In February 2022, the Lazy FI family went on a holiday in the UK. Lazy FI Mum did some research and chose Center Parcs (Woburn forest). I am so happy she did, it was amazing. We went from Friday to Monday and it was perfect for us. We will probably go again.
In this post, I’ll try and share our experience (and costs).
While you read this post, please keep in mind that at the time, our daughter was less than 2 years old (she still is) and that Lazy FI Mum was 8 months pregnant. Also, we don’t own a car.
Why did we choose this location?
As this holiday was organised by Lazy FI Mum, I’ll let her answer this one:
“Lazy FI Dad (LFD) and I didn’t grow up in the UK so we never heard of Center Parcs before this trip.
I’m a fan of all-inclusive types of holidays as I like being in the same place, relaxing without worrying too much about what to do. If it’s not all-inclusive, it means I need to plan the entire trip. From trains, to where to eat, and all the way to where we stay and if they have a cot and a bath for the kids. This is my territory (not LFD’s) as I like organising things. However, all-inclusive means less planning and I can completely take my hands off the wheel.
Why Center Parcs?
I came across Center Parcs when I was browsing for all-inclusive family staycations in the UK. We knew a holiday abroad was out of the question. Not because of COVID, but because I was 8 months pregnant and couldn’t risk it, so I had to stick to something close to London.
So many people recommended Center Parcs across the UK. From mum groups on Facebook to different family and toddler-friendly websites. I had a quick look and saw it’s not really all-inclusive. However, it had 3 important bits for us as a small family:
- Fully equipped kitchen – which means we can cook for ourselves (if you follow LFD’s posts you know I have a strict diet so I can’t really eat outside unless it’s in specific places)
- Rooms that are equipped for babies and toddlers with a cot and a high chair – which again, was important so our daughter could follow her routine.
- The place itself was enough, so we could stay there for the whole visit without needing to leave the Park- which was what I wanted to begin with, a staycation where all the attractions are in the same place.
After a short comparison between similar parks, I thought Center Parcs offered the best deal (money, attractions and location) so I sent the link to LFD.
LFD was surprised to see it’s not a 5-star hotel in Cyprus 😉 and loved the fact we had our own lodge to prep food in, and once he saw the price he said “yes” immediately.
We couldn’t choose the dates, as we wanted to do it before I gave birth. We wanted to have one more holiday together before we became parents to two. Therefore, we had to take a chance and have it during February. We knew the weather could get really cold/rainy, but we didn’t care. After all, we live in a cold country. In retrospect, it was a great choice. Cheaper prices meant we could spoil ourselves with other stuff and the fact that the pool was extremely heated, meant we didn’t miss out on any attraction because of the weather.
Why did we choose Center Parcs (Woburn forest)?
Location was also a huge factor for us, as we don’t have a car nor do we drive in the UK. Center Parcs offered a location within less than 2 hours from where we live in (accessible) public transport and 1 short taxi drive each way (no shuttles from station to the park during covid).”
Commute from London to Center Parcs (Woburn forest)
There are trains from London to Flitwick (the nearest train station), which is great. However, there are no lifts at Flitwick station, which made things a bit harder with suitcases and a pram. We booked the trains as soon as we booked our stay, which was four months in advance.
Usually, there is a shuttle bus from Flitwick to Center Parcs. However, it wasn’t running when we were there (I think it was something to do with COVID) so we had to use taxis. Luckily, they weren’t really expensive. One direction was £12 and the other was £7.34
Cost: trains: £75.95, taxis: £19.34, total: £95.29
Our stay in Center Parcs (Woburn forest)
The type of cabin we chose is called a “2 bedroom woodland lodge”.
The cabin was beautiful, it had two double bedrooms, (each with its own bathroom). It also had a small living room, a big dining table and a full kitchen, including a hob. The last one was crucial for us as our daughter and I make banana pancakes at 6:30 am. Our daughter slept in a cot in the second bedroom.
The cabin had big windows facing the forest. Our daughter loved sitting next to the windows and looking at the squirrels come and go.
I think the cabin could easily fit two small families (with one toddler each), which can help cut costs. You can also invite grandma and grandpa.
The park itself was beautiful. It is set inside a forest, with a big lake in the middle of it. It is perfect for walks (yes, even in the cold February weather). One morning, my daughter woke up at 6 am, said “walk” and off we went, after breakfast of course. It was amazing, the sunrise (which you can’t see, sadly) made the sky change colours and the whole park was empty, it was just us. There were some “exhibitions” to walk through, filled with fairy lights, which my daughter and I really enjoyed. We also got to see the swans sleeping.
The park is small enough to walk from one place to another but big enough for the walks to be interesting.
Sessions in Center Parcs (Woburn forest)
Pool and baby dolphins
I think the pool was the biggest surprise for us. I thought “OK, we’ll go to the pool, I hope my daughter likes it, I’ll hold her and get her used to the water.”
The name “Pool” is very misleading, it’s a mini waterpark! It has different pools for the younger kids, a wave pool, a pool for inflatable pool tubes, and even water slides for bigger kids (and adults). Oh, and it’s all indoors! which was awesome in February. We spent a lot of time in the “pool”. It was one of the highlights of our holiday.
When she booked it, Lazy FI Mum said we have three pool sessions included (three hours each) but she kind of turned that to four, with the “Baby dolphins” session. This meant we were in the pool every day.
