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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)

  • David says:

    The very limited swim sessions seemed the biggest let down:
    “ 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”

    • David says:

      *swim

    • Rick says:

      That was our initial thought, but aside from having to book a specific slot (and not be able to change it) it was the typical length of time we would have stayed and it made it quieter.

  • bumpmad says:

    On to page 7 of comments and no one has mentioned Bluestone.. Rob needs to head there as part of this UK lodge series 🙂 !!

    • Rick says:

      Bluestone crossed my mind too. Much less commercial, but I prefer CP for the forest setting. Bluestone golf carts are great though

    • @mkcol says:

      I’d love to try Bluestone, except they don’t allow dogs 😓

  • LewisB says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these comments this afternoon. Best thread in a while.

    • LewisB says:

      +1 for a review of Butlins, Pontins, Haven, and Bluestone!

      • Jonty says:

        I’m IHG spire, Hilton gold, and absolutely loved Butlins Just for Tots breaks when my kids were preschoolers. Accommodation pretty basic but did the job, staff brilliant.

  • Michael C says:

    Just to say thanks to for the Dutch/Danish places that have been recommended.
    Any French top tips? I know some friends from Swiss Jura swore by them for years (sort of cabin-in-woods + pools places) but don’t have any names at hand.

    • Flyingbee says:

      CP have several cabin-in-wood places in the northern half of France. They also have Villages Nature which is CP style with less woods, and next door to Disneyland Paris (it’s a partner hotel for Disneyland Paris). I’ve never been to any of them to be able to give a recommendation. If you’re planning a trip in summer then check the air conditioning availability.

      Center Parcs in France is part of Pierre et Vacances who are a very large French tourism company with many domains and residences. We use a Pierre et Vacances self catering residence when we go skiing and also for a summer holiday and our experience has always been positive.

  • FlightDoctor says:

    We have been CP regulars (usually at least once a year) since the kids were toddlers and they are now young teens. Often been a half term or pre Xmas additional holiday in pre COVID days but it became our main summer holiday last year. Mainly Woburn but did Longleat the first week they opened up in April. Whilst you can easily secure more exotic trips for the same amount, we like the formula and usually come back feeling fitter after all the extensive cycling and waking round the park! Peak season pricing IS very high for sure, and it’s interesting to observe how there are always far more luxury cars around on those weeks!

  • AJA says:

    I have read this review and the comments several times today. This is definitely not a place I want to go to so I don’t really care whether the kettle is “worth” £10 or £1,000. Nor do I care that the hangers are non-removable, I’ve stayed in some swanky hotels where this is the case.

    My view is that a half-term booking made at relatively short notice is going to be expensive regardless of what you book and that you are paying that much “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.”

    I am amazed that it has 97% occupancy rates but judging by the generally positive comments Center Parcs seem to have a winning formula so good luck to them.

    As a test I just tried booking a Premier Inn in Bournemouth for two adults and two kids in the next couple of weeks and according to the website they are sold out so I think Rob was lucky to even get into Center Parcs.

  • Martin says:

    I’ve stayed once at centre parks.
    Never planned to return.

    However at beginning of May I looked at booking again, although couldn’t justify spending 2k for 4 nights.

    Thought we’d slum it at butlins bognor, again couldn’t justify £1500 for 4 nights with no food for 3.

    I think the moral was I’d of gone anywhere if the price was right..

    On this instance it wasn’t, I knew if I did I’d be moaning the whole time about the price of the room and looking for faults and I would of definitely been annoyed at the kettle.

  • Mikeact says:

    I think it’s the kids that gets us grown ups hooked . Years ago, we won a weeks stay with them in Holland somewhere, I think it was courtesy of Typhoon Tea with a crossing on the Olau ferry from Sheerness! When we arrived, we weren’t expected, which was a bit surprising! But they pulled out all the stops and it was a really good week, with a couple of free dinners and breakfast thrown in. Obviously, the kids loved it, round about 4,5 and 7yrs. Back in the UK “Can we go again?” “Of course “, says my wife..Two further UK visits was enough. Decided then on Eurocamp which was a massive hit. That started the tent, camping trailer and then caravan.
    Interestingly the kids still talk about those early holidays..floods…forest fires….breakdowns….etc. etc.
    I guess it’s horses for courses, but ultimately we would never go the CP again..it’s somebody else’s turn.

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