For the past 2 years our family holiday has been at Center Parcs, Whinfell. For our family, the age of the boys and ability to visit during term time, it has suited us perfectly. Everything you need is on site so you can sit back and enjoy some time together as a family. Our visit last September was just as things were starting to get a bit scary again with Covid-19, and the restrictions in Scotland changed while we were away. Our next trip is booked for early May this year, and it’s got us wondering if it is worth the risk to have a holiday during a pandemic.
Our First Visit To Center Parcs
I have always thought that a visit to Center Parcs would be out of our price range. It sounded like a great place to visit, but I had always got the impression it was quite an expensive place to go. While that might be the case during the school holidays, we have found the term time prices to be very affordable. On a whim we booked a trip in 2019, when the boys were 1 and 3. Having a holiday in the UK appealed to us, no need to fly and self catering gives a little more flexibility when the kids are really young. With a bit of sensible packing to make sure we kept the costs reasonably low it worked out as a very affordable week away.
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We were blown away by how much we loved the holiday. We had spent 3 nights in a hotel in York first, but Center Parcs offered us a real change of pace. Things immediately slowed down and we enjoyed using the pool and exploring the area. Of course the kids loved the play park, plus we went bowling and had a few meals in the restaurants. We had a few hiccups (mice in our lodge plus a broken boiler!) but they were dealt with swiftly and we were give compensation. It was a no brainer that we would go again, and it didn’t take long for us to book a visit for 2020.
Center Parcs 2020 Covid Restrictions
When September 2020 rolled around and it was time for our next trip I was pleasantly surprised it was able to go ahead. With things changing daily I didn’t dare believe we were going to be able to go, let alone have my parents come with us as planned. It was all plain sailing though and we were soon packed up and on our way.
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Using The Pool (Subtropical Paradise)
The main difference during this visit was access to the pool. It was no longer a free for all with as many visits as you like. A booking system had been introduced to limit the number of guests at any one time, and you could only visit twice during a 4 night stay. This was quite a big blow to us as the pool is the main reason for going, but we decided to not let it get us down and the boys loved the visits we did have.
On arrival to the pool area you had you temperature taken, given a coloured wrist band (each swim session is for 2 hours) and assigned a changing room. You had to arrive “beach ready” ie swimwear on under your clothing, and no shower facilities were in use. Other than that you could carry on as normal. No masks were needed in the pool area and you were free to use the slides as much as you wanted within your time slot.
Accessing The Village Centre
The main hub of any Center Parcs trip is the village centre. In Whinfell, where we stay, this is where the pool, shop and most of the restaurants are. I can’t imagine a trip to Center Parcs without going to the village centre, but it also means it can be very busy. As Center Parcs isn’t operating at full capacity during the pandemic the main centre is much quieter than usual. There was space to walk around and most people did try to be socially distanced. Masks must be worn, and there are sanitising stations at each entrance and exit so there is no excuse for not being as safe as possible.
Due to the current situation we opted to only eat out once during our visit, and it was a date night without the kids. We had only had one other meal out since the pandemic began so I found myself quite anxious about it, but it felt very safe. There was lots of space between the tables, table service only and masks were worn.
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Instead of eating out a second time, we got the kids in to bed and ordered a takeaway. A curry delivered to our lodge took the stress out of making dinner and we could all relax for the night. Although you may not get the atmosphere of a restaurant and someone still has to do the dishes, I personally felt more comfortable with that in the current climate.
Preparing For Center Parcs In 2021
After our 2020 visit we quickly booked again for May 2021 – excited for one more term time holiday before Zee started school. What we didn’t bank on was the scale of the 2nd wave of the pandemic, or that we would still be living with increased restrictions at this stage. With our trip now less than 2 months away we are have had to make a decision on whether we would go ahead with the trip or cancel and get a refund.
May 2021 Restrictions
We have had it confirmed by Center Parcs that their pools will not be open during our visit. While this is a huge disappointment I fully understand why – even if it is a little frustrating that they will open 3 days after we leave. Center Parcs have offered compensation which we have accepted, and we will head off on our trip with smiles on our faces. On the plus side for us, it will mean less things to pack as we won’t have to factor in swimming towels or costumes.
With the restaurants also closed to people dining in (except for the terraces which are limited at Whinfell) the only options for meals is to cook yourself or to order for collection or delivery to your lodge. That actually suits us fine and isn’t a big issue, I’ll be happy to not cook a few nights and enjoy a restaurant meal in the comfort of our own lodge.
Packing For Center Parcs In A Pandemic
Knowing that we’re going to be staying in our lodge a lot more than usual has changed my mental packing list quite a lot. Rather than nicer clothes for eating out, swimming costumes or clothes suitable for activities (some of which are running but mostly outdoor ones) I will be packing more in the way of loungewear. Comfort clothes for cosy days indoors, playing games as a family or watching for animals outside our lodge door. I might even get to finally finish a book on my Kindle.
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Of course I’m sure we’ll be nipping to the Parc shop, even if it’s just to get some desserts from their delicious cake counter. JHogg and I prefer to choose our lodge in advance, opting for ones close to the centre (and the play park for the kids). Even if I’m just in my loungewear all I have to do is grab my trainers and my jacket and run out the door. I’ll be at the shop in less than 5 minutes – although longer if I dare to take the boys with me.
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We obviously won’t spend all of our time indoors though. There is no end of bike rides to be had, parks to play in and general exploring to be done. In the past the boys have loved blowing bubbles in the trees outside our lodge, or watching the boats on the lake. As we are visiting in May I’m hoping I won’t need a thick coat for these outings, fingers crossed a cosy cardigan will do the job nicely.
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Clothes aside, we plan to take our Nintendo Switch with us this time. I think we will appreciate something to do in the evenings, or during the day if it is raining. Zee loves to play, and since this isn’t going to be our usual kind of holiday I figure why not. We will also have some extra games and puzzles for the boys. They will miss having the pool to use but I’m sure if we book another activity using some of the compensation money we’re getting it’ll still be a great family holiday.
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