In an effort to save money, both of our holidays this year have been staycations. Last week we enjoyed our second holiday, a mid week Monday to Friday break at the Center Parcs Whinfell Forest resort in Cumbria.
Simon has been to Center Parcs quite a few times over the years with friends but this was my first ever visit so I was really looking forward to giving it a go.
One thing we kept hearing after booking our holiday was how expensive Center Parcs is and how it's not the ideal destination if you are wanting to save some pennies. I pride myself in being pretty careful with money and Simon and I try very hard to be sensible and not waste too much of our hard earned cash. So I was really interested to see if it was possible for a couple to go away for a four night Center Parcs break, have an amazing time and not spend a fortune.
We purposely booked our trip for mid September when the schools had returned as the cost of our holiday was significantly cheaper. We paid £300.79 for two of us to stay in a New Style, 2 bed woodland lodge which was a bit of a bargain.
I had heard that the onsite supermarket at Center Parcs is expensive so we made sure we wrote a list of all the essentials we would need for our holiday and looked up the nearest Tesco so we could pile our car up with groceries before arriving. This definitely saved us a lot of money.
I was very excited as soon as I saw our little cabin in the woods, it was small but so comfortable and cosy. We wanted to make sure we had a really relaxing holiday with no itineraries or alarms so most of our mornings were spent lazily slobbing around the cabin (we became hooked on Homes Under the Hammer!) and we spent most our evenings cooking and eating dinner in the cabin, drinking wine, watching DVDs and playing Sesame Street Monopoly.
My favourite feature of the cabin was the fire place, we bought a log in the Centre Parcs village and had the most romantic evening toasting marshmallows in the fire.
Our cabin also had its own little private patio area with a BBQ stand so we made sure we brought a disposable BBQ with us so we could have a burger and hot dog night.
Not having a garden for BBQing at home we loved being able to get outside and cook.
We were careful not to get sucked into booking up activities in advance. There are so many things to do at Centre Parcs and whilst there were loads of things that I'd definitely consider trying in the future we decided to wait until we arrived before deciding what to do.
The only thing we did plan in advance was our bike hire which we booked a few days before when we realised we were set for some nice weather. Our bikes (including helmet hire and bike lock) were £31.00 each.
They say you never forget how to ride a bike but boy was I wobbly when I first climbed on mine. It must have been about 22 years since I'd last been out for a cycle and I was a little nervous when I first started peddling.
Whinfell Forest is pretty hilly and cycling down some of the steep hills did freak me out to start with, I felt a little out of control and was convinced I was going to go head first over the handlebars.
Luckily, I quickly built up my confidence and it wasn't long before I was whizzing along absolutely loving the feeling of biking in the sunshine with the gentle breeze whistling in my ears. We became addicted to our bikes very quickly and despite feeling a little saddle sore we loved jumping on our bikes at every opportunity and spent a few days just cycling round the resort enjoying the lovely weather.
We were very lucky with the weather during our time away, I had to slap on the sunblock every day as the temperatures soared. The sunshine did make it far easier to have a cheap stay, we spent every moment we could outside exploring and enjoying the perfect warm Autumn days. When we weren't frantically pedalling our way round we were taking lovely leisurely strolls through the forest. It was the perfect place to appreciate the arrival of Autumn.
The highlight of our trip definitely had to be the red squirrels. You may think that I made Simon pose for this photo for comedy purposes but I promise you he did spend most of his holiday gazing upwards hunting out squirrels in the trees.
He absolutely loved them and I'm pretty surprised he didn't try and squirrel one away (see what I did there?!) in our suitcase to take home.
Red squirrels are very easy to spot in Whinfell, we saw one every day and it didn't cost us a penny. The Rangers Lodge was a good place to start as food is left out for them there.
Another place we spent a lot of time was in the Bird Hide, it actually became somewhat of a second home.
I'm not always the most patient at sitting still waiting for nature to appear but after about 10 minutes of staring at a few pigeons we were finally in luck and spent a really enjoyable 2 hours watching red squirrels, rabbits, mice and even a woodpecker.
We ended up camped out in there so long that we became King and Queen of the Bird Hide. People came and went and each time new people peered in we'd enthusiastically give them a complete summary of all the animals we'd seen and the best place to see them. Bird Hide Geeks!
We did end up doing a couple of activities at the Sports Centre during our stay. We decided to partake in some table tennis which cost £7.00 and the next day we played some short tennis for £9.00. We just turned up on the day and booked in person and each time the Centre was quiet and we were given extra time. Our short tennis court should have only been for 45 minutes but we were given it for an hour and a quarter.
Before going on our holiday we'd already decided we were going to eat out in the resort twice and that the rest of our meals would be cooked in our cabin. If you are wanting to save money at Centre Parcs it's a good idea to look through the website and pick out where you want to go in advance and then stick to your plan.
We chose a restaurant each, my choice was the Pancake House which unfortunately don't take bookings and gets very busy so we had a delicious late lunch there at around 3:00 pm. Being piggies we had a savoury pancake for main and still managed to wolf down a sweet.
Simon's choice for food was Hucks Bar & Grill, an American Diner. We were more disappointed with this one, our meals were a little over priced and the food was far too stodgy and greasy, but at least we had a gorgeous sunset stroll around the Lake to make up for it.
We had the most fantastic week and I am feeling a little smug that I proved so many people wrong. Our holiday was so much fun, we loved every second and it didn't cost us a fortune. In fact we're already thinking about booking another Center Parcs staycation for next year.
Of course the joy of Center Parcs is that it caters for all ages and family sizes. If you are more interested in reading about enjoying Center Parcs as a larger family please do head along to one of my favourite local blogs North East Family Fun! You can read about their holiday experience here, how to save money at Center Parcs when you have kids here and grownup time at Whinfell's Spa here