We have recently spent the week (Mon-Fri) at Sherwood Forest Center Parcs, along with my parents. We have visited the Woburn site previously but Mini was only 18 months then so we didn’t really check out many of the child/family activities, so were looking forward to getting stuck in a bit more with active forest life.
Overall, we had a great time, even if the rain did try to put a dampener on our fun a few times. We found the site really clean, easy to navigate and truly had thought of everything, my favourite feature was the Starbucks, for those that need a skinny caramel macchiato in the middle of the forest!
When we first arrived at Center Parcs the site felt huge and a little overwhelming but with a little exploring we had soon figured where things were although due to illness, we didn’t get chance to visit all of the areas of interest across the site.
Whilst we were at Center Parcs my mum fell ill which resulted in her visiting the medical centre on site, the local hospital and then again via ambulance after she was sent out and then deteriorated again. I’m pleased to say that she is on the mend, after being diagnosed with a nasty kidney infection and dehydration. I can’t thank the Center Parcs staff enough, along with the ambulance and hospital staff for looking after mum and us so well. They kindly offered for us to stay an extra night if needed however by that point mum wanted to be back in her own bed.
Sadly this meant we didn’t get to do all of the activates that we had planned however, there was plenty to do to keep Mini occupied and not worried about Nanny. It just means that we will have to visit again in the future to explore the rest of the site.
The list of activities to do is endless, from sports to crafts, children’s cookery classes and woodland adventures. There are things aimed at those who are looking for an adrenaline rush such as rock climbing and high ropes courses and activities aimed at a more gentle pace such as the fantastic spa (more on that later.)
I have gathered together our list of top 10 tips from our experiences and hope they will be useful to others travelling to Center Parcs in the future.
1. Click and Collect your food shopping.
Although there is a supermarket on site at Center Parcs, which has a great range of items, it’s very expensive. Before we arrived, I had researched the nearest Tesco and done a click and collect order for our week’s grocery shop. It worked really well and meant we had more room to pack things in the car and I wasn’t worrying about the fresh food being in the car for hours – you can’t drive your car on to the site until 3pm although you can arrive and use the facilities from 10am.
As we had planned on arriving early, I’d booked the collection timeslot for 2-4pm, hoping I could time it for when the barrier was ready to drive straight to the lodge with the food delivery. The only downside to this plan was that when I arrived back at Center Parcs, there is only one road in and no option to by-pass the queue if you have already checked in, meaning I had to join the back of the queue with the new people arriving at that time.
2. Have a range of indoor and outdoor things planned.
The week before we went to Center Parcs the country had gone into heatwave and we hoped that the sun would stay out for us, unfortunately the weather wasn’t great. We had two dry days however the remainder of the week was pretty soggy.
My top tip is to plan activities around all types of weather. We took a good stock of DVDs and some popcorn and snuggled up on the sofa for a movie afternoon whilst it rained. We also did some of the indoor activities on site; Mini did the pottery painting and made a rather brightly coloured unicorn. She also did the mini roller tots class, learning to roller skate and mini scientists class. Mini really enjoyed the science class; she made an erupting volcano, her own ogre slime and had a chance to be put inside a giant bubble.
3. Take your own bikes/scooters if you can.
There is a huge range of bikes that you can hire at Center Parcs to suit all abilities and ages. However it would work out quite expensive if you did this for all of your group. We really enjoyed using our bikes throughout the holiday and made getting about a lot quicker as our lodge was about 10-15 minutes walk from the village centre where the restaurants, shops and swimming pool are.
It’s definitely inspired us to try to get out onto our bikes more as a family. If you do bring your own bikes, don’t forget to bring locks too. However, don’t do what I did and lost the key, luckily the maintenance team had some bolt croppers to free my bike.
