Jane E. Fraser finds the once humble holiday park has competition from upmarket rivals.
Think inexpensive family holiday and you tend to imagine a holiday park but is that a rule that still applies? With holiday parks going increasingly upmarket and hotels and resorts finding themselves in a highly competitive environment, price comparisons bring interesting results. In many cases, the price difference between holiday parks and other types of accommodation has been significantly eroded - and in some cases negated or reversed.
Cheap holiday parks are certainly still around and hard to beat on price. However, by the time you get to the more upmarket parks, you might want to consider a broader range of accommodation.
For example, a search for a week's accommodation for a family of four in the July school holidays revealed many holiday parks had entry-level cabin prices of about $150 a night.
The popular Darlington Beach Holiday Park on the Coffs coast was $155 a night for a basic villa; the cheapest available option at the nearby Emerald Beach Holiday Park was $160 a night for an en suite cabin (the park does have cheaper "budget" cabins but these were not available).
The Ocean Beach Holiday Park on the central coast had an entry-level price of $130 a night, while the cheapest cabin with a bathroom at the Treasure Island Holiday Park on Queensland's Gold Coast was $143 a night.
Searching for alternative accommodation for the same dates, we found a special offer for the popular Paradise Resort on the Gold Coast of $110 a night for two adults and two children (with the exception of the Saturday night, which was $145), including free kids' club sessions.
We also found a "hot deal" of $149 a night for two adults and two children at the family-favourite Novotel Twin Waters Resort on the Sunshine Coast.
Of course, comparisons are not always as simple as making a decision based on price alone, as each property has different qualities, such as sleeping arrangements, room and shared leisure facilities. But it demonstrates that broadening your search and making your own comparisons may be worthwhile.
The biggest factor in favour of holiday parks is that their cabins are usually self-contained, which allows you to prepare some or all of your own meals, rather than eating in cafes and restaurants. Food is generally one of the biggest costs of a holiday and, for many families, eating out is a luxury.
Holiday park cabins also tend to have bedrooms built separately to the living area, although this is not always the case in entry-level cabins. Having the ability to put the kids to bed or set them up to play in another room can make a difference, especially during a long stay.
Holiday cabins can also cater for larger families or blended groups, while hotel and resort rooms tend to have a maximum of four guests.
One thing to be careful of when making comparisons between holiday park cabins and hotels or resorts is that basic cabins often have no bathroom, which can mean making middle-of-the-night treks to a central amenities block. There can also be a significant jump in price from a cabin without a bathroom to one with one, so check the details before comparing prices. Most holiday parks include floor plans and images on their websites, so you can see what each type of cabin contains.
When it comes to leisure facilities, leading holiday parks can compare favourably with leading family-oriented resorts. Many holiday parks have lagoon-style pools, kids' clubs, mini golf, tennis courts and adventure playgrounds. A few also have spas and restaurants.
However, for many, the lure of staying in a resort will simply prove too great if there is little or no price difference.
If you've always wanted a resort holiday and thought you couldn't afford one, you might need to think again.
WHEN LOOKING FOR DISCOUNTS, START HERE
Check if discounts are available through your motoring organisation. NRMA, for example, offers a 10 per cent discount on its own holiday parks and discounts on selected hotels and attractions.
If you're staying in holiday parks regularly, consider joining a program such as the BIG4 Holiday Parks membership club, which has discounted accommodation and other benefits.
Consider sharing a multi-bedroom apartment, holiday house or cabin with another family to split the cost.
When booking hotels and resorts, look for "kids stay free" or "kids eat free" deals (check the terms and conditions) or ask the hotel if they will include breakfast with the room cost.
Family rooms in hostels represent great value, although they can vary in quality.
For longer trips, consider a house swap.