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.


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.


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.