We recently headed to Elveden Forest Center Parcs for a midweek family break. As it was just the four of us, we booked a 3 bedroom lodge so that the kids could have a bedroom each, packed up the car on Sunday night/Monday morning and off we went! We had a truly wonderful week and learned a lot about what we now need from a family holiday, so I wanted to impart some of that knowledge in the form of my 5 top tips for a Center Parcs holiday with toddlers and babies.
1. Go Swimming Every.Single.Day!
The swimming pool is free, open from 10am-9pm daily, and is absolutely amazing for mini people and big people alike. Spend your time in there, where there’s a brilliant pirate-themed Venture Cove kids’ area with shallow paddling areas, slides and water pistols. There’s also obviously the main swimming pool with its child-friendly (with supervision) lagoon pool, lazy river rapids and wave machine, older child and adult-friendly rapid, slides and completely mental Tropical Cyclone ride. Top tip for grown ups: If you get any time to yourselves, there are a few jacuzzi tubs scattered around the Subtropical Swimming Paradise if you can find them!
2. Book a Creche Session
It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it. It cost £46 for both of the kids to go to one 3 hour session and that time was so valuable to Phil and I. Some may not agree with us, but while a family holiday is predominantly about spending time all together, Phil and I so rarely get any time as a couple that those 3 hours were bliss. Plus, the kids had a great time playing!
3. Don’t take any toys with you. Do take travel cot sheets.
Crazy, right? But we didn’t have a single toy in the lodge and it was lovely. Toby and Martha looked out of the window at the ducks – Martha learned how to say ‘duck’ and ‘quack-quack’ – we sang songs together and drew on the chalkboard that was on the wall in the dining area. They admittedly did watch a bit of TV, but that’s not the end of the world.
The lodges have travel cots and high chairs in them (although double check before you leave just to be sure!), but not cot bedding. You’ll need to take the 120x60cm cot sized sheets, which we had to go out and buy because Martha’s cot bed ones are far too big.
4. Soft Play: Heaven or Hell?
There are indoor play areas in some of the restaurants, so if you do go out for a meal or two then either head for those restaurants or avoid them, depending on your preferences! At Elveden we spotted play areas in The Pancake House, Huck’s and the Sports Cafe, but we didn’t go into any of the other restaurants, so check online if you’re after something in particular. Huck’s also had a kids’ buffet option which Toby enjoyed.
5. Don’t over-schedule your break in advance
Kind of re-hashing point 1, but it is the most important tip in my opinion. With Center Parcs emailing you every few days in case you’ve forgotten that you’re going, it’s tempting to follow their guidance and book everything from activities to babysitting to restaurants before you go. I would say that it’s worth pre-booking anything you’re really desperate to do, but otherwise just relax and go with the flow. When we went to Lanzarote last year we tried to do too much and it was a spectacular (and expensive) fail. Aside from one creche session for them both and a balance bikes class for Toby, we didn’t do any of the other extra activities. We didn’t decide on a single thing until we got there and instead we just embraced and enjoyed a quieter pace of life as well as using the swimming pool and playing on the lovely play parks.
There is so, so much more to Center Parcs than I’ve summarised here. We honestly had the nicest time we’ve ever had as a family and cannot wait to go back as soon as possible. It’s not a cheap holiday and being in the UK means you can never predict the weather, but it doesn’t matter if it rains the whole time because there is so much to do and enjoy.