4. Make use of the spa time / crèche offer
If you book a 2 hour spa session for two then you get a discount off a 3 hour crèche booking. Yes it’s great to spend time as a family but it’s also important to make time together as a couple or have grown up downtime. My girlfriends and I have done our fair share of visiting different day spas around the country and I can honestly say that the spa facilitates at Center Parcs are among the best I’ve ever been.
I had originally planned to go with Mum and we had booked a twilight spa experience for the two of us, unfortunately due to her being unwell she wasn’t able to make it and Mr Mack came with me instead. There were around 20 different rooms/experiences to try including steam rooms, saunas, experience showers, outdoor hot tubs, snooze rooms and mediation areas. There is also a brand new stunning tree tops sauna with amazing views out across the forest.
5. Book restaurants in advance.
Before we went we had planned to cook for 3 nights and treat ourselves to a meal out for 1 night. It’s advisable to book the restaurants for the evening as soon as you can as they can get booked up, especially between 5-7pm if you are wanting to eat with little ones. Be aware that when you do book, you are asked to pay a £5 deposit per person, which is refundable against your bill, I think they are just trying to discourage people booking multiple restaurants and not using them, which makes sense.
Most of the restaurants at Center Parcs have small soft play areas which is a fantastic idea to keep the kids entertained whilst waiting for food. There is a good range of restaurants on site, we chose to eat at Bella Italia, which we had visited before and Mini, being a pasta fiend, loved. We found the service to be good, although they forgot my meal, but did promptly offer to remove the cost from the bill. We also thought the prices were reasonable, the same as you would pay at any other Bella Italia, but you can’t use any discount codes or offers there which is a shame.
On our last day we had lunch in the Sports Café and I was a little disappointed at the value for money there compared to Bella Italia. My Dad ordered scrambled eggs on toast which arrived with only one slice of toast for £5.50. Mr Mack and I ordered flatbreads which were both over £10 each with no sides, chips or crisps, just the flatbread on its own.
6. Pack for all weathers.
As I mentioned before, the weather wasn’t great for us and although I thought I had tried to pack a bit of everything we could have done with our wellies for rainy day exploring. Raincoats were an absolute essential item!
7. Take others/share a lodge if you can.
Not only is it great fun to spend time to get away with friends or family, and the children can play together, it also works out a lost more cost effective. The charging structure at Center Parcs is based on the maximum number of people that a lodge holds rather than per individual.
When we originally looked at booking for the three of us, there were no 2 bedroom lodges available so we had to choose a 3 bedroom. When I added in the option of bringing my parents it didn’t change the price at all as they still were able to fit within the 3 bedroom lodge. Therefore it would be best to join together with other groups where possible and to be able to split the total cost, this would also make some of the more luxurious executive and treehouse (definitely on my wishlist) lodges more affordable.
8. Controversial Warning Alert !
Go in school time if you can get away with it. Mini is still in pre-school so we were able to take her out for the week, however I was surprised to see so many school aged children there. When looking at the costs though I can totally understand why parents do it, we looked at booking to return in October half term with my Brother and his family. The total cost for the group of 4 adults and 3 children was coming up at £1349 for mon-fri. However, the booking screen showed that the price just 2 weeks before would be £379. I have no idea how they can justify that much of a price jump and it made me both quite angry and sad for families that simply can’t afford those kinds of prices to bring their children away during school holiday times.
9. Make full use of the pool.
The tropical swimming pool areas at both Sherwood Forest and Woburn Center Parcs are fantastic and there is loads to do for all ages. When we were at Sherwood Forest it was open until 9pm, so we took the opportunity for an early dinner and evening swim one night, which was great as it was really quiet with minimal queues for slides and tired mini out straight before bed!
10. Use the Center Parcs App which can be downloaded onto your phone.
We used it to book activities just minutes before they started meaning we could be a bit spontaneous. You are provided with a full list of activities going on for the week however, as sessions book up they do add new ones, which only appear on the app, so it’s really worth while checking regularly for more sessions.
I’d love to hear about your Center Parcs adventures, did you find my tips useful and do you have any of your own to add?