Our Family Break at Center Parcs Woburn Forest
Woburn Forest is Center Parcs newest park at the time of writing, opening to the public in June 2014 although 2019 will see Longford Forest opening in Ireland. Located just an hour north of London, it’s in a great area with a ton of places to visit – far more than you can visit in a week! It feels modern and new, yet part of the forest and the 400 acres that it sits in. It’s a wonderful blend of nature and family, getting just the right amount of fun entertainment, activities and shopping without feeling over commercialized or too busy.
We arrived at 3pm on the dot, which is the earliest check in unless you’re paying extra. If you arrive earlier, you can park in the car park and walk to the shops, restaurants, or pool, but with a 4 hour drive for us to get there it worked out perfectly. You queue in your car until you’re called to a security booth. Because it was check in day, there were 8 people taking details and the line moved very quickly. It only took us a few minutes to get issued with our wristbands, given our lodge number and sent on our merry way.
On check in day you can drive to your lodge, but the car must be returned to the car park by 10pm that night. We found they were pretty strict about this, but my sister in law arrived on the Tuesday and left on the Thursday morning (at 5am!) by Taxi. The Taxi wasn’t allowed past the main entrance, but we called guest services who sent out a van to collect her and her luggage. As long as they have a van available they’ll help you out if you need it. We were assigned lodge Oak 337, which is a 2 bedroom lodge.
Beautiful Holiday Lodges
Our executive 2 bedroom lodge at Woburn Forest felt brand new, immaculate, beautifully located, private and fitted with plenty of modern conveniences. Oak 337 is a beautiful lodge in a quiet and peaceful setting. What I particularly liked about the lodges was the use of positioning so that you weren’t overlooked. Although the next lodge is only about 12 foot away, the windows and heights were designed so it felt private and with bushes and trees dotted everywhere, there really was a feeling of peace and quiet even though there are a lot of lodges on site. I checked on the website and the park was filled to 100% capacity yet it never felt crowded at all. Floor to ceiling windows front and back let light stream throughout the property but I only drew the curtains once – when I was prancing around in a towel, because no one wants to see that!
Inside the lodge was family friendly, modern designed, open plan, lots of light, spotlessly clean and overall very comfortable and well equipped. No pizza slice though, that was the only thing I couldn’t find.
My biggest tip would be to book as close to the amenities as possible if you plan on using them. I didn’t think this would be a big deal for us, but the site is very hilly and it turned out to be a 15 minute walk to the car park or a 20 minute walk up and down a couple of fairly steep hills to the swimming pool or restaurants. If I had my mother with me, this would have been really difficult for her. It wasn’t a big issue for us but I think I would have gone swimming more if it had been a quicker walk, especially as we had some heavy rain (thunder, lightning and a hail storm too!).
The wifi was strong throughout the lodge and even at the table in the garden which was amazing, as it meant I could send loads of photos to my mum every day and sit outside in the morning with a cup of tea and my iPad, checking my email and browsing the days news – yeah, I’m not quite ready to go completely without the internet!
If you love wildlife, you will be at home here. In addition to squirrels and ducks on our patio, we saw some day old moorhen chicks which were absolutely adorable, coots, bluejays, goldfinches, sparrows, dunnocks and loads more!
If you’re a wildlife fanatic I would recommend taking some peanuts, sunflower hearts and perhaps a few fat balls or filled coconuts, along with some duck food of course. If you hang these out at the beginning of the week, the news will spread and you’ll get feathered visitors all day long!
The crowning wildlife spot for me came on our very last day when we saw a young deer tiptoeing through the shrubs directly outside our main window! Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a good picture of her, but it was a perfect moment.
Entertainment & Activities
We didn’t take part in many additional activities as we spent several days off site and found loads to do in the surrounding area that appealed to us such as Woburn Safari Park, but I was very impressed by the range of activities available and the fact that you could see everything, the time, cost and even book them on the website or App. We enjoyed the mini-golf, boat rides and swimming pool.
