Ways to save money at Center Parcs
The title of this is a bit of an oxymoron, as if you are on a tight budget then Center Parcs is not somewhere I would recommend going for a short break. However, I love the place and have been going since I was a teenager! Am I fortunate that because of this, my parents pay for the whole family to go every year, so even before we became debt free we were lucky enough to enjoy it.
What is Center Parcs?
For those not in the UK, Center Parcs is an activity village set in acres of forest. There are several locations throughout the Uk and Europe, and each feature a water park with several slides and rides, a lake for watersports and boating, shops, restaurants, a spa as well as a wealth of indoor and outdoor activities for the whole family. Aside from the swimming everything else costs extra, in addition to the cost of your holiday lodge. These means that costs can mount up quickly and it is definitely not one for a tight budget!
However, the whole philosophy of my blog is to be able to enjoy the things you like and save money along the way. The parks are immensely popular in the UK, but if you have never been before these are my top tips to save money at Center Parcs.
Share the cost
Probably the biggest way to save money at Center Parcs is to go with friends or family and split the cost, this also enables you to get a larger or upgraded lodge for less money. If you have young children, there is the added bonus that you could choose to babysit for each other on different nights and each couple enjoy some time out once the kids are in bed. However, all of the restaurants are well catered for children.
2. Go out of Season
This is another obvious one but like most holidays the cost skyrockets in the school holidays. This is frustrating as someone who works in education as even before I had children I have always been tied to paying extra! I am lucky now that I‘m working 3 days a week during term time. Having Mondays and Fridays off enables my family to go outside of the school holidays. Once my daughter starts school in September this may not be an option.
Make use of the free activities
The “Subtropical Swimming Paradise” is cited as the jewel in the crown at every Center Parcs. It is definitely our favourite activity and the one I remember from my teens. Because of this we are happy to go swimming every day of our break – not just because it is free. There are lots of lovely nature walks you can do, as well as cycling (free if you’ve brought your own bikes). This means that we only book one other activity per day which helps keep the cost down. By the time we have gone swimming, had some lunch, chilled out or gone for a nature walk and done our day’s activity we find that is plenty to keep you occupied!
4. Pick your activities wisely
Center Parcs offers a wealth of activities for the whole family which is one of the reasons it is so popular. However some of these activities can be over priced. We try to find a balance of picking something we can enjoy together and something you can’t do elsewhere for a lot cheaper.
Bowling is always popular with my family but at the cost of around £14 per person this is something you can easily do elsewhere for a lot less, whereas how many times do you get to zipwire over a lake or go clay pigeon shooting? (I have to say I haven’t done either or these things at Center Parcs but they are on offer and I’m sure you get my point!)
Bring your own stuff – but not too much!
No matter what happens we always seem to pack too much food, which means not only have I overspent at the supermarket but the things that don’t keep end up going to waste. Plan the meals you are going to eat in and buy accordingly – we usually bring stuff for breakfast, lunch and one evening meal. Eating out at Center Parcs can be pricey but you have to weigh up if you are happy to eat in or enjoy a meal out for extra cost – it is a holiday after all! Each villa has a barbeque so this could be an option for one meal.
The onsite shop isn’t as pricey as it used to be. In Sherwood Forest, it now seems to be stocked by Co-op and have similar prices to their other stores. There is also an onsite takeaway catering in Chinese, Italian and Indian dishes, although we personally found it pricey and more like a supermarket dine in meal deal than a proper takeaway. I would rather spend the money on a meal out, or bring my own food and get the takeaway back at home!
Things to bring to save money at Center Parcs:
Food for planned meals
Snacks – to avoid the pricey snack options.
Own swimming towels (bathroom towels are provided) – I would imagine this is stating the obvious for most people but you can hire swimming towels, obviously bringing your own eliminates this cost.
Own bikes if you plan to use them
Bird food – this is on sale in the onsite shop but can be quite pricey. It’s a good one to bring as the wildlife will literally flock to your door!
Don’t get seduced by the onsite shops
For some reason on holiday, it seems many of us have a compulsion to buy stuff just because it’s there. A quote from a fashion magazine years ago has always stuck with me about buying clothes when on holiday abroad: “Suddenly the Spanish version of Etam seems chic and Interesting“. The same can definitely be applied at Center Parcs – I love browsing their onsite shops full of premium high street brands – however I know I can get some of the same brands for a fraction of the cost online. I took great pleasure in pointing out a joules scarf to my husband I bought on the joules ebay outlet for £5.99 that was £19.99 in the Center Parcs shop.
The onsite toy shop is eve worse– pocket money toys like rubber balls and plastic things that you just know will end up filed under “crappy clutter” at home were as much as £4.50. My 4 year old daughter had been given £10 holiday spending money from her nanna, she saw about a million things she thought she wanted, but I reasoned with her that if she waited we could get a Disney Rapunzel doll at another shop (Most supermarkets – £10) for the same value. It worked, hooray!
If you think your kids will want to burn a hole in their pockets just to get something new on holiday, consider buying a couple of cheap things from home bargains or a £1 shop beforehand and saving them as a surprise for the holiday – my mother had done this for my daughter anyway just as a treat, and she was more than happy to get a sticker book and a flashing rubber ball.
So they are my tips to save money at Center Parcs – do you have any to add? Let me know in the comments!