As you will probably know if you follow me on Instagram (and if you don’t, come on over and say hello!), we recently went on a family weekend away to Center Parcs, Longleat Forest. We have visited Center Parcs quite a few times over the years and it is one of our favourite places for an easy UK based getaway. I thought this post might be useful if you have never been before and are considering going. Before we took Freddie, I found myself frantically googling ‘Center Parcs with baby’ so I hope this post is helpful if you are in a similar situation.
Center Parcs gets some mixed reviews, most notably that is is expensive but we have found that it is very much what you make of it. We love it because it is incredibly family friendly, which is the main reason why we booked another weekend so soon after the previous one!
BEFORE YOU GO
I much prefer to go to Center Parcs outside of peak seasons. Seeing the woodland in the autumn or the spring is just so special and there is nothing like wrapping up warm and going for a crisp walk in the woods. Of course this makes it much cheaper too. You can book a one bedroom executive lodge for a midweek break for between two hundred and fifty and three hundred and fifty pounds if you book off peak.
It is worth paying the small fee to choose the location of your lodge. Longleat especially, is quite a big site and you may find yourself a bit of a trek from the main areas if not. Fine if you enjoy the walk, but if you have little legs with you (or are lugging around little legs!) it is worth the peace of mind of choosing your location. We were in Pine 125 which is a five minute walk from the plaza where the Sub-Tropical Swimming Paradise, the bowling alley, most of the restaurants and the Parc Market are located. Although it was close to the hustle and bustle of the Plaza, it was still really peaceful!
If you are budget conscious, it is a good idea to stop off at a supermarket on your way because the Parc Market can be a bit pricey when buying certain items and eating out for every meal quickly adds up. Now that we have a baby, we preferred to eat out at lunchtime so ensured we stocked up on easy meals for dinner before we arrived. If you need to grab bits and bobs whilst you are there the Parc Market is well stocked and we found a wide range of baby food and products which was reassuring.
If you are going during busy periods, I would highly recommend booking any activities or restaurants before you go as these are booked up quickly. Although the activities are quite expensive, in our experience between the woods and the swimming centre there is more than enough to keep us busy. There is a little beach by the lake which is perfect for little ones and plenty of playgrounds dotted around to. Don’t let the cost of the activities deter you from booking!
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR STAY
Freddie is eight months old and we found visiting Center Parcs surprisingly stress free. Everything is on site so you don’t need a car during your stay and it is very much set up for families. We had a highchair and cot in our lodge ready to go and each restaurant had free baby food as well as a station to heat food up.
Although it was chilly during our stay, we loved strolling around the woods with a coffee (there are two Starbucks on site!) and exploring the different play areas. The sports centre is quite a walk from the plaza but it is worth it for the scenery on your way down. The lake is also located next to the sports centre and Freddie loved watching the ducks on the water. We have taken a boat out previously which was fairly inexpensive and a nice way to while away an hour or so.
Our favourite thing to do as a family was to go to the Sub-Tropical Swimming Paradise which Freddie absolutely loved. As well as an outdoor pool, there is a large indoor wave pool, lazy rapids, multiple flumes (including two new rides which are particularly hair raising…), whirpool, baby splash pool area and a childrens pirate ship pool area. Freddie loved floating around the lazy river in his rubber ring and being able to look around at the trees and the sky in the outdoor pool. Everything is heated and you can walk between areas without getting cold which is so important with a young baby.Most importantly, it is free! There are family changing rooms and the swim shop sells swim nappies and swimming aids. I honestly think between the woods, play areas and pool you would have more than enough to amuse children of most ages without needing to spend any money at all.
As we were away with family, we were lucky enough to sneak off in the evenings for some much needed couple time. We loved going swimming at night when it was quieter and it was so lovely to be in the outdoor pool just watching the stars. We also went for cocktails-not many on my part as not drinking during my pregnancy has made me a cheap date! Our favourite place to enjoy a few drinks is Hucks American Bar & Grill- the Jamberry cocktail is delicious.
If you are going with family (or if not, there is a brilliant creche!) I would highly recommend booking a session at the Aqua Sana Spa. We have been to a few different spas before but none of them are as lovely as Aqua Sana. As well as multiple different themed sauna rooms, there is an outdoor pool, relaxation rooms and various places to lounge around and read a magazine or watch the world go by. For the quality of the spa, the prices are really reasonable and you will definitely not regret visiting!
A FEW TOP TIPS
- Consider booking a cabana at the Sub-Tropical Swimming paradise for your final day. It means you can make the most of the last day as well as having a base for feeding, naps or just chilling out. We definitely felt it was worth the money!
- Pick up the essentials before you go. You will need toilet roll and washing up liquid if you are there for the whole week. Some cleaning products are provided so check what is and isn’t included before you go.
- Time your arrival carefully. Center Parcs state that you can access your accommodation after three o clock in the afternoon so there tends to a lengthy queue around this time. We have found it is better to arrive mid-morning (you can access all of the activities at this time) or early evening.
- If you are eating out in the evenings make sure you visit one of the booking points to check availability, especially if you are visiting at a peak time. For peace of mind it is worth booking a table in advance.
- If you have a baby, the Sub-Tropical Paradise opens half an hour earlier on specific days of the week purely for the younger visitors. This is a great way to get your bearings and explore before it starts to get busy.
- Longleat is particularly hilly so it is worth considering whether or not you need a buggy if you have a young baby. We found it far easier to use our Ergo 360 for walking around.
We had such a lovely time and visiting as a family has only emphasised to us how convenient and family friendly Center Parcs is. I am already planning our next trip and I can’t wait to see how Freddie will respond to everything when he is that little bit older. Have you ever been to Center Parcs? Or if not, would you consider booking? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Thanks for reading,