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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)

  • Tts says:

    Whilst I agree with some of the comments highlighting how good London is there really is nothing close at all in terms of swimming/water parks anywhere near London, a missed opportunity

    • Stanley says:

      Liquid leisure is superb.

      • A says:

        That looks like it is entirely outside and so cold – suspect OP was talking about a large indoor heated water park

    • Mike P says:

      If you want an indoor slide experience there’s also Coral Reef in Bracknell. Right by Swinley forest too (so can go for a bike ride) or on their Go Ape course.

      I guess it still counts as nearish London!

    • lev441 says:

      Watford springs and Aquasplash in Hemel were my two favourite places growing up as a kid… Nothing like this anymore close to London…!

  • Chris Heyes says:

    I thought it was excellent when I Stayed with my kids though it was around 30 years ago, (maybe more) kids loved Centre Parks, both of them was only two at the time I recall.
    The original owner Trever Hemmings now has racehorses won Grand National few years ago.
    I’m bias about Centre Parks mainly because I had shares in some of Trever’s ventures (a lot)
    Because of my shares, It only cost me £100 per week, yes more than a full week July Fri/Monday
    Only managed one week each park at £100 would I pay full price probably
    Never did though, mainly because I’d bought two time shares at Osborne House Torquay
    I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off going my kids thought it was brill, better than any Holiday abroad (but that’s kids)

  • Flyingbee says:

    Lalandia in Billund (Denmark) is similar setup to CP with lodges and large indoor water park, but without the woodland settings and not so many activities. However Legoland is on the doorstep.

    We (me, husband and two primary school age kids) stayed a week outside of most European school holidays (some of France and the Netherlands on holiday) around the first week of May a couple of years ago. The weather at that time of year was particularly variable and went between slapping on sun cream hot and sunny through to rain with sleet in one week!

    We bought annual passes for Legoland and went there most days with the late afternoon spent at the Lalandia water park.

    I had planned ahead for making our breakfast and evening meals back at the lodge so took plenty of supplies with us and topped up with fresh stuff from the local supermarket.

    Lunches were very expensive (everywhere) but we got a discount at some of the Legoland restaurants with our annual passes. We had an eye wateringly expensive lunch at the Lego House, but what’s interesting is that even a couple of years later they will occasionally mention how wonderful it was!

    Even though we only went for a week with no plans to return within the year, it worked out that Legoland annual passes were good value due to discounts at some restaurants, the shop and Lego House entry. It also worked out well with the kids doing several short days at Legoland and then going to the water later in the day.

    We’re planning to go back sometime when things are more back to normal!

    • Tim says:

      I was going to mention Lalandia as a far better alternative to CentreParcs and one that is vastly cheaper and one where because the Danish and UK schools holidays are different you can visit “off peak”. Also a more relevant location (in normal times) for a points and miles site because you can get to Billund and Copenhagen with BA. They have two locations – Lalandia Billund is next to Legoland (again much better than the Windsor one – cheaper and in the Danish school holidays much quieter) and the Rodby one is at the seaside.

  • Mark says:

    We are going to center parcs Elveden forest week after next for the first time, and probably wouldn’t have even considered it in a non covid world. The booking of activities is ridiculous (we only knew because friends told us about the 4 week thing), but with a young family self catering is always the safer option. I must also disagree on decor; although it wouldn’t keep Carrie Symonds happy it looks clean and modern from the pics and should give a comfortable place to enjoy a beer once the kids are in bed

    • Rob says:

      My pics (which are actual pics I took) also make the accommodation look posher than it is!

      • Lady London says:

        Why don’t you go the full hog and go Youth Hostels, Rob?

  • LST says:

    We are going to the Woburn one in August, simply because a foreign holiday looks to be either very unlikely to occur by then and even then looks to be too much hassle with young kids in tow.
    To be honest, I am fully expecting it to be dreadful and overpriced for the experience, especially as guest have extremely limited use of the pool dome. No doubt the great British weather will put the kybosh on the whole week as well.

