Overpriced Center Parcs is dead to me – these UK holiday parks are so much better & cheaper | The Sun

CENTER Parcs UK, which has been put up for sale with a price tag of up to £5bn, has become something of a pantomime villain among staycationers in recent years.

There are the haters who insist it's overpriced and overrated, paying more than your monthly mortgage to spend a few nights in a forest and swim in a swamp.

The controversy over whether the sites would shut down for the day of the Queen's funeral last year didn't help matters.

Then there's folk like my family who love the no-cars, next-to-nature, noise-free vibe, the illusion of isolation created by the layout of lodges surrounded by leaves and landscaping and days spent in the subtropical swimming dome, splashing down the heated outdoor rapids beneath the stars.

For years when our eldest two were small, we would visit for an early Christmas break, enjoying the twinkly lights, the fake snow, the free fireworks and the festive feel that all added to the ambiance.

It wasn't cheap, but it felt like value for money, given you could accommodate different generations, go on a girls' weekend or take a spa break as a couple and it would always hit the spot.

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But no more. My love affair with Center Parcs is over, thanks to the sky-high price hikes post-pandemic.

The cost of one midweek midwinter break at Center Parcs could easily cover three staycays elsewhere.

So, like Dick Whittington, I set off, not to seek a fortune but to save a fortune, and foil the panto villain by finding a fairly priced, fun facsimile.

My family of five has since stayed at Haven, Butlins, Away Resorts and independents like Ribby Hall near Blackpool and they've all had something going for them.

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Many other holiday parks have great accommodation options without the price tagCredit: Supplied
We love outdoorsy holidays, and they don't have to break the bankCredit: Supplied

My boys love to swim and their vote for the best Center Parcs substitute is firmly in favour of Butlins.

Both Skegness and Bognor now boast outdoor rapids, alongside their flumes, slides and wave pools.

As a mum who needs somewhere restful to stay, my main focus is on the accommodation and I was most impressed by what we found at Away Resorts.

We visited the Tattershall Lakes site during October half term and loved the high-spec lodges and caravans, some with their own hot tubs, set amid trees and lakes.

It was only a shame that the pool wasn't on par with Center Parcs.

There was a good indoor splash pad overlooking the lake for little ones, a small indoor pool and a large outdoor lido, but no slides or rides for family fun.

Both Haven and Butlins have much more of a focus on evening entertainment than Center Parcs and neither is set within woodlands with the peace and quiet that comes with that.

But there's been a fair amount of investment at both brands to make them feel a bit more upmarket. The vintage funfair at Butlins is a winner and there's always plenty of free kids activities on offer.

At Haven, lots of sites now boast climbing walls, high ropes courses, archery and other outdoor activities and a nature ranger station.

At Ribby Hall, we had ducks and squirrels visiting our patio doors in a moment that could have come straight out of a Center Parcs advert.

The cottages were nice enough, but I felt the decor could do with an update. We liked the pool, with its separate adults-only section down a walkway from the main area where families could swim, play on the splash pad or ride on the slide.

Being close to the coast was also a bonus. I hear good things about Bluestone in Wales with its activity dome, Blue Lagoon indoor waterpark and golf buggies to get around, so that's next on my list of places to try.

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We're still on the hunt for the holy grail of holidays: not too expensive, not a million miles from home, a fun pool where you can lose yourself for the day, plenty of free activities for different ages included in the price and staying in comfort next to nature. 

In the meantime, here's hoping that whoever the new owner of Center Parcs might be will do something about the prices so that guests who once wandered the woods and delighted in the dome can return without breaking the bank.

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