The subtropical swimming pool complex was an absolute delight. Set across multiple levels, it’s a mini water park with multiple pools, warm winding rivers, outdoor rapids and several slides that are the biggest I’ve personally seen in the UK. I’m not really a thrill-seeker, but I found plenty to do with the baby who had an absolutely amazing time, whilst my husband and his sister loved the adrenaline inducing slides. The swimming pool and the activities within it including the slides, are included in your stay, so you can spend as much time there as you like. Buoyancy jackets were provided as well, which gave me extra peace of mind with the baby. There are plenty of places to sit, including eateries within the swimming pool complex so you could easily spend an entire day there. The first time we arrived there, the buggy park was not only full, pushchairs had taken over every bit of available space in the foyer. My heart sunk, assuming that it was mega-packed. With anxiety and not a great deal of body confidence, I’m not that keen on super busy swimming pools.
In all honesty, I almost turned back. But I’m so glad I didn’t. I wanted the baby to have a good time so we forged ahead, and it turns out there are a ton of massive family changing rooms, ample showers, bathrooms, ginormous people sized dryers (you just step in them and they dry your entire body and hair, which seems nuts to me!) and although yes, it was busy, because of the layout and the amount of massive plants and different levels, the separate pools felt fairly private and not overlooked.
I really liked the wristbands which gave you the ability to go swimming cash-free. You could register a card to them if you chose and then these waterproof wrist bands could open and close the lockers as well as purchase food, meaning you didn’t need to worry about taking money with you or keeping your wallet safe. So convenient – those wristbands also unlocked the front door so you could go out for walks with nothing in your pockets, and could be used for food at some other venues too.
As with most swimming pools these days, photography wasn’t allowed, so I can’t share pictures, but it was honestly the best family-friendly swimming pool we’ve been to so far!
We ate in Dexter’s Kitchen, Cafe Rouge and also ordered the dine-in delivery service. The food is expensive and the chains don’t accept vouchers or discounts if they’re on Center Parcs. I love Las Iguanas, which is located in the Plaza, but I can get a 40% discount at my local Las Iguanas which isn’t valid here, similarily I’d hoped that the Cafe Rouge Groupon voucher for afternoon tea would be valid, but alas not. So bear in mind that pretty much any discount will exclude the restaurants in Center Parcs. Dexter’s Kitchen offered a free children’s meal with every adult, which means a family of four could eat yummy burgers (or hot dogs) and fries with a soft drink for under £20, but our bill in Cafe Rouge for 3 adults and 1 child ended up hitting £70. On the whole, if I was returning, I would plan to cook more – but then who feels like cooking when you’re on vacation!
The delivery service was easy, fast and efficient and our meal arrived piping hot. We liked this as it allowed for the whole family to order something different. We had bits from the Indian, Chinese and Mexican menus all together.
All the menus are available online and on the app as well, which made choosing the right place quite good. I have some food allergies and my sister in law is a vegan, plus we have the baby, so being able to make the right choices easily was great. You can get a full allergy menu online if you need to.
You are a captive audience, and the supermarket, whilst well stocked, is a good 30% higher prices than most mainstream supermarkets and in some cases I’d say 50% or more higher than what I’m used to paying in Lidl. If you’re looking for a budget vacation, definitely do your grocery shopping off site and just pick up some bread and milk when you need it.
Would I visit again?
On the whole I can see why people say Center Parcs can be quite expensive. We found the accommodation very competitively priced, great quality and extremely family friendly, but the food, drinks and activities can easily double what you’ve paid if you’re not sticking to a budget. Nonetheless, this is entirely optional – so you can be flexible and find a break that caters to your family. We found our break relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable, despite variable weather!
Whilst I don’t have plans to return to Woburn Forest in the immediate future because of the long drive for us, I’m already looking at Center Parcs Longleat for our next family break and would happily recommend it to any friends or family. I hear they have golf carts at Longleat and a train to get around, both of which I think would be welcome additions to Woburn, especially for multi generational families where not everyone is up for walking so far or for those with toddlers who don’t want to be pushing a buggy everywhere.
I’ve also written about – and shared thoughts from lots of other bloggers – the best things about a Center Parcs holiday.