Out – Centre Parcs, Elveden, Suffolk.
“Arhh you have 2 small children under 5, who are either overtly demanding or fiercely independent; a holiday is what you need, a week away with them in the August Suffolk/Norfolk sunshine; it will tire them out and you can have family around to help look after them.” Quoted by and credited to everyone.
I loved holidays. I loved to travel.
I loved everything about both. Even the packing, the going, the being a bit scared of turbulence, the being and the returning/washing. With two wee ones under the age of five I have grown to dislike everything about holidays. I used to love nothing better than being sat by the pool, reading book after book and then going to dinner late after a nap… I loved travelling for work; I’ve visited Spain and Italy solo and Amsterdam, France and Germany in larger groups. I’ve traveled in planes, coaches, cars and boats. I thought nothing could faze me; enter Baby T.
The first year of T’s life we were shattered and covered constantly by a stream of reflux sick; I didn’t realise that babies could be so resistant to sleeping and that my sleep patterns would then change so drastically. My husband and I only got sleep if we did it in shifts. A holiday was needed but we simply couldn’t do it. I developed a form of narcolepsy.
The second year of his life we moved across the country, changed jobs, lived with my parents, bought a house and still had a toddler that refused to sleep. We had no money for holidays but a bit more energy.
The third year saw my parents take my whole family to Portugal to Praia da Luz to a villa. We got thru it. My number 1 tip with plane travel and small children is getting on the plane last; use up as much energy at the gate. T didn’t like the plane as he want to run down the centre aisle and get off, much like every other toddler on the plane, he was travel sick, he fought to get out of the car seat that wasn’t his, he refused to eat, he got used to the sand but hated the waves at the beach and screamed blue murder when either Mr. TandG_love_cats or I got in the sea to swim. He slept ok but didn’t like being out of his routine. We got home after being in a huge delay and were shattered and I vowed never to go abroad again till T was 18.
The fourth year we had G. Another baby and totally different to T. She slept, we slept, T sort of slept. We had no money for holidays. We stayed in Manchester for a couple of days with my in laws. Not a holiday thou.
The fifth year and we thought the UK for a staycation would be better and again our whole family, mum, dad, sisters and their husbands and my nephew all decided to hole up in Centre Parcs, Elveden. Here is the write up/review of our trip.
Centre Parcs has a pretend, village feel. An expensive, we-have-seen-you-coming type of village feel. It’s a village that is artificial, as all the houses look the same and all the tatty houses have been tidied up a bit but because of the back to nature ethos the gardens are all free to do as they wish and no one mows a lawn early on a Sunday morning (thank goodness for that!) Everyone travels on two wheels but they look a bit shaky and uncertain about it on the whole.
We only live 20 minutes away from the Centre Parcs at Elveden, Suffolk. Which was bonus, no long travel. We arrived bang on 10am and joined the queue of cars to search for a car parking space. Checking in is done in your car. At check in the staff were absolutely lovely and speedy at getting us through; you park up and then you can go swimming and use the village or book activities to do once you have arrived. The accommodation, your lodge is not available till 3pm (2pm if you pay extra to beat the car queues.) We opted to go swimming in the subtropical swimming paradise as the kids really wanted to play with their cousin in the water and it was the first bag out of the car.
My first peeve was they don’t clearly signpost the swimming pool or the subtropical swimming paradise. It’s inside what would be known as the village hall, if it were a real village. You only see a sign for it when you are inside the village hall by a pool table with three grumpy children who just want to get in the water.
Second peeve, baring in mind Centre Parcs core demographic is families, their changing room has very few of the larger sized changing rooms for families. We squeezed 2 adults, a 4yr old and an18th mth old in one of the regular changing rooms; the children kept poking my tummy! More family sized ones! The layout is great; you walk in one side and then leave via another door to go out to poolside. Your wristband, which was issued at check in, locks and unlocks your locker and your lodge and can be programmed with your debit card. Fancy. They have tried to think of everything and everyone. The pool area has whirlpool tubs, flumes, a lagoon, cyclone ride, 2 different types of rapids, slides and toddler venture cove plus the main Pool and wave machine. It also has an inflatable point so you don’t pass out blowing up your kid’s rubber rings and Starbucks and café/diner incase you need caffeine or a burger. You could live in the pool area. I think they try to put you off this notion by just having plastic chairs and no sun loungers. My two loved the Venture Cove area. Water spraying everywhere, mini water slides, mini flumes, water cannons and splash pad area. Ace. The jets of water were pretty strong in some places so I happily worked on my tired, neck and shoulder muscles. I felt like a new woman 10 minutes in. Two happy under 5s. Working on another shift pattern with my mum we managed to have a go on the rapids and flumes. Neither love nor money will get me on the tropical cyclone ride, this was confirmed when my nephew came back having kicked himself in the eye. Shower, haystack dryer, change and out. Coffee and lunch. Hit the children’s play area. Behind the village hall, that has the pool in it, there are 3 different play areas; tiny tots area, 3 to 10s play area with spinning things, swings, seesaw, different sizes of climbing frames and the famed, double infant seat swing with double seat in the middle. We were there till the time we could collect the car and go to the lodge. It’s a good play area. It overlooks the climbing areas and has a massive cycle parking area. My two and my older nephew enjoyed themselves immensely. They didn’t like the walk back to the car thou. I could have walked them straight to the lodge and then my husband could driven the car around to meet us but walking down the road parts during check in time is perilous especially since we were buggy-less due to being bag-full. (You can hire a buggy.)