    • Anna says:

      Go to a Haven site instead. You may well still hate it but at least you’ll have a lot more money left at the end of your stay. Kids don’t know the difference! After our first ever visit when my son was 7 he declared it was better than Disney World 🤣

      • Freddy says:

        Oh yeah In August you will be stuck with awful weather! We go camping in August and the last few years we’ve had to contend with constant rain and gale force winds. Can’t wait to see Rob’s review of camping!

  • Nick G says:

    I’ve been as a day visitor to friends a few times who have stayed at CP Sherwood Forest, as we leave a few miles away from them. Every time I’ve drove away I think to myself thank god I’m not staying there…

    My brain would not allow me to pay the total and utter rip off prices/cheap quality lodges/scuffed walls everywhere and cheap bathroom/general run a shoe string budget maintenance/mud bath to park my car in in a million years

    Why people do it I have no idea but….horses for courses. If it makes people happy then so be it. Just not my idea of a fun holiday

    • Rob says:

      Don’t get this comment at all. We stay at SF CP regularly and I’m used to 4 and 5 star hotels for my business trips. Woodland (basic) is equivalent to say a Holiday Inn. Executives a bit better still. Exclusives at CP are well up there with the best 4 and 5 star accommodation you can get. Treehouses are frankly ridiculous well specked, with hot tubs, steam rooms, full games room, beds that cost thousands etc.,

      I think there are some people who haven’t been since CP UK split from SP Europe. You used to have almost caravan “comfort” accommodation, but that’s been gone for years. You made and stripped your own bed etc., it was basically a Dutch holiday park model. Even had “natural” spa sessions etc. It was bought by an investment group in the early 00s I believe. Standards have risen sharply from the European model, although I gather many of the CP Europe have now largely followed suit as well now.

      • Nick G says:

        But you don’t pay several hundred pounds a night to stay in a HI?…well maybe someone does but not me!

        I don’t see how you can compare a hotel to CP. Hotels are designed for specific customer types just like CP are. The point I make and others have if I had/wanted to spend that kind of money per night you should (in your cabin setting) be getting the best toaster/kettle etc. In my experience which is limited they are like a large hire car firm. Only replace tyres when absolutely necessary, charge the earth, full of catches, and scratches and dents, no leniency, then look for extracting every single penny out of you for what is already expensive.

        If your happy paying for it good on you….. I and others put a different value on our money.

        Rob – I forgot to add earlier if you’re happy and had a great time then that’s all that matters.

        • Rob says:

          Absolutely. With CP your not just paying for the accommodation, so comparing with hotels simply not apples with apples. But I just picked up on the “cheap quality lodges/scuffed walls everywhere and cheap bathroom/general run a shoe string budget maintenance” comment. Not my experience in recent times even in the most budget accommodation. You equally wouldn’t expect a 3 star hotel like HI to have “scuffed walls” etc. I just thought the comment was a little harsh. Makes the place sound like a dump, or a Haven / Pontins type place and it just isn’t.

          Anyway, as you say, it’s what you enjoy. 🙂

        • Chris Heyes says:

          Nick G But kids don’t care about Kettle, Toaster ect All they care about is having a fabulous time and going off exploring by themselves without parents to say don’t do this don’t do that
          Although there are some kids who like to tag along with parents
          But which is more fun, my kids had freedom as long as they learnt how to get back first.
          When I was 12 I used to bike to Ribchester wade over River Ribble in undys bike over head build a fire in a hollow I’d dug, catch a trout wrap in Banana skins that was my dinner. sleep overnight in a fold away sleeping bag, ride back Sunday
          That’s when you know your parents trust you and yes only 12
          I always made sure fire was out, with water from river

  • LST says:

    We have also booked an overnight stay at Chessington for the first week of the kid’s summer holidays. As most schools will not have broken up by then, it was a very reasonable £300 for the hotel, two days in the park and breakfast and dinner for the two kids and I – the wife hates theme parks so refuses to come!
    Again, hopefully the weather will be good, but that is always the great unknown about UK vacations.

  • JOHN MATRIX says:

    Most people that visited in the 90s would likely agree that Blackrock ruined them. Too much development, too many new villas, flat screen tvs on every wall and the church being turned into a Starbucks kind sums it up (no, I’m not religious). The original ethos has largely died sadly.

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