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CenterParcs Exterior (CenterParcs)

Cruising vs. Center Parcs: 4 Cruises That Are Cheaper Than a Family Holiday to Center Parcs

CenterParcs Exterior (CenterParcs)
Contributor
Kerry Spencer

Published
Apr 21, 2023

Read time
5 min read

If there was one silver lining over the past two years, it was that people discovered the beauty of their own country -- whether that was by ship or on land. However, one of the downsides of this was a huge increase in prices for domestic, land-based holidays -- and a shortage of available accommodation.

Which is why domestic cruising proved so popular -- and continues to be one of the most cost-effective ways to see the U.K.

Here we compare one of the U.K.'s most popular family holiday choices -- Center Parcs -- with four cruises to see which one provides the better value.

How Do Center Parcs and Cruise Holidays Compare on Inclusions and Cost?

Zip Wire at CenterParcs (Credit: CenterParcs)

With five locations across England (Cumbria, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk and Bedfordshire), each Center Parcs village offers cabin accommodation and a jam-packed activities programme, with access to adventure playgrounds, verdant woodlands and a sandy beach included within the cost. Also included is entrance to each Subtropical Swimming Paradise, home to a heated water park with splash zones, rope bridges, rapids and whirlpools.

If families want to experience any of Center Parcs' extra activities -- from archery and mini-golf to outdoor watersports, ziplines and ropes courses -- it's going to cost extra. Dig deep, because meals aren't included either (accommodation is self-catering), and when you add on potential spa treatments, fitness classes and the creche or kids' clubs, the final bill can end up eye watering.

Contrast this with a cruise holiday, which includes accommodation, plus all meals, daytime and evening programming, kids' clubs, some extra activities such as rock climbing and mini golf (depending on the ship), access to the gym and swimming pools.

A cruise also offers travellers the chance to experience a new destination each day. Depending on the cruise line and destination, fares sometimes also include flights, tips and drinks. Another boon for families: Cruise lines regularly offer deals on third and fourth passengers sailing in a cabin, this usually means slashed fares or kids sail free deals.

To compare pricing, a seven-night Center Parcs holiday for a family of four during August will cost in the region of £2,500 for accommodation and village access (based on peak season travel), plus £1,000-£1,500 for food, drinks and additional activities. We have based the fares on four cruises cheaper than a Center Parcs holiday, below, on an entry-level interior cabins.

A Royal Caribbean Cruise to the Greek Islands

ambience livery

While Ambassador Cruise Line is usually reserved just for adults, selected summer sailings offer programming to suit children, parents and grandparents. Travellers could escape to Norway's breathtaking fjords and lofty mountains on a seven-night sojourn for £1,816 for a family of four. Departing from London Tilbury on the 1,400-passenger Ambience, passengers can choose from six dining options, including the inclusive main dining room, the Buckingham Restaurant, and a buffet called Borough Market.

Palladium is the ship's theatre, serving up cabaret performances, comedy and high-energy dance shows. Most of the daytime fun takes place on the ship's pool and sun decks, though passengers will struggle to peel themselves away from the delicious sights of Bergen and the UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord.

A Roundtrip Malta Voyage with P&O Cruises

TA Azura Coral Pool

P&O Cruises' Azura is a solid choice for holidaymakers looking for a cruise that is cheaper than a family holiday to Center Parcs. Based in Malta during summer, P&O Cruises includes flights within the cost of the cruise fare, which starts from £2,236 for a family of four staying in an inside cabin. Azura features prices in pound sterling, there is a British pub for chilled pints and Premier League fixtures and an excellent selection of British fare served in the restaurants onboard. The mid-sized, 3,100-passenger ship has something for everyone: five swimming pools, plenty of sun deck space, a sports court, kids clubs, Playhouse Theatre, fitness centre, nightclub and cookery classes. Azura's summer voyages include big-ticket ports, too, including Ajaccio, Corsica; Villefranche, France; Florence/Pisa (Livorno) and Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy, offering the chance to experience some of the Mediterranean's most iconic landmarks, beaches and museums.

An Eastern Mediterranean Voyage with MSC Cruises

TA MSC Opera Deck

A family of four could experience a sultry Eastern Mediterranean voyage for under £2,500 on MSC Cruises' MSC Opera, on a round-trip voyage from Bari, Italy. This thrilling cruise visits Monfalcone (Venice), Kefalonia/Argostoli, Crete and Santorini, Italy, complemented with two sea days. With a strong Italian and Spanish demographic, the 2,150-passenger MSC Opera leans into Mediterranean tastes. Expect family-pleasing lunches and dinners of pasta, pizza, risotto, and lots of other Mediterranean flavours. The theatre, Teatro dell'Opera, fashioned on an ornate Italian opera house, is the place for nightly shows; with other highlights including Juniors Club and Doremy Spray Park for kids, karaoke, mini golf, two pools and the Piazza di Spagna Lounge for live music.

A Multi-Generation Sailing to the Norwegian Fjords with Ambassador Cruise Line

ambience livery

While Ambassador Cruise Line is usually reserved just for adults, selected summer sailings offer programming to suit children, parents and grandparents. Travellers could escape to Norway's breathtaking fjords and lofty mountains on a seven-night sojourn for £1,816 for a family of four. Departing from London Tilbury on the 1,400-passenger Ambience, passengers can choose from six dining options, including the inclusive main dining room, the Buckingham Restaurant, and a buffet called Borough Market.

Palladium is the ship's theatre, serving up cabaret performances, comedy and high-energy dance shows. Most of the daytime fun takes place on the ship's pool and sun decks, though passengers will struggle to peel themselves away from the delicious sights of Bergen and the UNESCO-listed Geirangerfjord.

The Bottom Line: Cruising versus a Center Parcs Getaway

CenterParcs Sherwood Forest watersports (Credit: CenterParcs)

If you're travelling as a couple or family of three, an overall cruise fare will be less than the fares listed above (compared with Center Parcs fees, which remain the same for accommodation). Cruise travellers do have to factor in flight costs, however, much like getting to and from one of Center Parcs' five sights should also be considered. With both options, prices are based on the entry-level accommodation. For cruises, this means an interior cabin.

Center Parcs is notorious for hiking prices during school holidays. This happens with cruise lines and airlines, too, though not to the same extent since Center Parcs is able to align its pricing structure with U.K. school holidays. Center Parcs is a great option if you enjoy cooking, since cabins are self-catering.

Choose a cruise if you enjoy waking up in a new and exciting destination each day, prefer being cooked for over doing the cooking, and want kids' clubs and other activities and entertainment included within the cost of your holiday.

Editor's note: Prices fluctuate daily. It's likely that the prices quoted in this article have changed since time of publication and should be viewed as an estimate. Visit Cruise Critic's Find a Cruise page to get up-to-date pricing.

Updated April 21, 2023
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