16 Center Parcs Tricks

Bag cheap trips and slash food bills

Center Parcs

While Center Parcs will never be dirt-cheap, we've a host of clever tricks to bring down the cost. Whether you plan to go or have already booked, this guide has tips to help, including how to grab £199 four-night breaks, hidden cheap dates if you've school kids and get euro parks at half the price.

Center Parcs and coronavirus

After closing due to coronavirus, Center Parcs reopened all its UK sites from 13 July. Though its swimming pools and spas will remain closed until at least 27 July.

This guide includes full help on how to get a good deal, though bear with us on some of the detail given we're in such a fast-moving travel environment right now.

Please see our Coronavirus Travel Rights and Coronavirus Life in Lockdown guides for the latest info.

16 Center Parcs tricks, including... 

  1. Center Parcs in a nutshell

    With woodland settings and lodge accommodation, Center Parcs has five venues across the UK: Whinfell (in Cumbria), Sherwood (in Nottinghamshire), Elveden (in Suffolk), Woburn (in Bedfordshire) and Longleat (in Wiltshire). There's also now one in Ireland, Longford.

    Bear in mind some of the facilities and things you can normally do at Center Parcs are currently restricted or not available at all due to coronavirus guidelines and social-distancing measures.

    The parks feature the following facilities:

    • Swimming pool complex. At the heart of each resort are giant pools with lazy rivers, rapids and slides, which you can use at no extra cost. Closed until at least 27 July.

    • Cycling. The sites are mainly car-free with tarmacked lanes – good for beginner cyclists and kids. You need to bring your own bike or pay extra to hire one.

    • Beaches and a water sports lake. Take a bucket or spade, or pay extra for activities such as kayaking and paddle boarding. 

    • Activities. At an extra cost, sporty types can book activities such as archery, horse riding and treetop rope adventures. 

    • Indoor sports complex. Each village has a 'Sports Plaza' where you can pay for climbing, badminton, snooker etc.

    • Spa. For an extra charge, visitors can book in at the spa, which has heated pools, steam rooms and saunas. You can also book face and body treatments. Closed until at least 27 July.

    • Restaurants. Nosh options include chains such as Las Iguanas and Strada. Some are currently delivery only - check the Center Parcs website for updates.
  2. Center Parcs in France, Holland etc, can be less than half the price of the UK – especially in the school hols

    Center Parcs resorts in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands can massively undercut the UK parks – especially for longer breaks in the school holidays or in bigger lodges. That's even after you've factored in the cost of flights or ferries.

    The good news is all parks in Europe have now reopened. Social distancing regulations vary by country - see its FAQ for updates. And as lockdown rules are steadily being lifted, many countries are now opening up to UK travellers again. See our Top 10 holiday countries - 'Will you be let in?' guide.

    While Center Parcs UK and Center Parcs Europe are now run by separate companies, both feature lodges surrounded by woods and nature. Plus ratings on TripAdvisor are similar for both UK and European parks, so it's always worth a quick comparison to find the cheapest option.

    To show the scale of the savings, at the Woburn Forest park in Bedfordshire, when we searched, we found three-bed lodges started at £2,308 for early August 2021. This was compared to just £1,004 at its Park Eifel site in Germany. Add in flights for a family of four at £340 and the total came to £1,344 – £964 less than the UK break.

    Here's some of the feedback we've had: 

    We're going to France Center Parcs in the school holidays. Longleat for four adults and four children was £3,200. France is £1,500, including crossing.
    - Steve

    We went to Center Parcs Erperheide in Belgium. It was much cheaper than UK, but an identical experience.
    - grintricha

    When booking flights, don't just check one airline's prices – use the right comparison site. See our Cheap Flights guide for a full list, plus more tricks to slash flight prices. And of course if there are a few of you and you can get to a port easily, travelling by ferry with the car could work out even cheaper.

  3. Slash the cost of European Center Parcs stays further by buying from that country's site

    If you do decide to book a holiday at a Center Parcs resort on the Continent, double-check the prices on that country's local site. Cheekily, Center Parcs Europe encourages British customers to book parks in mainland Europe through its GB site (centerparcs.com/gb-en), where prices can be steeper.

    So check prices across French, Dutch, Belgian and German sites, then compare to the GB site price (which will also been in euros). If you're struggling with the language, the Google Chrome web browser will translate the page at the click of a button – just go on to the foreign site and a pop-up asks if you would like to translate.

