I’m always astounded at the stories I hear from loyal guests who have returned to Center Parcs year after year, who came as children and return as parents and grandparents. I wanted to speak to our most loyal guests to find out why Center Parcs was so special to them, and share some of their stories.
“Center Parcs is a holiday that weather can’t spoil,” says David Yates, super fan and Elveden Forest aficionado. “My wife Margaret and I moved to Suffolk in 1985, two years later Elveden Forest was built. Our son Philip was 8 and we visited for the first time in December. What we remember most was going down the Wild Water Rapids outside, in nice warm water, with snow falling on our faces!
“We were hooked. What we enjoyed the most was that everything was under one roof: you could go in there in the morning and come out at 10pm without being affected by the weather. It just didn’t matter. Back in my childhood when you’d go camping or stay in a caravan, the weather could make or break a longed-for holiday, but at Center Parcs nice weather is just a bonus.
“We started going for a spring break each year, still having our summer holiday abroad, then we added an autumn break too. Of course, as we get older our interests have changed; we’ve moved on from adventure playgrounds to bowls and snooker. That’s the magic of Center Parcs though, whatever your age or interests you can just adjust your break to suit you.
Tragedy into triumph
David and his family soon started visiting Elveden Forest more than twice a year, shunning their summer holiday for another taste of Center Parcs. Loyal to the Village just 10 miles away, the only time they deferred elsewhere was down to tragic circumstances. “We were due to arrive at Elveden on the Monday,” says David, “but the previous Friday the Village had suffered a devastating fire, causing the forest to close down.
“We were disappointed, but Center Parcs looked after us so well. The very next day after the devastation a bunch of flowers arrived – which made me very suspicious as I hadn’t ordered them! – but they were from Elveden Forest. We also received a full refund as well as £100 vouchers for our next booking. It must have cost them a fortune, but what fantastic customer service.
“Center Parcs is constantly upgrading and reinvesting which, when you visit multiple times a year, makes a huge difference”
“We decided to stay at Sherwood Forest whilst Elveden was re-built, which would be even better than before. Sherwood was a little further away but, as with all the Villages, you don’t need to catch a plane, it’s just so convenient.”
David, his wife and son have since tried out Longleat Forest and will be visiting our fifth Village, Woburn Forest next year. He tells us he’s impressed with the level of investment over the 25 years he’s visited Center Parcs. “The Villages have changed a lot. Sherwood Forest refurbished the Jardin des Sports and transformed it into a proper sports centre which we spent most of our time in. We tried out Longleat Forest and loved that you could have a range of restaurants and activities just opposite each other.
“The accommodation has evolved and the quality is very nice. Center Parcs is constantly upgrading and reinvesting which, when you visit multiple times a year, makes a huge difference. Center Parcs is a successful company but you can’t rest on your laurels, and I respect that.”
My piece of Elveden Forest
Over years during his short breaks, David has got to know the staff at Elveden Forest and is often spotted having a catch up with senior management. “It’s a nice touch to see staff members recognise you and ask if we’re enjoying ourselves. I know James Barrett [Elveden Forest General Manager] very well. In fact, we caught up over a cup of coffee during my last break. I think the most we’ve ever visited is five times in one year. It does start to feel as though we have bought a piece of the Village, which is quite nice,” says David.
“Center Parcs has recently acquired a reputation for being pricey, but for us it’s a question between cost and value. Of course, prices have crept up but we book a year ahead to get the best price and – in all honesty – I’ve never come across someone who didn’t like it here.”
So, 26 years of Center Parcs breaks, there must be thousands of family memories, I ask. “Too many to remember,” David says. “It’s been great seeing my son grow up through our breaks, but if I had to choose one memory, it would be when a dinghy capsized on me!”