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Let’s face it, when Center Parcs arrived in Ireland three years ago there was a fierce outcry over the price of everything, and don’t get me wrong, it’s still expensive, but I think it has well proven itself to be one of Ireland’s favourite weekend (and weeklong) breaks. I say this because it’s next to impossible to get a popular weekend now without booking nearly a year in advance. We may have grumbled about the cost of everything but we’ve come to realise that it’s worth every penny. To be able to escape the reality of our everyday busy lives but not have to hop on a plane to do so it’s just gold. I think Center Parcs, for me, feels like I’m really away and we’ve visited a number of times since it opened its doors in Longford.
I’m going to share with you my top 10 tips to make the most out of your trip to Center Parcs. I hope you get some takeaways from it.
- Book well in advance
The sooner you have a date in mind, the cheaper you’ll get your stay. Peak season is always more pricey than off-season so do take that into account. When you book you’ll be asked to pay approximately half in advance and the rest 10 weeks before you arrive.
- Use Tesco Vouchers
If you shop in Tesco and you are collecting club card vouchers. Every €5 in Clubcard vouchers can be boosted to €15 to a maximum of €150. This can only be applied at the initial booking and not allowed to be used against the remaining balance so make sure to get your discount.
- Share a lodge with others
Center Parcs is the ideal holiday to bring the grandparents or cousins along with you. We’ve done it twice where we shared a four-bed lodge with friends or family. It’s ideal if you can keep your numbers to the 8 (and you can also have 2 babies under 2) but once it goes over this number you’ll have to get separate lodges. Sharing means you get to half the price of the accommodation and makes it much more affordable, especially during peak season. They are super strict on this, you’ve to include kids DOB when booking so it’s hard to get away with it.
- Put a savings plan in place
Once you make your initial booking, see how many weeks you have left until you must pay the balance and then add on another few hundred quid for pre-booking the activities (a few weeks later). Do out your budget and then divide it by the number of days you will be in Center Parcs and this will give you a rough guide on how much money you can spend on activities, bike rentals, spa sessions, and meals. This will be easier than when it comes to booking activities.
- Plan everything out in advance
You’ll never in your life have a holiday so planned out down to a tee before you arrive. If you are like me and like a good schedule, then you will love the Center Parcs’ method. As you probably know by now, everything, and I mean everything including eating out, needs to be booked in advance if you want to get the slots you require. You can rock up to your holiday with no bookings of course, but chances are you won’t get a dinner reservation, a swimming slot or any activity. If you are lucky there may be the odd game of pool or table tennis available but that’s about it. Bookings usually open approx. 6 weeks before your holiday so do your research to see what activities your family might enjoy, create a wish list and the day the bookings open, hop online early to secure your activities, swimming slots, spa and food. Please note everything has to be paid for in advance so you’ll need your savings sorted by then.
The Subtropical Swimming Pool is free and an integral part of your holiday. Just recently they have released walk-in slots to the pool (post covid) so this takes a little bit of pressure off but it’s only from 6 pm-9 pm. Daytime slots must be pre-booked. Up to March 31st, each visitor is allowed a 2-hour session. This will change to 3-hour bookable sessions from April 1 onwards. If you are there for 3 nights you will be allowed 3 slots, 4 for a 4-night break and 7 for a 7-night break.
- One activity per visit
When you have four kids and you don’t want to cook either things can get pretty expensive between activities and meals out. Traditionally we have gone for a long weekend- (Fri-Mon) and have loosely stuck to the rule that each kid (except the baby of course) gets one big activity during the holiday (aerial adventure, archery, boating etc), a swimming slot 3 of the days and we eat dinner out 2 nights, get one takeaway, one lunch out and one breakfast (usually in the pancake house the morning we leave). Apart from that, we have breakfast and lunch in our lodge (there is a lovely little supermarket on site but you can bring your own food shop too). Sometimes the kids will do 2 activities in the weekend but we definitely try to afford at least one each.
- Book the Spa
- Girls, (and guys) I’ve been to many wonderful spas across Ireland but holy moly, Aqua Sana Spa at Centre Parcs is unreal. Although getting a massage is the dream, you can book a 3-hour Spa Experience where you get to experience all of their various treatment offerings including an outdoor pool, floating beds and so much more. It’s a real treat and isn’t too expensive (€56 at the time of print for 3 hours). Again, this must be booked well in advance. And, did you know, you don’t actually have to be staying at Center Parcs to book into the Spa. They take outside bookings also. You could go and make a day of it. The minimum age is 14 years, under 18 years must be accompanied by an adult.
- Leave the heels at home
Center Parcs is very much an active holiday so I can’t stress enough how important it is to ditch the heels and pack flats, runners and comfy boots. There is a lot of walking between lodges and the main resort area so you’ll want to be comfortable all the time. This goes for the kids too.
- Pack for all-weather
This is Ireland so make sure to throw in raincoats, swimming gear, high vis jackets for nighttime cycles, sun cream (in better weather), winter coats, wet gear for the kids, lighter clothes for inside, gym gear for all the activities and loungewear for the lodge.
- You don’t have to book anything
Now that I’ve outlined how much there is to do and how expensive things can be I don’t want you turned off. You can (and many do) visit Center Parcs and just do the Subtropical Swimming Pool (as it’s included in the cost of your stay). You guys can prepare food at the lodge, take lovely walks and cycles and just enjoy the wonderful nature surrounding your stay. That means that your only outlay will be your lodge. There are ways to make it more affordable so don’t let the cost of it all deter you.
Getting away from the normality and stresses of life is good for the soul and really important for the family to bond so make sure a trip to Center Parcs goes on your list at some point in your travelling life. Enjoy Your Stay