Yay! You’ve decided you want to go to Center Parcs for a family holiday – that’s great! I can highly recommend it. I have been going regularly since 1990, when I was just eleven myself, and this year I got to take my own family there!
There’s no doubt at all that Center Parcs is a fantastic family holiday destination. But you have very different needs when you have a young family, from when you yourself were a child.
We went to Center Parcs in March 2018 (just after we had the bad storm weather). The boys were four years old at the time of going, and they had a fantastic time! I mean – they absolutely LOVED it! But there are a few things you should be aware of before heading off with your own preschoolers, if you have never been before with kids.
This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you made a purchase I would earn a commission, at no cost to you. See my full affiliate disclosure here.
10 Tips Before You Go To Center Parcs With Your Preschooler
To make your trip as stress free as possible, I’ve put together my must read tips if you’re heading to Center Parcs with a preschooler. There’s some things you just totally don’t think about – until it’s too late!
So, here are my top tips…
1. If it’s within your budget, pay the extra to choose your exact villa.
Study the village map for your village of choice. The Longleat one is downloadable a little bit down the page here on the Center Parcs website. (Choose your village location on the main site and you can get each village map there).
The villages are split up into zones – Central area; Middle area; Outer area; Exclusive/Treehouse area; and Westside area. Use the map key to work out what is important for you to be near to, whether it’s the Plaza, Jardin Des Sport, or playgrounds, nearest land train stop, dog exercise areas etc. It may be that it will suit you more to pay for a particular area, or villa.
We just left it to chance when we went in March, and we were very far away from any of the main attractions. It doesn’t really matter too much, as there is a land train that runs regularly around the whole village, and of course you can hire bikes to get around. But we chose not to have bikes, and the walk to the Jardin Des Sport and the Plaza was really long for little legs, and the land train was still quite a long journey with tired little ones.
We’re going back again this year!
We have booked to go back again in September this year (using the Center Parcs come back soon offer), and we chose to pay £60 to book a villa practically across the road from the plaza, and close walking distance to the main car park. We believe this it money well spent, and will mean more time for enjoyment, and less time waiting for landtrains/travelling on landtrains etc
It also means that when we’ve been swimming (the best free thing to do in Center Parcs!), we can just quickly nip back to the villa to drop off our wet swimming gear, and freshen up, and not have to hike all our extra bags and wet hair around for the rest of the day.
2. Pre-book Hucks Restaurant!
Hucks is by far the best family restaurant in Longleat. Set within the Plaza, it is an American style bar & grill restaurant, with a great wooden play area across 2 or 3 levels! I would say this is suitable for ages from three or four, to ten-ish. For older children they have an area with Apple Macs for them to use.
For the kids they have an all-you-can-eat help yourself buffet! This had things such as chips, chicken dippers, fish goujons, sausages, beans, peas, and fresh fruit and veg. The price also included a drink, and a dessert.
Extra tip – ring ahead of time, or pop in on arrival day and ask if you can choose a table close to the play area, so you can keep a close eye on young children.
The great thing about Hucks, is that your kids can come and go as they please to the play area and back again for a bite to eat. This was the first meal since the boys were born, that Dave and myself have actually been able to eat and enjoy in total peace!! I mean, that is priceless!!
I had the Swiss Cheese and Mushroom burger, with fries and coleslaw, and OMG it was so good! I think Dave had the Black & Blue Burger, and also said it was delicious. We shared the Chocolate Peanut Butter Stack for dessert. Yum!
The meal for 2 adults and 2 kids buffets, with one dessert and drinks for me and Dave came to around £65. I think that was quite reasonable, considering the food was SO delicious, and the fact that the kids were kept busy the whole time we were there…like I said – priceless!
On a similar note, if you are wondering about the play areas in the other restaurants I can tell you that the one in Bella Italia is a very small baby soft play area, so not suitable for our 4 year olds, and the play area in the Sports Cafe was also soft play style, but bigger, and was fine for our 4 year olds, up to around age 6 or 7, I would say.
Also, get yourself to The Pancake House if you can afford it. It’s a Center Parcs institution!
