Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Visiting Center Parcs in Belgium from the UK - similarities and differences

Having now spent four holidays at Center Parcs in Belgium - three at Erperheide and one at De Vossemeren - I thought I'd share a few tips for any UK visitors that are considering a visit to Center Parcs in Belgium.

If you love a Center Parcs holiday but want to try a more cost effective experience with a multicultural feel then I'd definitely recommend trying it out - there are many advantages over the UK parks! Although these tips are based on the two Belgian parks that we've visited, I'm guessing that many of these tips would also apply to families taking holidays at one of the other Center Parcs sites across continental Europe.


Booking the holiday

We've always booked online, and it's well worth checking the prices through the Center Parcs websites from different countries. We've usually found that the French site has given us the cheapest prices. This does mean that you have to make your booking in French and all correspondence will be in French, so it helps to have a smattering of the language or be confident in your use of Google translate! Make sure that you understand when the final payment will be due if you have only paid a deposit. As in the UK, Center Parcs raise their prices considerably during the school holidays. If you can find some dates when the UK schools are off but the local schools aren't, you can get a very reasonably priced school holiday break.

Driving there

We always travel to Center Parcs in Belgium by car through the Eurotunnel. Driving in continental Europe is quite straightforward but there are a few things you need to be aware of. I'm not really qualified to give advice, especially as I don't actually drive over there myself, but you can find lots of tips online. Check speed limits as they vary by country and may change according to the weather conditions and type of road. If it's your first time driving abroad I'd recommend avoiding driving at night if you can, at least until you get used to it.

You need to make sure that your car insurance will cover you and extend it if necessary (it cost us £25 for a week on our most recent trip) and make sure that you have everything in your car that you need. Check the guidelines for specific countries, including those that you will be driving through on your way. Some examples - you need to take your vehicle log book document (V5C certificate) as well as vehicle and travel insurance documents, you need reflective jackets for each passenger which are stored in the main part of the car not the boot, a warning triangle, beam deflectors and first aid kit. You can find a really useful checklist and information for different counties here - Driving in Europe checklist - and many shops will sell you a kit that contains everything you need. We found that petrol and diesel are cheaper than at home, and there are plenty of petrol stations along the way and in nearby towns.

Language

There are three main languages spoken in Belgium - Dutch, French and German - and the majority of the signage around the park is in these languages along with English. Outside the park most local signage is in Dutch. We had no problem being understood in English when communicating with anyone in the park, whether staff or guests. They usually addressed us first in English anyway, we obviously stand out!

The only times when language was a slight issue was during the kids shows which were usually performed in Dutch and German with a little bit of French and very occasional English. I speak German reasonably well so I was able to translate for the children, and the stories are quite easy to follow anyway, but some children might get frustrated if they didn't understand. We did go to a bedtime story once which was completely in Dutch, and although I can get by in Dutch I struggled  to translate well enough for the children!

Kids show at Center Parcs, Erperheide

Where are other guests from?

Judging by the cars in the car park and languages spoken, the majority of visitors are Belgian, German or Dutch with some French. Most people seem to speak Dutch or German. There are other visitors from the UK, but we've not encountered very many.

Food

The cottages are self-catered. There is a small shop on-site which is well stocked and sells pretty much everything that you'd need, but a cheaper option is one of the supermarkets, of which there are many close by. We usually look for a Lidl which sells pretty much everything that we need. Be aware that supermarkets outside the parks may be shut on a Sunday. I always take the opportunity to visit a nearby supermarket and stock up on waffles and cake that you can't buy at home, marble cake is my favourite!

Dining out

The Center Parcs we've been to don't have anywhere near the range of dining options as you can find in the UK parks. There are no chain restaurants and only a couple of restaurants on site. They do have a good selection and are reasonably priced, but it would be very samey if you are eating there every night. If you want more varied cuisine you are probably better off jumping in the car and heading to the nearest town.

Self-catering

The kitchens are well equipped with everything that you need. With one exception - there's no oven! There is just a fancy microwave and a hob, so bear that in mind when planning meals. There's a kettle and a toaster and various coffee making equipment.

