Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Review: Center Parcs Longleat Forest

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

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.


Hotel offers update – September 2021:

Want to earn more hotel points?  Click here to see our complete list of promotions from the major hotel chains or use the ‘Hotel Offers’ link in the menu bar at the top of the page.

Want to buy hotel points? There are currently special offers running with Marriott Bonvoy (‘mystery’ 45% or 50% bonus to 25th September), Hilton Honors (100% bonus to 30th September) and World of Hyatt (30% bonus to 31st October).

Comments (192)

  • M says:

    I think the appeal of being in a no-car environment, bikes, woodland and nature is quite strong. Have very fond memories of visiting as a child and teenager.

    Agree that I’m not sure I can justify the price difference now in comparison to a trip to Europe.

    I think the points re. Run down and maintenance in comments miss the point. Although the fit out of the lodges are no better than a Premier Inn, fundamentally the maintenance and cleanliness is on point – you’d regularly see workers fixing things that I’ve seen plenty of 4/5 star hotels ignore.

    On activities the difference is the ease of everything being 10-15 mins from each other. I never get the prices were far off what you might pay elsewhere.

    Agree re. European villages, but also finding a U.K. one that has different local school holidays.

    • Rick says:

      Totally agree on maintenance. We had a dishwasher swapped out within an hour of reporting it faulty in a previous stay.

  • Mark says:

    We’ve done cp on various occasions, from basic lodges to the top end ones with hot tubs and had various experiences, yes it’s expensive but I have to agree with rob, the facilities and cleanliness are excellent.

    But it’s expensive for what it costs.

    I’ve just booked two cruises around the U.K. with Royal Caribbean 1 x 7 night two balcony cabins for 4 people at a cost of £180pp and an 8 night two balcony cabins for £378pp albeit I used my casino loyalty vouchers I also booked a 14 night cruise in the summer holidays next year for £900pp. This is amazing value. Full board and includes pretty much all activities including the sky diving simulator, bumper cars, flo-rider, kids club etc. Fantastic value for money.

  • Ed says:

    Definitely agree with Rob that food is very average, definitely an area they could / should improve upon. The convenience of it is surely the selling point. No faffing with airports and transport options, no need to research options as everything is there.

  • Erico1875 says:

    Similar to CPs is Duinrell in Holland https://www.duinrell.com

    • Yvo says:

      Shhh!

      Don’t tell everyone about Duinrell!

      Once they know there’s a theme park on site and it’s an easy drive from the Harwich to Hook of Holland ferry, they will all want to go!

      That pancake house by the entrance is mentioned in my household more often than is healthy…

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      On a similar theme in the Netherlands we had a great stay at Hof Van Saksen. Not quite the range of activities, but still a nice on-site natural setting, great facilities, considerably cheaper than peak-price CP and lodging and food considerably higher quality.

      https://www.hofvansaksen.com/resort#filter:e30=

      • Andrew says:

        +1 – see my earlier comment. We loved it here and the ferry plus accommodation cost was far cheaper than a week at CP 20 mins from our house.

        The rapids were better at Hof van Saksen, too.

        Plus there were Stroopwafel…

        • The Savage Squirrel says:

          Yes, exactly our experience with price too;
          …and you can choose to chuck in a night or two in wonderful Amsterdam for the perfect trip and you now have a brilliant 7-night holiday for the same cost of 4 days in CP.

          • Andrew says:

            Exactly that although we stayed a couple of nights in Rotterdam on the way back to the ferry. Interconnecting rooms (sold as a family room) at the Hilton and a day around the city was wonderful. I was super-impressed with Rotterdam.

            A lovely boat tour of the harbour and a trip to the Maritime Museum made for a brilliant day before heading to the overnight ferry.

  • E says:

    I’ve only been to the Lake District one as part of a large family get-together (which the kids loved and the adults didn’t..). Wouldn’t return as I have no kids myself.

    However my cleaner, who is close friends with one of the senior people in CP, is also their main ‘tester’ of new sites. She, and her family, get sent to stay at each new site or new type of accommodation on existing sites and she reports back on what it’s like for the customer.

    • Rob says:

      No disprespect to your cleaner, but sending someone who can afford to pay £500 per night would perhaps get more accurate feedback ….

      • E says:

        I guess they trust her! They must get feedback from other sources as well.

      • Navara says:

        Is it not £125pp per night.How do you know the cleaner doesn’t normally spend £500 pound per night. Her husband is probably a land owning farmer in Cumbria…..

      • Callum says:

        You do know saying “no disrespect” doesn’t then give you a free pass to be disrespectful? Have you been spending time with the “I’m not racist but…” crowd!

        And yes, insinuating that someone you deem poor couldn’t possibly comprehend what a wealthy person might like is incredibly disrespectful. Not least given we’re talking about Center Parcs, not some fancy 5* hotel.

        • Rob says:

          Callum, we appreciate your attempts to be woke but this is clearly nonsense.

