We’ve just come back from a lovely weekend in Center Parcs – our third time visiting Center Parcs but first time staying in Sherwood. I’d love to try one of the other locations next. I was a little worried about going to Center Parcs after lockdown, and for a while I wasn’t sure if our little holiday was even going to be going ahead, but thankfully we were lucky and still got to go with a few restrictions.
I wanted to do a post answering some questions I was asked on Instagram about visiting Center Parcs after lockdown and how it affects your holiday. (Also, I totes know that lockdown isn’t officially lifted, but ‘post-lockdown’ is the best way I can think to describe this weird period succinctly).
Our Center Parcs set up
So we were travelling as myself, Steven and 19month old Ruben, in a 2 Bedroom ‘New Style’ Woodland lodge with Steven’s parents. Next door in a larger lodge was Steven’s sister Hayley, his brother-in-law Chris as their 4 kids – Georgia, 16; Ben, 14; Charlie, 11 & Jacob, 6 plus Disney the dog. So we were a pretty big group!
We went from Friday – Monday and our lodge (so 4 adults and a baby across two rooms) cost £784. It’s not a cheap break by any stretch but it’s our main holiday this year.
One slightly annoying post-Lockdown change they’ve made, is that you can check in from 2pm, but can’t access your accommodation until 4pm. Usually, you can get on site from 10, use the pool from 2pm and get into your accommodation from 3pm, so you really are missing a lot of your first day with the new restrictions. You have to hand your keys back by 9am on your last day, which was a huge rush for us all, whereas it was 10am before. That hour can make a real difference! We decided to have a little mooch around the shops afterwards but half of the shops (the toy shop for one) weren’t open, and the rest were closing at 11.30am because they want you to leave the site by 12 noon.
It makes sense of course because it gives them extra cleaning time, but it is a real shame that there is no discount on how much of your trip you are potentially losing.
The Woodland Lodge
We were in Cedar, which is just a short bike-ride away from the Village and Sports Centre etc. It had a small kitchen, opening into a living space with a dining area. There was one bedroom with a double bed, built in wardrobes and a TV, and the other was the same, but with 2 single beds. We had a travel cot included, (although in the other lodge, they had a full-sized drop-side cot, despite not having a baby), but we did have to push the bed further to the side in order to squeeze it in!
Top tip: There’s space by the TV to plug in your HDMI cable, so we took ours, plus an adapter for the Macbook/iPad and we could stream our own things onto the TV which little Roo loved. Whenever we were in the lodge, we had Toy Story on in the background! There is also a DVD player too.
One thing I do have to note, is that neither of the lodges felt particularly clean. In our lodge, we found, what looked like a Sugar Puff stuck on the back of one of the cushions, the highchair had been put back ringing wet, but also still dirty, and Ruben crawled across the floor for 20 minutes and was FILTHY. Don’t get me wrong, he often gets grubby knees, but he was black! In the other lodge, they found a child’s waterbottle (suggesting that that part wasn’t even given a cursory wipe-down) and their mugs were dirty too. It would be. Bag enough on an £800 holiday to find these things, but when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, being assured that there is extra cleaning going on, it was really disappointing. We mentioned it to the customer services, and they apologised and said they would bring it up with the cleaning team, and we did get £30 credit for the Village for each lodge, but it’s not about getting something out of it – it’s the realisation that things weren’t cleaned as well as we had hoped.
There’s no daily housekeeping, to help with social distancing, and paper, chalk and tea, and coffee are no longer included.
Top tip: There is a Tassimo coffee machine in the kitchen, so take some pods with you if you fancy a decent cup of Joe (why do we call it Joe? That’s weird isn’t it?) in the morning.
We did still get the usual cleaning supplies – cloths, tea towels, dishwasher tablet etc. But deffo take extra loo roll as they never leave enough for the whole stay!
So every single activity needed booking before you arrived. Usually you would book 90% of things anyway, but they were very strict on not booking anything on the day, so you do have to plan what you want to do.
There are some things that aren’t available at the moment, due to distancing. I noticed that they weren’t doing the caving adventure (which is no skin off my nose because it sounds bloody terrifying for someone as claustrophobic as me!|), roller skating, den building, or baby music. There were other for sure, but they’re the ones we noticed.
