Highly Recommended Travel

Why you should definitely get a Cabana at CenterParcs

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.

The cost

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.


The scarf sent to me by The Chapar

Here is the first item I’ve chosen from the selection sent to me from the team at The Chapar. What do you think?

My wife approves — and that, fundamentally, is all that matters right?

Oh and I am warm too. It’s got just a bit chillier this week.

Thank you Hannah at The Chapar.


Clothing Services

Opening my trunk from The Chapar

Ok here we go…. My trunk from The Chapar has arrived!


And once it’s open…


The envelope stuck on the top of the box contains the notes from my stylist Hannah, the manifest and price list plus some notes on some of the products. For example there’s a bit of detail about a belt, some shirts and so on. All very useful. The sort of facts I would like to be told whilst trying things on. For example there’s some great insight on the founder of Meryn (who produce hand-made leather belts — completely new to me. This is what The Chapar is all about!)

I had a look down the price list:


I’m sure you will agree nothing is crazy. Yes the blazer/jackets are quite steep (£340/£375 is moving swiftly toward tailor rates) but that’s to be expected.

I am approaching it all with an open mind.


I did have a bit of a moment as I pulled back the orange (on-brand) tissue paper and saw all the smart clothes. And what looks like a casual tie! Is this for me?

Well. At least I’m not in a shop with folk staring.

Hannah wrote, “Please try everything,” (underlined!) in her introductory letter. I shall definitely do so.

My biggest challenge now is finding the time to actually do the trying-on.

I do like how they’ve tied bundles of clothes together with string. And I like the scarf. That’s a wicked idea as I was *just* thinking about buying one from the nearest shop given the weather’s got rather chilly. Smart thinking Hannah.

I am feeling rather excited. Let’s see how things go when I can get time to properly try everything.

Meanwhile if you’d like to try it out, head over to The Chapar and let me know how you get on.


Whoop! My The Chapar Trunk has arrived…

I got home last night and found that my first trunk from The Chapar had arrived. Sadly I was being sensible. I got home late and had to be in the City early so I haven’t had a chance to open it up and have a browse yet. Tonight, though! Tonight! I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve selected for me.

Accessories Clothing Services

I’m trying out The Chapar’s Personal Clothing delivery service for men

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This week I was at the Great British Entrepreneurial Awards nomination shortlist reception. Held at 250 Bishopsgate in the centre of the Square Mile (and sponsored, no less, by Bizcrowd), I was there to give a little speech of welcome and to meet the gathered entrepreneurs.

I was blown away by the talent in the room. I don’t envy the judges having to make their decisions from the shortlisted companies. There were entrepreneurs from almost every industry. One pair I bumped into were Sam and Joe Middleton from personal stylist service, The Chapar. I was immediately intrigued as Sam introduced the concept: Wouldn’t it be great if someone who knew what they were talking about sent you a trunk every month containing clothes custom selected for you? Further, wouldn’t it be great if this basic service was free of charge — and that you just pay for any items you’d like to keep, sending the others back?

Yeah. I liked the sound of that.

I’ve heard of similar services in America that I’ve always wanted to try out. So I didn’t waste any time taking Sam’s card and promising to sign-up the next day.

I did sign up. But then I panicked at the online form. I panicked because I don’t really know my style. I don’t necessarily have one. Am I preppy? Or am I smart casual? That depends, you see. It almost depends what office I’m in. If I’m in the City, then I’m probably going to don a tip-top-super-hot pinstripe. If I’m working out in Angel, then I’m usually in relaxed ‘chinos-n-trainers’ look. I then hadn’t heard of half the brands they’d put up on the form to help give The Chapar’s stylists a bit of a hint.

I phoned the number on The Chapar’s website to ask for some advice. The call was answered by a delightfully sounding Chelsea. I explained that I loved the concept but didn’t feel qualified to complete the online form, nor did I feel it was appropriate for me to complete a phone style assessment with one of The Chapar’s personal stylists. This, I explained, is because I am married.

Some men like to retain their own individual sense of style and jealously guard their wardrobe. I’m not one of those people. I outsource that to my wife. This is why I married her. She knows and I’m fine with that. The last thing I want to do is go and buy something and then bring it back home and have her stare at me with the, “What were you thinking?” look. Far more efficient, I think, to have her talk to The Chapar’s personal stylist.

Chelsea — to her credit — didn’t laugh. She said that would be no problem.

My wife duly phoned up and had a chat, I think, with another of The Chapar’s team (a lady called Hannah). I haven’t had the time to ask about the experience as it’s been a busy week however I can say that my wife appeared content.

I think we’re both waiting with baited breath now.

I clicked the ‘send me a trunk’ button and a few hours later I had an email telling me that my trunk had been dispatched, along with a UPS reference. Nice.