          If someone offered me a job testing out a new BAME make-up range, or a LGBTQ+ holiday resort, or testing cars (I don’t own one), or debugging video games, I’d turn it down. In fact, I should never be offered the role in the first place. If you never spend £500 per night on hotels, you don’t know what a person who spends £500 per night on hotels expects, or usually gets.

          • Freddy says:

            Those spending £500 per night at centre parcs is a completely different demographic to those spending £500 per night in 5* hotels and both have different expectations.

            I’d say that the cleaner has this job due to her contacts with the big cheese but also as cleaner she has an eye for detail and knows the precise standards CP sets out rather than a subjective opinion of a points blogger, no disrespect of course!

          • Rob says:

            It’s the same demographic, because they are two interchangeable options. We would have been in a £500 per night hotel somewhere in Europe, I’m sure, if it wasn’t for covid. The money comes from the same holiday budget for most people.

            Or are you seriously suggesting that someone who spends £500 per night at Center Parcs stays in a £49 1-star hotel when they go on a normal holiday?

          • Callum says:

            Do you even know what the word “woke” means?

            I know you’re generally a snob, but I can assure you that poor people can know full well what a CENTRE PARC LODGE experience should be like. It’s not a luxurious 5* hotel room us proles could never dream of setting foot it, it’s not a make up designed for people of a different race, it’s not something that requires a unique skill or ability to experience.

            Perhaps this is why you’re so confused? You weren’t on a fancy luxury resort, you were on an everyday holiday park that just had the standard school holiday premium put on the pricetag.

          • Rob says:

            Woburn cost £250 MILLION to build. These are NOT everyday holiday parks. This is why you confused 🙂

            If you had a couple of self-catering cottages in your grounds which you let out, and which brought in £80,000 per year each, would you spend more than £100 in total on the kettle, toaster, coat hangers and wall art?!

            What IS true, obviously, is that at 97% occupancy it is clear that this isn’t a problem.

            However, if you read the comments in this thread you will see that they ARE missing out because they still are not attracting high earners – it is mainly mid-level earners who have to stretch themselves to afford the rates, but these people will do less discretionary spending when they are there.

            We would happily have spent more money with them if it had been set up better. It could, easily, have a high-end ‘no kids’ restaurant for example – we would have gone one night (my kids can entertain themeselves these days).

          • Freddy says:

            What I am suggesting is that a typical visitor to centre parcs paying £500 per night isn’t fussed over the kettle or art on the wall. They have gone there for the overall package of the swimming complex, the woodland area and miles of bike riding along with it being child friendly.

            In my youth and pre-children I wouldn’t have gone to centre parcs. My £500 per night would have bought me a very nice room with 1 comfy bed and fancy kettle albeit with no real kitchen facilities. Expectations and needs are very different

          • J says:

            I know a hedge fund manager who’s mum is a cleaner – she refuses to quit despite money being a non issue!

          • Callum says:

            They’re not attracting high earners because it’s a UK family holiday park… It’s not a fancy self contained cottage. Give your ridiculous analogies a rest.

            Not that I’m remotely interested in arguing about this. My point was simply that it IS disrespectful to say that someone you don’t know the first thing about isn’t suitable to review a Centre Parcs lodge because you deem them to be too poor if they’re a cleaner.

            It IS disrespectful and unless you have a valid argument that doesn’t involve comparing a basic forest lodge to a BAME makeup brand or Ritz hotel room, this is pointless.

          • Andrew says:

            Maybe. You don’t know who else she is cleaner to though. They may have experience of extremely high expectations.

            There can’t be many bankers or CEOs who haven’t sent in their lower paid staff, or even their cleaner, to check out a client or competitor.

            Besides, I understand my former boss is now working as a cleaner – after a 10 year prison sentence for fraud. He was accustomed to staying in luxurious hotels before he was caught.

        • KBuffett says:

          It’s not disrespectful.
          Experience plays a big part of expectations.

          • Freddy says:

            Centre parcs know their target market and I can’t see a adults only high end restaurant would fit with its family market. If you needed to invest at centre parcs would you pick what you’d like or a pizza express. I know the one I would

          • Rob says:

            They already have 10 restaurants, all targeting the same market. Makes no sense.

            They close the 2 Starbucks at 5pm to avoid cannibalising their evening food sales.

          • The Savage Squirrel says:

            They’ve tried a few different iterations of restaurants in their time. If it’s not there, you can assume it didn’t work.
            Bear in mind that outside peak weeks (i.e. over 50% of the time) CP is a low to mid price, almost budget destination.
            High end adults only restaurant is dead space for 2 of 3 meal services.
            It doesn’t speak to 90% of the market (families with younger kids; outoors adventure types)
            It doesn’t fit at all on midweek non-peak with budget-conscious visitors – so probably closed then completely.

            It also clashes very violently with their brand and TV advertising (rediscover yourself in the simplicity of nature, time with family together, etc, etc).