    Remember, whichever Center Parcs Europe site you book through you'll be asked to pay in euros, so make sure you use specialist overseas plastic to get the best rate.

    When we searched, we found a seven-night break in late October 2020 in a two-bedroom cottage in the Het Heijderbos site in the Netherlands. The GB site came up as €624 (£530), whereas the Dutch site charged €584 (£496) – for exactly the same stay.

    This isn't always the case though. We've sometimes found breaks a smidgeon cheaper on the UK site, so it pays to check both.

    If you're wondering whether you can save on the UK parks this way, the answer is, sadly, no. So you can't, for example, use the German site to book at Sherwood Forest.

    We just did Center Parcs Holland at half term for €370. The local website was €140 cheaper than the English site.
    - Nigel via Twitter

  4. Outside peak times, booking late usually wins – eg, four nights for £199

    Center Parcs rarely does discount codes. However, it does offer deals – prices come down within roughly eight weeks of travel.

    The cheapest break we can find last-minute currently is £379 for a three-night weekend break in a studio apartment. However, due to coronavirus guidelines, Center Parcs told us it's currently limiting the amount of guests on site (it's aiming for a 60% occupancy rate), so it's difficult to offer late deals.

    While it's not guaranteed, especially right now, in the past we have found booking last-minute is usually cheaper than booking early. For example, when we checked in April 2019, we found a three-bed lodge in Sherwood Forest available in a week's time for £299, compared with £379 for the same week in 2020. A one-bedroom studio holiday for the same dates could be had for just £199.

    Unfortunately, Center Parcs has taken down its late deals page, so to find the deals, you have to search for dates and sift through.

    Can't book late? Book as early as possible

    Of course, the risk with leaving it to the last minute is limited choice and availability. So if you can't be flexible on dates and location, it's probably best to book as early as possible instead.

    You can actually start looking as early as 18 months ahead, when Center Parcs releases availability.

    Center Parcs is tight-lipped on its precise pricing strategy, so there are no guarantees. But as a general rule, we've found prices for peak times tend to go up the closer you get to the date. 

  5. If possible, stay term-time, midweek...

    No surprises, Center Parcs prices jump significantly outside term-time. For example, a two-bedroom lodge in Whinfell was £1,638 in the last week of August, compared with £878 in the first week of the September when schools go back. That's £760 pricier.

    So if you've no kids, grown kids or pre-schoolers, take full advantage and travel midweek outside school holidays.

  6. ... or find hidden cheap booking dates if you've school-age kids

    There's a collective 'GRRRRR' from parents about holiday price hikes when term ends. Like flights, hotels and package holidays, the cost of Center Parcs always seems to rocket.

    Yet every so often, your school's term dates may differ from everyone else's. This could be due to inset days or just because your council's chosen different dates. These hidden dates can mean huge savings.

    For example, in 2021 most Leicestershire schools break up on 9 July, while most others do so over the week starting 19 July. We found a week's break in a two-bedroom lodge at Longleat for £1,358, starting the week before the other schools broke up in 2021. The same holiday starting a week later was £1,648.

    Schools in Scotland break up earlier than the rest of the UK (eg, in 2021 it is around 24 June), so Scottish families heading down south should consider going away early in the summer.

    Use the Gov.uk school holiday dates tool to find out when schools in your area are off, and check directly with your school too, as inset days and term dates can vary. 

    Then search Google for other schools' dates – the School Holidays Europe site has a summary of the different dates in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

    Also see MSE Jenny's Beat summer holiday price hikes blog for more tips.

    Inset days are a boon for cheap long weekends

    Inset days are one-off mid-term holiday days which vary by school and are usually for teacher training. With careful forward planning, these can be a boon for nabbing cheap Center Parcs stays, as Forumite Cjj found: 

    We had a Fri and Mon as inset days in Dec. I booked Center Parcs for that weekend, ie, Fri-Mon as I thought it was a perfect time to go. It cost £419.
    - Forumite Cjj

  7. The larger the group, the cheaper the cost

    At Center Parcs, economies of scale usually apply. As a rule of thumb, the larger the group, the cheaper the accommodation per person. If you can go with friends or family, you can slash the cost.

    MoneySavers suggest booking a two-storey lodge if two families are going, so you can have a level each.

    A four-bedroom lodge in Sherwood Forest, was £1,558/week in May 2021 – with eight people staying, that works out at £28/night each. For the same week, a one-bedroom studio apartment (with two people staying) was £868 (£62pp/night).

