*Not a sponsored post*
We have just come back from our debut family weekend trip to CentreParcs. Here are my top hacks I’ll be referring back to for next time – and yes, there will be a next time: Toddlers are not aliens here.
- Arrive for 10am & head to the pool – Although you won’t have access to your lodge until 3pm (2pm if you pay the supplement) you can use the facilities on site from 10am. We were told at the CenterParcs check in point that we couldn’t use the pool until 2pm, we obeyed and instead dragged 2 kids around in the rain until it was time for us to check in. However, others in our party did use the pool from 10am with no problem at all, and this is what we would do next time for sure! (There wasn’t a Rottweiler guarding the entrance!)
- Hire Bikes: from 11am on day of arrival. It’s by far the quickest and easiest way to get around CenterParcs. There are brilliant cycle routes, and the fact that cars have to be in the main car park by 10pm on the day of your arrival means you are safe from traffic, apart from the odd service vehicle. Our girls are 2 & 5 so we hired a carriage for the back of Dan’s bike (lucky him!) The girls LOVED it. Even better is the serious amount of storage behind the seats for carting around all of the usual ‘under the buggy’ crap. You can hire balance bikes, bikes with stabilisers, traditional chick cycles and mountain bikes. They were all really good condition and came with locks.
- Pay to be central. Yes, it is extra – again. But the site is huge, and if like us you have 2 small children in tow the last thing we wanted was long hikes between the pool and our lodge. We figured this is where our girls would be most keen to hang out and so choose a lodge as close as possible. It minimised tantrums and cycling effort (I had no idea how unfit I am, CenterParcs is massive!) so worth the extra £ at the point of booking.
- Afternoons at the pool. The difference between the mornings and afternoons in the pool was unbelievable. The famous CenterParcs pool opens at 10am – Think Black Friday, with the amount of people waiting to get into the changing rooms on the dot of 10. The queues for the 4 big slides were seriously long, 20 minutes was the longest we waited for. The outside pool was so packed it was like watching pasta come to the boil! The afternoon was the opposite, especially on the day we arrived. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.
- Bring inflatables & Bucket n spades with you- and don’t get ripped off! We bought a beach ball in Morrisons for 99p. The exact same beach ball was being sold at CenterParcs for £5.99! We also took a bucket and spade each to the pool. There are sandpits in the toddler area. Yes, I was crouched over in my bikini making a Dinosaur nest: Because of course, we were at Jurrassic Park, not Center Parcs. Mild confusion for entire trip as Toddler Monster roared her way around the place in search of a T Rex. There is also a sandy beach around the lake for keen diggers… 6. BOOK BOOK BOOK! If you want to do it, Book it. The activities at CenterParcs get really booked up, especially things like the horse riding, children’s jet skis and the tree tops high wires. Although with the massive pool, the adventure playgrounds, & lake-beach you could get away without doing extras if you have under 5’s. Click here for the list of included activities. The Pancake house was seriously popular, we couldn’t get in without a booking on our first attempt to stuff ourselves stupid. We had more success when we arrived for when it opened at 11am. It has a lovely sunny terrace out the back, the pancakes were delicious – and almost guilt free thanks to the cycling! Next time I’d love to book into the Spa…
- 7. Take a BBQ & kitchen essentials. They do sell pretty much everything you need in the little shop at CenterParcs, but you’ll pay a premium for it, and you won’t have your car boot handy to pop it all in to take home… So it’s a good idea to plan out if you will be eating in or out and take your supplies with you. (Even down to the nitty gritty of washing up liquid, loo roll and bin bags! Oh the glamour!) The lodges all have outdoor tables and chairs with a BBQ area, we made use of it one evening and it was lovely amongst the trees!
- 8. Restaurants at Center Parcs: The sports bar is on the lake, in the big sports complex. It serves Weatherspoons style grub. Not particularly special BUT it serves wine, AND has a soft play area which our girls loved. Tick, tick. Café Rouge is in the Plaza and is one of only 2 places that serve breakfast. Again, it has a little soft play area. The only thing about Café Rouge is that it has a stream with no fences running in between the tables with fish in. If you have a wobbly toddler then you’ll be on your guard… But it is pretty! Hucks is the American restaurant and serves your burger / steak / chip classics. It does a children’s buffet which was basic kids food, but good value. It has a soft play for toddlers, an adventure play Castle for the older ones and an i-station for older kids. VERY child friendly and serve a mean Daiquiri. There are a couple of Starbucks (plaza & Sports complex) No soft play… but essential caffeine fix to get around all of the activities and pander to whinging kids.9. Take your joggers, some decent swimwear & get a Tan! There is absolutely no point taking anything nice to wear. Embrace the opportunity to leave your skinnys at home, cycling in them would be impossible and so uncomfortable! Pack wellies, trainers and hair bands: no heels needed! Same for the kids. I did however have a spray tan. Knowing I’d be spending more time standing out of the pool than submerged I decided it would be a good investment. Well, tanned cellulite always looks better doesn’t it… Same applies for the bikini. Get a tight one – those slides are fast. You know what I’m saying.
- 10. LONGLEAT SAFARI PARK is literally 3 minutes up the road from the main CenterParcs entrance. We did this on the Monday, our check out day. You can stay in the park and use all of the facilities as long as you are out of your lodge by 10am. But if you haven’t been to Longleat zoo then you just have to do it! There always seem to be a few deals online for booking tickets in advance. We arrived before 10am and had the safari in our car almost to ourselves. Lions, roamed around our car, we fed Deers out of the passenger window, saw Tigers a few meters away… It was incredible. RECOMMEND RECOMMEND RECOMMEND!