3. If You’re Toilet Training Your Little One, Or They Simply Struggle To Stay Up On Toilets – Take A Training Seat!
We did not think about this one, and were gutted when we arrived in our villa to see there were no toilet training seats. If you’re just out and about at home and your little one needs the toilet, it’s easy enough to just hold them up over the toilet to stop them slipping in. But for a five day holiday we didn’t think it was fair for them to hold their weight over a toilet for the holiday duration.
To my amazement, this was not even something that you could buy from the Parc Market, or hire from Center Parcs Guest Services! (Hint hint CP – these things are invaluable to little ones and would be an ideal addition to your services!)
So annoyingly this meant that on arrival day we had to head back out of Center Parcs to find a shop that would sell them. Luckily there was a B&M about ten minutes away by car, which thankfully sold them!
Extra Tip – take antibac wipes! Kids have accidents and wipes are so handy to wipe up any accidents around the toilet, quickly and easily. They’re also good for out and about CP anyway.
4. Take Their Pillows
Whilst my children didn’t complain about this, I personally thought the supplied pillows were too big, and too full. Even taking one of the pillows away, one Center Parcs pillow under their head just looked too high for their necks. So next time we go I will definitely be taking their own pillows from home.
From an adult point of view, I found the bed quite uncomfortable and it seriously irritated my back problems. I also found the pillows too big and full, so whilst I can’t change a mattress, I can certainly add a level of comfort by also taking my own pillow. Yes, I know that taking your pillows means taking up car space! But really, for me – comfort for four nights is too important, so I’ll MAKE car space!
5. Unless You Are Going At The Height Of Summer – Take Puddle Suits!
You never know with this British weather just when rain will come. Be prepared! The fact that you’re in the middle of the forest just adds to the need for a puddle suit. Plus kids LOVE puddles! Don’t give yourself a reason to worry about them getting wet, and give them some puddle freedom!
I can highly recommend these puddle suits from Amazon. I think they are so good, I’ve bought them when the boys were two, and when they were four! They have plenty of growing room, are well proportioned, and the hood actually comes beyond their forehead enough (unlike Regatta ones I bought and sent back – twice!! Always stick with what you know!).
5. Take Some Chalks With You
Every villa in Center Parcs has a chalk board. Let me tell you, these were a HUGE hit with the boys! Obviously you get some chalks in your villa, but for extra fun and creativity I will definitely be taking more chalks with me next time.
They do sell more chalks in the Parc Market, but you may find it cheaper to buy some at home before you go.
I may or may not also be getting some of these, for my own chalk board fun…
6. You May Want To Look At Taking Your Own Swim Float Vests For The Kids
Float vests are provided free of charge in the pool. However – they are limited… On our first trip to the pool they didn’t have any for the boys size left, but they needed something, so we had to use ones that were bigger.
This meant two problems – firstly, they were too big and ultimately offered no real protection as the boys just kept toppling backwards or forwards under water, because they were too loose. Secondly, this meant that two children who those vests would have fitted would now be without a vest.
We only used the vests for a small time and took them back as they were useless. On other days they did have the boys size there, but they just weren’t a nice comfy fit.
So next time we will just buy our own back home to take with us. These ones from Amazon all look great, and have great reviews.
We were at Center Parcs during term time, and there seemed to be a shortage of vests a few times then, so I can’t imagine what it’s like during half term! Definitely look at taking your own to be on the safe side.
6. Pack The Essentials!
It’s a good thing that we’d had to leave the village on day one anyway to go and buy a toilet seat, because it meant we could also pick up the other things we needed, but hadn’t thought to take! Those things you’ll need to pack are:
- Toilet roll
- Kitchen roll
- Washing up liquid
- Kitchen spray or antibac wipes
- Wet wipes
- Tea, coffee, sugar and milk
- Handsoap for the bathrooms
- Shower gel, shampoo etc
- Extra towels for the pool
- Don’t forget your chargers!
Center Parcs does have a very well stocked supermarket (the Parc Market), but if you’re on a tight budget you may find their slightly higher than usual prices a bit of a hit.