The Baby dolphins session takes place before the pool is officially open for everyone. It is a session for young kids to get used to the water before all the older kids arrive, it’s a safer environment for them. A staff member brought lots of pool toys for the kids to play with. My daughter loved this session and we were also allowed to stay in the pool after the session, so this was a fourth pool session for us.
Cost: £0. The pool sessions and the Baby dolphins session were free.
Session 1- Baby Balance Bike Buddy
Our daughter had never ridden a balance bike before, so we thought this could be a great opportunity. It was a really nice (indoor) session with coloured balance bikes and cones (so the kids can go through them). In hindsight, our daughter was a bit too young for it and didn’t really understand the concept of a bicycle (she mainly took it by hand and walked around with it). However, she had lots of fun being with us and seeing other kids.
We’re happy we tried it and she now has two different kinds of bicycles, which she rides a lot.
The session was 30 minutes long and we did it on Saturday.
Session 2- Mini Musical Movers
This was a very energetic session, the kids (and one parent per kid) were jumping around, dancing, and doing the hokey pokey. Halfway through the session, Lazy FI Mum and I swapped places, so we both got to dance with our daughter.
I think our daughter enjoyed this session more than the Baby Balance Bike Buddy session
This session was also 30 minutes long and we did this one on Saturday too, right after the balance bike. In hindsight, It may be worth trying to spread the sessions.
As you can see, the sessions are pretty short and I think the length was perfect.
Session 3- Owls
This was the most expensive session and also the one I looked forward to the most. In this session, they bring a few owls for the kids to see up close. Lazy FI Mum and I put on a leather glove and let the owls sit on us so our daughter could see them up close.
This session was outdoors and included 3 or 4 (I can’t remember) owls. The staff member brought out one owl at a time and we all got a “turn” with it.
We all really liked this one, although our daughter didn’t want to hold the owl.
It started to rain 5 minutes before the session ended so we left early. Luckily we were able to enjoy most of it, but this was part of the ‘risk’ when we chose February.
The owls’ session was 45 minutes long and we did it on Sunday.
Cost: £30 (£10 each).
Session 4- Sensory play
This was by far our daughter’s favourite session. I think it could be because we were the only ones there. She had the whole sensory room to herself. It included some soft toys, lights, buttons, and even a soft slide. We were so sad it ended and asked if we could pay to have it extended, we couldn’t.
The sensory play session was 30 minutes long and we did it on Sunday too.
In total, we paid £55.50 for attractions/sessions. Next time, I think we’ll try and do two a day except on the days we arrive and leave. I think we’ll do one before lunch (and nap) and one after.
Food in Center Parcs (Woburn forest)
There are several options to eat during your visit to Center Parcs
- Bring food from home
- Visit the Tesco store in Flitwick just before you get on the taxi
- Eat in the restaurants in the park (list) or in Flitwick
- Buy groceries in the park local shop (Co-op) called “ParcMarket”.
We used the first three options.
Bring food from home
As Lazy FI Mum said, she has a special diet. This meant we brought some food with us. I did not include that in our “holiday” expense category so I don’t know the exact costs.
I didn’t know what would (or wouldn’t) be available in the park. In addition, we eat in a lot and wake up very early, before the restaurants open. That’s why we stopped at Tesco in Flitwick and put the shopping bags in the taxi.
We ate out 3 times during our holiday.
One was in a local Pub in Flitwick, as we arrived early. The other two were in Center Parcs, we ate in the Sports Cafe and in Las Iguanas. The food was nothing special, it was nice but not more than that.
Lazy FI Mum also enjoyed her Starbucks coffee each morning and was very happy about it. She normally doesn’t drink coffee at home so that was a big treat according to her.
When we got to the park, we had a walk around and also went into the ParcMarket. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and prices. I think you can get by with shopping there but I think we’ll still stop at Tesco next time.
As we didn’t buy anything there, there is no cost.
Other activities in Center Parcs (Woburn forest)
Center Parcs Woburn forest also offered other (free) activities. There was a soft play (which our daughter loved), which was located just near the sports cafe.
There were also lots of trails where you can walk in nature and see some animals and birds.
In addition, there were (when we were there) some exhibitions you could walk through. One was the “winter forest lights 2022” which was a small area with lots of “mushrooms”, each one roughly my height. Each mushroom had one transparent side and inside you could see a moving elf. They also had a fairy trail full of lights and music. In general, there were lots of lights, which made it really nice to walk through the park in the dark.
Summary of our Center Parcs (Woburn forest) holiday
So the total holiday cost us £874.05. Not bad for 4 days, including food and commute. These costs were partially included in our February 2022 results but mostly in our October 2021 results. While we went on our holiday in February 2022, Lazy FI Mum pre-booked the lodge and the train tickets in October 2021, which is most of the cost.
I guess some of you will read this post and think “oh my god, they’re so stingy/cheap” and some of you will think “that’s way too much for 4 days, especially pursuing FI”. This thought amuses me so please let me know what you thought.
In summary, we had an awesome time, our daughter loved it, and we’ll probably go again.
As a final point, I want to mention one thing that really made our holiday special: we did not take our laptops with us. We took time off work and, by leaving our laptops home, we ensured we are focusing entirely on our daughter and I think that helped make our holiday so special.