As soon as we booked our Center Parcs stay in Sherwood Forest, one of the first things I started to think about was how we could save a bit of money while we were there. Although the accommodation had worked out to be really good value, I know from previous visits that it’s easy for costs to hike up if you start paying out for everything on offer.
As it was our first visit to Center Parcs with a baby, I also had the chance to explore other free areas of the park which we hadn’t seen before, such as the parks and soft play areas.
So here are my top ten tips for saving money at Center Parcs:
Choose your dates carefully
The biggest way to save money at Center Parcs is to choose your dates carefully. When I booked our trip to Sherwood Forest at the end of last year I literally clicked through every week of 2019 to see when the cheapest break was. To be honest, I couldn’t believe the difference in price. We chose to go during one of the cheapest weeks of the year, which actually made the price really reasonable when divided between six adults. However, the same lodge we stayed in was £2,000 more during the summer holidays!
Obviously we’re very lucky at the moment, as we can be flexible with our holidays and we took our break during term-time. But if you have school-aged children it’s worth checking out the weekend availabilty, which runs from Friday to Monday. Make the most of school inset days if possible to arrive on the Friday and if the site isn’t too far away, you could consider getting up early on the Monday morning to get the kids back in time for school.
Arrive early and leave late
Whenever you book, you can take advantage of the Center Parcs rules of arriving early and leaving late. So on the day that you are due to arrive, you can check onto the site at any time after 10am. You won’t be able to access your cabin until 3pm, but you can make use of all of the park’s facilities, including the pool. The same is true on the day you leave, once you’ve checked out of your lodge you can stay on the site until the end of the day.
We found that arriving at Sherwood Forest in time for lunch on our check-in day and then leaving after a leisurely morning of playing crazy golf, made the holiday seem longer and less rushed.
Take your own bikes
Hiring bikes definitely pushes up the price. So a big way to save money at Center Parcs is to take your own bikes if you have them. All of the main facilities are actually quite close together in the Village, so if you’re worried your little one’s legs may get tired, it might actually work out cheaper to pay a bit extra to choose a closer lodge (which costs about £50.) Make sure you select one close to a footpath that leads directly to the Village (you can select it on the map when you book), which can cut down on the amount you have to walk drastically.
Plan your stay ahead of time
Making use of their app to plan your visit ahead of time can help to save money at Center Parcs. I found this useful for a few reasons.
Firstly, it saves lots of faffing about once you’re there, especially if you’re in a big group. Everyone knows what they are doing and when, so it saves time.
Secondly, different members of the group can pay for activities themselves via the app, which is helpful if a few families are going.
Finally, and I think this would definitely be a good thing if you have older kids, it stops the impulse spending once you’re at Center Parcs. So, for example, if you tell your children they can choose one paid-for activity a day while you’re away, get them to look through the whole list online and choose and book it in advance. That way everything has been agreed beforehand and explain to them that the rest of the time will be spent doing free activities.
Make use of the free stuff
As much as there is a lot of add-on activities at the various parks, we actually found that a great way to save money at Center Parcs was to just make use of the free stuff. The Subtropical Swimming Paradise water parks, which are excellent for kids from babies right up to teenagers, are free and you could easily spend the whole day there if you wanted. At Sherwood Forest they had just reopened the Venture Bay play area for smaller children, which my little adventurer absolutely loved.
As well as the pool, there are also a number of free soft plays (small ones in most restaurants and a couple of big ones in the Village centres), there’s also a beach and a number of parks catering for all ages of children.
That’s not to mention, of course, the various walks and bike rides you can go on around site.
Eat out at lunch time rather than in the evening
One of the benefits of staying in a lodge is obviously that you can save money by cooking your own food. But if you do fancy a meal out then it’s good to look around for lunch time deals. We had a great lunch in Cafe Rouge from it’s Express Menu, which included a meal and a drink for £9.95.
Check activity prices
Most of the activity prices at Center Parcs don’t seem to vary that much. However there are a few activities, which are cheaper at different times of the day, for example bowling costs less in the morning. So it’s worth checking ahead on the app to see which time is the cheapest to go.
Plan your own activities
Obviously one of the benefits of going to Center Parcs is that you get to be outside. In all honesty, I think my little adventurer’s favourite part of the stay was seeing the ducks every day! So if you’ve got younger children it’s easy to organise your own fun activities to keep them entertained. You could plan a scavenger hunt (there are loads of lists to download online) or organise a quiz or a sandcastle building competition.
Buy food and wood in advance
This is a bit of an obvious one, but if you want to save money at Center Parcs one of the best ways to do it is to take your own food and drink. If you don’t want to lug everything with you, or you’re tight for space in your car, a Click and Collect order from a nearby supermarket is a good idea.
Likewise, if you’re planning on using the log burners which are in some of the lodges you can buy the special heat logs in most supermarkets.
There is a small supermarket on site, which is useful for essentials, but obviously it is more pricey than a normal supermarket.
Book ahead for next year
If you love your holiday so much that you instantly want to book another trip, you can save money on your next Center Parcs visit by booking within the following 30 days. Anyone who does so receives a £25 voucher to spend during their next stay. So you can start planning next year’s adventure straight away!
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If you want to read more about visiting Center Parcs with a baby, you can check out this post.
Have you got any top tips for saving money at Center Parcs? I’d love to hear them!