7. Let your little Ones Fill Their Suitcases With Toys
Yes, my boys have their own very cute dino suitcases, which they filled with toys to take the day we told them we had booked Center Parcs (about four months prior!).
You may not think about it at the time, because Center Parcs is an active holiday where you’re constantly busy, but there will be times when you are in your villa, chilling out before your next activity, or first thing in the morning, or before bedtime, and the last thing you want to hear is…”Mummy I’m bored!”.
Do yourself a favour, and let them take toys, their tablets – whatever will keep them happy while you recharge with a cuppa, and need some peace! You won’t regret it.
8. Unless You’re Planning On Going Out Every Evening – Take Some Entertainment For Yourselves!
The TVs in your villa are just the basic channels, no Sky TV for you! They also don’t have any USB ports to attach your Amazon stick to, or connect your iPad or anything. It’s pretty basic, unless you have an Executive villa, and actually not the best quality picture.
They do have a DVD player, so you could take some DVDs if BBC and ITV without pause is your thing, but also take your tablet or iPad, books and/or magazines.
As we have preschoolers, we didn’t stay out in the evenings beyond tea time, so having our tablets for entertainment was a relief!
9. My Opinions Of The Preschoolers Activities We Did
When we went in March, it was our first proper family holiday, and we didn’t want to have any real restrictions on what the boys did. As such, we booked them in for quite a few activities! Here is what we did, and whether I would recommend or not:
- Pony Trek – this was an enjoyable experience. After coaxing Lewi onto his pony (they allocated the horses by age, so Lewi being three minutes older was allocated the ‘big’ one, and he was not happy! Ha!), they set off on a little trek, led by the ladies in charge, and with us walking alongside. It was very slow, and you do have to make small talk, but the boys really enjoyed and they subsequently named their shop bought Center Parcs teddies Tino and Fudge after their ponies.
- Mini Trek – the boys loved doing this. The set up is really cute, with the kids all wearing safety harnesses, and walking along varying sizes and types of balance beams on a course to find puzzle pieces to find out who stole the instructors nuts! Of course it was a squirrel, and all the children were gifted a small stuffed squirrel at the end of the activity. A really nice touch I thought.
- Mini Jet Skis – these are so cool! Mini inflatable jet skis with a battery pack ‘engine’. The activity only lasts ten minutes, in the pool before it opens. It could have been an amazing experience…. could have! Unfortunately both of my boys jet skis battery packs were dead! They managed to eventually get one going, which my two then had to share for the few remaining minutes. Apparently this happens all the time, because the battery packs are all used up during the first session. By session two there’s no juice left! I found this really bad, being that we’d paid for the experience, but they were very good and let the boys have 5 extra minutes at the end when they eventually got one of the batteries working. So my tip there would be to book the earliest session!
- Crazy Science – meh… this was ok. Pretty basic, all things you have probably already done at home with your kids, or could find the instructions to do on Pinterest. Things like giant bubbles in a paddling pool, a bicarb and coke volcano, pencil in a bag of water etc. If you’ve got money to spare then do it. If not then your kids won’t be missing out on much. They did look super cute in their scientist lab coats and goggles though!
- Fun Pots With Tots – this was basically a pottery painting session with only under 5s and their parents/carers allowed to book. The price includes a choice from a limited, but more tot related, selection of pottery items. The boys both chose mini bowls, for them to have their cereal in back home. To be honest my two are not hugely ones for crafts, but they did enjoy painting their bowls, and being that the session wasn’t full to the brim, it was a lot more relaxing and quiet. Yes, even with toddlers and preschoolers!
- Adventure Golf – a Center Parcs family tradition when I was growing up, this is always an activity we never miss. Children are provided with mini clubs, so they don’t have to struggle with full size. The boys really enjoyed this, even though they cheated their way around the whole course! Haha! Go for the 18 holes, as it’s only a couple of pounds more than the 9 holes.
- Electric Boats – to be honest, I wouldn’t bother with this one again. We all found it a bit boring, to the point where we even took the boat back before our time was up! Yawn.
