Before our first ever Center Parcs holiday back in March, I found myself Googling things like Bluestone or Center Parcs? We went to Center Parcs at the start of March and have just got back from a long weekend in Bluestone Wales so I thought I would write a review and comparison whilst everything is still fresh in my mind. Everyone has heard of Center Parcs, whereas Bluestone I believe is slightly lesser known, although it is very popular amongst bloggers. Read on below to find out what I though of both resorts and why I prefer Center Parcs.
Price: We paid around £250 for a Monday to Friday stay in a 3 bedroom lodge at Whinfell Parcs Center Parcs resort up in the Lake District. This was at the beginning of March. We paid £450 for a Friday to Monday stay at Bluestone Wales, for a 2 bedroom terraced house this weekend just gone, so the beginning of May. Now obviously, you can’t do a direct comparison here, I appreciate that a March holiday is obviously going to be cheaper than a May holiday. I always thought of Center Parcs as being much more expensive so I was impressed to find such a great deal. I think both resorts are very expensive during the summer months though and in the school holidays, so if you have young kids try and go during term time to get the best deal.
Accommodation: Accommodation wise, our Bluestone break was situated right opposite the coffee shop and play park in a two bedroomed terraced house.
Originally, I thought this was amazing. We were right at the heart of the village, everything was easily walkable, I could pop to the coffee shop in the morning and Isabelle could play on the park whenever she fancied. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things were very convenient and a massive plus however, it did mean that we could very clearly hear all of the older children and teenagers screeching and messing about on the park until gone 11pm every night. I know, I know, I’m being a miserable sod but it was just a bit irritating. You can get lodges which are very similar to the Center Parcs ones, that are further away from the village and probably much quieter mind you. One thing Bluestone did do very well in the accommodation was make it child friendly. There were stair gates, high chairs and the kitchen was very well stocked too to make self catering very easy.
At Center Parcs, we were in a three bedroomed lodge quite a walk away from the main village. We hired bikes to get around as our lazy toddler refused to walk. We loved being so secluded and got next to no outside noise. It was modern, spacious and we loved it. It had everything you would need in your kitchen to self cater and things like travel cots and high chairs too.
Wildlife: In terms of wildlife, we saw some amazing stuff at Bluestone. We had rabbits right outside our backdoor, which was pretty amazing. I was actually surprised how close they would come and how unfazed they were by people. We even had a nightly badger visit our patio area, I fed him a banana! At Center Parcs we literally saw one squirrel. My husband had told me how amazing it was to come across so much wildlife and I would love it being in the middle of the forest surrounded by rabbits, squirrels and birds. I think I had some kind of image of me, all dolled up like Snow White being dressed by cute little songbirds but alas, it was not to be.
Amenities: Whenever I stay anywhere, I always like to sample the spa. I used to work in events where I would stay away in hotels and would always be up at 6am before starting work to get a quick half an hour in the steam room. I just love it. At Center Parcs I had a gel manicure and at Bluestone I had a 2 hour thermal spa experience. Both were fab and get a huge thumbs up.
Both Center Parcs and Bluestone also have a village shop. Center Parc’s shop is much larger and they have a much wider selection of things to buy though.A big winner at Center Parcs was the little toddler trolley, Isabelle loved it and it made her feel very important.
I would say they are very similar in price but Bluestone does seem to have some really nice locally made produce which I think is really good. A big sticking point with me though was that the shop at Bluestone closed at 8pm during the week and 7pm on Saturday night! It was like being in a small town where everything shuts down in the evening, it’s just not practical for a holiday resort where most people have young children and therefore are likely to stay on site in the evenings! We wanted to be able to pop over to the shop to get wine and nice things for dinner after a busy day exploring, but were disappointed to find that it had closed. This is where I also got a bit annoyed because the restaurants at Bluestone were to be honest, a bit pants.
At Center Parcs, we had a wide selection of places to eat as well as takeaway food that could be delivered to your lodge. There were chain restaurants like Bella Italian and Cafe Rouge as well as Indian Restaurants, a pancake breakfast place and an American burger and chips type place too. The takeaway menu was extensive, with almost every type of cuisine you could think of. Bluestone however, was a homage to beige food. You had the option of typical pub food like burgers, chips and lasagnes as well as a few pasta and pizza options. You could get some of the pizzas to takeaway I believe, though we didn’t try them. As vegans, there was next to nothing we could eat. Now I appreciate that being vegan is our choice and it is very limiting, so we agree we would be just vegetarian so that we could actually eat out but it seemed like Bluestone had some kind of five bean chilli excess and it was that or a salad as our veggie options at almost every restaurant! We could have had pizza or veggie burgers or something but I just wanted some bloody veg! One of my friends who also has visited Bluestone said that her kids were sick of the beige food by the end of the week too, so I know it’s not just us being awkward. They really need to look at their food offerings and add a bit of variety. Even a Chinese or Indian takeaway menu would add a bit of variety and a few more options for those of us who don’t eat burgers all day! One thing I did love about Bluestone restaurants though, was the location and ambience of Smokey Joes.