            All in all, it just doesn’t work; even with high pricing almost any other restaurant format makes more sense and more money within the same space.

        • Harry T says:

          If you are wealthy, you have very different expectations when you stay somewhere expensive, which is largely driven by prior experience staying at places in a similar price bracket. When I’m considering whether to spend £500 a night on accommodation, I’m not interested in the opinion of people who can’t afford to pay that price or have only visited as a special occasion. I want to hear from people with the necessary discernment based on relevant experience – because the small details really do matter when it comes to a proper luxury stay. If you’ve only ever stayed at budget to mid market properties, you’re going to think a Ritz-Carlton, Luxury Collection, Park Hyatt etc are fantastic by default. This is one reason why tripadvisor can be such a poor source of relevant opinion.

      • Numpty says:

        Ever watched Four In A Bed? U should have knocked a tenner off the bill for the cheap kettle and artwork.

        Next week, Butlins!

        • Rob says:

          They definitely do attract the high earners. You have a look at the cars parked outside the treehouses 😁. 7 nights in one of those over Xmas this year would set you back £12,499. No point looking though as theyve sold out! Wish I’d bought shares in the 90s!

  • Oxonboy says:

    A deliberately provocative article? Rob came across a bit snobbish.

    Have nothing but positive experiences at all the CPs we went to with the kids (done them all except Sherwood) when they were younger. Wife still does girls weekends off peak. Great spas apparently. Looking forward to revisiting with the grandkids.

    Kids loved the ability to roam and cycle in a safe traffic free environment. We loved the space and freedom of self catering without the stuffiness found in many hotels.

    Big benefit

    • Rob says:

      Why is it snobbish to suggest that someone who pays £500 per night should have a better kettle than a £10 one? Do you think that middle class people who save up for a pricey break so their kids can try new things should be dumped on and ripped off with poor quality products? My brother goes to Center Parcs in the school holidays once every couple of years and a 4-day break there would represent between 5%-10% of his and his wife’s combined annual post-tax income.

      There actually seems to be universal agreement to what I wrote.

      Part of the reason this site works is that we actually take a realistic view of expensive holiday options and give proper feedback on them. In truth, there are very few places online where you can get genuine feedback on high-end holiday options.

      • J says:

        I looked a couple of years ago, and outside of school holidays, the prices were around £80-120 per night. A £10 kettle doesn’t seem out of place at that rate. People pay £500+ for Ryanair flights at peak times, doesn’t mean they’re getting anything more than a paper cup with their hot water and teabag mix.

      • Richie says:

        I’d want a quiet kettle costing at least £50, why should I get £10 kettle noise when I’m paying full whack per night?

      • Chris Heyes says:

        Rob, Although I fully agree with you Rob it seems like someone rocked your boat lol
        When we stopped at the only two CPs at the time I cooked manly on the outside BBQ never went near a restaurant (hmm my partner says there was 3 CPs at the time)
        Weather was always excellent them days lol
        Even now when we are abroad we only have one meal in the hotel we are staying at, we like to try a differant restaurant every night
        We are a Breakfast (very early) and Evening meal only only back to Hotel to sleep after Lounge access
        So not appropriately dressed for high end restaurants although we do sometimes say sod it and go in lol the looks other diners give us is worth it
        To be honest CPs is the only low end holiday place we’ve stopped at
        The kids loved it especially going off by themselves
        We now don’t like Hotels that cater for kids attracts way to many of them
        Same reason we don’t like London even off peak to many people, get shut of 3/4 of tourist’s it would probably be bearable
        I bet during peak Covid London would have been a good place to visit except shops shut and not allowed lol
        London to me seems rush rush pavements full to bursting

      • Tim says:

        And how much as a % of your combined annual post-tax income does it represent old boy? 🙂 It just makes you sound unnecessarily superior throwing out that sort of comment. And it’s not the first time either.

    • Harry T says:

      It’s sort of like when you pay £15-20 for a cocktail in the bar of a high end hotel – you don’t expect them to serve you cheap olives with your drinks because you are paying for a higher quality experience.

  • Isherwood says:

    +1 for going to these places but heading out of the UK. We use Landal Green Parks in the Netherlands and the kids love Bollo their ranger mascot (as do all the Dutch, young and old). Whereas, as has been mentioned, I love the fact that Dutch kids go back to school mid-August so prices drop considerably after this date. Weather can be variable of course. The prices on the UK website are not always tied in to their ‘NL’ one (in English) so check both. Landal has sites in many countries, incl the UK. They take Amex.

  • James Vickers says:

    It is very nice to spend a few days in an environment with no cars and always find it to be relaxing. We visited when the pool was closed and was even more relaxing and cost £169 total due to discount, shame it isn’t always that!

    We aren’t ever impressed by food but had a very nice meal and drinks at sports cafe which also had mobile ordering.

    It’s unfortunate if restricted to school holidays due to pricing otherwise you can get some very good deals on a Monday to Friday and I’ve had great visits over winter.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.