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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)

  • Sandra says:

    Never been to the UK parks because of the cost compared to the European CPs. We went to the European parks several times in the early 2000s in the good old days when you could also use Tesco vouchers to pay for the overseas parks but not the UK parks for some reason. The kids loved them when they were young.

  • Harry T says:

    I have no children but did stay at a Centre Parcs in the UK a few years back with my gf of the time and her family. I actually had a really lovely time, which I didn’t expect. It’s very pleasant to cycle or walk around the forest and just relax.

    • Rob says:

      I thought the same thing.

      If it wasn’t for family etc etc, I can imagine that – if I could get it for £75 or so per day out of season, during term dates – it would actually be a pleasant place just to hunker down and have a few quiet days away.

      It is actually the dream option for a Londoner. Our lodge (in the middle of a forest, remember) had a Starbucks within literally 5 minutes walk 🙂

    • John says:

      You don’t need to stay right in the forest to do that.

  • Mark says:

    Have stayed in several CPs across Europe, and thoroughly enjoyed them all, in fact when travel gets less bureaucratic we will be returning. Allgäu in Germany is a great option both for the quality of the parc and as a base to see many cool sites in the region (Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein….)

  • PM says:

    I feel defeated.

    We could be raging against the Government rules, discussing unfairness of the system which forces you to pay for three tests while you still need to isolate, share ideas on the cheapest test providers, brainstorming how to make international travel possible again.

    We are sharing tips on caravan parks in UK instead.

    • Freddy says:

      Better get used to it, your escape from virus island will become more and more difficult and doesn’t fit with the government zero covid plan

    • Rob says:

      Can’t you do both? I go to CP (it’s not a caravan park and you know it, Mr Provocative! 😉). , I’ve also got a trip booked to SFO on Avios in Club World booked. Ps any tips of either appreciated 🙈😅

    • Anna says:

      There are more comments on this thread than on the daily chat 🤣

    • Chris Heyes says:

      PM you are defeated lol
      What do you think raging about tests or system would get you ?
      a load of useless comments saying I agree, I disagree ?
      All totally useless
      It’s like saying we shouldn’t pay this, do that
      You have to regardless whatever you or anyone else thinks doesn’t matter
      Right or wrong doesn’t matter either
      Unless your just after a lot of single lines saying it’s not right lol

  • Malcolm says:

    We stayed at Longleat a few years ago – the lodge was v poor – toilet leaked, toaster kept tripping the fuse box and the tv didn’t work. They fixed all these things when we complained and gave us some compensation.

    I remember my wife on her hands and knees cleaning the bathroom floor and then thinking… “what am I doing – I’m paying £300 a night for this”!!

    Sounds like the water park was good due to social distancing – but in normal times it was an overcrowded nightmare!! Changing rooms were way too small for number of people.

    Having said all that – the kids loved it and we actually had a great time

  • Tariq says:

    From a sample of a couple of visits, getting into your lodge before 4pm is discretionary and subject to availability. From my last visit a couple of years ago, the ParcMarket looked like a white label Tesco Metro.

    Would be interested in anybody’s experience of the hotel at Woburn as looks like a slightly more luxurious option. Main problem I found in the height of summer in a lodge was managing the temperature.

    • Rob says:

      No longer discretionary it seems, because the locks operate via RFID wristbands, so they can be disabled until 4pm and turned off at 10am on departure day.

      • Rob says:

        Shouldn’t put this one here. But I don’t believe the locks are centrally controlled. I believe how it actually works is the bands are activated, the cleaners locally activate. We know as last year when it was 4pm checkin we got into our lodge well before that using the bands. Basically once ready, try it if you want to get in early. Obviously you can’t officially move your car until 4 to put your stuff in (although that also usually opens early as well)

  • Rick says:

    ParcMarket is essentially Coop

  • TopGuy says:

    I can summarise this in few words. While Rob’s kids had a great time, Rob himself is more spolied by staying in luxury properties and couldn’t digest the price tag for an average lodge and hence the article. You can hate the kettles or whatever you want, you know that your kids are gonna love it. And there is no match for center parcs UK. Btw..the continent center parcs has nothing to do with the UK one, apart from sharing the brand and logo, they are separate companies now. The UK one is owned by property asset manager called Brookfield. So direct all your center parcs complaints to their IR. Lol

    • Rob says:

      Sounds about right 🙂

      With the distinction that actually my kids are more spoiled than me, because I spent my childhood on caravan parks in Filey ….

    • Tracey says:

      Would be ideal if you could drop off the kids and collect a few days later. No traffic to worry about, relatively safe environment. Young teens could probably amuse themselves with no parental supervision.

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