Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: Centre Parcs - the good, the bad and the ugly

I wrote a first impressions post when we arrived at Centre Parcs, but  when I was umming and ahhing about whether to go I didn't feel like there was enough information out there on the interweb that I would have liked to have seen before we booked, so this is my Centre Parcs in a nutshell review.

We visited the Hauts des Bruyeres parc, in the Loire Valley in France. We went for 4 nights, midweek, in their low season at the end of November/beginning December. We booked it online, a few days before we went, and got a reasonable discount. On top of our cabin booking we also paid extra for towels and logs in our cabin on arrival.

Check in was from 3pm, and we arrived around 4pm - check in was smooth and problem free, we took our keys, dropped everything off at the cabin, and returned our car to the car park before hiring some bikes.

You can opt to pre-book the bike hire, but we didn't, and given it was low season we definitely didn't need to - it would have saved us 5%, but as it was only a small amount it wasn't a big deal. The child seat on the bike (at the front for under 3's and the back for over 3's) is free, or you can hire a trailer for one or two kids to ride in being towed behind a bike. There was quite a selection of different bike options, even a trailer for your dog, should you feel the need. we got one bike with a child seat and one with a pannier, which proved invaluable for carrying our swimming stuff, or little bits and pieces to and from the supermarket. We could swap between bikes really easily as the seats were simple to adjust, and all the bikes are fitted with a lock so another guest can't hot-tail with your chosen wheels while you're in the pool. They also had golf carts for hire - they were surprisingly reasonably priced but seemed like too much of a cop out for us to partake!

Our cabin was pretty good - we booked and Eden Premium with 2 double bedrooms. Our room had a king sized bed, which was very welcome to sink into after an exhausting day on the bikes/in the pool etc. The beds are made up on arrival and you're supposed to strip them before you leave. The cabin was warm and toasty with central heating, although we also enjoyed lighting the fire, because, well, it's a Centre Parcs icon, that fire! The radiators were good not only for keeping us warm, but also for drying our swimming cozzies and towels in time for the next dip. The bathroom was good, with a spa bath, although ours wasn't actually working, and we didn't bother calling them to get it fixed, so I don't know how responsive they are to maintenance issues.

'Kids' bedroom 
Main bedroom with big, comfy bed

The kitchen was small, with a dishwasher, stove top, coffee machine, fridge with small freezer compartment, but no oven. It was well equipped as far as crockery and cutlery goes, but the cooking equipment wasn't too great. I would imagine that far fewer people cook when they're on a few days visit somewhere than we do, when we're constantly on the move and wherever we happen to be sleeping that night becomes home for that time. I do think they set it up so that it's preferable for you to eat out though - I suppose that's where a large proportion of their income comes from.

Small kitchen

Our cabin was equipped with a highchair, kids toilet seat and a step, and i read somewhere that you can also request a toddler bed and toddler table and chair, although we didn't, but i was impressed with the equipment that was there.

Our cabin was set right at the edge of the park, which we understood before booking would most likely be the case, as the Eden cabins were built after the standard ones. We had trees and a tributary of the lake behind our cabin, the road, which truly was unused apart from a Centre Parcs vehicle or two, for the entire week, at the front. On the first morning we opened our curtains to find a rowdy and demanding duck, aka Zack the Quack, knocking on our window with his beak, which he kept up quite regularly throughout our stay.


Let's face it, we all want to know about the pool! I didn't take my camera in there - it was so humid that I was worried about moisture getting inside it, and there were signs up asking you not to photograph, although I'm not sure whether they were referring to the changing rooms or the pool itself, and everyone else seemed to be ignoring it anyway. It was good fun and in good condition, not at all crowded, but we were there in the lowest of low season. The kids pool always had a few people in though, I would hate to see what it's like at the height of the season. The littlest hobo complained about being cold a few times, usually before she was ready to leave in any other respect, and I did have conversations in my fumbling French, with a few other parents about it being cold. It didn't seem it when we first went in, but it certainly didn't seem to take long for the kids to become too chilly to swim. There were 4 slides, and signs up for a new one opening next year, an outdoor river rapids ride, indoor rapids, wave machine, jacuzzis, and 2 kids pools with slides and spraying water, but not as much as i had expected before we went. It was all in a very natural setting, lots of stone, trees and greenery.

We ate at 2 of the 6 or so eateries available. At that time of year, they were never all open at the same time, but I would imagine that in the height of the summer they would be. We went to the buffet style restaurant twice, once for lunch, and the second time for dinner, mainly because it was the only place open when we wanted to go. It was ok, a good selection of food and the package with the drinks included was good value, although eating there every day for a week stay could probably double the value of your holiday. Kids under 4 ate free, and there was a kids play area with a climbing structure, and a little table and chairs with a bead toy on it, but I felt it was all a bit grubby and looked like it had seen better days. It was also designed for kids aged 3-10 I think, so a bit of a struggle with a 2 year old who was keen to join in but a bit short so we spent our whole time getting up and down to give her leg-ups. We also ate at the burger place, which had the same slightly broken bead toys, kids under 4 ate free, but the food was pretty tasty.

Playing with the bead toy at the burger bar

We used the supermarket a couple of times, the boulangerie every day, and also ordered a free range chicken delivered to our cabin one night. It was all ok, the supermarket surprised me with their range, the bread from the boulangerie was better some days than others, and the chicken was great value at euro12.95 with potatoes (which were really quite inedible!) and it lasted us 2 meals too.

We spent a bit of time in the Experience Factory, in the soft play area and we also watched a kids show in there on the last night. We had the same problems with the soft play equipment in here as in the restaurant - it was made for age 3 up and the littlest hobo wasn't quite tall enough for any of it so we had to go around it with her. It was fine, as it was quiet or empty every time we were there, but she would have been bored and frustrated had the situation been different. The show was amusing - all in French, but it still kept the littlest hobo completely enraptured for the duration, especially the 'mini-disco'!

Building with the giant blocks in the Experience Factory

There was a small petting farm, with goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs, mostly roaming free. The littlest hobo enjoyed it, but it was a bit of a 10 minute wonder - i think they could definitely improve it a bit. She also loved the merry go round, which, inevitably, you had to buy tickets for, but they weren't too expensive.

We all really enjoyed our stay at Centre Parcs, 4 days was just long enough that we didn't feel like we were leaving before we'd done enough, but we hadn't got bored of doing the same things every day yet. We did go out one afternoon to buy oat milk and soya yoghurt, and I have to admit, we did feel a bit like we'd escaped from the institution into the real world! Overall the quality was fairly good, although there was a definite sentiment that you were constantly parting with more cash - if you're considering a visit and want to know how much it will truly cost you, expect that the initial booking is likely to be about half of your final outlay, or you could expect to spend a bit more still if you have older kids who want to do more of the paid activities. as much as i enjoyed it, I think i might resent going in high season, when you are paying a lot more to be there and the facilities are being shared with so many more people.


  1. I love the look of those beds!
    And the idea of a spa bath....I so would have asked them to fix that one - I would do anything for a spa bath :)
    How cool is the restaurant (kids eat free under the age of 4?)
    The stay at Centre Parcs sounds like a great one.

  2. They were pretty cozy Lisa - believe me, they needed to be after we'd been riding bikes for the first time in I don't know how long! I'm a bit surprised that we didn't get the spa bath fixed also, but I suppose we spent so much time at the pool etc that we didn't really need it. I'm sure it'll be a different story once we've done a few months in a motor home though :)

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