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.
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)
- 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
- 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
- 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 …..
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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