If you have never heard of Center Parcs, you may have had visions of tiny cottages without running water and wifi. In reality, these are 4-star level accommodation, with everything from dishwashers and wifi, to jetted tubs and saunas.
A lovely cottage, quiet time in the countryside, with something to do for everyone. But it can be pricey. Whether it is your first time at Center Parcs or not, here are my top tips to save money and make the most of your holiday.
Included in your booking is a fully self-served cottage with a functional kitchen and access to certain resort facilities such as:
- an indoor domed pool
- an outdoor pool
- indoor and outdoor playgrounds for the kids
Other paying facilities and activities include:
There are supermarkets and restaurants on-site, so depending on how many activities you participate in and how many dinners out you have, your budget could skyrocket.
So a bit of preparation is just the key to keeping a hand on your wallet. Here are my best tips for visiting Center Parcs and staying within budget. Allons-y!
1. Decide when to go
When to go is probably one of the most important decisions you have to make. Prices are higher during school holidays, so you will get better deals outside of that.
Another cost-saving idea is going to a Center Parcs in another country. For example, if you are in the U.K. and need to go during U.K. school holidays, consider going to a Center Parcs in France or Netherlands as those school holidays will be different (and less expensive). You can look up the holidays for each country before booking:
If you need to go during school holidays, book your cottage as early as possible as prices go higher as the peak period approaches. Center Parcs allows reservations 12-18 months in advance.
Alternatively, if you can wait, there are also usually last-minute deals for the weekend or just go from Monday to Thursday, if you have flexibility.
2. Check the weather before booking
The other issue is that there is no air conditioning in the cottages, at least at the ones in France, and I’ve not seen them at the resorts across Europe either. So if you go to Center Parcs in the middle of July-August, not only will you be paying a premium, you’ll also be sweating a lot.
Outside of the August heat though, Center Parcs is fabulous. With its indoor pools, indoor playgrounds, and other indoor activities, you can usually figure out something to do even if it is raining or windy.
3. Make the reservation on Booking.com
If you are coming from the U.K., the UK Center Parcs website has much higher prices than the Center Parcs in Europe. You could book on the local country website, but if you can’t read French or German, I suggest booking directly on Booking.com since they should offer the lowest equivalent price.
4. Get a VIP cottage with sauna
This is probably my top tip for booking, especially if you are going in winter and you have small children. It cost us an extra €50 (depends on the deals available) and is absolute perfection. It is basically the price of a couple of trips to the big spa at Center Parcs for 2 adults.
Having the sauna right in the cottage meant that with the kids in bed by 8 pm, that left plenty of time for mum and dad to enjoy a relaxing evening in the sauna and then finish off with a glass of wine by the fire.
☞ READ MORE: Visiting France in Winter. Brr!
5. Check the children’s bedroom arrangements
While booking our holiday, we noticed that there was only one crib in the cottage, and that there were no sheets for the crib. If you have twins or small children that are really close in age, this may not work for you.
The crib is also folded up in the parents’ bedroom, but there isn’t actually much room to expand it in the master bedroom, even in the VIP cottage. If we were using the crib, we would have to put it elsewhere.
The other issue was that the twin beds in the 2nd bedroom were quite high, and there were no barriers. We ended up moving two dining chairs into the bedroom every evening to form a barrier to keep our toddlers from falling out of their beds.
6. Pre-book everything or download the Center Parcs app
If you are coming from the U.K. to France or to any of the other Center Parcs in Europe, you will find that you need that country app to book the activities.
Make sure you install the app and that it works before arriving at the resort, or alternatively pre-book all your activities on the computer before you arrive. There’s no need to waste time waiting in line!
7. Check-in online and arrive early (with a separate swim bag)
You are not allowed to check into your cottage until 15h but they do let you access all facilities. There is usually a line of waiting vehicles at check-in so if you can try to get there early. You can leave all your stuff in the car and head to the pool to start your holiday immediately. Also, pool towels are not provided, so bring your own.
(If you can’t make it early, no worries, the check-in at 15h occurs directly while you are in the car, and is pretty fast.)
8. Bring your own groceries
There is a grocery store on-site at Center Parcs, but as you can imagine, it is a wee bit expensive. When planning your meals for your cottage, you have to keep in mind the following:
- there is no freezer
- there is no oven
- there are no condiments
The last time I went I remembered not to bring a frozen pizza, but the pasta I cooked could have really used some salt and pepper. So here are some hints for your condensed grocery list for Center Parcs:
- salt and pepper
- other spices for cooking
- dishwashing liquid and dishwasher tabs (scrubbers are provided)
- toilet paper (one roll provided)
- tissue paper
- tea / coffee
- other food
- compact logs of wood for the fireplace
9. Bring your own strollers, bikes, and scooters
One of the main things to remember with Center Parcs is that your cottage might be quite far away from the center. Depending on the resort, the paths are not particularly pedestrianized and can be quite hilly.
Our last stay at Center Parcs, we were about 1.5 km (1mile) away, and it was raining, too far away for our toddlers to go back and forth a couple of times a day. Combined with muddy paths, we were quite happy to have strollers along.
Note: There are golf carts that can be rented on the resort if you can’t manage a bike or scooter.
10. Bring your own fondue wok or raclette set
No oven doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great family meal together. The restaurants at Center Parcs are rather ordinary and overpriced and given the distance from the cottage to the center, it is much nicer to have at least one dinner at home.
11. Move your car closer to your cottage as early on Departure Day
Checkout at 10 am tends to be a rush of cars and traffic jams. Moving your car earlier to load up all the luggage will help your holiday end on a good note.
Note: At certain Center Parcs in France you can check out on Sundays at 15h. Check the resort that you are staying at, and see if your resort offers late checkout.
☞ READ MORE: 24 Things to know before driving in France
12. Play after checkout
Even if you have to check out at 10am, you can still stay at the resort till the late afternoon. So load up the car and vacate your cottage, and let the concierge know that you would like to enjoy the facilities a little longer.
So there you have it, my top tips for Center Parcs! Have I missed anything? If you are planning on visiting one of the French resorts, have a read through my article comparing the different Center Parcs in France. As always, happy vacationing and à bientôt !