My kids want to go to Center Parcs – but who can afford a luxury like that?

Actor Danny Lee Wynter has suggested we replace a trip abroad this year with a stay at Center Parcs – you’ve got to be joking

Victoria Richards
Tuesday 06 April 2021 12:49 BST
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Center Parcs advert

“When lockdown is over, I have two dreams,” my nine-year-old daughter said the other day, with the kind of wistfulness that usually makes my heart sink, because I can sense I’m going to have to break it to her that she won’t actually get to become a mermaid, or live in a house made entirely of Haribo Tangfastics.

“One is to cuddle nanny and grandad,” she continued, while I spontaneously misted over into a tissue in the corner. “The other is to go to Center Parcs.”

Center Parcs? Misting over, over – instead, I found myself suddenly scrunching said tissue into a tightly-wadded ball in my fist, as you might to a stress toy. “Maybe,” I hmmmmed, to buy myself time. “But Center Parcs is very expensive.”

A week in Center Parcs? Now, I like a waterslide and a wave machine as much as the next person-who-secretly-wishes-they-were-on-a-beach-with-a-cocktail-but-can’t-because-they-decided-to-have-children, but seriously: you’ve got to be joking.

I put in a speculative booking online for the Easter holidays, just to see what I was up against: prices started at £1,000 for four nights in a two-bedroom “executive lodge” – including a compensatory discount, because the swimming pools can’t be open, because of coronavirus. In the summer, prices start at £1,549 – if you’re able to get a booking, though it is mostly sold out.

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Of course, even if you do manage to grab a space, you still have to stock up on food, snacks and (crucially) booze. If you don’t, there are outlets on site to eat at, but it’s a bit like going to Glastonbury or Reading Festival, or to any British airport: you end up spending three times what you’d usually spend on something that vaguely resembles a Happy Meal, but isn’t.

So, when I saw actor Danny Lee Wynter tweeting about Brits moaning about not having a holiday abroad this summer, and how – as a child – Danny and millions of kids like him never went on a plane, I wanted to high-five him: last year, I took my daughter on a “love bombing” trip to Wales, for a week, and she loved it. Barry Island was just as good as the Costa Brava, if a little colder, with a higher number of penny-slot arcades (and a few more mentions of Gavin and Stacey).

I couldn’t agree more with Danny, when he wrote: “Brits upset they might not get a holiday abroad this summer. As a kid we never went on a plane. Center Parcs, Butlins and the caravan in Yarmouth & Meopham. If you left the UK your folks were either rich, on the game, owned a house or had relatives in that country. Get a grip.”

He’s right that we don’t need to take our kids abroad on holiday; after all, it’s better for the planet not to fly, and it’s better for British tourism to trek across our own country to the various B&Bs and patches of coastline that are every bit as beautiful as those in Europe (I’m looking at you, Swansea), especially after an extremely difficult year for the travel industry. There’s just one point I don’t agree with Danny on: the bit about Center Parcs.

Because Center Parcs is as pricey as going abroad for a week – it might even be more so, when you consider that (pre-pandemic, pre-Brexit) you could get cheap flights to France and Italy for around the £30 mark, if you didn’t mind flying out at 4am on a Tuesday and going via Dubai.

Danny knows this, too. In fact, he has since tweeted: “Don’t @ me that a wk at Centre Parcs in 1990 was more expensive than a fortnight to wherever in Europe my mates who lived in houses went on their jollies, cos it wasn’t. Now it is, of course.”

He’s right, because the problem with Center Parcs today is that it’s not like it used to be; today it’s practically bougie: it’s got a posh spa, and the price tags to match. And while it can be fun (kids love it, grown-ups tolerate it), it’s not the go-to holiday of choice any more for people who can’t afford to fly. It simply isn’t. It’s the opposite: I’d argue it is in fact a sign that you’ve got cash to splash (at the Subtropical Swimming Paradise).

I have to confess, I have been to Center Parcs – three times. But my nostalgic reminiscences of its greatness are... mixed. The first time, I was the only one in our shared, two-family chalet watching the TV when news flashed up that Princess Diana had died. There. That’s my “where were you when”, story.

I had a lovely time on my second trip to Center Parcs, 20 years later, with friends. We even got in a trip to the spa; and had an in-chalet sauna. But it was our only three-day “holiday” that year – we wouldn’t have been able to afford another.

Then there was the trip to Center Parcs that nobody talks about: The One Where Everyone Got Norovirus. Yep – we were there to “celebrate” nanny’s 60th birthday, but what actually happened was that we all shared dinner, drinks – and a violent winter vomiting bug. I ended up leaving in the middle of the night, to give the kids the best chance of sleeping through the three-hour journey back from the Elveden Forest to London without throwing up.

Perhaps the Center Parcs team will learn from this kind of talk on Twitter and elsewhere and cut down on their eye-watering pricing, to tempt families back after lockdown. Perhaps they’ll take into account the fact that we are all more strapped for cash than ever – and in dire need of a holiday.

Sadly, I suspect it far more likely that those who can, will – the rest of us simply won’t be able to. I better break it to the mermaid-in-training.

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