    Of course, if you're going soon, do bear in mind any social distancing regulations that apply. Eg, in England, you're currently allowed to go on holiday with one other family.

  8. Bag a few extra hours' fun by checking in early and leaving late

    The official check-in time at Center Parcs UK, when you can get into your accommodation, is 4pm (it's normally 3pm, but has been changed due to the coronavirus pandemic) – at which point queues will probably be lengthy. However, you're allowed to use the complex from 2pm (normally 10am) on your day of arrival.

    So arrive early, then head down to claim your place once the queues have subsided.

    On check-out day, you must hand back the keys to your lodge at 9am, yet you can stay till 12 noon (before coronavirus you could leave whenever you liked that day). So do it right, and you can still nab a few hours' extra fun.

  9. Look outside the complex to save on activities

    Center Parcs is a place that encourages activity binges, be it Bollywood dancing (£9 per person), building dens (£47 per group) or paintball (£32 per person). Though due to the coronavirus pandemic some activities have been tweaked or removed. Center Parcs says activities available will be available on its website at least one week before guests’ breaks. See its site for updates

    Clocking these off can easily run into £100s, so don't feel pressured. If you've kids, most will be happy to play in the woods or bob along the lazy river.

    You can also search nearby for local activities outside the complex, which may beat Center Parcs' prices.

  10. Spend the day lounging at the pool to save cash

    The indoor swimming pools, aka Subtropical Swimming Paradises, are the centrepiece of Center Parcs, boasting wave machines and waterfalls. They're also one of the few free activities, so plan to spend a day bobbing around the lazy river. Though due to Covid-19 the pools are still closed until at least 27 July - see its site for updates.

    Remember to bring towels from home, because beach towel hire is £2 a pop. Even using the swimsuit wringer is 20p, so bring multiple costumes if you have them.

    Free under-threes' swimming sessions

    Baby Dolphins is a free session for under-threes run before the pool opens while it's quiet to introduce babies and toddlers to the water. These take place at different times and on different days for each village – check directly with reception as well, as they're subject to change.

  11. Take your own bike

    On yer bike! One of the best ways to see Center Parcs is from a bicycle seat, especially as much of it is so spread out. Of course, the best MoneySaving option is bringing your own bike – remember to bring a lock.

    If people can't squeeze adult bikes in the car, some just take the kids' bikes. Scooters can be handy for little ones to zip around on.

    If you're hiring, four-night hire starts at £32 for adults and £24 for kids. It's currently not offering one-day hire due to coronavirus.

  12. Avoid the pricey Parc Market and click and collect at a supermarket instead

    The majority of accommodation comes with kitchens, meaning you can bite £100s off your holiday food bill by cooking your own food rather than eating out. But swerve the pricey 'Parc Market' – the supermarket within the complex – and cannily do a click-and-collect order to a nearby supermarket instead. Just find your Center Parcs on Google Maps, click nearby and search for 'supermarket'.

    To test this, we sent MSE Anthony undercover in the Parc Market at Elveden Forest in February 2018. A shopping basket of 10 branded goods cost £31 at the Parc Market, while at Tesco the bill was just £21, and that included a £1 click and collect charge.

    The 10 goods sampled included Cathedral City cheese, Tetley tea, Pringles and Jacob's Creek merlot – where an exact match was unavailable, we used a comparable brand.

    While this research was carried out in 2018, recent Tripadvisor feedback suggests Parc Market's prices can still be steep. In Feb 2020 a Tripadvisor user commented, "extremely expensive, frozen family meals were £17.50." Another user said in Dec 2019, "I found prices were 20-30% higher than a supermarket, eg, you were looking at £2 for a large bag of crisps."

    For more info on grocery shopping bargains and how to make the most of supermarket coupons, see Extreme Couponing Tips.

    Winner winner, yellow sticker

    Like the big supermarkets, the Parc Market reduces food as it's about to hit its sell-by date, even though it's still perfectly fine to eat. One TripAdvisor user says: "Go to supermarket shop within the park half an hour before it closes – cheap food always on offer."

  13. Write a meal plan

    There are lots of tips on the Old Style board's Menu Planning thread, but really all you need to do is work out what you're going to eat each day and the ingredients you'll need.

