I write this, dear casual reader, in the hope that I can spread some additional satisfaction and quite possibly a small amount of joy in the world.
Yes, I have rented a Cabana at CenterParcs. And yes, I’d be delighted to tell you how the process works along with the pros and cons. Because sadly, no one on the CenterParcs website bothered to detail the experience beyond the usual holiday-brochure-style single paragraph description.
I didn’t have much luck hunting about on TripAdvisor, Mumsnet or anywhere else that the Google results threw at me. I mostly came across mentions with a few, “It wasn’t worth it,” or, “It was too expensive for what you got,” negative statements. A few folk were mindful enough to recommend it, but without bothering with any details.
So let’s get started. You’re thinking about CenterParcs and you’ve probably got children, right? If you don’t have children, that’s ok, but the largest plus for a Cabana is reserved for families.
You book the Cabana through the unwieldy CenterParcs online booking system. Or I imagine you can do so via the physical booking points in resort, although be warned, the Cabanas book out quickly. Very quickly.
Cabanas are located within the huge swimming pool complex. You’ll have seen the single brochure photo of the Cabana — that does it justice. I was going to take some of my own until I recognised there was no point. They look as expected. They’re basically wooden huts large enough to sit about 8 sun-lounger-style seats, centred around a huge widescreen television.
There’s a small wine cooler style refrigerator stocked with 6 bottles — 2x water, one tango, one regular Pepsi and 2x Diet Pepsi. Enough to get you started.
And there’s a safe. It was easy enough to operate. Stick your PIN in twice and bang, it’s yours — a little like those safes you find in hotels. This is a rather useful plus. We stuck all the important stuff (phones, wallets, keys) in there.
The safe is an important feature because your Cabana is essentially open. Anyone could theoretically walk in — because there’s no door. Instead there is a piece of orange material that forms a door. Any toddler can escape if not observed continually. The walls of the Cabana are see through — indeed, instead of walls, think ‘wooden fence’. If any of the passing folk on the way back from the water park section cared to stare hard enough, they’d probably be able to see you changing. To be clear, the walls are comprised of spaced vertical pieces of wood just like a fence. There’s enough foliage surrounding the Cabana that, when combined with a degree of awareness from the person changing in or out of swimsuits, modesty is easily preserved.
Getting to the Cabana
This was perhaps the worst part of the experience. We had no idea what to do. Yes we’d booked it… and… well. We just presumed you have to turn up to the swimming pool complex… and… This is the massive, massive failing of CenterParcs. It’s perfectly fine if you’ve been there and found out how it all works. But it’s a bit bewildering if you don’t know how to ‘do’ it in the first place. And nowadays we all want to know. I take absolutely zero pleasure from ambiguity in this context. This is something CenterParcs would do well to consider for new customers.
We took our bags and the children to the swimming pool area and looked for some signs saying, “Cabanas, this way,” or similar. Nothing. I ended up asking one of the cleaners passing for some assistance. He nodded and helpfully took us through a warren of changing rooms to the disabled entrance/exit to the pool complex. He then pointed us to the Swimming Pool reception.
Right. That’s how it works.
When we arrived at the reception — and remember, this is *IN* the pool area now, there are folk everywhere in swimming costumes having lots of fun. So you look like a right plum standing there in full outside regalia. The chap at reception took our villa number and looked up the Cabana we’d been assigned. He then led us for a few minutes up one way and another. As we walked, we passed lots of people on the way to (or back from) the water park section of the complex. All of them in swimming costumes. Yes, we felt and looked stupid.
The worst thing? Our shoes/trainers. This was an unintentional mistake.
The cleaner chap had negated to suggest we put those little blue covers over our shoes, meaning that we were getting hundreds of dirty looks from people. You are not supposed to wear outdoor footwear inside the complex you see. The reception chap didn’t bother telling us either.
Don’t make this mistake. Quite a few folk actually pointed at us, muttering about ‘outdoor shoes’. That wasn’t a brilliant experience.
I should be clear that luckily it wasn’t a very muddy day. However I didn’t want to be spoiling the area either.
Inside the Cabana
Once we got to the Cabana, things improved. It was great to see the towels ready — I think there were 8 towels. Very handy indeed. It was really, really good to have a spacious area to set about changing the boys (they’re aged 3.5 and 2). Previously it was a seriously frustrating experience messing around with lockers and ultra-small changing rooms. My wife and I really appreciated the opportunity to be able to calmly change the boys (and ourselves) and to get the various things (arm bands, etc.) sorted and ready for deployment.
We put on the television — a huge widescreen — and that kept the boys entertained.
If you’ve got older children I reckon the Cabana would also be seriously, seriously useful as a hangout place for those wanting to rest while everyone else is busy enjoying the facilities.
The next time
The next morning when we were due to visit the pool complex, we knew what to do. We confidently strode through the melee of the main changing rooms, put on our blue shoe covers and exited through the disabled door. Now we knew what to do, the whole process was much smoother and much more relaxing.
We paid £60 for about half a day for the Cabana on Saturday and then the same again on Sunday. That got about 4 hours usage of the facility. When you book, you choose the the available time slots, e.g. 10-1pm. We just scheduled our trips to the swimming pool complex around the availability of Cabana. I recognise that £60 is rather expensive. I’m sure I’ve seen them costing around £30 per session, but it was quite late when we came to book. My view was we were on holiday and that I wanted to avoid the absolute riot in the main changing room area so fundamentally that’s how I justified the expense. I won’t do another CenterParcs experience without making sure we’ve got a Cabana booked.
If you’ve any questions, go ahead and ask. I’ll get the notification by email and try and respond as soon as I can.