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Review: Center Parcs Longleat Forest

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Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Why is he reviewing Center Parcs Longleat Forest? You can’t earn points and you can’t spend points.

And yet ….. I spent four days at Center Parcs Longleat Forest in Wiltshire with my gang over half term so it seemed a shame not to write ‘something’. I don’t want to do a full review, however …. perhaps more of a critique.

The Center Parcs Longleat Forest website is here if you want to find out more.

Center Parcs Longleat review

My previous experience of Center Parcs was different to that of most people. I had been to one before, but it was for a weekend 25 years ago, with an all-male bunch of friends. I can‘t remember anything about it.

During my City career, however, I spent time looking at the company with a potential view to buying it. I understood the financials, occupancy rates etc more than I understood what it actually did. Pretty typical City banker experience, in fact ….

Let me try to sum up Center Parcs if you have never been:

  • there are six sites across the UK and Ireland, primarily situated in woodland
  • the sites consist of lots of lodges, with 2-6 bedrooms, of various levels of quality (Woburn Forest, the newest site, has a small hotel too)
Center Parcs Longleat review
  • you cannot come and go as you please – you must stay Friday to Monday or Monday to Friday
  • there is no leeway on early check-in or late check-in – you cannot get into your lodge before 4pm and must be out at 10am
  • it is ludicrously expensive during school holidays – we paid £500 per night, room only, for a 2-bedroom lodge, admittedly booked at relatively short notice. Looking into 2022 you will pay £300-£400 per night during school holidays if you book now.
  • pre-covid, the villages ran at 97% occupancy throughout the year and 96% of guests rated their stay as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ according to the 2019 accounts
Center Parcs Longleat review
  • despite the price, and despite attempts to upgrade the accommodation over the years to meet the expectations of people who can afford £300-£400 per night, there is still a huge mismatch between what you pay and what you get. Our kettle looked like it cost around £10, as did the toaster, as did the artwork on the walls. The wardrobes have unstealable coat hangers – for £300-£400 per night …..
  • the food onsite is decidedly average, although not overpriced, mainly because almost all of the restaurants are run in-house – the best meal we had all week was at Cafe Rouge (independently run) and when the best meal you can find is a Cafe Rouge …..
  • absolutely nothing is included in your package except for access to the onsite, domed and permanently heated, waterpark – and, due to covid restrictions, you are limited to 1 x 2hr session for a 3-day break and 2 x 2hr sessions for a 4-day break
Center Parcs Longleat review
  • all other activites must be paid for – we spent another £1,000+ on food and activities over 4 days and, to be honest, had a pretty light schedule
  • you must book your entire schedule – every activity, every meal – in advance of arrival and prepay (part-pay for meals) with your money mainly lost if bad weather makes you cancel. There is now no ability to make any bookings onsite during your stay ‘due to covid’. What we discovered is that regulars book as soon as the system opens, four weeks in advance, and if you don’t you will find yourself with nowhere to eat or, in our case, starting a 2 hour swim session at 6.45 pm. You may or may not be the sort of person who likes to know in advance what they will doing for every minute of their holiday before they arrive.

And yet …..

Center Parcs Longleat review

Despite the above, I was genuinely very impressed by everything EXCEPT the lodge and the food. This is not a sarcastic comment, because there is so much going on at Center Parcs that where you stay and what you eat is only a small part of the experience.

Eveything was spotless and exceptionally well maintained. The quality of the landscaping was excellent. The staff were genuinely polite and friendly. The range of activities on offer was impressive.

Center Parcs Longleat Forest review

The waterpark was substantially above anything I’d seen in the UK before, with rides, slides and pools for all ages. The indoor sports complex was the highest quality complex of its type that I’ve ever seen in this country, although I admit I don’t hang around many badminton centres ….

Even the lodge itself was more than acceptable, despite the cheapness of the fit-out. We had deer that would occasionally wander up to our patio to say hello.

