such a nice atmosphere if you’re just a group of adults, or if you have kids too. These days, as we’re all older, we favour going in the pool in the afternoon to late evening, as the pool stays open until 8-9pm. In recent years we also discovered the little cabanas as pictured above, which cost around an extra £40-£50, but provide respite from the pool chaos, and with a little tv area to chill out between riding slides! Each Subtropical Swimming Paradise is different, but the Woburn one has several slides, an outdoor wild water rapids – which was freeeeezing in the snow!! – and a large indoor pool that turns to a wave pool every hour or so. There’s also a designated area for kids, and the Woburn one is pirate themed, which is really cute. As you can see from my photos, going in the evenings really pays off as not many other people decide to do this as most travel with small children, and it means a quieter pool atmosphere.
I realised I was absolutely useless and didn’t take any photos of the inside of the villa, but you can see here the little cabins all together deep into the forest. At Woburn, they’re especially lovely because they really are brand new. We always stay in the Woodland Lodges or Executive Lodges, which have wifi, en suites and even a steam room in the back garden. They do have various level of lodging, and dog / child friendly lodging too.
In terms of food and entertainment, there is plenty to do, like I say they do vary from different locations but on the whole there is always something going on. Each lodge comes with a kitchen, so you could choose to bring your own food and cook dinners – which we often do – but there is now plenty of dining options including loads of familiar named restaurants. Woburn in particular had a Cafe Rouge, Starbucks, Strada and Las Iguanas as well as the Center Parcs own branded restaurants – The Pancake House (which was shut for a refurb, sob), Dexters Kitchen, Sports Cafe, Hucks, and Rajinda Pradesh. They also offer in-room dining where they can bring the food to your lodge – but this does come at quite a steep cost! There is also SO MUCH in the way of sports and activities to do, way too much for me to list here but it ranges from Archery and Zip Wires to indoor activities like Badminton and Table Tennis. There’s tonnes of stuff for the kids, too. We aren’t a massively sporty family, and I do often think people have a misconception that Center Parcs is an entirely sports based holiday when it isn’t at all. To be honest, we barely do any of the sports unless it’s something unusual we want to do – George loves a bit of Archery! – and we favour the more relaxed ones like Table Tennis, Bowling and Pottery Painting, which i’ll get onto in a minute. This trip to Center Parcs was also particularly interesting as all outdoor activities were off due to the snow, and this was interesting to see how it would affect our holiday. In general, it just meant everything was booked up quicker so you really needed to get down there in the morning and pre book, or it meant there was a lot more people inside the indoor areas than normal. We sadly missed out on a booking at the spa, Aqua Sana, which is amazing if you’re into spa things but quite expensive, and we also struggled one afternoon to find something to do after seeing more or less everything was booked up. Luckily, Woburn has two bowling alleys, so we just spent some time bowling!
Pottery Painting is something we do at Center Parcs every single year. On paper, it sounds boring, childish, silly… I know. But it’s incredibly relaxing, very therapeutic and generally something we all enjoy doing together. George even says it’s the highlight of his holiday! For me, it’s one of many times at Center Parcs I can switch off from social media and my online world for a few hours, and I honestly feel like I come back a refreshed person every time we go. I think if you’re heading to Center Parcs, you should add pottery to your to do list as it’s so fun and really rewarding to see your final piece of pottery at the end!
So there we go, that’s why every year we head to Center Parcs, and why we will continue to for years to come. Every single one of my family loves it, and there’s always something for us to do, eat and generally spend time with each other. I think it would be perfect for either families with babies, little kids, teenagers and even groups of adults looking for a weekend away. We’ve always said we want to come with some of our mates!
Let me know if you too go to Center Parcs and if you haven’t, if you’d consider going. Leave your thoughts in the comments!