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.


Do you buy a First Class rail ticket? Or just standard?

Now and again I am required to commute back and forth into the city for extended periods of time. For instance the projects I’m working on need me to be in Richmond-Upon-Thames daily. Our recent house move made the commute rather simple: 30-odd minutes on a train that typically 90% full.

On the way back in the evenings at peak time I don’t usually get a seat until a few stops have come and gone. This is entirely doable. And it’s all standard class.

A couple of chaps I know don’t stand for this. They always travel first class. There’s certainly a cost differential, but in the fullness of time and on the basis that you can (in many respects) offset the expense against tax if you’re a contractor, these chaps think it’s a good deal — they always get a seat.

I’ve no trouble with paying for first class. If I’m traveling on a long train journey — to Newcastle, Manchester or somewhere, I always book ahead and always select first class.

But day-to-day? I’m not sure if I see the value for a 30-minute journey.

The one guy I know who always travels first class explains to me that he simply doesn’t want any hassle at all. He likes the idea of never, ever having to stand. He regularly reads and sometimes does the crossword and occasionally he’ll use his laptop. However the value for him is the more or less permanent service level: A seat is virtually guaranteed. (On his line, I should point out). He also travels about an hour each way.

I’m typing this on my MacBook Air on one of the seats in the ‘quiet carriage’ on the South West Train service from Reading and I have to accept that I’m reasonably content. This morning I’m not traveling at peak time either so it’s nice and easy for me to use the laptop. At peak times it might be a little more difficult.

In terms of cost for me, the standard return journey is £14.40. First class is £24.40. An extra tenner.

And what do you get?

On this train line, you just get a dedicated seating area and, I imagine, less turnover of passengers so there’s less disruption if you’re trying to work.

I’m not sold on the value, I don’t think.

[And then my train stops at Staines and fills up with what feels like 100 chattering school children everywhere!]

What’s your view — if you commute, do you do standard or first class and what’s the cost difference?