Center Parcs Longleat review Max Burgess Molly Burgess

It’s hard to believe I’m writing this, but I was even impressed by Parc Market, the grocery store. It was, weirdly, the most attractive mini market I have ever visited. There isn’t a lot of competition for that prize, I admit, but they had fully nailed it in terms of design, layout and stock. Some items were cheaper than the Little Waitrose near our house.

Final thoughts …..

I am writing this aimed at readers with families who can afford Center Parcs but have got the impression over the years that it is a bit of a rip-off. They would prefer to stay in a 5-star hotel in the Algarve, including flights, for the same money.

Center Parcs Longleat review Max Burgess Molly Burgess

It IS true that the accommodation stinks in terms of value. Each lodge generates £80,000 per year, looking at the 2019 accounts – so why the £10 kettle? Even if every single guest stole every single coathanger, they could still afford ‘proper’ ones.

And yet, everything else about the place, except the food, was very well done. My kids were very happy throughout.

Center Parcs Longleat review

Even better, after leaving on Friday morning, it was only a 5 minute drive to Longleat Safari Park where we got to do the cliched ‘get monkeys climbing all over your car’ routine.

We may be back.

I know this is short and sweet, so do post any comments below and I will get to them during the day.


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Comments (192)

  • @mkcol says:

    Got to page 8 of the comments & not a single mention of Forest Holidays.
    Surprised.

    Also surprised by the frequency of people bemoaning that Center Parcs is a rip-off yet not comprehending the 97% occupancy stat – somebody is paying those prices!

    • Peter K says:

      I’ve stayed at a forest holidays. Didn’t seem much to do on site. Those that were with us who had also been to CP said it wasn’t a match on CP.

  • The Savage Squirrel says:

    So to all the “they’re always a ripoff” merchants. Thought I’d post my last stay from a few years ago as this thread made me go back and look.. Remember that weeks are longer than weekends and school terms are longer than holidays. There’s a LOT of off peak time (in a preCovid world anyway). Midweek school term time we picked basically the cheapest week in the calendar and it was £580 for 5 days in a premium chalet that held 6 (we were only 2+2 so could have gone two bedrooms, but got an extra room because it barely cost any more) . Could have got an ordinary one for £460. If you fill it then that’s lodging and access to best of class park and swim facilities for 6… less than £16/day/person. That’s cheaper than my local (a bit shit) swim park on its own; and they don’t give you a room for the night. What room and pool could you for a £32/night room anywhere else?
    Add the fact that you can arrive with all your food in the boot bought from ALDI and you have one cheap stay. The clientele reflected the pricing to some degree [snob mode on: to many of them, Cafe Rouge probably WAS a high end restaurant]. It’s probably this ability to be all things to all people that makes the business so successful. Centerparcs; it can actually be a bargain … just not at short notice in school holidays during a pandemic 😀

    • J says:

      Sounds like the way we’d want to do it!

    • Peter K says:

      ⬆️ This.

      Everyone I know that goes to CP is not fussed by the kettle etc. Most are not on a high wage and go self-catered but eat out occasionally while there. They spend maybe £80 per person per *stay*, not per night. They keep going back.

      Some are on a good wage (eg bank manager) and are snobs, but are still not fussed by the eateries available/kettle etc. They keep going back.

      CP is not overly fussed about the very rich who only go in school holidays and may not return for 5 years as the rest of the time they would rather be abroad. It’s not their core market.

  • TGLoyalty says:

    Can’t you just rock up in your car with your own kettle and toaster if you’re that bothered?

    • Harry T says:

      What if you had to sell your toaster and kettle to afford the nightly rates?

      • Number9 says:

        Then you would just be happy there was a working kettle and toaster in the lodge, even a cheap one.

      • J says:

        Rob only mentioned the hangers being unstealable 🙂

        • Erico1875 says:

          Considering most people take home the fancy toiletries from the 5 star hotels, maybe CP worry if they put Smeg kettles and toasters in, they will get nicked too 😁

    • Numpty says:

      I’d have to take my Ninja Air Fryer.

