So, talk to me about CenterParcs… What’s your view?

My impressions of CenterParcs are not entirely positive. They’re formed over a lifetime of experience — and before I go any further, I should point out, I’ve never been. What follows is an entirely ignorant perspective based on what other folk have told me.

For a while my parents muted the idea of going.

I think we, the children, were privately horrified at the idea.

All the stories I’d heard from friends of mine at school who’d gone, especially from the European locations, were shocking.

It sounded like camping — but worse. Or ‘Camping Lite’. You get a chalet. There’s some big swimming pool dome thing. There’s a rubbish shop on-site that sells over priced Cornflakes. There’s often hot water. You can hire rubbish bikes. What else? Oh yeah, and everyone wears sandals.

That last bit was the nail in the coffin for myself and my brothers. Sandals? Euuuugh.

For the longest time, CenterParcs has been completely off my radar.

When it comes to holidays or vacation, I want quality.

The last decent break away was business class and first class all the way. Think: Maldives, island hotel, ridiculously brilliant service.

I am not at home, traditionally, to a damp weekend in Wiltshire.

Apologies to the brand manager at CenterParcs. Stay with me, there’s a pivot point coming shortly.

This viewpoint changed dramatically when a colleague — a senior, senior executive at one of the companies I’m working with — explained that he and his wife regularly take the children off to CenterParcs.

I began to evaluate the brand somewhat differently as a result.

Our children are aged 2 (almost) and 2 months. At a Christening this weekend my wife bumped into one of her friends who’s going to CenterParcs with their 2 year old. They’re regulars as well.

I think that clinched it for us.

We looked up the website when we got home.

We began thinking about the whole experience in more positive terms.

I have just returned from a transatlantic visit to Orlando (visiting BlackBerry World) and I can tell you that from direct experience, taking children on planes and doing the hotel thing doesn’t really look that fun at all. My experience stems from sitting witnessing screaming, tired, upset toddlers not really handling timezones, 30,000ft flights or confined spaces very well.

Put bluntly, taking children abroad for a traditional hotel experience at ages 2 and 2 months seems a bit … limited.

There’s two off them. They can’t really interact much. The 2-year old can just about get a few words out. He’s into mummy and daddy and a bit of lego. He can’t exactly run off and play on the beach for hours on end. The 2-month-old is obviously joined at the hip to either me or my wife. So. Limited value, I feel, in heading to some luxury island in the middle of nowhere.

CenterParcs all of a sudden sounds sensible.

You get your own chalet/apartment. Your own space. So the children can scream and run about as necessary. You can cook whenever you want. Or you can access restaurants immediately. There’s shops. Or, er, a shop. That’s apparently pretty good.

At this point I don’t give a hoot about cash. Not when I was previously evaluating whether or not little Archie should have his own business class seat. Yeah. I know.

If the Corn Flakes are an extra 50p in the CenterParcs shop, I really don’t care. It’s all about utility.

My wife is relishing the opportunity of being able to take little Archie on a bike ride. In fact we can take both of them on a bike ride through ‘the forest’. Presumably. That sounds promising.

Then there’s the water dome thing. Theoretically Archie should want to spend hours there. The little one — Freddie — should quite enjoy the water too.

I think that’s about it so far. Maybe Archie might like the animal things you can do — apparently there’s the ability to get up close to an Owl. This, coincidentally, is one of his new words.

So the whole CenterParcs thing is growing on me.

The ability to ‘chuck everything in the car’ (as my wife’s friend described her approach) and avoid the mundane annoyance of airport security etc., is highly appealing.

I’m not sure if my wife and I will be up for I term as a proper holiday (6-star luxury, somewhere shockingly nice) for a long time.

It is all about the children, you see.

I don’t want them staring at the wall whilst my wife and I enjoy the opulent surroundings and service of [insert venue name here]. I want to make sure they’re having fun.

If anything, the ability to plug Archie (and Freddie) into a series of activities that, come 7pm, result in both of them being absolutely shattered and sleeping through until 8am… yeah, that’s definitely the way ahead.

My wife and I were on the website earlier.

I did my usual quality barometer approach — and insisted she look for the most expensive option.

Sold out over the bank holiday weekend. But you know, that’s not a killer. We could go another time.

The best accommodation appears to be a ‘treehouse‘. Looking through the promotional photos, I thought to myself, “Err, yes, time to update my image of CenterParcs”. The treehouses do look rather amazing. They’re described as delivering the ‘ultimate CenerParcs experience’ and feature:

  • 4 Bedrooms with en-suite bath/shower rooms
  • Fully equipped kitchen with dishwasher
  • Open plan lounge
  • Games den with pool table, bar and games console.
  • Sauna
  • Outside hot tub
  • Daily maid service
  • Free WI-FI

Now then, now then. Sauna? Hot tub? Come ON!

Here’s a photo (more of the treehouse below):

I had a look on the site and couldn’t find some example pricing for a treehouse. The ‘New Style Exclusive Lodges‘ look nice too. They seem to be about £1,000 for the week (based on 2 people). So that kind of pricing region.

I have to say that after spending a little while perusing the CenterParcs site, I’m rather impressed at the features and possibilities. I think I need to seriously update my ‘brand image’ for them.

So. CenterParcs. We’ve never done it. We’re total newbies. Any suggestions? Any alternatives we should be considering.


