As anyone who has visited Center Parcs or even looked them up on line will know, they have a licence to print money. Recent changes to Covid guidelines issued by the government won’t help make the venture capitalists who own the parks to make any more money but anyone who’s paid £25 for 30 minutes of electric boat hire will probably think that they could cope with at least one lean summer.
Sarcasm aside, this really is the perfect break for the strange times in which we live.
That we visited midweek in September when many families are back at school helped, alongside the spread-out accommodation which makes social distancing easy, and whilst there are a few pinch points in the village centre, Centre Parcs have done excellent work in implementing government advice. No family who's actually willing to holiday at the moment could legitimately feel that too little was being done.
The big changes include limited access to the subtropical dome, where those visiting for five days can visit twice whilst those staying for a week can visit three times. Each party has to book in, in advance on the Center Parcs app, which is really easy to use. With each visit a maximum of two hours, there’s loads of space and no queues for the rides or slides. There’s a one way system in place and plenty of signs reminding people of their obligations.
Other activities at Center Parcs almost all carry a cost and can be booked in advance or during your stay. We tried the short tennis (my 3 year old daughter enjoys pretending to play and throws quite realistic John McEnroe strops on court) and electric boats. Again, the booking system worked seamlessly for us. Masks were required everywhere, even before the change in government guidelines - which occurred whilst we were there - came into force.
There is SO much to do from Go Ape to archery that there needn’t be an idle moment for the entirety of your break. There were fewer available slots for each activity in order to accommodate social distancing and some, like the caving experience and climbing walls were shut. Our eldest is only three and whilst there were activities for her, parental supervision was required; cupcake decorating and building a den were all things that we could do at home. In the coming years, CP will really come into its own when she and her sister can cycle off safely and leave me and her dad at the Aqua Sana spa for a couple of hours. This time, it was the myriad outdoor playgrounds that really proved useful.
There’s no walk-ins at restaurants and cafes, so you have to book (again) via the Centre Parcs app. This is the case even for the Pancake House and the Sports Bar, which had previously been more ‘short order’ places. We didn’t have any problem booking spots during our stay. Some of the restaurants are closed - I had been advised to try a famous hot chocolate drink at the country club but much of that has shut up shop, for now.
Entrance in to the on site supermarket is carefully controlled and all trolleys and baskets are conspicuously sanitised by staff before you get your hands on them.
With two very small children we found the takeaway service really useful. The food is biked to you and left just inside your door.
We used this service for convenience rather than social distancing, but anyone who wanted or needed a break and still wanted to maintain space could do so and still enjoy a number of different cuisines! Each cabin has a BBQ stand and the on-site supermarket sells disposable ones, and this gives you another opportunity to eat in.
It has been my first time at Center Parcs and whilst I feel it’s eye-wateringly expensive, I didn’t realise how much I needed a break, especially since the last time we went anywhere was October and in the intervening ten months, I’ve had a lockdown baby. We’ve all just been “getting on” with life in lockdown and some of us might not have been aware of how much the stress had been getting to us. The calming green of the forest, quiet environment and late Autumn sunshine was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Written by Carolyn Morell
Carolyn is a Manchester-based Psychology teacher (currently working harder than ever on maternity “leave”) who loves to travel with (and sometimes without) her husband and two children, Luisa (3) and Marieta (4 months).