As a Center Parcs Blogger family for 2013 we recently got to enjoy a mini break at the Center Parcs village of our choice. We could only take that break during term time, and as the geekdaughter is now in school this meant for us that we had to go for a weekend. A usual weekend break at Center Parcs is from Friday to Monday, but as we had to get the geekdaughter back to school we could only stay until the Sunday evening. I wasn’t daunted though. We’ve been to Center Parcs several times before, often with friends who have school age children, so we knew it was totally feasible to have a great break even if it was only a couple of days. So I thought I’d share with you my top tips for enjoying a weekend break at Center Parcs…
- 1. Choose a Center Parcs village close to home.
The four (soon to be 5) Center Parcs villages are spread quite well across the country, but for a weekend break you don’t want to spend too much time in the car, so I recommend you pick your closest one. We opted for the Whinfell Forest village, which is the most Northerly of the villages, and about an hour and a half drive for us. This meant we could collect the geekdaughter from school and head straight out, managing to arrive, check in and get into our lodge in time for tea.
- 2. Check in online before you leave
I couldn’t believe how quick and easy the arrival process was after checking in online. We drove up to the booth and the lady had already called up all our details from my car number plate, so all she had to do was pass over the lodge keys (which are electronic braceletsin Whinfell now, and also act as locker keys in the swimming pool – very useful!) and give us the directions to our lodge.
- 3. Take friends
Weekend breaks with just the family are lovely, but Center Parcs is definitely more fun with friends. Either book a larger lodge that will fit you all, or choose adjacent lodges. As you can select your lodges when you book your break it’s easy to find the right number of lodges close together, and due to the open plan nature of the layout many of the lodges have a shared space behind. We took the lovely Lindy and her family away with us, and being able to open the back doors of both lodges and have the kids run freely between the two was wonderful.
- 4. Book your activities in advance
There are such a variety of activities you can do, either all together as a family or individually, but even outside of peak holiday times you really need to book them in advance to ensure you don’t miss out. The nice thing about going during term time is that you can leave it closer to your departure date before booking (if you want to do things that require certain weather conditions for example), but it’s still recommended to book as early as possible. You can access a full catalogue of all activities online, and even book them online too, so it’s really easy to get this all sorted out before your break.
- 5. Order a grocery pack
I had seen that it was possible to order a package of basic groceries to be delivered to your lodge in advance of your arrival, but I’d never tried that before this stay, and I have to say I would definitely do it again! Ordering a grocery pack in advance means you don’t have to bring food with you, or dash out to the Parc Market as soon as you arrive. The pack costs £49 (current price), and includes all the essentials – breakfast cereal, bread, tea, coffee, milk, sausages, bacon, and more. This meant we had food in the house for the kids to have their tea when we arrived, and made the whole process so much easier. In fact the supplies from the grocery pack lasted our whole weekend and meant we didn’t need to shop for any essentials during our stay.
- 6. Hire bikes (if you don’t have your own)
Our break included complimentary bike hire, but as we’re not the most enthusiastic cyclists we didn’t collect them until the Saturday afternoon. This was the point at which we learned that the geekdaughter had learned to ride without stabilisers without our knowing! Even as inexperienced cyclists (with a slightly wobbly five-year-old in tow) the bikes made it so much quicker to get around the village – most of the accommodation is a little way from the village centre and time you can save on travelling around is extra play time! We should have collected them earlier, and will know that next time.
- 7. Go swimming early in the morning
We got up early on the Saturday morning and headed straight for the subtropical swimming paradise. Access to this is included in the price of your break, so it can get very busy at peak times. We arrived about 10am, and whilst there were quite a few people in the pool already, there was still plenty of space, and it didn’t feel crowded.
- 8. Use the takeaway service
Once the kids were in bed and we had the chance to sit down and put our feet up the last thing we wanted to do was start cooking. So the geekdaddy and I made use of the Center Parcs takeaway service, which offers a choice of menus to suit all tastes (pizza, Indian and Chinese). You simply ring your order through, pay by card and a little van delivers your food 30 minutes to an hour later. It’s slightly more expensive than our local takeaways, but didn’t seem extortionate and the portions were well-sized and delicious.
- 9. Get some time for yourself
When you get home from a weekend away and you’ve still got all the housework to do, plus a huge pile of laundry, it’s very easy to feel like the weekend was more work than fun. Not being much of a spa-goer, I hadn’t previously visited the Aqua Sana at Center Parcs, but this time I was able to enjoy a complimentary spa treatment. I opted for the luxury pedicure, and it was so nice to be pampered a little bit. I was able to relax completely as the kids were both kept busy at the Time Out Club. The last time we visited Center Parcs the geekdaughter wasn’t very old, and so we’d never had the chance to try out the kids clubs before. This time we were able to book both kids into “Little Chefs”, a two hour workshop which kept them busy first of all decorating their own aprons and then getting creative in the kitchen. They came out at the end very proudly carrying the boxes that contained their pizza and cake creations. They both had a great time, and the geekdaddy and I had a couple of hours to ourselves, which was lovely.
- 10. Get the kids ready for bed before you leave
Usual check-out time for a weekend break is 10am Monday morning, but we had to leave on Sunday evening so the geekdaughter could be back at school the next day. We had our tea at Center Parcs, and then got the kids all ready for bed (teeth and face done, pyjamas on) before setting out. If you’re luckly enough to have kids who sleep in the car it makes it much easier to transfer them to bed without waking them when you get home. Even if your kids don’t sleep in the car, like ours, you can still get them into bed quickly on arrival. Leaving you just enough time to unpack and get a load of washing on before you fall into bed yourself.
We had a really nice Center Parcs break, and enjoyed having a relaxing weekend away with friends. I would definitely recommend it as a destination for a weekend break, and the kids are already asking if we can go again next year. I’d better start saving now!
Center Parcs and the Tots100 are still looking for one more blogger family to win a trip to Center Parcs, and this month the challenge is to make your own miniature sail boat. So, if you’re a blogger and want to take part, head on over to this Tots100 post where you can read all the details including terms and conditions.
Disclosure: we received a Center Parcs Mini Break, including complimentary food package, cycle hire and activities, in return for featuring their competition activities through the year and blogging about our experience.