So you’re taking a baby or toddler to Center Parcs? Let me fill you in on some essentials you need to know before you go…
We’ve been to Center Parcs a lot. Like, really a lot. The husband works at Woburn Forest, and we’ve been to the other 4 villages several times, so it’s become our go-to choice for UK holidays to the point that the 3-year-old thinks we own a holiday house there (I don’t have the heart to tell him – one can dream, right?)
We just spent a couple of days staying in the brand new three-bed executive lodges at Woburn Forest (they’re lovely – if you’ve booked to go this summer you’re in for a treat), and I was reminded of all the little tips we’ve picked up over the past few years since we began taking our kids. So, here they are. If you’re taking a baby or toddler to Center Parcs, hopefully some of these might come in handy…
Arriving at Center Parcs
1. Check in online before you go – we’re always really glad of this after 7,849 rounds of are we nearly there yet? as it really speeds things up.
2. Download the app before you go, too. It’s really handy for finding out what’s on, pre-booking and paying for activities before you go, and remembering what’s on your itinerary once you’re there. There’s free Wi-Fi in all of the main buildings, so you can still download it when you get there.
3. You can’t get in to your lodge until 3pm, but you can use the facilities on-site – namely the swimming pool – from 10am onwards. Pack all your swimming stuff separately so that you can park up, load up your buggy with all your bits and spend the morning swimming. Then you can send the other half back to the car to drive it onto the village and up to your lodge with all the rest of your gear in, while you saunter over there all casual.
4. Don’t hurry off to bring your car up to your lodge at 3pm if you don’t have to. Let the rush die down a bit and then go, and you’ll beat the crowds and get a bit more time in the pool.
5. Bring the bulk of your booze with you, so that you can empty it into your lodge now – while the car is parked outside – rather than having to lug it all home from the ParcMarket, which is the on-site supermarket. You can stock up there when you’re running low.
6. There’s a blackboard and chalks in all the lodges at Woburn Forest – an absolutely genius way of keeping toddlers entertained while you unload the car and get everything sorted.
7. When you drive your car back to the car park – where it’ll stay until you go home – text yourself the location, or write it down if you’ve got no signal. That way you won’t have any delays when it’s time to check-out at the end of your holiday.
Getting around the village with a toddler
8. You can bring your own bikes to Center Parcs, and all the villages are well set up for cyclists. You can also hire them at the Cycle Centre, including children’s bikes. There are various pre-bookable activities for bike-lovers, too – my eldest was 2 when he did the balance bike class and he loved it.
9. A buggy trailer from the Cycle Centre is handy if you’ve got little ones, as long as they’re old enough to support themselves properly while sitting. No, you can’t put a baby car seat in. We asked. And yes, they are pretty heavy to pull along. But the kids will love it.
10. A buggy trailer also doubles up as a handy shopping cart for trips to the ParcMarket – providing the kids aren’t in it, of course – and a means of carrying picnic stuff around.
11. If your buggy wheel needs pumping up, try the Cycle Centre. They also have spare inner tubes.
12. Depending on where your lodge is, there may be a fair bit of walking to get to the main areas, so bring a buggy and some flat shoes. That said, Woburn Forest is the smallest of the 5 villages so it’s ideal if you’re not up for a hike. And if you’re going to Longleat Forest instead, pack a baby carrier if you can – that way you can use the steps rather than the ramps (there are lots of both) and it’ll be a lot easier getting on to the land train.
What to pack for kids at Center Parcs
13. Take a look at this list of self-catering essentials to take from home, whichever village you’re staying at, including things like plastic plates for children.
14. Pack a bucket and spade if you’ve got littles – every village has a small, sandy beach on the lake. You can buy them there if you forget.
15. Take a packet of toilet rolls – you’ll only get one roll provided in each of your toilets. There are no potties or potty training toilet seats either, so take these from home if you think you’ll need them.
16. Bring some wellies and waterproofs. This is the UK, after all. You’re probably going to need them.
17. Pack a cot sheet – there’s a cot bed in the little utility room/store cupboard in all lodges but they don’t supply small sheets for them.
