A weekend in Centre Parcs Elveden Forest was our last trip before the pandemic hit in 2020. Dan and I travelled up with Ted and shared a cabin with Dan’s mum, step-dad, uncle, and his wife. I’d never been to a Centre Parcs before, as I was always taken to Haven caravan parks as a child, but I had heard great things, and had high expectations.
The Elveden Forest village is located in Thetford, Suffolk, a short drive from some key tourist attractions in the area, and from some questionably named places – I’m looking at you Hockwold cum Wilton and Wangford! We were staying from Friday night to Sunday night, since I had to get back to Essex for work on Monday morning, so I’d hoped to spend a couple of hours exploring the local area, or visiting Bury St Edmunds, however, we ended up spending the whole weekend in the Centre Parcs village.
Related: How we spent a weekend in Woodbridge
I’ll spare you the photos of rooms, restaurants, and activities – they’re all available to see on the Centre Parcs website. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on our stay at Centre Parcs Elveden Forest.
The cabins are lovely
We stayed in a three bedroom, L-shaped cabin that I thought was lovely. There were two toilets – one bathroom and one WC by the front door. It had a TV, a small fire, and all the amenities you need to cook. Our ‘back door’ was a glass, patio door which led onto a small paved area within the forest; over the weekend we were visited by a collection of wildlife, including a jay and some muntjac deer. I particularly liked the large chalkboard drilled to the wall of the living area – it’s a slightly quirky touch that I’d bet kids love to interact with. When we arrived, we found that our cabinmates had used it to write our itinerary for the weekend.
The major issue for us was that our cabin wasn’t dog-friendly – Ted stayed two doors away with Dan’s sister, her family, and their dog Rolo. It transpired that the two cabins were actually almost identical, but for some plastic panelling on the bottom half of the doors. I understand that the village needs to have ‘no-dog’ cabins for allergy purposes, but it was annoying that all the dog-friendly cabins were sold out. Perhaps Centre Parcs could do with a few more, especially since dogs can’t enter the village.
The food is tasty
During a two night stay, we were able to sample a few of the restaurants. On our first night we ordered a delivery to the cabin. Instead of all of us committing to the same type of food, we were able to select different cuisines from the menu! I had a pizza, Dan had Mexican, someone else had a burger, someone else had a curry! I wouldn’t say it was delicious, but it was enjoyable for a delivery.
What was delicious was the Saturday night steak I had at ‘Huck’s American Bar and Grill‘, and the pancakes at the aptly named ‘The Pancake House‘. Both restaurants are in the Village Square, and from what I understand, it’s better to book a table, especially at Huck’s. I really wanted a cocktail with dinner, but soon realised that the selection was quite limited (no Pornstar Martinis) but decided that a Sauvignon Blanc would be good enough.
The pool is awesome
Perhaps awesome is an understatement. At the time, Dan had three nieces (now four) who love splashing around in the water, so we ended up spending nearly three hours at the pool.
The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is aptly named – it consists of a wave pool, numerous slides, a lazy river, outdoor rapids, hot whirlpools, and for some reason, a Starbucks. We went on almost every slide at least once; the girls had us hurtling down the rapids more times that I can count. Centre Parcs Elveden Forest has the largest watersports lakes of all the Centre Parcs villages, but it’s the pool that is the real draw. Even better, access to the pool is free for everyone staying, whereas some of the watersports may incur extra charges.
Top tip: when we visited, we did not have to book to swim, however in a post-Covid society, you now need to pre-book and only have a 2 hour time slot.
Cabin areas aren’t well signposted
On the first night, after a drink in the pub area, I got lost. We’d travelled up on Friday evening, straight after a full week of work, and while Dan and his family (who had booked annual leave) were having drinks, I was exhausted and needed a sleep. I made the decision to walk back to the cabin.
What was a five minute walk to the village became a 30 minute walk home. The forest is pitch black, and poorly lit surrounding the village. Evidently, I took a wrong turn and walked down a road for near on 15 minutes following cabin numbers before I saw a sign that told me I was in the wrong area! Continuing on for another 5 minutes I found the main signpost and worked out where I was, but it meant at least another 10 minutes walking.
It was a February night. It was freezing cold. There was no way I could cut across roads to make it to my area. Were it someone else, a child, someone anxious, it could have been a really upsetting experience.
It’s not as dog-friendly as I’d hoped
Lastly, my main gripe with Centre Parcs Elveden Forest is that it’s not actually very dog-friendly. I’d argue they’re more ‘dog-tolerant’, especially in comparison to what I have seen about how some of the other Centre Parcs villages welcome dogs.
Yes, dog-free cabins are designed to protect those with asthma and allergies. Dogs must be on a lead at all times (unless in the designated dog pens, which are essentially a 10m x 10m cage, a pathetic attempt at catering for larger dogs, or allowing them to run) to protect people who don’t like dogs/ are afraid of dogs/ from overly excitable dogs. Dogs cannot go into any indoor area of the village, which is okay when the weather is pleasant, but on a stormy February day – complete with gale force winds – it’s not ideal.
Ted became quite distressed being left on his own in an unfamiliar location for so long. Even though he was with his bestie, it’s not the same as being at home, or out with his dad… or even me. By the end of the weekend, we walked him then spent the rest of the day in the cabin, only leaving him for a couple of hours for a swim.
Would I return? Possibly, but under the following circumstances: warmer weather, for more than a two night stay, with my own children. Then, we’d be able to enjoy the time a little more, and Ted might even have a better time.