The lodge was clean and welcoming; no breeze blocks anymore. Centre Parcs is overall quite pricey. We were in 2 x 3 bed woodland lodges. £850 each for the first weekend of August. When you book you can pay extra to be next to each other and to choose where you will be located and even the exact lodge number. We didn’t. We still ended up next door. They publish a list of things that are in the lodge. My mum was furious that a fish slice was not included; they supply the frying pan, they should supply the fish slice. She reasoned and felt so strongly about it she wanted to complain. Comments on the bed were always about their softness. T- “This bed feels like marshmallows’ to Mr. TandGlovecats “THIS BED FEELS LIKE MARSHMALLOWS!!!” Too soft for adults; perfectly soft for kids.
The lodges all join up, so one of the bedroom walls is joined to the next-door lodges hallway wall. Hmmmm, you may ask, why is this relevant?
Our first night went as follows:
7pm- wrestle children into bed.
10.30pm- 4 yr old falls out of bed
11.30pm- next-door neighbours arrive home and make a huge racket taking off their shoes.
2am- T wakes me up by stretching my eyelids up to say the house is surrounded by giant moths; they are not, they are bats.
4.30am- the curtains are slightly see thru. I’m awake for the day.
5am- 4 yr old is awake and demanding breakfast.
We collected our bikes from the cycle store. We booked a trailer and the children loved being at back of the bike. They delighted in waving and saying good morning to everyone they passed by. It does make certain things quicker to just jump on the bike. We were quickly completing circuits and cycling through the woodland. We stopped to ogle the new tree houses that have been built. They looked fantastic and we briefly daydreamt that we could stay in one! Lots of new trees have been planted around them and eventually they will look like they are part of the forest.
Over the next couple of days we of course went to the swimming pool, play areas, looked at the different activities available. I definitely recommend downloading the app to use for bookings and keeping track of when activities start and location. Before we arrived I had booked two things, bikes and the trailer as I know the trailers are popular and a bowling session on Sunday morning because we like bowling and T has a bowling shirt.
You can see your whole parties activities on it too so I knew my sister and nephew had booked on to snorkeling and bikes too.
Mr. TandG_love_cats and I went on a mini date night on the Saturday night. Café Rouge had live music on so we went to check that out. It was terrible so we had a drink on their terrace and took advantage of no child time to have a beer and a gin bloomer cocktail, cucumber and watermelon was so tasty. Yum yum. Met up with a sister and partner for a drink and then went back to the lodge to deal with whatever had happened in our absence. Turned out nothing much which is always a blessing.
On the Sunday after bowling (my son won so chose where we ate) we went to get a burger at the Dexter’s Kitchen. Centre Parcs version of a fast food restaurant. T loved his burger and skin-on-fries, my husband loved his hotdog and skin-on-fries, G loved her sweet potato fries, lettuce and cheese, I ordered a salad. You don’t go to a burger joint for a salad. I hated my salad.
That night we all went out together for a family meal at Bella Italia. They take reservations, £5 per person at the time I write. You can book on the app too. I cannot rate them highly enough. The waiting staff were excellent and when we had an extra dinner arrive due to an allergy requirement it was sorted out smoothly. Being a type 1 diabetic I limit my carbohydrate intake so I ordered the green salad with Salmon. It was utterly delicious. I can still taste the pesto dressing now. I’m making my own version at home it was so good. This restaurant is a chain but is well laid out, bright clean spacious interior and has great standards of customer service hence why they were packed the whole time we staying. The meal deals for children was great value. £5.99 for a 3-course meal, including refills of Robinson squash, choice of two starters, a range of choices of the main and a trip to the gelato cart for dessert. My two settled on a margarita with ham piccolo sized for their mains. The gelato cart was downstairs and we were upstairs. At the end of the meal the kids were a bit live wiry and I didn’t think I could manage getting them down and up the stairs. The ordering system is done on the tablet and our wonderful waiting staff said don’t worry we can go thru all the choices up here and we will bring the ice cream to you. Happy kids = happy parents. The gelato was great by the way and there was lots of choice. Bella Italia have converts, I think.
The final day means you have to be out of your lodge by 10am and parked up back at the car park. You can drive your car from the car park back to your lodge from 5am. It gets busy so earlier the better to grab your ride. I threw all our stuff in; husband then took it all out and repacked it like Tetris so it all fitted. You then have the freedom to use the village facilities till midnight; we left at 1.30pm.
We went swimming; it would have been rude not too. We finally got in a family changing room. We returned our bikes. We had an expensive lunch at the pancake house. We then went to the Just kids store for the children to buy souvenirs; G chose a cuddly duck and T chose a Lego Star Wars pack; completely relevant to Centre Parcs!
Job done; home in 20 minutes.
- Would you go again- yes, but I doubt we could afford it.
- Top tips- bring a prepared meal for the first night, a fish slice (optional), get your car early on check out morning, pack by activity for example a large swimming bag, a bag just for night time with pj’s, toothbrush, toothpaste, special bedtime toys, books, sleepyhead pod (couldn’t leave that at home, no sleep otherwise.)
- Worst moment- forgetting to bring extra swim nappies after G’s explosive swim nappy poo.
- Best memory- the children in the back of the trailer waving and saying hello to everyone they passed.
- Staff-without exception, all staff we spoke to or had dealings with were fantastic.
- link to the Centre Parcs website