It is a wooden cabin type place you have to walk through the woods to get to. Very rustic, open fires and marshmallows roasting over them kind of place. You feel a bit like any minute there could be an impromptu barn dance. However even there, we had to have the five bean chilli or nothing. The walk there was pretty incredible though, through bluebell woods and through thick forests.
WIFI: Wifi gets its own category here because it bloody annoyed me. When you have kids you only have a couple of options in the evenings. Either go out and take them with you, or stay in. If you go out, you want to be able to sit and have a drink and somehow have your little ones entertained. Center Parcs was great for this as almost every restaurant and bar/pub had a softplay in it. We could get out every evening and have a great night and enjoy our holiday. Bluestone however, didn’t have this option. I think there was a softplay in one of the restaurants (The Farmhouse Grill) and they do things like dinner shows with entertainment for the kids, but that’s not really our thing. They also have a massive soft play in the adventure zone which was is worth mentioning because it was fab and is free to use, but again this isn’t really where we want to be of an evening.
We thought it would be fine to just stay in of an evening though if there was nowhere we fancied going, as we were fine with staying in at Center Parcs, we could watch Netflix on the laptop or YouTube things on our phones etc, normal stuff… except Bluestone want you to pay £35 for premium wifi to be able to watch YouTube or stream TV like Netflix. You get ‘basic’ wifi for free which allows things like Googling, posting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but nothing more. It was a bit annoying. There is a TV in the lounge you can watch, whereas at Center Parcs there was one in both the lounge and the bedroom which was quite a nice touch. Granted, we could have took a DVD to watch or you know, talked to each other instead but come on, its 2017 we all live on our phones who watches TV live anymore. After a day outside exploring sometimes you do just want to chill out and watch a movie with a bottle of red.
And Finally… I’m not going to talk about all of the different activities they both have to offer. They both have loads and they all look great. They are very comparable in the way that they encourage you to get outside and have a great time. The play parks at both resorts are excellent, as are the walks, scenery and location.
At both resorts you can hire bikes etc and at Bluestone the little golf buggy things you can hire do get a special mention as they are pretty cool, albeit expensive at around £90 for the weekend. Check in at both resorts was nice and easy, you drive up, someone hands you a welcome pack and you take your car to your accommodation where you can unload and then you take it back to the car park, because the resorts are car free zones (hence the golf buggy at Bluestone and the bikes at Center Parcs).
There are some great walks to be had at Bluestone and unlike Center Parcs, Bluestone encourage you to go offsite and explore the local area which we did. Tenby is beautiful and I would definitely recommend a day or two there if you do go to Bluestone.
They both have excellent swimming pools which again, are very similar and add a great element to the holiday. Bluestone’s is ever so slightly smaller and it is also worth noting that they are open to the public in the afternoons as well so it does get a little busier. Center Parcs lend out a little floatable body suit thing for kids at their pool which isn’t offered at Bluestone, so be sure to take your own to Bluestone if you visit.
I think for us, our priorities are food and ambience which is what has convinced us we prefer Center Parcs. The food offering at Bluestone was just a bit too rubbish and after wandering around the restaurants being unable to find a decent meal, getting to the shop to cook our own to find it closed was pretty disheartening. There wasn’t a lot of atmosphere at the village pub either, which is the opposite to what we experienced at Center Parcs (where you can sit and have a cocktail and the pub has a softplay!) which is why we chose to drive home on Sunday instead of checking out on Monday.
The thing is, I know a lot of what I have said is ridiculous. I mean, who moans about not being able to watch Netflix or get a bottle of wine from the shop past 7pm? But everyone is different aren’t they. We love good food, films and going for a drink in the evenings. Bluestone was fine during the day but it just bored us a bit once Isabelle was in bed. For us, Center Parcs offered more and was more polished in what it offers too. I can see why a lot of families do love Bluestone, you can’t deny it’s beautiful location and fab offerings in terms of activities but for us, we are Center Parcs people. Maybe if you are more outdoorsy than us and happy to self cater every night, you might prefer Bluestone, where they really promote free range fun and all of that. Which I really do think it great. But for parents who like a glass of wine, the freedom to do a late night run to the shop when you have a chocolate craving, a nice meal or a takeaway and a bit of evening atmosphere as well as all the outdoorsy stuff, Center Parcs is your place.