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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)

  • Yvo says:

    Kids love CP and they don’t mind kettle quality!

    I’m not sure they are deliberately appealing to people who can afford the higher rates, this is just market forces at play in school holidays.

    Completely agree CP here are great but those in the know nip to the Netherlands/Germany where they have a different school holiday schedule and pay a fraction of the price for what is often an even better experience – always book on the local site if you do this, it’s cheaper.

    *I know some people love the Belgium ones and whilst also an option, I’ve always found the French ones more aligned to our pricing dates.

    ** Additional City Banker Fact – I worked with a rival who said they are the largest spa provider in the country, nobody comes close to being as consistently booked out for treatments as CP as across the UK sites.

    • Lottie says:

      Agree, been to Holland and France, you get all the facilities and even with the crossing, it’s still cheaper, and feels more like a holiday. It was always a good excuse to fill up the car with wine on the way home too.

    • Chris says:

      Another vote for Europe. We went to one In Holland which was great and felt like we were having a bit of a holiday abroad too

  • KBuffett says:

    The spa at Centre Parcs Woburn is awesome. Very very clean and well run, truly 5 star and huge.

    On another note, I’ve stayed at many too end hotels and I don’t recall anyl where they have anything other than a cheapo kettle that takes 10 mins to boil!!

    • Jody says:

      I agree, have done their twilight spa sessions a few times with a friend and loved it.

    • Mike White says:

      Seasons at Bude has one of those kettles that tells you the temperature…..and proper coat hangers.

    • Harry T says:

      You can tell how good a hotel is by the quality of the bathroom and tea and coffee making facilities.

      • Rob says:

        New Hampton by Hilton hotels now have Smeg kettles as standard. These are £140 at retail. See our recent review of the Ealing hotel.

        • Numpty says:

          And that same Smeg kettle gets terrible reviews from long term users.

          It costs even more to buy it in Harrods if that helps anyone?!?

          • JRC says:

            Dualit Kettle and Toasters. Had some for our wedding 10 years ago and apart from the little plastic see through bit are bomb proof. Annoyingly EU energy rules mean the newer ones have to be lower wattage therefore slower to boil.

  • Adrian Norris says:

    We had family holidays in 3 Belgium CP’s some 30 years ago. Seems absolutely nothing has changed in all that time. Everyone still talks about the good memories from time to time – despite considerably more exotic holidays having followed.
    If it ain’t broke…..

    • pauldb says:

      Particularly recommend De Vossemeren in Belgium if you have young children. As well as the Aqua Dome there is a large indoor pirate themed water playground so between the two it keeps them busy (post Covid when unrestricted). Combined with some of the theme parks nearby (Efteling, Toverland, Phantasialand) it makes a great alternative holiday. Unlikely things reopen fully in time but the start of our Christmas holidays this year are earlier the BE, so that’s a arbitrage opportunity.

      Unless you go to The newest (Park Allgau) the European ones are much older than the UK ones. Many have refurbished lodges but the main buildings are rather more tired, but easy to look past that.

  • Tim says:

    French CPs are for sure worth a visit too!

  • ChrisW says:

    This is why I don’t have children.

  • SammyJ says:

    “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.”

    Sod the Algarve, I can get our family of 4 to Florida for a week (or more) on economy flights, in a 4* hotel with a hire car for the same money, and spend a grand on far better activities and food than I’ll get in Center Parcs!

    • KBuffett says:

      I think it’s abundantly clear that this destination was chosen due to Covid related travel uncertainties and restrictions.

    • George1976 says:

      Can you get to Florida? Without having to spend 14 days outside of the U.K.? Not right now you can’t and no one can say for sure when you will

    • Anna says:

      Sod Florida, I can get 3 weeks in the Cayman Islands in a 3 bed/3 bath condo with CW flights (2 on avios, 1 cash) and car hire for £5k, which works out at half the nightly price of Center Parcs (in normal times, clearly).

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      No you can’t. Don’t be silly.

      You may very likely be able to do that at some point in the future; but that’s very different…

      • Anna says:

        The point is that even in the future CP prices will be this high!

    • Dawn says:

      I’m due to do 3 months in Florida Oct- Dec using our 2-4-1 and just getting car rental. No accommodation costs at all, staying in Naples and Clearwater in beautiful 2 and 3 bed/2 bath homes. All thanks to home exchange 🙂 I know it doesn’t suit everyone but it’s the one way we can afford to travel….when Covid allows of course.

  • Scallder says:

    +1 for the European ones. I know it’s a completely different time of year but we stayed at one of the Belgian parks in a lodge with a sauna for 7 nights, last week of January last year with daily delivery of fresh bread in the morning for €700.

    Activities at the European ones, along with the food, won’t cause you to take a second mortgage too!

    Very disicult having visited the European parks to look at the UK ones and see them as anything other than massively overpriced.

    Whilst only 2 check in dates you can obviously stay for long if you want, so do a week from either Monday or Friday…

    Off to Longleat next weekend actually so our little one will definitely enjoy the monkeys 🙂 If anyone needs accommodation in the area would highly recommend Bistrot Lotte in Frome. Very nice affordable family rooms (can actually sleep up to 4 adults) and the restaurant is excellent.

  • Olly says:

    I’ve got a big family booking for 12 of us at Whinfell in October half term. I’m hoping and praying the activity pre-booking requirements are lifted by then.

    • Ed says:

      I think it’s more of a case of things getting fully booked, than a mandated requirement to book in advance.

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