Alternatives to Center Parcs
We are big Center Parcs fans and have visited the site in Whinfell, Cumbria on a number of occasions, including a magical winter trip a few years ago. Center Parcs is the best known holiday Park in the UK but a break to Center Parks can be somewhat expensive and if like us you love to try new things we thought would share alternatives to Center Parcs. If you are still after a Center Parcs break, heres a post about ways to save money on a Center Parcs holiday.
Below are a list of some of the alternatives to Center Parcs that we have tried over the last 4 years:
Ribby Hall (North West)
For those based in the North West, Ribby Hall provides a great base just outside the coastal town of Blackpool to explore and reconnect. We visited in March 2013 and we had a lovely weekend. The site is made of cottages, cabins and a onsite hotel. In addition, there are many static caravans which are privatley owned. One thing we love about Center Parcs is their swimming pools and I love that Ribby Hall have updated their swimming pool in 2017. The new tropical island themed family pool is complete with interactive water features, themed children’s splash zone, unique water slides, huge palm trees plus there is even a real thatched feature Tiki Hut. The modern lagoon style pool has been built on the site of the old family pool and the design incorporate facilities to maximise enjoyment for the whole family. We are visiting again this summer and cannot wait to test out the new pool, it looks even better then those at Center Parcs.
The cottage we stayed in has a fully equipped open plan kitchen with a decent sized lounge with a TV. The ducks from the pond wondered over to the cottage in the morning to say hello and the little adventurers loved seeing them. The resort offers a number of activities for people of all ages. There is a timetable of activities and these are very reasonable with zorbing at £7 per person, archery priced at £9 and segways at under £20. This compared to Center Parcs is significantly cheaper as the paid activities are really expensive. The village is getting bigger every year and more activities are continually being added meaning year on year the site and village is growing. There are a good number of indoor activities too so perfect if you are visiting in the colder months or to stay out of the rain (this is the north after all, rainfall is now staple weather condition). There a few free activities including a play area, woodland walk which we did in the outdoors area and also a free movie time and soft play area, perfect o burn off all the excess energy!
What we loved
- If you based in Lancashire or the North west, the site is less then 30 minutes away.
- A range of lodges for all price ranges and quite reasonably priced.
- Activities which are really reasonable priced which is great when you want to try a range of activities and there are a number of you in the family.
- you can park your car outside of the lodge, makes it much better for travelling with little children as you do not need to unpack everything like you do in Center Parcs. Plus its perfect for offsite attractions to have the car close by.
- Additional people are able to visit you for the day. Unlike Center Parcs where entrance is highly controlled, Ribby Hall is perfect for having friends or family pop down for the day to make it a much more enjoyable experience.
- The site has 3 additional properties which can cater for larger groups up to 14 people and the prices were still very reasonable. The lodges and cottages were aimed at families of 4-6 people.
Things to be aware of:
- As cars are allowed onsite this means that cars are around all day long and walking to and from the swimming pool and other areas in the village can be hard work especially with little children
- The range of activities that are available are more limited than those in Center Parcs, so check to make sure they have enough of the things that you would enjoy as a family.
- it can get become really busy at the swimming pool as those not even staying at the resort can also use the pool.
- As there is also an onsite hotel, the whole park feels quite busy (which is not necessarily a bad thing) but it may not be quite the quiet escape that you want.
Rosliston Forestary Centre Lodges, National Forest (on the Border of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire)
I discovered the National Forest in 2013 whilst Doc worked away in Warwick and I was at home with 3 little children under the age of 4! I saw that there were a few lodges inside the forest run at the Rosliston Forestry Centre. We contacted them and they had availability over February half term, so we booked the Chestnut Lodge which was the largest of all the cabins onsite. The living space was more then big enough to accommodate our big group and there is a fully equipped kitchen for guests to use. On arrival, the lodges have a small gift for guests from a local business which is a nice touch!
These lodges are in the National Forest and there is loads to do in the area. Lots of walks, a gorgeous play area, snowdrop walks and lots of trees and woods for building dens and going on a walk in the dark or two. The National Forest has lots of attractions including Conkers, Hicks Lodge and a fabulous forest school run by Dave under an hours drive. You are able to keep 3 three cars parked outside your lodge and its ideal as you will need your car to explore the local area.
What we loved:
- The lodges have the needs of everyone catered for, there are disabled toilets/bathroom, you can order special hospital beds and a whole choice of equipment depending on the needs of the family. I loved this feature and it means that holidays for all types of families are available.
- The lodges were huge and could accommodate up to 10 in beds (plus we had two sofa beds in the lounge). This is ideal for an extended family getaway.
- Being located in a real woods, come night time you are left to very little but your torch and felt like a real adventure in the woods.
- Located close to attractions in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and the midlands so perfect for days out.
- The onsite playground was the most disabled friendly one I have seen on my many travels and it was lovely and refreshing to see needs of everyone being met!
- We loved the free walks that were available on the site next to the lodges, maps are in the welcome book in the lodge and there are different walks catering for length, interest and activities.
