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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)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Tony says:

    I think the point about add on costs probably needs some context. Spent a weekend in the highlands with my 11 yr old son at the end of the half term.

    The costs soon rack up – we did two military history sites on day 1 – £50. Rib ride and clay pigeons on day two cost £150. Quad bikes and segways on day three cost another £150. So the CP premium probably isnt that high – but we did get top notch accommodation for about half what you paid.

  • Michael C says:

    Our experience v much like Rob’s: everyone had a good time (though spent hours in each day in water place), but it’s impossible not to compare. We did the shorter w/end, but worked out at the time that a week would be the same as flying econ. + hotel for a week in Bali. The eateries (Cumbria) were pretty sad. Everyone recommends cabins in French equivalents – will def. do that one summer.
    As regards water-park facilities, the new one just approved for Bicester is set to be…the biggest in Europe, I believe?!

  • Nick says:

    I think it’s hilarious that everyone is comparing them to European equivalents or longhaul holidays… totally missing the point that these are not available right now. Hence why Rob went in the first place. So they’re not a suitable alternative at all!

    What annoys me most about these clowns is that they refuse to spell ‘Centre’ correctly.

    • Numpty says:

      Yeah, clowns! It’s not as if it’s a noun and can be spelled any way they choose.

      The spelling of parcs is nuts too.

      Centre Parks.

    • J says:

      This guy’s gonna lose it when he learns where the words Hotel and Restaurant come from!

    • Mike says:

      Nick – have a lie down if the hot weather is getting to you

  • Gabriel says:

    Enjoyed the article immensely, especially the whole “yes, I had to live like a peasant for a week, but remember, I once thought about buying the farm” vibe. Sounds like a fascinating place for kids!

  • Laura says:

    My friends were trying to persuade me to join them on a group trip to CP.

    Never been and have no desire to go, and this review didn’t really change anything. Organised, expensive ‘fun’ doesn’t really appeal to me.

    I can see why some people would go, especially with kids, but definitely not for me

  • Lady London says:

    So Rob, like a certain US blogger who reviewed a *hostel* in Tokyo as though he was staying there…. After extolling the joyous details of his luxury flight in First Class on his ANA? flight from the US to get there… reviewed the Tokyo hostel where he was staying, in favorable terms.

    And then, so far as I can guess, slunk off to the Park Hyatt (not reviewed) with his female companionship? 🙂

  • Paul says:

    My brother took his family a couple of years ago. His view was a fool and their money are soon parted.
    They should wear masks

  • Mark E says:

    So many people who think they can go else where for half the price right now. No you can’t. Not right now.

    CP is a business who are almost always fully booked, they are industry leaders and for good reason. Go try it before you knock it from your lockdown deprived family semi in the heart of *some outskirts of london place*

    • Anna says:

      Nobody has said that. These prices are nothing unusual for CP, the point is that they are are always a rip off!

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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