Cheap alternatives to Center Parcs for a last-minute half-term break

Cheap alternatives to Center Parcs for a last-minute half-term break

One minute you’re taking the Christmas tree down, the next the February half-term holidays are looming. If like many busy families you hanker after a fun break with plenty of activities to keep young minds and bodies engaged and happy, a holiday park is a good option. But what of the cost and the reality of what’s included in the price?

Since launching in the UK in 1987, Center Parcs now has six parks from Longleat Forest in Wiltshire to Whinfell Forest in Cumbria and its newest site Longford Forest in Leinster, Ireland offering largely middle-class families organised fun in a woodland setting. A four-night midweek (Monday to Friday) half-term break in a three-bedroom new-style Woodland Lodge at Whinfell Forest Village in Cumbria costs from £1,249 sleeping up to six people (currently the cheapest option for a family of four) – on average, more than double that of other holiday parks.

Center Parcs is renowned for the range of activities on offer – nearly all of which are chargeable, quickly racking up the cost of a short break. This half term, for example, archery will set you back £39 per person, ten pin bowling £26 per person, short mat bowls £10 for a session and pottery painting £6 per person. Most sessions are around an hour, so for an action-packed four days, prices can mount up.

The Subtropical Swimming Paradise (29.5C heated pool) is included in the price with its Wild Water Rapids, water play areas and whirlpool. Weary parents can also head to the Aqua Sana spa’s water, dry heat, steam and relaxation experiences for free. Treatments are extra and start from around £99.

So how does the cost of a wholesome woodland escape compare to traditional seaside fun? Billy Butlin opened his first resort in Skegness in the 1930s with the aim of making seaside breaks accessible to all. The company now has three resorts in Skegness, Bognor and Minehead. February half-term breaks start from £515 for a family of four staying in a two-bedroom Gold Apartment in Minehead with a double bed in the master bedroom, twin beds in the second bedroom, kitchen, dining and lounge area and balcony.

Landal Woodland Lakes Landal GreenParks UK
Landal Woodland Lakes in Yorkshire (Photo: Landal GreenParks UK)

Included in the price are as many fairground rides as parents can bare, all live shows including the new Masked Singer Live Show (last year celebrities included Jake Quickenden, Claire Sweeney and Shaun Williamson), Splash Waterworld pool and all water slides, rides and flumes, as well as soft play and playgrounds including Skypark, a new £2.5m playground that opened in Skegness last year.

Other new shows on stage for the first time this half term include the panto Jack & The Beanstalk, Let Us Entertain You featuring the music of Robbie Williams and a Peppa Pig show, Peppa’s Circus Celebration. Dining packages start from £23.95 per adult, per day, £14.50 per child (six-14) per day and £6.80 per child (two-five).

For something more outdoorsy, Landal GreenParks UK encourage families to discover the local area and embrace natural surroundings, from beaches and woodland to national parks. Fifteen UK locations vary from Laceby Manor Resort & Spa on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds to Brunston near the South Ayrshire Valley. In situ, families are invited to engage with nature via insect hotels and discovery boxes, or paid-for activities such as woodland picnic breakfasts £18.pp (under-twos free) or reindeer walking, £40pp, both at Feadon Wildlife Centre at Landal Gwel an Mor in Portreath, Cornwall.

There are currently up to 30 per cent savings for February half-term bookings. A four-night, midweek break for a family of four in the Alder Spa Lodge at Landal Woodland Lakes in Yorkshire costs from £379 (down from £579). Lodges are Scandi-inspired with large glass exteriors showcasing countryside scenery, and some with outdoor decking and hot tubs.

A choice of other accommodation includes cottages, apartments and houses sleeping up to 12, making them a good option for multigenerational or group holidays. Kinder Lodges are aimed at families with pre-school and young children. These include bedrooms with themed murals and nature-inspired décor.

On-site activities vary at each resort and can include archery, golf, body zorbing, indoor climbing walls, axe throwing, tennis and cycling hire. Some resorts also offer workshops including arts and crafts such as pottery, slime, tie-dye and sewing, fairy/superhero academy, fire and den building, make a bear workshops, quizzes and children’s discos. Prices start from £5pp.

At Landal Woodland Lakes axe throwing costs £15.50pp, archery £9, Nerf Challenge £10.50 and bike hire from £15 per day. Slime or tie-dye workshops cost £10.50p, pottery £10, bug hunting £8.50 and the fairy academy is £10.50. Swimming is free.

Families will find information on walking and cycling routes in their lodge and paid for activities off-site can be booked including star gazing in International Dark Sky Parks, seal, whale and puffin spotting and paddleboarding. At Landal Woodland Lakes, reception will book you an excursion puffin spotting at RSPB Bempton Cliffs or Flamborough Cliffs.

Beekse Bergen includes unlimited entry to a safari park (Photo: Wieneke Hofland)

For an overseas holiday park, Little Clogs Holidays offers family holidays to Holland and Belgium. Founded by business partners and busy mums Laura Riley and Jane Grove, they focus on laid-back parks with child-friendly pools, play areas and activities that are best suited to pre-schoolers and young children.

Beekse Bergen near Tilburg isn’t the cheapest, but the price also includes unlimited entry to a safari park, and it’s easily accessible by car from ferry ports at Hook of Holland, Amsterdam, Dunkirk and Calais. A four-night, midweek stay for a family of four this half term costs €530/£423 staying in a three-bedroom Jungalow. The price also includes the indoor pools on both the Lake Resort and the Safari Resort where there is a special light safari this half term, indoor play, activities such as crafts and mini disco. Extras such as bowling cost from €20.50/£17.51 per person.

And if you can’t make it this February, Laura offers a good tip for future school holidays, “The Dutch aren’t on holiday when we are, so UK families can bag some real bargains at Easter (excluding the Easter weekend), May half term and the last week of August.”