It’s become a bit of an annual family tradition for us to go somewhere between Christmas and New Year. In 2015 we went to Center Parcs and stayed in one of the ‘exclusive lodges’ and we loved it so much we decided to go back. However, since our last visit, Elveden Forest had built a treehouse, or four, and so we were lucky enough to nab one of those to stay in for our post Christmas break – eek! Now, I do have some video footage which you can find at the bottom; it’s just a few highlights of our stay at Center Parcs and there’s a little tour of the treehouse too!
The Pancake House
We decided to get to Elveden Forest earlier than our check in time so that we actually had a full day to enjoy some of the facilities. The first thing we did was park up in the coach park, very VIP (not) and go and grab some dinner! The first restaurant that we saw was ‘The Pancake House’ and they were able to fit us in pretty quickly which was good. The range on the menu, I thought, was pretty good and you don’t even have to have pancakes if you don’t want to! I opted for a full english in a pancake and it was divine, albeit incredibly filling but, with it being Christmas, I “forced” it down!
Subtropical Swimming Paradise
We finished up and decided that, since we had a couple of hours left before we could check in, we’d go swimming. All of our kit was ready and we made our way over. The changing rooms are pretty extensive and are well laid out with facilities for everybody. Whether you want an all female changing area, a family changing area or a couples changing area, they cater for all of us. The only thing I didn’t like is that they’re always so busy and you find a lot of lone people getting changed in family rooms which is quite frustrating when you’ve got two toddlers. They’re usually pretty quick to change, but it’s annoying nonetheless!
Once you’re changed, remember to go out the door you didn’t come in from to get to the lockers, which can be rented for £1 each (you do get your money back!). After showering before you go in you make your way through a small trench of water before it opens up in to this really rather grand swimming area. Toby and Teddy both love swimming anyway and so for them to see the big swimming area was brilliant; they absolutely loved it and they were the ones dragging us into the first pool they saw, which was the main one.
The main pool is kind of separated into two parts; one big part where the wave machine is in action every 30 minutes and the section to the left which has a smaller open area but does have a lazy river. The only thing I didn’t like too much about this particular pool is the leaves that had fallen off the surrounding plants; it’s kind of like putting your hand in a washing up bowl and feeling a bit of slimy food – ick!
The Subtropical Swimming Paradise also has lots of other features which proves it’s perfect for everyone. From Venture Cove for the little ones right through to The Cyclone and wild water rapids for the big ones! There are whirlpools, flumes and even cabanas you can hire if you plan to spend a good few hours, or even a whole day, there. It’s easily done with the Canopy Cafe and Bar!
It’s safe to say we came here more than once throughout our stay, especially as the boys loved it. And it’s one of the activities you don’t have to pay for!
Center Parcs Treehouse
Ok, so I didn’t get to experience the personal welcome you get when checking into a Center Parcs treehouse, but Jamie’s parents did! We made our way over to our accommodation after we’d finished swimming, although the boys didn’t want to leave. We needed to unpack, get sorted and start to relax, as well as explore our home for the next three nights! The treehouse comes with early check in as standard (2pm) with dedicated car parking (4 spaces), a daily maid service and dedicated Center Parcs treehouse host who you can contact at any time.
We arrived at the bottom of our treehouse and was greeted by a beautiful, albeit very long, winding wooden pathway which had been lit up with fairy lights and lead right up to the door. Our Center Parcs treehouse had a little porch outside of the doorway which housed a little Christmas tree, and had a plaque which showed our treehouse was called ‘Chestnut’. It’s all these little touches that made it feel like a home away from home and why we love Christmas at Center Parcs.
Once you’re in you first come into a fairly short hallway with doors leading off to a boot and coat room, a small bathroom and the first of the four bedrooms. At the end of the hallway, it opens up into a big, open plan living area with a winding staircase that leads up to one of the double bedrooms. The living area is really spacious with two roomy sofas and two tub style arm chairs, with a generous coffee table in the middle. Imagine all of that placed in front of a roaring fire, with a tv mounted on the wall – bliss. Oh and the TV had Sky and was controlled by an iPad which was really cool! The decor is just incredible and I was particularly taken with the textured wallpaper. Center Parcs staff had also very kindly set up a Christmas tree and some other festive decorations around the treehouse too, which was another nice little touch.