- The lodges were extremely affordable with 1 week in February half term costing us £490 for 10 people. Infants are able to stay in their travel cots in addition to the 10 guests so its ideal for extended family holidays.
- There is ample space behind the cabin for the sole use of the guests of each cabin. There is a picnic table, BBQ and decking for everyone to enjoy the woods and surroundings.
Things to be aware of:
- There is only a few cabins onsite, with currently only 6 available for booking. So you need to get in early if you are looking for a busy holiday period.
- The beds in the lodge were all single beds, so not the perfect place for couples. But the smaller lodges have doubles so those would be better for smaller families.
- There is a small indoor play centre available at additional costs for everyone, its a shame that it wasn’t free for the guests at the lodge.
- The Rosliston centre run activities over school holidays but the Leicestershire holidays were not in sync with ours in Lancashire so when we visited there was very little planned activities for the children to do.
- There is a small cafe on site but there compared to the options for eateries and normal high street coffee choices at Center Parcs this was very limited.
- The children missed the swimming pool which we love to have on our holiday park holidays.
Sandyballs, New Forest (Hampshire)
We stayed in the Sandyballs Holiday Park purely by coincidence as we were visiting Peppa Pig World in 2013 and were looking for accommodation in the New Forest. The holiday park has a mixture of static caravans, cabins and also camping grounds for tents and camper vans. The setting is great just outside the New Forest, and is ideal to explore this area and indeed for Peppa Pig. We booked last minute and there was availability only in the static caravan so we stayed there. However, i loved that the holiday park were willing to let us have the caravan for the two nights and charged us accordingly.
We didn’t actually go and try the attractions inside the main centre of the park but similar to Center Parcs there is lots of activities provided onsite. The site has an indoor and outdoor (summer months only) in the leisure centre and lots of activities for guests at the park to enjoy. The activities similarly to Ribby Hall are very reasonably priced and its a great way to add in activities with activities off site. The reception also have discounted tickets to a number of attractions including Peppa Pig World!
We stayed in a static caravan which had a nice living area but it is very narrow in the bedrooms and the hallway. With little adventurers at time it felt very cramped!
What we loved
- The location in the New Forest was stunning.. The grounds of the Park itself were beautiful and you can walk down to the lake and enjoy a walk to the play area.
- Great outdoor play area. There was a zipride and generally the area was well maintained and well equipped. There is two play areas together so even in peak summer time I think it would cater for lots of children.
- nice living area in the caravan
- Reasonably priced activities which really helps to keep the costs of these breaks down
- Onsite food places if you don’t fancy cooking every night
- Our little adventurers loved looking at all the tent and camper vans and we loved examining all the different types of options that were available to you as campers.
- It is a nice alternative to staying in a hotel for visiting attractions such as Peppa Pig and its great that they let us stay and only pay for the 2 nights
Things to be aware of
- As there is a mixture of camping and static accommodation, there are always cars going in and out so be careful with young children
- The static caravans can feel cramped in the sleeping area, and are very narrow, things to bare in mind if you have under 10s who like to play games inside the house.
- There was no outside area area for the children to sit and the caravans were very close together so it didn’t feel like there was much space to ourselves. We like to let the children play by the cabin but we were always worried of cars whilst we were there.
Argyll Holidays (Argyll, Scotland)
I cam across Argyll Holidays this time last year and this year we were runners up in their Active Family competition. The holiday parks are in various areas of Argyll. and have varying facilities across each site. Argyll is beyond beautiful and we were in awe of the rolling glens, luscious lochs and the fantastic array of outdoor activities in the whole area. I loved that the lodges are based in Scotland and it gives the children another aspect of the UK as I know we often only
There are two main sites which are Drimsynie and Hunters Quay which have a range of cabin and static caravans (some which are privately owned) and have a full range of activities for guests to enjoy. We visited Hunter Lodge on route to our holiday Park at Loch Awe and tried wall climbing and archery. The park had an indoor soft play area and outdoor playground. The activities were very reasonably priced and were bookable on the day. The company is well recognised within Scotland and has won numerous awards for their park, so you will be in good hands. The major difference between Argyll Holidays and Center PArcs was that each holiday Park is very different to the next. As mentioned, there are two main sites which has lots of amenities whilst some have very little on site except for a small playground and a check in cabin. Due to the difference, we would highly recommend that you carefully check each park to make sure that you have all the facilities that you will need. We wanted to stay at a holiday park which had a good base to explore the area and the highlands so Loch Awe was perfect for us.
What we loved
- Argyll is stunning and we would recommend everyone to visit this part of the UK as you will be spoilt for choice and its a path not very often explored in the UK. Activities outside of the holiday park are plentiful and you will be spoilt for choice of what to do and what to leave out.
- The lodges are caravans were maintained to a really good standard
- The main sites had a range of accommodation, some with hot tubs so you can make you choice of accommodation match the type of holiday you wanted.
- There is a good choice of activities on site for the two main parks and the activities were reasonably priced.
- The staff were fabulous and really engaging with everyone.
Things to be aware of
- Each park is different so make sure you book the one which is best suited for you.
