I have mixed feelings about the weekend break we just had at Center Parcs Elveden Forest. It’s a great idea: a holiday village deep in a Suffolk forest where cars and mobile phones give way to wildlife, woodland walks, and healthy outdoor and indoor pursuits. The trouble is corporate greed rears its ugly head at the prospect of a large captive audience with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go but book the activities you make available. The result is a nice relaxing — but physically tiring — break where you get much more exercise than you would normally (true for us anyway), but at what I consider to be rip-off prices.
You have to pay for your accommodation, naturally, but all you get for your initial fee is entry to the park, accommodation, and use of the pool — sorry, Subtropical Swimming Paradise. Outside of this you have to pay extra, and I mean for everything. Pool tables are £6 per hour, as are squash and badminton courts (racket and ball hire extra). If you haven’t brought your own bike(s) you have to rent them at £7 per day per bike. For a family of four on a weekend break that’s £84 on cycle hire alone. When we got there it was pouring with rain, and after giving up our car at the entrance it was either cycle or walk, so the next requirement was for some rain protection. They do a very fetching clear plastic rain poncho at the bargain price of £4 each.
It’s true that there is a vast range of activities on offer. During our stay various family members took part in cycling, swimming, badminton, racketball, pool, massage, spa experience, watercolour painting, aerial adventure (rope climbing assault course up in the trees), archery, and Tai Chi. But with each activity costing between £10 and £30 per person you can see how quickly the cost mounts up.
To make matters worse our villa was well below expectations. The remote for the main TV didn’t work properly and that for the bedroom TV was missing altogether. The whirlpool bath (for which we paid extra) didn’t work because of a water-related short circuit, which also caused the circuit feeding the power outlets and boiler to cut out, leaving us with no hot water and no TV for several hours. The villa was shabby-looking and the kitchen worktop was crawling with ants.
To sum up then, Center Parcs is a nice idea, well executed in some areas but badly in others, and way over-priced for what you get, and I shall be telling them the same thing in hopes of getting a partial refund for our non-working villa amenities.
I wouldn’t say to you “Don’t go”, but if you do go then plan to live cheaply while you’re there. Self cater rather than eat out, take your own bikes and tennis racquets, and rainproof gear, and spend all your time cycling, swimming, and playing tennis. That would give you a good value for money holiday there, albeit a dull one. If you want to splash out on a new and different activity I can recommend Intermediate Archery, which Elliot and I did. You get an hour of coaching by an ex-world champion (and he knows it!) on compound bows, which are much more fun than longbows or recurve bows.