So my family and I went to Center Parcs last week and as someone who had never had a Center Parcs holiday before, I found myself frantically googling ‘what to pack for center parcs‘ a few days before, because I just wasn’t sure what kind of holiday it was going to be. I mean, everyone always raves about it and I knew that it is akin to staying in a resort on a holiday abroad where everything is in the resort and you don’t really leave. I don’t know about you but I always overpack. I have a lot of ‘stuff’ and I am always the person with everything in her handbag just in case. I carry around spare socks for Christ’s sake, for ME. Why would I need spare socks?! But I do. I’m that guy.
Anyway we had booked to go to Whinfell forest, which is the one up in the Lake District. It was the furthest Center Parcs location from our house so I also had a 3 hour drive each way to think about in regards to my packing.
I found myself pages and pages deep in threads about what people have taken with them, doing loads of research (because imagine if I forgot something and had to venture to the nearest supermarket outside of the resort!) so I decided, it might be helpful to make my own list. I definitely took too much stuff, that is for sure so I will make a separate list with the stuff that I wouldn’t take again.
There are probably a few things to consider when evaluating my packing list as well. Firstly, this is the UK and so the weather is bloody mental. It can be raining one day, snowing the next and then warm enough for just a light cardigan the next.
Secondly, we are a pretty lazy family. We aren’t big sports people, we did hire bikes but hilariously discovered that I can only ride a bike on a straight flat surface. I can’t turn corners without wobbling off. In fact my husband likes to remind me about one particular occasion when I wobbled off my bike on a straight, flat surface so I don’t even know if I can claim to ride well on those either.
We didn’t take any clothes that were suitable for doing any of the sporty activates like tennis or squash or things like that so if those kinds of things interest you, chuck a pair of trainers, a sport bra and some leggings or tracksuit bottoms in your suitcase.
I think the most vigorous activity we participated in was bowling and the back breaking attempt to teach Isabelle how to use a balance bike…
I’m not going to list every item of clothing we took, no one cares and I’m sure you have better things to read about so here is just the useful stuff:
- Washing up liquid
- A sponge to wash up and maybe a tea towel (they provide you with one threadbare tea towel)
- Dishwasher tablets, they give you four but it depends how often you cook and how many dishes you create.
- Beach towels to use by the pool. They do provide them there but you have to pay for them and you aren’t supposed to take the bath towels out of the lodges to the pool.
- Coffee – they have a cafetière, take some nice coffee grounds and treat yourself
- DVD’s if you fancy curling up in front of the fire in the evenings, the TV isn’t great in terms of what channels are available but that may just be because I am used to SKY TV.
- Snacks, easy portable ones you can chuck in your bag. All the snacks. I have a 2 year old, no further explanation needed.
- A backpack/rucksack. If you plan to hire a bike these are essential. We took one for each of us, though my Primark cream leather look one did look a little out of place I’ll admit.
- Shower gel, toothpaste all the usual toiletry jazz
- A spare toilet roll or two. Depends how many of you there are and what kind of lodge you are in but just a normal woodland lodge has one small roll in each bathroom, we had just about finished them by the time we left so we did use our spare roll I took with us.
- A blanket – this isn’t exactly an essential but is there anything better than sitting under a snuggly blanket with a glass of wine once the kids are in bed? I never sit on the sofa without a blanket on my legs so this was a must for me.
- Wine. We took one bottle and ended up drinking tad (read: shitload) more than that. Is it pretty pricey in the shop, not majorly expensive but if you are anything like me and buy cheap wine, the cheapest bottle is £8 or £9 in the shop.
- All of your chargers, this is an obvious one.
- Helmets/Bikes if you have them and are planning on using them
- A pushchair – obviously this depends on the age of your child but I wish we had taken ours. We rarely use it anymore but we definitely needed it on holiday. We didn’t want to ride the bikes all the time, sometimes we just fancied a walk but our lazybones toddler didn’t want to walk up all of the hills and got tired very quickly. It would also have been useful for staying out a little later in the evenings too as she could have slept in it whilst we stayed out.