12 Responses to So, talk to me about CenterParcs… What’s your view?

  1. Nigel Ainscoe May 8, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    I’ve been to Centre Parcs (the Notts one) several time and although there is something slightly naff about it there is also something very relaxing and I’ve always returned feeling more refreshed than from the usual foreign holiday.

    • Ewan May 8, 2012 at 11:47 am #

      That’s good feedback Nigel, thank you

  2. garethjames May 8, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    While we have never done Centre Parcs, we have done pretty much the Finnish equivalent. Top notch cottage, everything but the hot tub and games console. 52″ flat screen in the TV area, smaller 23″ jobs on moveable, extending arms in the kitchen/dinning room area and two of the four bedrooms. Then just up the road (500m max) the spa complex. Pool for us all and then a gigantic range of pampering treatments for the wife and when we want a tiny bit of alone time some incredibly good quality child care/entertainment services. Great range of eateries for all tastes and budgets too, from the the basic local everyday grub to the “if you’ve got to ask the price you can’t afford it” champagne and caviar sort of thing. Yes I know that bit about the childcare may be a bit redundant for you right now Ewan but it does make a difference when the boys grow up a bit. It really does work. Yes we too go for the whole “throw everything in the car” and just drive thing. Yes it’s nice as you have your own car and your own child car seats and everything set up just right (I personally can’t stand the whole hire car plus child seat thing, I feel like I can never trust them) while you are away. While we are away we always make the point of going away from the site at least one day to see the local area, and that way it keeps the kids from becoming bored with the idea of the pool etc. Every time we have come back from a visit to the UK it take us a week to just regroup and recover. When we holiday here at one of these resorts everyone comes back full of happy stories and laughing away. Even if we have work/school less than 48hours later! As far as I am concerned it really is the best type of family holiday with young children!

    • Ewan May 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      You know what Gareth, the car seat thing ‘sells it’ for me — it’s a very, very good point and one of the last things you think about (at least for us) when we’re discussing holidays. Very good points. For those reading — what’s the name of the Finnish place?

      • garethjames May 8, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

        Hello Ewan. Yes it wasn’t until we set about finding a good off season holiday for us one year that the whole car seat thing clicked with us as well. When we did the UK for the first time we had my parents go out and buy the car seats, so we ended up paying for all the car seats at various ages twice. That drove me mad!

        OK. In Finland we use and our “local” one is at Salla: which is more your dedicated “all in one” sort of thing and is very popular during the winter months for the skiing and in the other times for the nature hikes. It is all of just 90km from us so we can often decided to leave in the afternoon after having had the idea in the morning. Beauty of living in the wilds of Lapland. We stay in the “Salla Star” cottages there as they offer by far and away the nicest experience and even allow us to “host” a few friends, or take them with us, if it is more of a planned thing.

        Our preferred choice though is their, Holiday Club that is, resort in Saariselkä. What they claim to be the most northern most Spa hotel in Europe. 220km from us. The place of Saariselkä itself is tiny! But my god it’s good! Skiing, hiking, eating, relaxing, wildlife, shopping (if you don’t mind fighting with the crazed Russian and Chinese tax free shoppers) it’s a very small, well contained little holiday resort. There are at least seven big hotel complexes there each with their own USP. We prefer the Holiday Club resort for their 100m2 “Laavutieva” cottages. Then there is the Sami cultural centre in Inari,_Finland just up the road. And all round brilliant family holiday destination! As I said, incredible bit of accommodation. Both places are very pet friendly as well, so our four legged family members do not have to get shunted off to a kennel or left with friends. Which is a bonus for us.

        We have used their “city” resort in Tampere as well for visiting old friends there. Felt a little odd going to stay there as we had lived there for so long, but agreed that the apartments were every bit as good as the chalets in the other resorts and those who maybe wanted a pure “city” break, then it would be perfect.

        • Ewan May 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

          Fantastic Gareth, thank you! 😀

  3. Raam May 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Apparently they’re at 98% occupancy – and that says a lot, particularly when you’re talking about a place that charges £150-£200 per night, just for the room.

    Similar – we’ve not been, but been hearing about it from quite a lot of people recently who couldn’t stop raving about it.

    • Ewan May 9, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

      That’s more good perspective Raam. Can you see yourself considering it?

      • Raam August 21, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

        Totally. Wow, delayed reactions.

  4. David Ellis May 11, 2012 at 6:58 am #

    Do it! I always had this impression of Butlins until we went for it a couple of years back and now we go pretty regularly. You pretty much know all the positives already – no airport, short journey time, fantastic accommodation (assuming you book at least executive quality), really good activities and perhaps one thing you haven’t found out – 1 hour after leaving my house, my mind is off work. That doesn’t usually happen until the plane touches down on foreign land.

    • Ewan May 11, 2012 at 10:46 pm #

      David, that is really good feedback!

      I really can identify with what you say about ‘being on holiday immediately’ vs transfer / flight / transfer / etc.

      I think we’ll do it!

  5. Anna December 25, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Me and my family go with my bff’s family every year now and we love it. We started 2 years ago. Each day(unless it rains) we go cycling for about an hour to two hours. Then we go get pampered up and stuff it is seriously fun. The bikes there are not rubbish but you can always take your own with you.
    If you dont want rain then i suggest going to the ones in Holland.

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