When (and where) to book
What to do
The Parc Market (plus TREATS)
Just to confirm, I feel Center Parcs can be a brilliant holiday and would recommend everyone try a stay at least once! This is also in no way endorsed by Center Parcs, I just feel like it may be useful to everyone, vegans, money savers and all others interested.
When to book
Center Parcs pricing changes significantly over the year, so a good tip to save money is to go at a time when it is cheaper, if you are able to be flexible. I've been through all seasons so I can confirm that your holiday should be great no matter what time of year you go. Having a rough look it appears some of the cheapest holidays are in January, late September/early October and most of November. If you don't mind which part of the parc (park?) you want to stay in, you don't pay any more than what you see, but bear in mind if you do choose your villa location, you will pay an extra fee, with the price depending on how close to the main plaza areas you want to be (outer areas are cheaper to pick).
If you've also recently come back from a holiday there, I highly recommend using the Come Back Soon offer that Center Parcs have, where if you book within 30 days of coming back, you get £25 of vouchers for your next stay, plus free cancellation insurance and cheapest price guarantee, however with the guarantee you have to check if the price changes and notify them, they don't automatically tell you. But if you're able to book in advance like this, the vouchers alone are worth it! (Free pancakes, anyone?)
I'll just add a little section on where to book based on what you're looking to do and how well you deal with hills! Longleat is the one with the most hills, however they also have a land train which you can take all days except Mondays and Fridays before 6pm. They go to stops every 20 minutes and always take you nicely close to main areas, as well as helping avoid the hills! If you're ok at walking but feel you may need rests, I'd suggest Longleat is a nice place to go. Dogs are not allowed on the land train (except guide dogs). Elveden however is quite flat, which is perfect for people who want to walk everywhere or cycle a lot!
The newest site, Woburn, has a free shuttle service to and from Flitwick station. So if you don't plan on driving, Woburn may be the Center Parcs for you! It's a great service which takes you to the hotel within Center Parcs. You check in there and they will even take your bags to your lodge for you (very nice!)
To me, taking my dog makes the holiday! My dog loves going and has the best time being in the forest. Dogs cost £65 for 1 dog and £89 for 2 (maximum of 2 dogs allowed) and you have to choose specific dog villas, which book up quickly, so I'd suggest booking early if you do want to take your furry friend. Whilst this may feel expensive, if your only alternative is a kennel whilst you go on holiday, it ultimately will probably save you money to take them with you!
You can leave them in the villas when you go out (eg for a meal) and they give you a sign to put in your window so people like maintenance/house keeping know there is a dog in the villa if you require their assistance (and also to not go in unless you answer the door!).
They have set spend areas for dogs, where you can let them have a nice free run around as it's all fenced (however tiny dogs or those who love to jump things may be able to escape). Dogs must stay on their leads when visiting everywhere else though, however flexi-leads are fine so they can still wander and sniff until their hearts are content! The village vans (to me) are respectful of the fact people are walking with a dog and do slow down when passing you, or wait for you to move somewhere safe at the side.
What to do
They have a lot of fun activities which you pay for, however none of these are vital to have a lovely, relaxing time! There is plenty to do at no cost at all.
Swimming is always free and are full of fun things such as rapids, slides and a wave machine. Also walking and exploring the forest is a lovely way to spend your time.
If you have a dog, I like to go to each spend area on the map as a walk, as this lets you see a lot of the site but with little goals so you don't get too lost and walk for hours (unless you want to walk for hours!).
Also if you go to Longleat for the first time, taking the whole land train route is a nice way to see where everything is and to have a little look around.
Every year Center Parcs also have a Winter Wonderland over Christmas, which usually starts sometime around November. This includes beautiful christmas lights and displays, as well as fireworks twice a week, once for the midweek break and once for the weekend break. The fireworks are free (and amazing)!
The wildlife alone fills up most of my time. See below at the beautiful creatures I was lucky enough to see!