- Drinks – such as cordial/squash, juice etc. Unless of course your family only drink water(well done you if so!)…Little bottles of flavoured water were pretty handy to chuck in our bag actually for when we went out and about.
- Fancy going out clothes. There is literally no need. It isn’t the environment for strutting about in your best strappy sandals (I actually took strappy sandals, ridiculous or what). If you go to the bars or restaurants a fancyish top and jeans is about as snazzy as it needs to get.
- Bath towels – they have these there already
- Too much food. We bought loads of food in a bid to save money but we are a slave to a nice meal out and ate out every day and ended up taking most of the food home with us. Be realistic about your budget and how much you will end up grabbing lunch or dinner while you are out and about. You will need things like salt, pepper, cooking oil or olive oil (whatever you use) and I did read a great tip somewhere about even considering taking your slow cooker if you do plan on cooking in the lodge every day. I know its massive and bulky but I think it would be quite nice to set it up in the morning and then come home after a day of activities to a nice warm meal.
- More than one swimming costume/shorts. I just think it’s unnecessary. Even if you went swimming everyday, you can just chuck your costume on the radiator to dry before your next outing. Failing that, they have a swim wear dryer in the changing room for £1 I think. The swimming pool offer poolside little life vest things too which mean you don’t need arm bands for the kids either so don’t bother packing those. Though if you have a baby one of those inflatable seats that floats about and leaves you a little more hands free would be handy.
- An umbrella. Just get a coat with a hood, if you end up hiring a bike you can’t use a brolly anyway. Embrace the elements.
We bought these from the Parc supermarket but I would take your own:
- A torch and batteries. I didn’t think we would need one and to be fair it is very well lit, but you do find yourself out a little later than normal and it’s a bit of a novelty for the kids.
- Alcohol, see above in regards to wine. Take your own.
- Animal Food – buy some from Amazon or the supermarket and you will have animals at your doors day and night! Duck food is pretty cheap at home but is very expensive on site.
- Dont pre book too many activities. I would recommend not booking anything for the first day you are there. You can’t check in until 3 and more realistically it is more like 4pm until you get in your lodge. Just go exploring or to the park or something while you wait to check in. It is easy to get excited wanting to do everything but the kids get pretty tired. We stuck to one activity per day and then swam or explored or went to the park for the rest of the day.
- Try and go swimming a little later in the day. We went after 4pm when most of the families were leaving and going for dinner and it was much quieter this way.
- Factor in downtime. We found ourselves back at the lodge having a little rest (often a nap) every single day. It means the kids keep going a little later and you can have a better evening without them being overtired.
- The shop on site has a reputation for being really expensive but I was actually pleasantly surprised. It is just like shopping at M&S or Waitrose or something, a little pricier than say Tesco but not extortionate.
- They have an onsite takeaway food service, it’s amazing. Pre book your delivery slot early in the day though otherwise they won’t be able to deliver to you until like 9pm.
- Try and wangle a sneaky visit to the spa if you can. I had a little Shellac manicure and it was fab.
- Socks, always have socks with you (despite me mocking my own sock taking habit above) this was essential as there is a softplay in pretty much every bar and restaurant. The softplay thing was amazing, literally amazing. We could sit with a cocktail in one hand closely watching Isabelle playing in the softplay and it really was just so convenient. I mean look at me in the picture below, laughing, drinking and enjoying my meal. Why? Because Isabelle was right next to me playing happily in the Cafe Rouge softplay.
So that’s it! We loved out stay and will most definitely visiting again, though perhaps one of the other parcs. It really is a fab family holiday. There is much more that is available for children over 3 years old, which Isabelle will be next time we go so I am looking forward to trying more of the activities. Center Parcs is ideal for young families, they really have thought of everything.