    Taking your own slow cooker is also highly rated. You can just throw in all your meat and veg in the morning before you head off to your activities, leave it on all day and when you come home you've got a fabulous stew, casserole or soup.      

  14. Fill your car with the right kit to avoid paying extra

    If you don't watch out, you can easily get stung for lots of added extras at Center Parcs. So be prepared and pack the car with all the handy things you might otherwise end up paying for.

    The only logs you're allowed to use in the Center Parcs fireplaces are instant fire-logs. While they can be pricey at the Parc Market, you can often pick them up for about £1 each at Aldi, Home Bargains, Lidl and Poundland.

    If you've kids, consider taking bird food, a bucket and spade for the lake, and extra chalk for the chalkboard.

    You could also take DVDs or, if you have one, a Chromecast or Amazon Fire Stick to plug into the TV. A bike lock is handy for bikes and buggies.

    Finally, don't forget the little things for your lodge, such as washing up liquid, tea, sugar, dishwasher tablets, bin bags, olive oil and loo roll.

  15. Slash the cost of a holiday village stay with cheap Center Parcs alternatives

    Instead of heading straight to Center Parcs, check out cheaper alternatives too. We list some holiday villages with a similar theme below – set in nature, with self-catering lodges, usually with swimming pools and on-site activities. They're not guaranteed to be cheaper every time, but it's well worth comparing prices before booking.

    Even better, start with the question: "What can I afford to spend on this break?", then work out the best holiday you can have on that budget.

    Of course these resorts all have their own social distancing regulations in place, so check their sites before booking. For example, the pool or restaurant might be closed.

    • Landal GreenParks. Run by a Dutch company, Landal GreenParks launched in the UK last year. It has great TripAdvisor feedback and five UK locations: Kielder in Northumberland, Gwel an Mor in Cornwall, Piperdam in Dundee, Kenwick Woods in Lincolnshire and Darwin Forest and Sandybrook, both in the Peak District. 

      A two-bed lodge was £569 in June 2021 at Kenwick Woods (compared with £1,028 at Center Parcs Whinfell). 

    • Forest Holidays. Working in partnership with the Forestry Commission, Forest Holidays runs rural breaks at 11 sites around the UK, from Blackwood in Hampshire to Cropton in North Yorkshire. You can stay in treehouses or cabins, and activities include zip wires and survival lessons. 

      It was sometimes a smidgeon cheaper than Center Parcs when we checked.
    • Bluestone. A holiday village in Pembrokeshire, Wales, Bluestone features a water park, several restaurants and activities such as rock climbing and kayaking. When we searched for a week in a two-bedroom lodge for June 2020, it cost £858, compared with £1,028 at Center Parcs Sherwood Forest. 

      However, it can work out more expensive than Center Parcs sometimes, so it's always worth comparing.

    • More UK holiday parks. There are cheaper options too, such as ButlinsHaven* and Pontins*. If you choose one of these, look out for discounts as you can often pick up offers online or in local newspapers. Plus keep an eye on our Butlins deals page – we'll post new ones when they're available.

    • Stay in a castle for £19/night. Don't think all hostels are dirty, smelly dorm rooms – many are clean and in surprising places. You can choose private, single rooms and doubles, and many include free internet access and breakfast. St Briavels Hostel in a moated Norman Castle in Gloucestershire costs from £15/night per person. To book, visit Youth Hostel Association (YHA) and Hostelling Scotland

    • Camping. To really slash the price, good ol' camping's a fun way to explore the great British outdoors and get away on the cheap. MoneySavers rate the website UKCampsite, which lists sites by area and facilities and has user reviews.

    If you've found a cheaper alternative to Center Parcs, we'd love to hear about it in the Cheap Center Parcs discussion. For more tips and how to find the right accommodation, see our Cheap UK HotelsCheap Hotels and Cheap Holiday Rentals guides.

  16. Treble Tesco points' values on Forest Holidays

    Before spending Tesco vouchers in store, check Tesco's rewards brochure as it may allow you to get three times the value of your vouchers (£10 becomes £30) on train tickets, jewellery and more. See our Boost Tesco Vouchers guide for more info.

    One of the rewards partners is Forest Holidays, which, like Center Parcs, offers lodge-style accommodation in forests. Tesco lets you turn every £5 of Clubcard vouchers into £15 to spend at Forest Holidays.

    The company has fab feedback on TripAdvisor, but the downside is vouchers can't be used for the full price of your stay and can only be used up to the value of 30% of your cabin price.

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