I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

I am very impressed by the simplicity and ease of use. The team, too, well, the one’s I’ve been exposed to (Hannah and Chelsea) appeared highly capable. Chelsea sounded fashionable on the phone.

Now then. How will that translate to 36-year-old me?

Before I ordered the trunk, there was a helpful series of checkboxes asking if I needed anything in particular. Chinos, jackets, that sort of thing. Rather useful that. I didn’t know what to put. I didn’t want to leave the form blank so I clicked a few boxes.

I can’t wait.

Bring it on.

You can try out The Chapar for just £1 (required to verify your credit card). There are no other charges unless you’d like to purchase some of the items you’ve been sent. I would imagine it’s possible to receive a whole trunk, look through the items and return them all — free of charge. That would be pretty boring though.

The ability to try on clothes easily and without the hassle of sales assistants shoving things in your face strikes me as a key benefit. I reckon there’s a high likelihood that I’ll probably want to keep some things. The experimentation possibilities are likely to help me buy more, I’m sure. For example, it’s likely that I’d never reach for a particular jacket or item of clothing if I saw it on a shelf in a shop. But if you’ve sent it to me… I’ll at least consider it. And then you’ll have my wife sitting next to me with a glass of wine appraising it all. In a relaxed manner.

Interesting, very interesting.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

In the meantime if you’d like to give it a go, get yourself over to and let me know how you get on.


When did chaps in suits start carrying rucksacks?

I got the 713am train this morning and was astonished at the number of chaps on the station platform dressed in suits, but also carrying rucksacks.

I added the qualifier, “but”, there, because it is required.

You don’t carry a rucksack and wear a sharp suit. It just doesn’t work. You carry a sports bag or similar instead. Ideally one that doesn’t (necessarily) have Nike written all over it or make you look like a rather old high school student.

If you carry a rucksack it immediately screws up the shoulders and back material of the suit. Worse, if like half the men on the platform, you opt to carry the rucksack on just one shoulder, it seriously disfigures that section of the suit.

There are a few occasions when it’s permissible without the wearer rendered the status of low-level-chump. I suppose if you’re going to the gym later, fair enough. If you ride a bike or a motorbike, I suppose that is ok. Combine it with a bike helmet and you’re all set (a la Boris Johnson).

But if you’re just carrying the rucksack because you couldn’t think of anything else to do, seriously … think twice. Think about the damage you’re doing to the suit. And how much of a chump you look.


Is it wrong to be infuriated by the word ‘Crimbo’?

I was searching Amazon this evening for some Chanel Bleu aftershave eau de toilette. Or “EDT” as the listings seem to have adopted referring to it as.

I was given some at Christmas and I’ve been using it regularly. Suddenly I have run out. I’m not sure if this is due to over use. I thought there was at least half left. I wonder if one of my sons has spent the morning spraying it everywhere. That would account for what feels like half of it disappearing.

Anyway. In these Amazon listings for the Chanel aftershave I happened to scroll to one entry written by a lady describing that although expensive (the “EDT” is £58 for 50ml) she likes to give it to her husband as something special. [wait for it]. For either Crimbo or birthdays.

Immediately millions of pounds of marketing my the Chanel brand team has been disassembled by a lady somewhere in the UK in a relatively innocent comment on Amazon of all places.

I can’t stand the word Crimbo. It seriously annoys me.

I can’t even define why. It’s that bad.

I think it’s the utter nonchalance of topic that is required by the phrase that grates on me — that is, reducing the whole Christmas concept down to an occasion dedicated to “expensive but nice” gifts.

I would be delighted to see the Internet authorities impose a blanket switch making all references of “crimbo” automatically change to “Christmas”.

As for the aftershave, I didn’t bother in the end. I think I will get some Penhaligons instead.


So. Of you are a regular holiday weekend, please think about the situation ant suggestions? 😉


Part 2 of the Center Parcs Experience: Booking items ahead of time

Continuing the Center Parcs experience here on The Pursuit of Quality, it’s time to focus on the pre-arrival booking aspects.

Everyone that I’ve spoken to about the destination has emphasised how much you need to book ahead. Indeed, some have suggested to me that you effectively “need to book everything” because it gets so busy.

For example, if you’d like to participate in an Archery club or get a back massage, you need to book those before you arrive online.

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The wealth of activities offered by Center Parcs is ridiculously comprehensive. I’d seen a few options for toddlers that caught my attention including the ability to create a handprint in some pottery. Something I’m sure they’d enjoy messing around with and something we could “take home”. There was even the opportunity to arrange some photography sessions for the family and/or the children.

However everything of relevance was already sold out. This is fair enough given that we booked the weekend about 2 weeks out.

