Cruise Vs Center Parcs: Compared!



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I just returned from a long weekend at Center Parcs with the family. While we are regular cruisers, we fancied trying something different, so we booked a break at Longleat Forest in Wiltshire.

In this article, I’ll explain how Center Parcs compares to a cruise in terms of the accommodation, activities, food, convenience and, of course, the price.

A happy family moment inside a car with Cruise Daddy in the driver's seat, two children making playful faces in the back, and a Cruise Mummy with a big smile taking a selfie.

Accommodation

On a cruise, you’ll have a choice of inside cabins, outside cabins, balcony cabins or suites. 

Center Parcs accommodation has similar tiers, with the cheapest being two-bedroom woodland lodges, executive lodges and apartments being a bit pricier, exclusive lodges with hot tubs being a premium option, and if you’re feeling really fancy, you can stay in a four-bedroom treehouse with a hot tub and games room.

With both cruises and Center Parcs, the most expensive accommodations cost about five times as much as the cheapest ones – so you’ll want to choose carefully.

Being in the forest, you obviously have a lot more space, and so even the smallest Center Parcs lodges are much bigger than large suites on cruise ships. It’s really nice to have two bedrooms, two toilets, a kitchen, a dining table and enough sofas for everyone to sit together.

Both forest and sea holidays can have excellent views, either of the ocean or of the woodland with squirrels, deer, geese and other visitors coming to say hello.

And both are spotlessly clean, although it’s easier to keep a cruise ship cabin that way when your cabin steward visits once or twice per day! At Center Parcs, you’re on your own. If you need fresh towels or more toilet paper, there’s nobody to help you with that.

Winner = Center Parcs

Activities

Whether you choose Center Parcs or a cruise, you won’t be short of things to do. The huge difference though, is that at Center Parcs most of the activities come with an extra fee, whereas on a cruise, they’re included in the price.

The best thing about Center Parcs is undoubtedly the ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’, and it’s great that this one activity is free to do. Center Parcs Longleat has a huge wave pool, lots of water slides, water rapids, a lazy river and a splash area for younger kids.

A view of the outdoor pool complex at Center Parcs surrounded by lush evergreen trees and shrubs with a hint of steam rising from the warm water on a chilly day, showcasing the resort's integration with nature and providing an inviting atmosphere for relaxation and recreation.

Depending on which cruise ship you choose, you’ll find almost all of these things at sea. So if you and your family love to spend all day whizzing down slides, choose one of the newer ships from Royal Caribbean, Carnival or Norwegian Cruise Line and you won’t be disappointed.

A vibrant aerial view of the Icon of the Seas cruise ship's water slide, featuring an array of colorful tubes that twist and turn above the deck against a backdrop of the expansive sea and a tropical island

Many of the Center Parcs activities like high ropes courses, rock climbing walls, mini golf, table tennis, pool and archery can also be done on cruise ships, but for free. I’ll explain more about the cost of the activities later in this post, but let me just say, they are pricey!

While some cruise ships charge extra for things like go-karting, escape rooms or virtual reality arcades, extra charges for activities like this are pretty rare, whereas at Center Parcs, it’s the norm.

An indoor mini-golf course bustling with activity, featuring well-maintained green turf and naturalistic rock features. In the background, an indoor climbing wall and various recreational signs indicate a family-friendly sports and leisure center.
A man and a young girl enjoy a game of mini-golf on a ship deck with a nautical theme, complete with artificial grass, tiki huts, and rope bridges. The ocean horizon extends in the background, adding a serene backdrop to this leisurely activity.

Center Parcs does offer plenty of kids activities, like this science experiment class, which was fun. But almost all of these require parents to stay and watch and they’re all for an extra charge.

Two young children dressed in white lab coats are engaged in a fun science activity, experimenting with various bottles and colored solutions at a bright and colorful table, fostering an early interest in science and experimentation.

When it comes to childcare, you can book your child into a longer activity for three hours and leave them there while you enjoy some child-free time. We did this while we visited the spa, which was nice, as I do think it’s important for parents to be able to relax without the kids sometimes on holiday.

On a cruise, you can usually leave your kids off from 9 am until 11 pm as long as you pick them up for lunch and dinner. The kids’ club is free of charge, and children usually make good friendships there, so my two usually want to spend as much time as they can in the club!

The entrance to Aqua Sana spa nestled among tall trees, featuring a classic building with a welcoming yellow façade, grand white columns, and the spa's name prominently displayed. The manicured pathway leading up to the spa suggests a serene and luxurious retreat.

The Aqua Sana spa at Center Parcs was very nice. The thermal area was a little larger than you’ll find on a cruise ships, but really, there are only so many different kinds of steam room to try! Whether on land or at sea, you’ll pay extra for this, and the facilities are very similar.

The gyms on cruise ships are huge and free to use, whereas Center Parcs has the smallest gym I’ve ever seen and it’ll cost you £7 a go to use it.


When it comes to the evening, there’s so much to enjoy on cruise ships with big shows in the theatre, live music, the casino and cinema. At Center Parcs, after the evening meal there’s nothing else to do but go back to your lodge and play board games or watch TV. Cruises are for fun nights out, Center Parcs is for cosy nights in,.

Winner = Cruise ship

Food

Eating on a cruise is very different than eating at Center Parcs.

