Booking our holiday on Good Morning Britain
At the beginning of August, we appeared on Good Morning Britain and booked a very last-minute holiday with the UK leading travel expert Simon Calder. It was the best experience and you couldn’t get someone who knows more about travel than Simon to choose a holiday for you. And he chose Center Parcs France.
We went on convoluted journey booking the holiday, starting off with a holiday idea that was proving impossible to find, and then inspiration struck Simon and he suggested Center Parcs in France. We had a budget of £2000 and wanted a week’s holiday in the sun with lots for the boys to do, food included, Wi-Fi and air con. Simon had one hour to find us a holiday to match these requirements and it was proving impossible. By our second appearance on TV we hadn’t found anything. Then he had the Center Parcs idea, which we loved and we got booking.
A week staying in a comfort lodge for five of us at a last-minute discount was 1599 Euro, converting to £1440. Well under our £2000 budget, the holiday was looking positive. You are looking at least double that to stay in the UK Center Parcs for the same week. Hubby was sounding keen and the boy’s eyes lit up when we watched the YouTube videos of the aqua dome.
The producers were relieved that we managed to find somewhere, and we went back on TV for a third time to let Ben and Charlotte know that we were all sorted.
We booked the holiday and organised the ferry crossing (bargain freebie deal with DHDS and my Clubcard vouchers). The only thing left to do was get some Euros and finish off the packing.
We set off from home at 5:30am with plenty of time spare at Dover to ensure we were on the 9am ferry. The ferry was a short 90-minute trip and we drove straight off the ferry and headed to center parcs. We were staying the at Bois Francs parc a 3 ½ hour drive from Calais. We were due to arrive at 3:30pm.
Check In and Arrival
Not a great start to the holiday I must admit. We had obviously chosen the worst arrival time as the queue to check in in the mile-long drive way was huge. And it was hot, like 35 degree hot. Dylan and I couldn’t bare it in the car any longer, so we got out and walked.
There was some confusion with our booking and they seemed to think someone had already collected our keys, there was a delay, but eventually sorted and we got our keys just as hubby was driving though the entry barrier. Phew.
This Centre Parcs is huge and has 900 cottages, it is literally a mini village! The grounds are so beautiful, despite the heat that seems to turn the UK yellow, France was still lush and green. There were many lakes and trees and so much wildlife to go with all of this. Our cottage was next to the most beautiful lake as you walked out of the back door. I spent many an hour sat by the side of that lake watching the ducks and the fishes jump out to catch the dragonflies.
Our cottage was big and very cool despite the 35-degree heat. There were three big bedrooms, with an open plan kitchen, dining room and living room. The living room opened to sun loungers and a patio that led to the lake. It was comfortable, a bit dated (we did have one of the cottages not yet refreshed). It was very clean; the beds were comfy, and the kitchen was equipped with everything we needed.
There really was so much to do. The aqua dome pool was the boy’s idea of heaven. I did a little tour in video at the end of this post… there was so much to do. There were three big pools, five different types of water slide, lazy rivers, waterfalls, swing ropes. We went every day, yes, every single day for two hours.
Here’s a vlog of the adventure dome where most of the indoor activities were based.
The there were the paid activities the boys could do of which there was a choice of at least 30 things! We did one activity every day. And I got to go horse-riding. I spent a beautiful morning on a horse trail with Titigier my brown and white horse.
The Quietness and the Bikes
Cars are banned from the village of Center Parcs and I loved this. Everywhere was so quiet and peaceful and you travelled everywhere by bike. The roads and paths felt so safe and the boys adored the freedom of cycling everywhere on their bikes. Jack who is 5 didn’t fancy riding his own bike around so we got a bike with a trailer for him, which he loved. Being ridden around like a prince!
I got to spend three hours at the spa one morning and had a facial whilst there. Possibly my favourite three hours of the holiday where I relaxed and didn’t have a child constantly asking me what time it was or when it was pool time!
Proximity to local town
There was a lovely local medieval French town just a ten-minute drive away, Verneuil-sur-Avre. We went there a couple of time to get our Aldi top-up shop and for lunch and milkshakes. It was the most beautiful town with churches and architecture. Like stepping back in time with narrow streets and old old houses. It was nice to get out and go somewhere for a change of scenery. There was a market on the Sunday and I got some amazing French cheese.
The cost of things
We have never been to center parcs in the UK so were not quite prepared for the expense of things. The bikes to hire were 150 Euro for the five of us. The boys wanted to the tree top high wire climbing that was 75 Euro for three of them. Even badminton was 14 Euro to hire the court and for two rackets. We could have saved by taking our own bikes and rackets.
There were other things that weren’t too badly priced, there was a cuddly toy making session that both Jack and Josh did. This was two hours where you left them with center parcs staff and they made an animal and dressed it up, build a bear style. This was 25 Euro which didn’t feel top bad.
The cost of food
We ate at the Center Parcs restaurants a couple of evenings and managed to spend a small fortune. There was a lovely pizza, pasta, crepe restaurant, but our bill came to 100 Euro. We had brought food over from the UK and did an Aldi shop whilst there in France, but we managed to spend quite a a lot of money on food. And we went through maybe four baguettes a day!! The boys loved them! I think our total spend for the week was maybe an extra 1000 Euros.
The queues in the Activity Booking centre
Being English we unable to download and use the Center Parcs app which would have made booking of activities much simpler and quicker. Instead we had to queue up in the booking reception every time we wanted to book an activity. We figured out the best times to queue by the end of the week but at the beginning it took ages.
The language barrier
Center Parcs is a very multi-cultural holiday with people of every nationality. All the staff spoke French and not much English. Now I can get by with my French, I can certainly decipher food and have a basic conversation. I can understand a lot more than I can speak. But there were a couple of time when I got unstuck with my French. At the horse stables they didn’t speak any English, so I attempted in broken French to explain I could ride a horse, sort of. I proceeded to get the biggest horse and was expected to jump on as if I knew what I was doing. Luckily, I winged it, and my horse was every so lovely and totally understood English.
So, if you go don’t expect everyone to speak English!
A very busy Swimming pool
The aqua dome was huge but there were times when it felt busy. The first time we went on the Monday early evening it was packed. As you walk in there was counter and there were 1300 in the pool. The pool got much quieter after 6pm so we only went at that time for the rest of the week.
Over all it was a great holiday. A holiday where the children are entertained is always going to be a good one! The boys loved it and the highlights included the tree top climbing and the badminton. We would 100% go back!