We did the Aerial Adventure and as it was outside, it didn’t feel too different than it normally would be, I don’t think. You had to wait to be taken over to get your harness on, and you have to do as much of the set up as possible yourself (plasters over rings, helmet on etc), but sorting your harness is something that has to be done by someone else, so they had visors on. There seemed to only be space for 4 people at each time slot, although I’m not sure if that is the normal amount, or they’ve restricted it for Corona.
You had to stay the 2m away from other groups, and when Steven and I went, we didn’t bump into anyone else at all – it was great as I didn’t feel rushed at all. However, the children were a slot after us and they were behind another big family, so they did have to wait a while between sections which was frustrating for them – it’s just luck of the draw.
The team that hooked us up were really lovely and explained it all really clearly – especially as I was so anxious. In fact, everyone on the trail was so patient and kind with me. At the end before the big zip line (which is amazing by the way) the man could see I was quite anxious (I was asking a lot of safety questions) and so he calmly talked me through what each rope was, and how it was attached. He was so patient and it really helped me enjoy it, rather than feeling silly for being so scared.
The Centre Parcs Aerial Adventure is different from Go Ape as you stay attached to the ropes at all times – you don’t have to re-clip yourself on at all, which I liked. It’s a decent length course, and my poor arms and knees knew about it the next day but Iw as so proud of myself. It’s certainly not as easy as it looks from the ground but it was fun and the long zip line over the lake at the end is just gorgeous (but the ending is a little hard!).
In the Jardin Des Sports, we did a few activities. The children did Football Pool on the first night, and the indoor climbing on Sunday and Roo and I did Mucky Pups (which I’ll get into in a moment), and when you were doing the activity, you didn’t have to wear a mask, but you did have to wear one on the way into the building. There was also someone on the door checking that you had a booking, so you couldn’t really just go in and have a look around which was a shame. There is a takeout Starbucks in the Jardin Des Sports and you can eat out at the Sports Cafe, but only if you’ve booked. There is also a one-way system around the building which can be a bit of a frustration at times but isn’t really a big deal.
So we were booked onto this messy play session and I was unsure how they were going to work it, seeing as the children had to be distanced. There were only 5 children, each on their own table, 2m away from each other. The lady who led the session said that there are usually 3 families on each table, and about 16 kids all together. It was strangely quiet in the room and Ruben kept wanting to crawl off and see the other children so it was a little difficult to have to keep him in one spot. I certainly feel that it lacked the atmosphere of more people, but I’m glad it was still on.
Each table had a small water tray next to it (Ruben’s favourite – give this boy a bowl of water and he’s living his best life!) and on the table was a small bowl of dyed-grey spaghetti, jelly, string, plus a dog template (where you could do hand prints of his ears), some glue and coloured tissue paper to make a picture and 2 markers. There was also a stand in the middle with ideas on what to do with each item. It was nice enough but Ruben mainly wanted to play with the water or move the spaghetti from one bowl to another, one strand at a time. It was an hour long session but you could leave whenever. We were the last and we stayed around 45 minutes.
Booking the activities was easy enough – you just do it on your account and select who is going. We couldn’t book until 2 weeks before our break, but we managed to get everything we wanted with relatively little fuss.
Top tip: Try and book as soon as the bookings open for your trip to avoid missing out on anything. They have limited their numbers so I’m sure there were some really disappointed people who tried to book closer to the day.
Subtropical Swimming Paradise
One of the things people wanted to know about the most was the swimming pool, and I’ll be honest, I was so happy when I heard it was going to be open for our stay, because it’s one of my favourite parts about a Centre Parcs holiday (and one of the only free things!). Also, on a personal note, I was desperate to do some of the water slides because the other times we’ve been, I’ve been pregnant, so I couldn’t go on them and felt left out!
You have to book for the pool, and you are only allowed two x 2-hour sessions per three or four-night break. If you’re staying for seven nights, you can have four x 2-hour sessions.