  • Andrew says:

    I’m curious Rob…

    Given that you mention your trips to Scarborough, did you ever visit “WaterScene” as a kid?

    I think it was the largest waterpark in Europe at the time. Just not the best location in the world for reliable sunshine.

  • Jonny says:

    So much snobbishness in this thread…

    I enjoy the finer things in life and stay at luxury 5* European hotels with the family each summer, but have also had a great time at Center Parcs, having been a few weeks ago and in 2019.

    We stayed at Woburn in May – kids had a weird half term week so was dirt cheap (£600 for 3 bed exec villa for 4 nights midweek). 45 min drive from our house in North London but felt as if we had truly “escaped”. The forest environment without any cars whatsoever was genuinely peaceful and relaxing, with a real “back to nature” feel but without having to slum it in a tent.

    Agree you have to be a bit organised (which obvs isn’t for everyone), but also can book stuff on the day, and able to cancel 24h in advance at Woburn. An extra swimming session was made available once we were there (so went 3 times), and spent the time swimming, exploring, relaxing and with a couple of activities each day. Lodge was v clean and staff were consistently brilliant with the kids.

    • Rob says:

      You did pay £600 vs £2,000 if your half term had aligned with the rest of the UK though …

      • Jonny says:

        Yes true. And I prob wouldn’t have paid the £2k. Though did go during school hols in summer 2019.

        Great place to go with pre-schoolers for sure. Good place to go with other friends too actually.

      • SteveD says:

        Hmm. This £2k figure keeps popping up. But at my nearest CP I can’t get the price to £2k in August 2022 until I get to the top end 3 bed – where you get your own sauna – or the 4 bed lodges. So £500 / night for two families is £250 per night. Let’s compare that to a hotel. You want the kids to have a proper bedroom and youre looking at booking 2 rooms at £125 per night, or a suite. Suddenly we’re not at the Ritz. We’re in a 4 star if you’re lucky, where the kettle is likely to be just as crap, and the rest of the kitchen completely absent. If you’d paid £500 for a room, then fair point, but its not just a room.

      • Alan says:

        Although Scottish school holidays are (apart from Christmas) almost totally different – our Bank Holidays don’t even align! Lots of opportunities for cross border bookings when it’s school holidays in one and not the other 👍

    • Michael C says:

      “So much snobbishness in this thread…
      …without having to slum it in a tent.”

      ;o)))

  • Memesweeper says:

    I’m a bit late to comment…

    Went to CP UK, at my mum’s insistence, a decade plus ago, with my siblings and their kids. All had a great time, especially the youngsters. It’s as hideously expensive but it worked for everyone (some of my family won’t fly for instance)

    A few years ago my mum suggested doing it again… I showed her the prices of CP Holland

    • Memesweeper says:

      So we went there instead. A rip roaring success of a holiday. For kids and outward bound types CP is fantastic. And if you’re concerned about the ten quid kettle — consider this … CP are just charging what the market will withstand.

  • Mark1 says:

    Ha Rob, if you did buy then over, would’ve made a very good return I’m sure! As with Brookfield. Interesting to see where the sale comes up to.

    https://news.sky.com/story/center-parcs-owner-to-weigh-exit-from-3bn-leisure-group-11830689

  • Chris H says:

    This article reminded me of the Daily Mash: https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/society/lottery-winner-blows-it-all-on-week-in-center-parcs-20180604173856

    We had a four-day stay at Bluestone in Pembrokeshire in late 2019, it was three families in a six-bedroom lodge for £1000 for four days. As others have said, when you take the need for extra bedrooms into account it suddenly looks a lot better when compared with hotel suites.

    Thanks to other commenters for recommendations about near-European equivalents. With a young family and a roofbox we are ready for a new holiday chapter…!

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