We were given a supply of logs to use throughout our stay which was really lovely as sometimes it was nice to just put the fire on. However, it didn’t chuck out a lot of heat and the glass, despite saying it’s heatproof and child friendly, is not! We were conscious of Toby and Teddy touching it but they actually weren’t that interested anyway, and a good job too!
Either side of the fire there are little areas which could be used for seating but it’s really not needed with the sofas.There are also two more doors to two more bedrooms.In total, the Center Parcs treehouse consists of four bedrooms, two twins and two doubles, all which are ensuite. It’s worth bearing in mind that only two of them have baths, but the others do have showers with extra jets which is pretty cool. Each bedroom has a door out on to a personal balcony.
At the other end of the living area there was a very well equipped kitchen (remember it’s all self catering) and the appliances are all modern. To the right of the kitchen was a nice cosy area; a big padded window seat where Center Parcs staff had left a teddy bear each for the boys as well as plenty of toys to see them through the week. The only concern I had about the ‘snug’ was that it was quite high and there was no step down, so I was wary of Teddy falling off.
When you stay in a Center Parcs treehouse you are left a welcome hamper of food as standard. We also had some mince pies (it was Christmas after all) and a nice bottle of whisky (I think – better to ask Jamie since he drank most of it!). They’d also left us some champagne to celebrate which was so nice.
The living area also has a wall which consists of mostly of doors and windows which lead you out on to the decking. If you go one way you’ll come across your own private hot tub and a separate physiotherm infrared room and, if you venture the other way, you’ll find your games den which has a pool table, another huge iPad controlled tv and a minibar – all of which is complementary.
While I really loved the Center Parcs treehouse it did have it’s downfalls, although they are only down to preference and are minor niggles, don’t worry!
Center Parcs Exclusive Lodge vs Center Parcs Treehouse – Is It Worth It?
The short answer is that I’m not sure. It really depends what you want from the experience. It’s definitely something people are interested in looking at because the treehouse part of the village certainly draws “tourists” as those staying in the village do tend to come and have a look at them. So, yes, occasionally on your way back to your accommodation you may have drawn a small crowd at the end of the road.
One thing I really didn’t like about the treehouse was that it was more or less a bungalow. I really enjoy the upstairs/downstairs feel of an exclusive lodge and, since the boys go to bed a lot earlier than we do, we had to keep quiet until they were totally asleep before we could get on with our evening. I prefer that in an exclusive lodge they can go to bed upstairs and we can carry on as normal downstairs, rather than tiptoeing around.
The Center Parcs treehouse hot tubs are also a lot smaller than the ones in the exclusive lodge. During our previous stay at the exclusive lodge we could fit eight people in ours comfortably, whereas the one in the treehouse struggled to hold four of us. The physiotherm room is a great idea but ideally you’d need to heat it for a good couple of hours before it actually got up to temperature, especially the floor as it was freezing; this would mean hitting the button every 30 minutes to ensure the heaters stayed on and, if I’m quite honest, it got used once for about five minutes.
The other thing I didn’t think was great is that the games den is separate from the treehouse itself. You need to leave from the living room and take a few steps towards a second smaller treehouse where the games den is located. I appreciate that if you wanted to have a little party in there you could do so without disturbing other members of your party, but still, I liked in the exclusive lodge that it just had its own room without you having to lead the building first.
The third thing I felt could’ve been better was the space in the entrance hall. The exclusive lodge homed a lot of stuff when we stayed there the previous year and we could barely move in the treehouse’s one and so it lacked in space there.
But are they worth almost the extra few hundred quid over the exclusive lodge where you effectively (depending on which one you get allocated) get a bit more for your money? I’m not entirely convinced. Having said that, the fact that we were able to stay in a treehouse is incredible and they do make you draw a breath because they are so magnificent and the views from your bedroom, or even the family deck are second to none, especially when the sun is coming up!