- Ten Pin Bowling – there is a dedicated mini bowling activity for little ones, but we really didn’t see the point in it. The main bowling alley is so much fun, with the fluorescent lighting, great music and a bar for drinks, this is a much better option for a family bowling session. The kids had the ramp, and also the bumper sides up, so they felt like they were really playing and scoring. The boys had a really good time, and actually so did we!
Honestly, there are soooo many activities to choose from at Center parcs, at varying prices, you will not be short of activites to do with your little ones.
However, next time we go we will be doing a lot less paid activities, and instead doing more relaxing, and making the most of the free things to do there…
10. Free Things To Keep Your Family Occupied At Center Parcs
It is true that Center Parcs can be expensive, some may say it’s cheaper to go abroad for a week or two. And, that’s kinda true…. but it needn’t be.
There are many ways to enjoy your break there without breaking the bank! Here’s how we’ll be enjoying Center Parcs in September, on a much tighter budget than last time:
- The pool is free to use. Last year Longleat (and possibly the others) updated their pool, which now includes a fantastic young childrens adventure area! Our boys spent ages going up and down the mini slides over and over, while we sat down and watched (you can try, but you will get told off for attempting to go on the kids slides yourself! They are not for adults! I know this now…!).
- Center Parcs has the best playgrounds I’ve ever seen! There are multiple playgrounds dotted around the whole village, the best ones being the rustic wooden one in the Village Square, which is ideal to spend time in while you wait for your table in The Pancake House. (The Pancake House gets very busy upon opening, with people queueing out of the doors! But, you get a little buzzing pager thing to take away, and it will buzz to let you know they have a table for you – handy!). The other brilliant one is near to Jardin Des Sport. It is HUGE! (The photos don’t do it justice!) Again, your kids could spend an age playing here without getting bored. There are also playgrounds in each ‘zone’.
- Across from the Jardin Des Sport in the old bowling green they now have open space to play and picnic benches, ideal for lazy afternoons in the Sunshine. They also now have a great little wooden maze. The walls are very low, so you’ll always be able to see your child, and it is great fun to watch all the kids in there trying to find their way to the middle of the maze and back out again.
- Why not take their bucket and spade and head to the lake beach? Little ones will have great fun playing on the sand, with another little playground there too. Your little ones could go paddling, build sand castles, and do a bit of duck spotting. A lot of the time they come up onto the beach! You can also treat the kids to an ice lolly from the lakeside equipment stand.
- When you check in at the arrivals desk, you will be given a free nature trail map. This is a great way to get the kids out and about around the park, looking out for the things listed.
- Ultimately, you’re in a forest, so you can walk and explore so many different areas, visiting the different ponds, or following different trails each time, do some animal spotting and keep an eye out for ducks, rabbits and cats (ok, that was just a random thing that happened to us, when there was a cat on our patio one night!). There’s no need to be bored at Center Parcs. Go on a puddle hunt, look for wildflowers, split up into teams with a village map each, and going separate directions plot a path to a set location to see who gets there first. You can use your imagination and come up with so many free ways to enjoy your time there.
- You don’t need to eat out while you’re there. Take your weekly food shop with you. Cereal and toast for breakfast, make sandwiches to take out for lunch, and you could even pre-make some frozen meals at home (bolognese, chilli etc), pack them in a cool box with ice blocks to take with you in the car, and then fridge them in your villa for your evening meals.
Why did we choose Center Parcs for our holiday, over going abroad? Well, convenience more than anything! A holiday in the UK means we didn’t have to fuss about with anything like passports, dealing with airports and flights etc. We get to take everything we think we’ll need, and if there’s anything we forget we know there is a trusted supermarket or large dept store nearby for what we need.
For me I also think a Center Parcs break is more suited for young kids than abroad, with so many dedicated activities aimed at them. And I love that my kids can enjoy such beautiful natural surroundings, whatever the weather!
Kids can be kids at Center Parcs, and for me – that’s the ultimate great holiday.
You may think I have been compensated by Center Parcs to write this post – but I truly haven’t! I just have big love for CP!
If you’re all booked – have a fantastic time! If you’re thinking about it – book it! You won’t regret it. Either way I hope these tips really help you make the most out of your holiday there with preschoolers.
Have a great day!