18. Take a hammock if you have one. Our two still talk about the time they had bedtime stories in the hammock at Center Parcs.
19. Don’t panic if you’ve forgotten some essentials. When I checked, they had things like nappies, baby wipes, Calpol and Infacol in the ParcMarket. They’re more expensive than you’ll find them at home, but really handy in an emergency.
Swimming pool essentials
20. Don’t worry about taking pound coins for the lockers. Everything at Woburn Forest (and the Whinfell village) is done with high-tech wristbands that let you in to your villa as well as your locker. You can’t forget what locker number your stuff is in, either. Just put your wristband up to the little machines in the changing rooms and they’ll tell you. And you can even link it up to your bank card and make cashless payments for food and drink at the pool if you want to.
21. If you’ve got a tiny baby, don’t put them in one of those full-body sunsuits if you can avoid it. The more fabric they have on, the more likely they are to get cold when you’re by the pool. Plus, peeling one of those skin-tight things off a sleeping 6-week-old baby is not much fun. Trust me.
22. Take beach towels for the pool. There are plenty of towels at your lodge, but you’re going to want them for baths and showers. And if you forgot, no problem – you can hire one for £2 at the pool desk.
23. Take your own inflatables if you have them. You can get them blown up at the kiosks in the pool area.
24. Don’t worry about packing buoyancy aids. There are racks full of buoyancy jackets in two different sizes, and they’re free.
25. You can’t take toddlers down the rapids (it’s competent swimmers only), so you’ll have to take it in turns, although they are allowed on the Lazy River.
26. The pools vary from one village to another, but Woburn Forest is possibly our favourite for toddlers – there’s a lovely baby pool with a couple of slides that are just scary enough for preschoolers, as well as a pirate-themed adventure area that’s just about doable for my eldest, who’s almost 4.
27. Keep an eye out for the baby feeding area in most of the restaurants – there’s a microwave, bottle warmer and baby food pots. It’s free and a really lovely, thoughtful touch.
28. Almost all of the restaurants at Center Parcs Woburn Forest (in fact, all villages) have soft play areas in them, which you don’t have to pay for if you’re eating or drinking there. At Woburn Forest we found packs of crayons and activity sheets at the Sports Cafe, too, which we took back to our lodge with us as we hadn’t thought to bring much in the way of toys.
29. Christmas is a big deal at Center Parcs thanks to Winter Wonderland, when Santa, his reindeer and loads of fairy lights make their way onto the village. It actually starts in November, not December, so you may save some money by booking slightly earlier.
30. Read this post about the best indoor activities for toddlers and young children if the weather isn’t great. We found a brilliant soft play zone that killed a couple of hours when it was raining and meant we could enjoy a Starbucks in peace.
31. When it comes to outdoor activities at Center Parcs (yes, I’ve done a post on that, too), I’d really recommend the Teddy Bear’s Picnic for young ones – we do it almost every time we stay. You get an hour’s worth of entertainment (the kids go on a bear hunt, meet Rupert the Bear and have stories), lunch – a little box with sandwiches, Pom Bear crisps, juice and something sweet – a bear hat, and a Center Parcs teddy bear. Keep the cardboard lunchbox and – hey presto – every lunch is a ‘special’ lunch for the rest of your stay.
32. Buy a cheapo magnifying glass before you go. The grounds here are a haven for wildlife and you’d be amazed how many hours you can spend, for free, on a bug hunt. Pack a nature book and you’re winning.
33. You’ll find CBeebies on the TV, and there’s a DVD player in the lodges if you want to pack some kids’ DVDs. You probably won’t need them, but you never know.
34. Bring some bubble bath if you’re staying in an executive or exclusive lodge. They come with an amazing bath with bubble jets in, and I can honestly say it’s the most fun my son had the whole time during our stay.
We stayed in one of the new three-bedroom executive lodges at Woburn Forest. They have an amazing sauna in the garden and they’re more modern than the three-bed execs, so if you can choose a lodge between numbers 100 and 117 this summer you’ll know you’re one of the first to stay in it!