Bike Hire At Center Parcs
Since we were staying in a treehouse, and since they’re right on the outskirts of the village, you simply can not get around without a bike. Last year we managed to get our own there but this year we were able to hire them out. We opted for a bike for each of the adults and a trailer for the boys. We knew this would just make life so much easier when it came to getting them around, and it kept the cold wind out of the face compared to if they were sat on the backs of our bikes.
We were very kindly collected in a minibus from our treehouse accommodation to be taken up to the cycle centre where we would be collecting our bikes from. Center Parcs were very generous to do this as it would’ve been a good 15-20 minute walk with the kids – did I mention we didn’t take a pushchair?! We simply didn’t need one!
Upon being dropped off we were greeted at the cycle centre by a member of staff who took us to a little hut at the bottom of the bike yard to collect our helmets. Admittedly, I rarely wore mine around the village but the boys wore theirs at all times, obviously! These come as standard with bike hire and the staff make sure you have a good fit before sending you to get your bikes.
Each bike is really well maintained, although we found out later in our stay that one of the bike’s brakes didn’t work, but this didn’t pose a problem as we were hardly hurtling around the village! On your way out another staff member scans your barcodes to ensure they know what’s going in and out and then you can be on your way. The ride back to the treehouse seemed much shorter as we were able to take shortcuts through the paths and actually it was only around a 10 minute cycle between the treehouse and the village. The only problem with the journey up to the village, especially with a trailer in tow, is that there’s a bit of a hill when you’re coming up from the treehouse.
We used the bikes on a daily basis and we were able to lock them up with a small chain that was given to us at the cycle centre and it was basically the perfect way to get around the resort in a timely fashion! Plus the boys loved feeling the wind through their hair (and helmets) when we went whizzing down the hill to get home.
Without a doubt, if you’re staying at any Center Parcs resort, I’d recommend hiring the bikes! You just need to have them back in the cycle centre by 10am on the day of your departure. Oh, and if you’re going in the winter months, don’t forget to take your gloves because your hands will basically freeze and fall off!
Bowling At Center Parcs
One of the other activities we did this year was bowling. I’d never done the whole bowling thing at Center Parcs before and I was interested to see what it was like.
At Elveden Forest, it’s in the same building as the Subtropical Swimming Paradise and you literally just go upstairs and it’s right there! There are a few other activities that are in the same area, but the bowling area is very generous. We were given an hour and, with six of us playing, it was enough for a game and a half, roughly. This was the first time we’d ever taken Toby bowling and he absolutely loved it.
When we first arrived, there’s a check in booth on the right, at the end of the bar; check in here for your lane and they’ll get it all set up ahead of you playing so you don’t waste time putting in names, and they’ll also tell you which lane you’re playing in so you can prepare a few minutes ahead.
Before we bowled we had to choose our shoes, which you help yourself to just before you step up to your lane and they’re arranged in a display with your shoe size on so it’s really easy to navigate. This isn’t manned at all so it’s very much a free for all. I’d say take your shoes with you and place them in the space under your seats near the alley rather than leaving them in the bowling shoes place as is normally done; just in case someone does manage to pick up the wrong pair of shoes.
And then it’s game time! There are, of course, plenty of different sized bowling balls to choose from and there are supports for the younger ones too. When you’re checking in you can also let them know who needs the “barriers up”, and who doesn’t, and this is done automatically at the beginning of that player’s turn if they’re required; it saves someone standing there with a hook to physically lift them out and I was actually quite impressed!
The alleys are kind of ‘night time’ themed as they’re all lit up with a bit of neon and the technology is all pretty up to date, which is good! There’s nothing worse than a really old and rubbish bowling alley.
Teddy was getting quite bored as he was a bit too young to take part. Luckily just behind the bowling alley was a small soft play area and we took it in turns to take him over there which keep him occupied while the rest of us bowled. I think it’s definitely an activity we’d like to revisit, especially as the boys get older because Toby was clearly really enjoying himself.
*We were offered complimentary bike hire and the use of a bowling alley in return for parts of this review. However, our accommodation and other extras were not. All views and opinions are my own.
What do you think of the treehouses at Center Parcs? Would you consider celebrating Christmas at Center Parcs?