We have been to Center Parcs a number of times in the last ten or so years. We’ve been as a couple, with a group of friends, with family. We’ve been in the cheapest villas and spent a bit more for some luxury. We don’t go every year but enjoy it when we do – it’s a relaxed way to holiday in amongst the trees without the need for a tent or a caravan.
It’s not cheap. The holiday will set you back a good few hundred quid. Especially if you need to go in the School holidays. Booking in advance and using voucher codes helps to bring the cost down. Then the activities are also expensive and so it is wise to plan carefully what you want to do and make the most of the free and included things when you are there.
This time we stayed in a Comfort Plus (the cheapest villa type but with towels and a dishwasher thrown in) villa at Center Parcs Elveden Forest. We stayed with family – two other adult couples – in a three bedroom version, a couple of doors down from four more adults from our extended family who had a two-bed villa and about five minutes walk from some good friends who were also holidaying at the same time. The accommodation was clean and had everything we needed, although we all commented that it is actually quite run down – it’s not been decorated for about ten years and everything is looking tired and worn. The block opposite us was being gutted during our stay (it’s a shame to get industrial noises from dumper trucks and diggers when you’re in the middle of the peaceful woodland – especially at 7.30am!) so we can only assume the ones we stayed in would be done soon. They need it. The photo above was taken in 2007 and they’ve not changed a bit; apart from the fact there were fewer trees (some were felled while we were there) and much less ground cover thanks to the winter. A friend likened the blocks to concrete bunkers… they are a bit really, but they nicer once you are inside! The refurbished ones appear to be getting wooden cladding on the outside which makes them look much nicer in amongst the forest.
Thanks to my sister being a teacher if we want to holiday together we have to choose school holiday times, and so naturally Elveden was full of families. But we have to say it didn’t feel heaving around the Village at all, it was bustling in places, yes, and the pool did get busy at peak times, but it didn’t make much difference to the ambiance. Not having children in our party of ten meant we didn’t book any kids activities, so we don’t know how booked up they got.
I’m not going to go through everything we did on our break at Center Parcs, but having been a few times I simply wanted to bring you a few tips for enjoying your holiday. I hope you find these useful.
Arrival and Departure
You can get in to your Villa at Center Parcs Elveden from 3pm but you can arrive before then and use the facilities – the same applies on the last day; you must be out of your Villa by 10am but you can stay all day if you like. We timed it just right this time I think; we got to the arrival booths at 2.50pm having met up down the road at Kings Lynn and had Pizza Hut buffet lunch, so we were able to drive straight round to the Villa. It can get very busy on the narrow Village roads on arrival and departure day – watch out for pedestrians and cyclists and when parking get yourself as clear of the road as you can.
Eating and Drinking
Center Parcs Villas are Self Catering, which is great because it means you can spend as much or as little as you like on food. But bear in mind the kitchens are small and only have the basics – they are not designed for cooking for big families! If you are cooking every meal yourselves then take a big pan and a baking tray with you! I did fajitas for ten; our Villa slept six but the frying pan would only take enough fajita filling for four (at a push) so we had cook in several loads and keep it warm in the oven – was a little stressful but loads of fun and we ate well.
Eating out is great – no more expensive than eating out in town normally but of course the bills can soon add up if you do it every night. Two informal and easy-to-eat places are the Sports Cafe and the Pancake House. Oh and the sweet potato fries at Dexters are very nice.
We highly recommend the bakery inside the Parc Market. Those cakes – especially those doughnuts and fresh cream Belgium buns – are amazing!
Take a reusable water bottle and a reusable shopping bag with you. Drinks are expensive (£2.50 for a large coke) and there aren’t any drinking fountains about that we saw (a great omission that really should be added), but you can refill in your Villa. Carrier bags at the Parc Market are 5p.
The Pool – Subtropical Swimming Paradise
Use of the pool is included in your holiday price, and it’s well worth going. We found the best times to go are first thing in the morning 10am or after tea 7pm – it’s busiest from about 11am to 4/5pm. The pool closes at 9pm (I’m sure it used to be 10pm) and it’s a great way to spend the evening.
You will need £1 for the lockers (returnable) – I had two of those trolley coins one of which worked fine and the other that didn’t because it was too thick. There is shampoo/shower gel provided in the shower area and plenty of space to get changed. If the cubicles are busy there are also communal changing areas which are often empty.
The rapids and new Cyclone ride at Elveden are great fun. At busy times we queued for probably 20 minutes for the Cyclone – it’s well worth it, it’s fast and fun, a great addition to the pool. They’re still doing work too; the area for young children was being refurbished while we were there. Oh and take our word for it – the plunge pool is VERY cold!
If you are wanting to book activities then the best thing is to get them booked online in advance; they get booked up and you don’t want to be disappointed. If you do want to book activities while you are there you can use the kiosks dotted about the Sports Plaza or if you have a smart phone then the website is great for mobiles – you just need your booking reference.
Activities can be expensive but they are well organised and great fun. Over the years we have done many of them – it’s one of the things I love about Center Parcs, you can try new things, have an adventure. I would especially recommend the Quad Biking, Cable Ski and Aqua Sana Spa (a three hour session at the Spa is just £30 – money well spent for a very relaxing experience). If you like water then the lake is a great place to spend your time – you can get a Kayak or Pedallo without advance booking from the Boat House. Crazy Golf is also a nice way to spend a couple of hours, but like the Villas it could do with a bit of refurbishment – the “greens” are very worn and the course itself hasn’t been updated for years and years. Next time I think we’ll try the shooting and the segway experiences.
Of course you can cycle for free (if you take your own bikes, but hiring is also good value) and there are plenty of Village roads and woodland trails to explore. But if you are cycling then please learn how to use your bell… or at least say excuse me rather than barging past walkers. The paths aren’t that wide and a little courtesy goes a very long way. Oh and take a bike lock; cycle security is a known problem at Center Parcs and you can see signs everywhere warning people to lock their bikes up.
You are staying in the middle of the forest where Center Parcs has been set up for quite some time – you will see wildlife and it will be quite tame. You will see monkjack deer, squirrels, rabbits and various birds from the comfort of your Villa sofa.
A few of us got up for the Woodland Awakening nature walk that started at 7.30am one morning this time around. I associate Center Parcs with nature and there are a number of these things put on through the week – taking advantage of these activities is a great idea. We met up with one of the two Conservation Rangers who introduced us to ducks, geese, rabbits, birds, and most impressively a herd of red deer on the Warren just to one side of the Village. Spring hadn’t fully materialised yet, but we had a lovely wander in the woodland and learnt a lot about what was going on around us. And a mallard fed from my hand which was an odd experience!
You are in the middle of a forest somewhere quite rural – don’t be surprised if your mobile signal isn’t that great. There is wifi in the central areas (which is actually very slow – slower than my 3G connection) and in some Villas (but not in the Comfort Plus one we stayed in this time). But you are on holiday, it’s nice to have your phone to tweet and what have you, but relax and don’t worry about it!
Fashion? Really? Don’t bother! Leave the fancy outfits and nice shoes at home. The dress code is oh so relaxed and no-one cares – think trainers/boots and wellies, joggers and jeans, t-shirts and jumpers, waterproof coats. Outdoors clothing all the way.
I will leave you with this photo of something that made me smile from ear to ear – Mega Marshmallows. Available from the Parc Market they are seriously massive. Huge. I simply couldn’t resist!