If you recall I paid for the bikes when we booked. My wife and I decided that this was a good idea. But we were not able to add any extras during booking. So I logged in and booked two cycle seats (for the boys) and 4x cycle helmets.

This was straight forward. I had to use my booking reference and the arrival date to login and then I went through the convoluted menus. It’s from 2002. Not a single user interface expert has cast their eye over this process. It’s fine, but by way of example, you have to click on an item. That gets you the description. Then you have to click for more details to actually see if it’s available. Stupid. Because you can’t tell what’s actually available and what’s booked out without having to click-click-click-click everywhere.

The process does work, though. But as someone who appreciates simplicity and elegance, it was like pulling teeth.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the whole item booking process is payment. It’s as though Center Parcs don’t know who I am.

Well, they don’t.

I paid.

And then I have to pay again for ANYTHING else I add to my “experience”. Each transaction is treated as a completely standalone happening.

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What’s astonishing is that, at the credit card payment page, they can’t even be bothered to remember or suggest my address.

I had to do a completely new transaction with the credit card. Laborious, but it worked.

And interestingly… notice that the start date and expiry date on THAT form is arranged correctly, unlike the main holiday booking system.

Right. Next up: I’ll tell you how we got on actually *in* resort.


What is the best electric shaver to buy?

It’s been ages since I last had an electric shaver. I think I was in my early twenties. I bought a Phillips one and found it pretty good. Then, I can’t recall specifically what happened, but I stopped using it and swapped to shaving with a razor blade and doing wet shaves every morning. I do quite enjoy it. But sometimes I feel like I don’t have time.

Sometimes I’d like the option to quickly zip around my face before/during/after the shower and get on with my day.

I was in Boots the other day looking and I was overcome with choice. In a Tesco Extra I really couldn’t pick out the difference between the £39 model and the £180 model beyond some basics (e.g. one needs to be plugged in constantly, the other has a fairly hefty battery).

I’m not sure what brand to use.

I’m not sure what price point is sensible either.

This is where Amazon is absolutely useless.

I searched for Electric Shavers and got hundreds of results. I was about to buy one Phillips model when I read a review, possibly written by an arse (there’s no way of telling) who likened his £160 purchase to be almost exactly the same as the £45 model he’d already bought. That made me pause.


So I’d very much welcome your feedback. What do you recommend? Which brands? Braun? Remington? Phillips?

What features?

I think I need:

  • Cordless
  • Battery that doesn’t need charging every time
  • Good blade?
  • Zero maintenance or thereabouts

I could seriously justify buying a £25, £50, or £200 model given that it’s something that I’d probably be using regularly.




Part 1 of the Center Parcs experience: Booking

Long term and patient readers will recall that I have been closely evaluating a Center Parcs break. I think it’s taken me a year to get comfortable with the concept.

Center Parcs UK, according to the Wikipedia entry, is a network of four holiday villages offering a range of family friendly activities.

And it’s the family bit that appeals to me. We have two young children (an almost 3 year old and a newly 1 year old). Friends and work colleagues have described the best part of the Center Parcs experience being that you can “chuck everything in the car,” and then once you’ve arrived, “dump the car for the week.”

We’ve opted for a New Executive Lodge. We made the decision based on the 6 or 7 pictures displayed along with a stupidly small badly scanned floor-plan layout. I simply cannot stand this approach used by so many travel companies. Why can’t they show full size images? And MORE than 6 or 7? And why can’t they show huge full resolution ones so my wife and I can umm and ahh properly? Instead we had to squint and then buy it the Apple way — i.e. look down the list to the most expensive one and make a base assumption that we a) wanted to spend that amount of money and b) that this offered the best range of facilities. For the dates we were booking there wasn’t much cost difference between the different styles.

I realise that elsewhere it’s possible to find bigger images. I don’t expect to have to go hunting for them though. However, I recognise why. The Center Parcs online presence hasn’t been overhauled for years. Or, if it has, it’s been done excruciatingly badly. It’s fundamentally a bolt-on to (I imagine?) the physical brochures that I’ve never ever seen. The assumption, I suppose, is that you’ve phoned up and asked for a brochure. The website appears to be a transaction engine — a flipping rubbish one, by the way — rather than the portal for managing your vacation experience in the run-up to the event.

Registering an account
The first thing I did when we sat down to “book” was to hunt around for the “create an account” or “register now” button. I thought it would be useful to establish a record of business with the company. You know, get the account sorted with the name, address, children’s details and whatnot so that it would make things easy for the actual booking. I also thought they’d probably want to take my credit card then so that I don’t need to type it in during the booking. I am, you see, intending booking multiple Center Parcs experiences.

There’s no account facility. None that I could see.