If you have bikes and can take them with you, do! Hiring them can be expensive (particularly if you have a bigger family) and you can lock your bikes up outside your villa when you're not using them. Also take bags to cover your seats when your not using them in case it rains, no one wants a soggy bottom!
If you like swimming, make sure you take your own towels. You can't take the ones provided in the villa and to hire them is £2 a towel. Also, some of the sites have free swim wear dryers (such as woburn) but others charge 20p to use them (like Longleat). The towel dryer in your villa drys costumes delightfully!
Take some pound coins for lockers (except Woburn). They're free, just you need a pound to lock them.
You absolutely do not need to eat out whilst at Center Parcs. Your villa has a fully equipped kitchen (however check my top tips below about this). If you plan to cook, I'd suggest you make a little meal plan before you go and take all your food with you, rather than buying it from the Parc Market, as it is more expensive than supermarkets. However Center Parcs do offer a WONDERFUL range of vegan food in most of their restaurants.
Center Parcs have a few of their own places which offer vegan menus. These include the sports bar (check my top tips about this place), Hucks and the Pancake House (YES! VEGAN PANCAKES!). See below some of the food available from these places.
They also have Bella Italia at a lot of their sites, which offers and vegan menu, plus Las Iguanas at Longleat (for now, I hope it'll come to more of them!). Las Iguanas have told me multiple times that their various fries are vegan, however they are fried with dairy, just to let you know.
Dexters Kitchen fries are also vegan (they have a may contain dairy warning but they are fine themselves), they are fried in separate fryers to any meat or dairy too!
So far as I've experienced, everywhere is happy to provide free tap water with your meals. I prefer this anyway most of the time, however it also saves a lot of money in the long run!
If you plan on cooking in your villa, I suggest (mainly as a vegan) you take your own knives, chopping board and frying pan. Also you'll notice they provide you with 3 dishwasher tabs for 4 nights, which always makes me suspicious as to how clean things are, so I suggest you take your own tabs and put everything you want to use for the week in for a wash before you use it, just to know it's nice and clean.
Both the Sports Cafe and Dining In fry their chips with meat/fish. Whilst Dining In don't mark their chips as vegetarian, Sports Cafe do, which is why I want to put this little warning in here.
Bella Italia (at least at Longleat) will let you take away their vegan pudding so you can cook it at home! You so you have an indulgent pudding wherever you like! (Please excuse the reflection!)
I have noticed that a lot of places that aren't entirely vegan end up removing the saucy parts to make food vegan. For example, the Las Iguanas vegan taco plank is just a veggie one without the sour cream. Often the restaurants at Center Parcs are very accommodating, so feel free to ask to swap the sour cream for guacamole instead! (Or salsa, whatever you fancy). If you see something you'd like added to your dish on the vegan menu, I'd say it's always worth asking.
I'd also suggest you take a bottle of vegan mayo (I like to take the squeezy bottle of chippa) and/or a can of Schlagfix to everywhere I eat, so I can make all the food extra delicious! For example, I like the chocolate and banana pancake at the Pancake House, however it comes with sorbet, so I ask for no sorbet, but a pot of uncooked chocolate chips, then add my own cream and top with the chips. YUM! See below for an example of this.
Also if you order too much, most places will let you take it home in a container (such as Hucks did!) so you can have a midnight snack too!
To save money, I wouldn't suggest relying on the Parc Market too much, however if there is something you fancy or are missing, I've taken some pics to show what is (unexpectedly to me!) available there for vegans. They also have more expected items such as hummus, bread, nibbles like this.
Also the TREATS shop sells (really quite expensive) moo free and millions!
As with all shops now, they charge for carrier bags. So make sure you pack some suitable shopping bags just in case you need them.
Also, if everything goes a bit wrong and you rely on the Parc Market for all or most of your food, they will delivery your shopping for free if it comes to over £40.00.
I hope this post has been useful, coming from a vegan and a money saving human.