- If you are going across from Glasgow, you need to catch the ferry (unless you take the long route round). It is not cheap so factor that into the cost.
- The activities are only available at certain times so if there is something that you would love to do, make sure you know when it is on and plan your day accordingly. Maya wanted to do the Water walkerz but that was only on in the evening and we weren’t able to make it.
- The sites are similar to Ribby Hall and SandyBalls in that they have a number of caravans which are owned by a third party. As a result there are always lots of people on site and it can get busy.
- The swimming pool was a good size but nowhere in the region of that at Center Parcs.
Forest Holidays (various location throughout the UK)
The Forest Holidays parks are home to some stunning cabins and we loved ours in our stay in 2009. When we visited the Deerpark site (cornwall) in 2009, Forest Holidays was very much in its infancy and the facilities onsite were very minimum. With each passing year the sites have developed and newer sites are opening across the country. The feel of forest holiday was a lot more authentic to that which we had felt in Center Parcs. There were a few cabins but these were in a real wood in the middle of nowhere. Forest Holidays felt like a true retreat to nature, there wasn’t many activities onsite and you were left to enjoy nature, the great outdoors and great family time. Over the years these have steadily increased but compared to the jampacked schedule of activities that are available in Center Parcs the choice is very much limited.
The cabins were differently designed with the entrance leading to the upstairs and the lounge and kitchen on the floor below. The cabin was lovely, very well appointed and lots of space to enjoy and relax in the woods. The kitchen was fully equipped with all the equipment that you would need. We stayed in the Silver Birch cabins which had their own Jacuzzi which was amazing in December.
What we loved
- The break felt like a real escape to the woods and an escape from all the gadgets and stress of daily life.
- The break would be like a real adventure especially with older children.
- The location of the sites were off the beaten path and
- The focus of the holiday park is to reconnect with nature and undertake activities such as those on the Nature Detectives site, so get family outdoors and being active
- the cabins were beautiful and they gorgeous tree houses which were connected to cabins, i thought these would be magical for families.
Things to be aware of:
- The sites are very much secluded and off the beaten path so you need to be prepared and have all your things and items with you such as torches with you. When we visited there was no lights outside our cabin so you are in total darkness.
- On site they usually have a small shop which closes around 8, so outside those times you would need to go offsite (not many amenities close by) to stock up.
- the space outside the cabin was very limited. You walk straight onto the path, there is decking at the bottom, where the jacuzzi was not much space nearby to let the children run around.
- very limited activities on site. These have been increasing but nowhere in the region of the activities available elsewhere.
Darwin Forest Country Park (Peak District – Derbyshire)
We recently visited Darwin Forest and had a fabulous weekend in the Peak District. Darwin Forest is home to some stunning cabins and we loved our stay. There is a range of cabin in the holiday village from the exclusive lodges in The Meadows, to lodges with hot tubs like the one we stayed in, to large family sized lodges to some basic ones. The lodges are lovely and really well maintained. We had all of our essentials provided from washing up liquid, to salt /sugar to hairdryer so perfect The holiday village is a lovely size with gorgeous woods around the site, which have three different walks which are free to guests. We did the Trim Trail which has little challenges, perfect for the little adventurers to try and it is a path walk so ideal with bicycles.
Onsite, the village has a range of activities from the swimming pool (which is free to guests staying onsite), gym, soft play area, bicycle hire and crazy golf. They also offer other more active activities from Archery, Bodyzorbing, Fencing, Snorkelling and SeaScooters, WaterWalkerz. Some of these are only available at the sister property, Sandybrook Country Park which is about 30 minutes drive from Darwin Forest. There is a good shop onsite which has lots of the essentials.
What we loved
- Activities on site were really reasonably priced especially compared to Center Parcs. One pet peeve of mine is paying to staying in a lodge and then being faced with extortionate additional costs for activities. Everything onsite at Darwin Forest was a price that was good value for money.
- Reduced rates for the soft play is always good and its a great idea to have this facility onsite as its a perfect wet weather activity, which combined with the swimming can easily pass most a full wet day.
- Free wifi in the lodges, sometimes its great to escape everything and have limited wifi but we had no reception in the village so having wifi in the lodge was really nice as we were still able to cal family etc.
- Perfect location to explore the Peak district but there was also enough in the village to do for the weekend without having t venture outside if you wanted a more inclusive break.
Things to be aware of:
- There are no cots, highchairs in the lodges. I know additional equipment can be requested so ensure that this is done before you visit, so you know what you would need to bring if you are traveling with babies / toddlers
- The location of the village is in the gorgeous Peak District and can only be accessed via some windy country roads. So if you are arriving at night or during the winter seasons, ensure that you plan for these and drive safely.
- The swimming pool is open to members of the public so when we visiting, there were swimming lessons, so be aware that the whole swim will not be available.
So there’s our list of all the alternatives we have tried and tested. We loved each holiday park and each was a very different experience and adventure in their own right. We would love to hear if you have stayed at any of the above alternatives to Center Parcs and what you thought of them. Have you any that you would recommend yourself? Let us know below.