You have to wear your mask to get into the building, and you should turn up 15 minutes before your slot so you can be checked in, have your temperature taken (a really random machine that does it with your wrist and shouts “safe!” if you’re okay) and get your wristband. We were given specific numbered changing rooms, which I guess is so that they know which ones to clean when you’ve been in them, however, when you come out, you aren’t told to use the same one, and in our case, someone was already in the one we’d been in, so I’m not sure how that works.
You’re encouraged to wear your swimwear underneath to limit the time you spend getting ready, and you can’t shower before or after your dip!
Toptip: don’t forget undies if you’re wearing your swimwear underneath! I did and had to ride back with no bra on and a very see through white top – d’oh!
I was happy that we could still borrow one of the floaty jacket things for free, although the one we picked up was a little ripped in places, which was a shame.
If you’ve never been the the Subtropical Swimming Paradise, it’s more like a water park than a pool. There are several slides, flumes and rides, suitable for all ages. The newest one, the Tropical Cyclone is an interesting concept, where you’re on a little inflatable with one other person (annoyingly the sign says minimum 2 people, maximum 4, but on the day they were saying it has to be 2 people, no more or less. You didn’t find out until you waited in the queue for a while). There’s a terrifying drop, and then you’re in a weird dome type thing. At the start of the ride you choose the projection you want – thunder, sharks, waterfall etc – which is projected on this part, but honestly I’m not sure it’s worth it as you can barely see it and it’s not been projection mapped to the shape, just a normal, square projection.
There are 2 children’s areas, that are pirate-themed. One for under 8-year-olds and one for over 6-year-olds. Lots of little slides, flumes, and fountains here too and the water was warm every time we went. Ruben loved it!
There’s a one-way system which can be frustrating at times but is obviously for the best, and plenty of hand sanitation stations in each area.
I was really surprised at how almost-normal things felt in the pool. It certainly didn’t ruin it at all, however it was lacking in the usual atmosphere as all the food and drinks areas were closed. Usually we would spend a decent time in the pool, have some food by the side and a break and then jump back in (after 40 minutes of course) but sadly that’s not possible. It’s a shame as there is a Starbucks and a bar too!
You also can’t book the little Cabanas at the moment, which would be perfect for a big family like ours. In fact, you can’t take any items poolside – no towels or anything can come out of the lockers.
It’s certainly a different experience, but not a negative one at all and with there being limited people on each slot, it’s a lot quieter which is great.
We hired a boat on one of the mornings. Half of us did an electric boat (slow, but calm and easy) and the other half did pedalos (not easy after a few days cycling!) and it was a nice way to spend a sunny morning. You get half an hour and life jackets and off you go. This is a nice activity that everyone can be involved in, even if you’re not up for sports or climbing in the trees – and if you look above you, the big zip line from the Aerial Adventure goes straight over your heads!
Steven and I aren’t the most outdoorsy of people, so it’s not surprising that we didn’t have our own bikes. Steven’s Dad had a spare I could use, and someone kindly gave us their bike seat for Roo but we had to hire a bike and 2 helmets (for Ruben and Steven). The queue to pick the bike up was huge and took Steven a good while, but it was easier when dropping it off. As the bike doesn’t need dropping until 10am on the last day, we finished packing the cars and gave our keys back at 9am and then the bike and helmets afterwards as we didn’t want Steven stuck in a queue for all that time when we needed all hands on deck to get our stuff out.
Top tip: Invest in a gel bike seat! My goodness, every-time I sat on the seat after a day of riding I wanted to cry!
It’s important to remember that the whole place is cashless and paperless now. Card or contactless (or Apple Pay, which has no upper limit) is the only way to pay.
Did we feel safe at Centre Parcs after lockdown?
Honestly? Yes. I felt pretty safe, especially with all the sanitising stations etc. The whole forest, beach and playgrounds were all open but the wildlife centre was pretty empty and bare.
I was disappointed in the cleanliness of our cabin so we made sure to give things a wipe down ourselves. And of course a lot of it depends on other people’s behaviour around you, but overall I felt safe and although it did affect a lot of the holiday (we didn’t feel able to just pop in and mooch anywhere), it certainly didn’t ruin it and we had a great time!