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Travel: Can a caravan holiday ever actually be fun?

Claire Spreadbury and her family check-in to the newly-refurbed Parkdean Southview.

Family holidays are expensive. And with the cost of living continually on the rise, taking the kids anywhere can seem like a massive drain on your finances. So, how about going cheap, cheerful and old school, with a good old caravan in a holiday park?

Caravans are actually having a bit of a moment in the sun right now. Kitsch decor and funky designs are springing up in vans available to rent pretty much anywhere, but ours sits among lines of many others within Parkdean’s Southview holiday park, just a 10-minute drive from Skegness town centre.

Of course, you could be anywhere. The idea of ​​these holiday parks is they contain all your entertainment needs, so you don’t have to step outside the resort if you don’t want to – but it’s nice to have a beach not too far away, in case you fancy a change of scene.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a caravan fan. And although we’re staying in a brand new one, which looks lovely inside – all woods and natural colours, with a great use of space so you can squeeze in as much as you can – it wobbles slightly every time even my 10-year -old plods around, and the rooms are tiny. Even the kids decide against sharing a twin room as the sleeping space is so small, and push the beds together to make more normal-sized ones instead. James, my 6ft 2” husband, feels like an actual giant here. Thank God we don’t have a cat to swing.

But we’re here to try and save money on a family holiday. Yes, we’ve taken a hit on the accommodation, but we’re only really going to be sleeping in the van. Our kids, Rosie and Poppy, are 13 and 10, so they want to be out and about.

After a post-lockdown £550,000 refurbishment, as part of the £140 million investment in Parkdean resorts nationwide, Southview is stepping up in the holiday park ranks.

Refurbed accommodation and facilities will go relatively unnotified (it’s when they’re not in good nick that we tend to frown at them) but the new activities available here have a very Center Parcs feel. OK, so you’re not in the middle of a forest and there’s not as much on offer – but maybe it is possible to get away and enjoy a similar(ish) family experience, while paying significantly less?

Over at the Activity Zone, kids and adults can backflip on the bungee trampolines, hit the high ropes and wiggle up the outdoor climbing wall. There are zorbs, a football pitch-come-basketball court, nine-hole adventure golf, a craft den, archery and a Battle Zone for laser conquests.

It’s all suitable for kids from quite a young age, but fun enough for a teenager to forget about being grumpy for a good while too.

In Aqua Jets, the girls splash down with a mini jet, ducking, diving and spinning down and under hoops in the pool. There are only four of them taking part on a busy August weekend, and they have loads of fun with the instructor, racing each other and learning how to go fast and slow. You can do this exact same activity at Center Parcs, but it’ll cost you around £7 more per child. The High Ropes course is less than half the price, and crazy golf is up to £5 cheaper per person, so all the savings can really add up.

For me, the quality of the activities isn’t quite as good, case in point down at Basecamp for the new Bear Grylls Survival Camp, £10 per person. I’m not sure how much Bear would approve of the sticks game, dressing up in a ghillie suit and trying to build a tent with sticks in rock solid ground, but we all have fun doing it.

And over at the Craft Den, spending a bit of time tie-dyeing a T-shirt is really therapeutic; coiling the fabric, squirting in the dye and then massaging it in until we’re happy we’re finished. £13 for some mindful me-time and a pretty cool T-shirt to take home is definitely something we’d all do again.

We work up an appetite peddling a family kart (£12) around the park in the midday heat. It’s a fun but hard work (and sometimes hairy, when the kids are driving!) way to get about for an hour.

The food here is pretty good, too. We wolf down fish finger sandwiches and curly fries, feeding a family of four for just under £50 at The Boathouse, scoff KFC-style Thunderbird Chicken (£7.49 for a meal deal) and slurp at massive, dripping ice creams at Scoops – £ 6.49 for three scoops with sauce.

“The activities here are amazing,” says Poppy. “It’s like Center Parcs, but it’s not Center Parcs…”

She’s right. It isn’t Center Parcs. And if you’re hoping the experience might come close, it really doesn’t. But it’s a lot cheaper.

With prices constantly rising, staying here gives you the option of a vastly cheaper weekend escape, where the kids will still have a ball. Just maybe try to upgrade from a caravan to a lodge if you can!

How to plan your trip

A Woodhall three-bedroom caravan costs £329 (September 5 onwards) for a three-night stay. Please note, costs can vary throughout the year. For more information and to book, visit parkdeanresorts.co.uk.