On a cruise, all your meals are included, with a choice of the main dining room or buffet. You’ll also have a choice of more restaurants and room service – these may have an extra charge or may also be included in your cruise fare, depending on the ship.

Two joyful children enjoying a meal of pizza and fries, with a boy playfully biting into a slice of pizza and a girl smiling while holding her slice, all set against a modern restaurant backdrop.

All Center Parcs lodges are self-catering, so you get pots and pans, plates, cutlery, a hob, microwave and dishwasher provided. Interestingly, there are were no cupboards left to store your actual food in our lodge.

If you don’t fancy cooking, there are lots of restaurants you can dine in, or you can get the restaurants to deliver a takeaway to your lodge.

Whether you choose to holiday at sea or in the forest, you’ll find that special diets are well-catered for, as are children. And, if you don’t mind paying extra, you can enjoy pretty much any style of cuisine you fancy.

On a cruise you may or may not have a set dining time for dinner, but you can have breakfast and lunch whenever you fancy. At Center Parcs you do need to plan ahead a bit more and make reservations if you want to eat out as the venues can be busy and don’t always accept walk-ins.

I love that on a cruise you can eat whatever you want without getting a bill at the end. And also that you never have to wash up! While the food at Center Parcs is very good, it is pretty expensive. Here’s our bill for a two-course lunch…

A detailed restaurant receipt on a wooden table, listing various food items like burgers, extra vegan cheese, chips, garlic bread, and desserts such as hot fudge cake and ice cream, with a total due of £87.93, reflecting a meal enjoyed at a dining establishment.

 Although you can, of course, cook your own meals in your lodge if you’re on a budget.

Winner = cruise ship

Convenience

Center Parcs has five locations across the UK, so getting to the park is pretty easy. 

If you’re thinking of a cruise, over 90% of  cruises from the UK depart from the port of Southampton. While you can cruise from other ports such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Bristol, Dover and London, cruises from these regional ports are usually limited to smaller ships that aren’t aimed at families.

That said, there are lots of cruises that depart from Barcelona, Rome and Venice, and you can usually fly to these places pretty quickly and cheaply from the UK.

One thing that shocked me about Center Parcs is how big it is and how far you have to walk to get around. I’m sure people say the same about cruise ships. At Center Parcs we had to leave our car at the opposite end of the park to our lodge – a 40-minute walk away! Getting from our lodge to the swimming pool was a 30-minute walk. For this reason, many people opt to cycle around the park, but it is quite hilly.

A child and an adult relaxing on large wooden loungers at Longleat Forest Center Parcs, with the serene lake and forest in the background, capturing a moment of leisure and enjoyment in the heart of nature.

On the biggest cruise ships it will take you ten minutes to walk from one end to the other, so you can get around pretty quickly.

We took our dog with us to Center Parcs, which was convenient as we didn’t need to find a dog-sitter. But next time, I wouldn’t do that. The only indoor venue that allows dogs is one restaurant, so we had to leave her in the lodge and return every few hours to let her out. This meant that we spent a lot of time walking to and from the lodge, without the dog.

A curious black dog inside looking out the glass door at a small grey squirrel on the wet patio, highlighting an adorable moment of animal interaction and the simple wonders of nature from indoors.

With a Center Parcs break, you need to book all of your activities in advance and time it right so that you have time to get to them. This required quite a lot of planning, whereas on a cruise you can just look at the daily schedule and decide as you go.

Winner – Cruise ship

Price

When it comes to cruises, I’m good at spotting the bargains. And I’m not sure, but I expect that there are ways to do that with Center Parcs too. So, to keep this test fair, I’m going to do a comparison for a week-long stay in the school holidays for each and see how the prices compare for a family of 4…

Center ParcsCruise
Accommodation4 nights at Center Parcs in Executive Lodge in October half term – £1,5494 nights on P&O Cruises Arvia in a balcony cabin in October half term – £1,796
Food£100 for food in the lodge plus £250 for a couple of lunches and dinners outIncluded 
SwimmingIncludedIncluded
High ropes course£160 for one goIncluded
Mini golf£36 for one gameIncluded
Pool table£11Included
Table tennis£15Included
Tennis£17Included
Gym2 people = £14Included
Spa day2 people = £1302 people = £78
Kids club£35 per child for 3 hours. 2 sessions = £140Included
TOTAL£2,422£1,874

Looking at the table above, you can see that a midweek break at Center Parcs costs around £500 more than a cruise. However, I’ve only included that activities that you can do on both holidays. There are a lot more activities that you can do at Center Parcs and they all cost money, whereas on a cruise, all the extra activities are free.

Also, I’ve never spent as much as £1,874 on a short cruise! I’d usually get at least a week in the school holidays for that price, by booking at the right time and looking out for deals.

Winner – Cruise ship

The Verdict

I’m glad that we gave Center Parcs a go. We had a lovely time and we’ll probably go back again. It’s a very different type of holiday and I can see the benefits of both.

I found that Center Parcs isn’t as relaxing as there is quite a lot of cooking, washing up and walking involved to get to the activities on time. A cruise is much more chilled. And depending on when and where you go, the weather can be a lot better too!

The lodges are very spacious compared to cruise ship cabins, and if you enjoy cosy nights in front of the fire, it’s lovely. But if you prefer to enjoy a romantic meal in a nice restaurant without the kids, a West-End style show, some comedy and then a flutter in the casino to finish of the night, you can’t beat a cruise.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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