Activities

The price of the activities is a lot cheaper than at the UK parks which makes a big difference to the cost of the holiday. When we've booked we have also received four 'Toppings' vouchers which you can use towards activities. We have used one voucher to reserve a particular cottage, then there is a list of activities and how many vouchers you need. As an example, in the past we have used one voucher for two children to play mini golf and two vouchers for a family game of bowling.

Currency and paying for things

The currency is the Euro. We have had no problems paying for things with credit cards, contactless payments and so on. You'll need a one or two Euro coin for the lockers and for trolleys in the supermarkets off site. Some of the activities need to be paid for in cash, for example the pony riding and some of the children's craft activities. There are cash machines on site.

Differences in the cottages

We always stay in the VIP cottages, broadly speaking the equivalent of the Executive accommodation at the UK parks. One big difference is that there is no daily cleaning, I think that your cottage will only be cleaned during your stay if you are there for longer than a week. This means that some of the amenities, like toilet rolls and dishwasher tablets, will not be replenished during your stay, so make sure to bring extras. In a VIP cottage you are provided with a kitchen pack which includes a sponge, matches and cleaning cloths but no washing up liquid, so you'll need to pack that too.  Check what is included in the level of accommodation that you've booked, for example you may need to bring your own towels. You can find some more information about the cottages here - A VIP cottage at Center Parcs Erperheide and A VIP cottage at Center Parcs De Vossemeren. One thing that we love about the VIP cottages is the daily delivery of fresh bread and rolls!

The sockets in the cottages are of course European sockets. In the bathrooms we've not found shaver or toothbrush charging sockets.

VIP accommodation at Center Parcs, Erperheide, Belgium

Other differences from the UK Center Parcs sites

We've found that there are many more activities included in the cost of your holiday, especially for children. There is a group of costumed characters, Orry and Friends, and they perform a show twice a week, as well as a Mini Disco, storytime, meet and greets and so on. The characters also run children's crafting sessions which are very reasonably priced. Twice a week there is a full evening show which is good and suitable for families (although it does finish quite late). As well as the usual swimming pool there are indoor play areas which are included and these are brilliant. For example, at Erperheide it's a massive soft play and foam ball play area, at De Vossemeren it's an amazing indoor pirate themed play area with sand, water and rope bridges. Both Erperheide and De Vossemeren have a small farm where you can walk in with the animals. It's lovely if you can visit in the spring and see all the baby animals!

Farm at Center Parcs, Erperheide

You will need coins for the lockers in the swimming pool and they can be tiny, so pack your things in a small bag or two. Children that can't swim need to wear a buoyancy aid, these are provided.

There is no Aqua Sana spa equivalent. There is a sauna which I've not used so I can't comment on it, but I do know that you aren't allowed to wear a swimming costume!

The parks seem to be a lot more open to the public than Center Parcs in the UK. I'm not certain, but I think that locals can pay to visit and use the pool and play areas. There are definitely posters advertising birthday parties for children which can't just be for guests. When you book in you will be given separate tickets which you need to use each time you enter the swimming pool and indoor play areas as well as a parking ticket to display on the dashboard. I have also heard a rumour that you can use the facilities at other Center Parcs sites during your stay, although we've not tried this ourselves!

I really love the multicultural feel of the Center Parcs in Europe, hearing all the different languages, there definitely seems to be more of a buzz and they work out a lot better value for money, it's definitely worth considering!

If you are interested in a holiday to a Center Parcs in Belgium, you may like to read some of my other posts:

Our holiday to Center Parcs De Vossemeren
VIP Accommodation at Center Parcs, De Vossemeren
First holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
Our second holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
Our third holiday to Center Parcs, Erperheide
VIP Accommodation at Center Parcs, Erperheide

If you are looking for things to do in the area you might enjoy:

Plopsa Indoor, Hasselt
The Duinengordel dune belt

I'd love to know if you found this article helpful, and please do leave a comment if you have any questions, I'm always happy to share our experiences!

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