Center Parcs

16 Center Parcs Tricks

Bag cheap trips and slash food bills

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.

  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. (Bear in mind you currently need to pre-book swim sessions, though it's still free - see full details.)

    • 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.

    • Restaurants. Nosh options include chains such as Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge. Check the Center Parcs website for details. 
  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.

    For the latest on overseas travel restrictions during the pandemic, see our regularly-updated Coronavirus Travel Rights 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 Longleat park in Bedfordshire, when we searched, we found three-bed lodges started at £2,848 for early August 2022. This was compared to just €1,104 (£917) at its Park Eifel site in Germany. Add in flights for a family of four at £317 and the total came to £1,234 – £1,614 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.

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  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 De Vossemeren site in Belgium. The GB site came up as €1,440 (£1,196), whereas the Belgian site charged €1,399 (£1,162) – 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 sometimes offer deals – prices come down within roughly eight weeks of travel.

    The cheapest break we can find last-minute currently is £499 for a five-night midweek break in a two-bedroom lodge. However, due to the pandemic staycation boom we expect there are fewer last minute deals available.

    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.

    Check Center Parcs' late deals page for the latest offers.

    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 'new style detached' lodge in Whinfell was £2,128 in the last week of August, compared with £1,248 in the first week of the September when schools go back. That's £880 pricier.

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

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  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 2022 most Leicestershire schools break up for summer on 12 July, while most others do so around 22 July. We found a week's break in a two-bedroom lodge at Elveden for £1,628, starting the week before the other schools broke up in 2021. The same holiday starting a week later was £2,298.

    Schools in Scotland break up earlier than the rest of the UK (eg, in 2022 it is around 1 July), 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 Days Out With The Kids 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

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  7. Larger groups can mean cheaper costs

    At Center Parcs, economies of scale often apply. The larger the group, sometimes 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.

    When we checked last year, a four-bedroom lodge in Sherwood Forest, was £1,558/week in May – 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). 

    However, this year, we found discounts for larger parties were not as big, probably because of the popularity of UK holidays due to the pandemic. But it's still always worth checking.

  8. Bag 'two extra days' of 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 used to be 3pm, but changed due to the coronavirus pandemic). At this point queues will probably be lengthy.

    However, you're allowed to use the complex from 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 midnight that night. So do it right, and you can nab a good few hours' extra fun.

  9. Look outside the complex to save on activities

    Center Parcs is a place that encourages activity binges, be it archery (from £22.50 per person), building dens (£48 per group) or kids' chocolate chefs' academy (£30 per person). See its list of example activity prices.

    Please note due to the pandemic a few 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. 

    Bear in mind you currently need to pre-book swim sessions, though it's still free. The number of three-hour slots you can book depends on how long you're staying  - see full details.

    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.

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  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 £33 for adults and £25 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 Dec 2021 a Tripadvisor user commented, "the Parc Market is extremely expensive." Another user said in Nov 2021, "My big gripe is the price of the food in the Parc Market as the prices are much high than anywhere I shop."

    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 has great TripAdvisor feedback and 16 UK locations across the UK. 

      A two-bed lodge was £959 in mid August 2022 at Rockingham Forest (compared with £1,278 at Center Parcs Whinfell). 

    • Forest Holidays. Working in partnership with the Forestry Commission, Forest Holidays runs rural breaks at 12 sites across England, Wales and Scotland, 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 October 2022, it cost £638, compared with £1,158 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 £10 of Clubcard vouchers into £30 to spend at Forest Holidays.

    The company has fab feedback on TripAdvisor, but the big downside is vouchers can't be used for the full price of your stay and can only be used up to the value of 15% of your cabin price.

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