Fine, fine.

We began the booking process. That was fairly pedestrian to begin with. Select the party size, desired location, holiday type (weekend, mid-week, etc) and finally the dates.

The different types of lodges are then displayed along with pricing and relevant notes (“Just 1 left!”). Again this is all good.

Having selected the lodge we then needed to choose our desired locations from the available FOUR choices. Heh. We had a choice of four specific villas, each helpfully numbered. However in order to make a decision, we had to download a huge PDF file that took — I kid ye not — about 3 minutes to download. (We’ve a pretty fast internet connection!)

My wife and I just stared into space. I sat cursing the Director of IT / Commerce — whoever he or she is — at Center Parcs. Who decided this was a brilliant fix? Why not pop-up a simple screen showing the locations in context and… oh I can’t be bothered to even write it out.

So this was a rubbish experience. We arsed about trying to find the various numbers on the plan. As folk new to the whole thing, we didn’t have a clue.

I wanted a choice though. You can just turn up and be allocated somewhere. I felt we should at least have some degree of control. So we paid the extra cash — £39 — and selected one of the villas.

Or, more accurately, I selected a drop down villa number from a list. How experiential.

Adding Extras
I felt a little more at home at the extras screen where we were given a long list of additional things we could add to our package. I selected two bikes. Friends have told me it’s wise to get them booked ahead of time. I then read the small print and found you’d have to order the other bits — like a seat/hats for the children and whatnot — when you’d done your main transaction. Stupid. But acceptable, given we’ve got this far into the process.

I impulse bought some fire logs. That appealed to the caveman inside me. We evaluated whether to buy some discount meal vouchers (25% off) and decided that this wasn’t a big enough incentive.

We scanned the rest of the list then, content, proceeded to the next step.

I openly cursed the utter idiots who designed the pay screen: What sensible right minded person puts the credit card EXPIRY date ahead of the start date? I had to do some double-takes.

That seriously annoyed me. It indicates someone wasn’t really paying attention. On every credit card I have, the sequence is start date then expiry date. Gahhh.

We hit purchase.

And the credit card transaction failed. The Center Parcs system unhelpfully told us there had been a problem with our card and, thank you very much, please start again.

I stared open-mouthed at the screen, unable — for a few moments — to deal with the user experience.

You what?

We have to start again? The 20 minutes we’d invested was erased in a second. Remember all that time we had to spend waiting for the PDF to download to determine what villa to buy? Not good.

My wife wasn’t impressed. I was flipping furious.

Quickly we realised I’d got the expiry date wrong on the card. Idiot. But goodness me where was the error checking? Or the “oops, that didn’t work, try again?” screen?

To just terminate the process is utterly ridiculous.

We started again.

And I had a sneaky suspicion that the villa we’d spent ages selecting would no longer be available. It wasn’t. Of course not. I suspected that it was probably locked in the Center Parcs booking system pending my other transaction.

So we ended up booking another one.

I did give serious consideration to not bothering. But I relaxed. I thought of the children. 😉

The transaction complete screen was a big relief. We were then presented with a huge amount of other options that we could add to our package in the run up to the commencement of the break.

I immediately hunted for the cycle seat things. Our boys can’t ride bikes yet but we’re relatively sure they will enjoy riding on the backs of ours. So I found the “Bike Seat” option and added two of them.


Nothing happened. The basket just said “empty”. I tried clicking to check out and confirmed the basket was empty. Arrrrrgh.

I tried again and again.

I wondered if the session had expired. Probably. Something wasn’t working.

I thought it would be worth trying again. Although I’ve no idea how to login yet. I suspect there must be a reference number and email combination to get you back into your booking. I shall try this later.

My wife and I then spent a little while browsing the huge list of activities on offer. It’s true that almost everything at Center Parcs costs extra — but I don’t have a problem with that as long as there’s value.

For example, we were pretty excited at the possibility of getting a meal delivered from the Center Parcs restaurants in the evening. That should work nicely. I didn’t know this was possible or offered.

We had a look at the menus which, alas, took nearly as long as the villa map to download. That really needs a fix Center Parcs. Either make it lower resolution or convert it to HTML or JPG. There is absolutely no need to publish print-ready resolutions for your customers. That’s a sign of a really lazy webmaster or a silly ineffectual system.

I was significantly irritated by the whole transaction process. But I recognise that the system is probably sitting on about 10 other systems, most of them built in COBOL or something back in the 1980s. Whilst it was very annoying I don’t think it’s going to impact our on-site experience.

At least I hope not.

I have to point out that I’m pretty impressed at the idea of receiving a physical letter of confirmation of my booking. How old-skool.

Still. I am looking forward to the whole experience. Standby for Part 2.