Last month we went to Center Parcs in Longleat, I have gone back and forth over what to share about our trip but in the end I have decided to give an honest account about our stay.
We had been wanting to visit Center Parcs for ages, well, Sam had. He has fab memories from being a teenager and going there. Until now we had been put off by the cost, it just seemed such a dear do! But Sam assured me it would be worth every penny.
For the first time in 5 years I am making money of my own, so decided to treat us all when I saw an off-peak 4 night break for about half of the price of anything we had seen before. Unless you want the cost of your trip to head into 4-figures I would definitly suggest doing this, if of course you are willing to take the kids out of school.
Before we left we booked a few activities for the kids.
I put them down for rollerskating, tree top walking and an animal encounter as well as hair braiding for the girls and baby sensory for J.
Along with the activities I booked the american diner for dinner on our first night there which was handy.
The majority of things were fully booked as we had booked the trip only a few weeks in advance so I advise booking them early on if that’s possible.
These added an extra £150 onto the cost of the trip, so our ‘bargain’ was already totting up.
We traveled down on the Monday morning and arrived about 1pm. We couldn’t check into the accommodation until 3, but were welcome to use the facilities and have a look around until then.
Once we were able we drove up to our lodge ready to get settled in.
On arrival at the lodge I was so disappointed. I was expecting something timber-clad but we were greeted with what looked like someones garage that had been water damaged.
I didn’t say anything and decided to go in with an open mind when Sam said,’Well, that’s not what I was expecting’.
When we got in to the accommodation though we were pleased, it was lovely and roomy, clean and modern. There was a highchair and cot provided though the cot was faulty and we had to lean it against the wall so J wouldn’t hurt himself. That was no hardship though and having them there was very handy.
That evening we headed to the diner and had a lovely meal. It was Pepper and Cherry’s 5th birthday and when the waitress heard she fixed them a little treat and all the staff came to sing happy birthday which was lovely of them.
When we arrived at the diner they had no record of our booking, which I had already paid £25 for. I gave our lodge number and surname and did feel the waitress (a different one) seemed a bit suspicious, as if we were trying to con our way in to the restaurant!
We headed to the shop to pick up a few things to last until we could find a supermarket and yes it was pricey, but no more so than any other small, independent store.
We used the land train a huge amount during our stay, the first night there was no room for the pushchair so Sam walked back pushing J and I went on the train with the girls. It was dark and there was no signs to tell you where you needed to get off for each area, just stops with unrelated names, we passed our stop and traveled 5 minutes back into the village before having to walk back to the lodge anyway! We made sure to study the stops the next day so it didn’t happen again.
In our lodge there were leaflets detailing what we could do on the village and it was suggested we try breakfast at the pancake house. We had the animal encounter and sensory booked the first morning so decided to get up and out early and head there.
On arrival at 9am we found the pancake house didn’t open until 11. Maybe we are the minority but we would always eat breakfast before 11, by the time we ordered it would have been lunchtime. We had only an hour and a half until our bookings so instead ate at The Grand Cafe, which at £3 for a piece of toast was very grand indeed.
The girls really enjoyed the animal activity and Jasper had a great time at baby sensory. The activities where, for the most part, great.
On Thursday we were booked in for rollerskating, at a cost of £35 for the 3 of them I expected a bit more than a 5 minute safety talk, 15 minutes getting all the safety gear on and a pitiful 10 minutes skating after a bean bag. We were also informed on arrival it was a parent and child activity and not suitable for my 1:3 adult/kid ratio. This wasn’t stipulated on the website, of course it said an adult must be present but there was no mention of taking part. Haven runs activities free of charge every day and parents are never required to ‘help out’. I was paying an extortionate amount for the kids to be occupied yet still had to run around after them. Not cool.
Later that day we found a Lidl nearby and stocked up on all the food and drinks we would need for the week (and a bit more!) When we got back to the village the barrier was down preventing us from reaching our lodge, we knew that during the week the car had to parked in the main car park, there was a sign telling us to contact security if we needed to reach the lodge by car at any other time.
We headed down to security and asked to be let through, to be told no. We explained the situation and the guy didn’t give a toss. I understand policies are in place and they like to keep the lodges peaceful (never mind the fact the next day during a ten minute wait for the train I counted 57 cars pass our lodge,YES I was vexed) but in honesty he seemed a complete jobs worth.
We drove back to the car park and decided I would take the kids on the land train, carrying Jasper (who weighs the same as a 3 year old) while Sam would pack the pushchair with the shopping and push that back whilst also carrying 2 bags on each arm.
Whilst we were waiting for the train a mini bus pulled up driven by a Center Parcs staff member and offered us a lift direct to our lodge. The guy was super helpful and friendly and we were very glad of the help. However, the minibus had a hug boot area which would have more than fitted our shopping, I refuse to believe the security guy was unaware these where on site. Surely he could have called one and had them give us a lift to our lodge? By this time though it was too late, Sam was already halfway back to the lodge.
I would advise anyone to make sure they have everything they need on arrival at Center Parcs and definitely do shopping before you arrive!
I realize these aren’t life altering problems but we had paid an arm and a leg for this stay and heard umpteen accounts of the luxury of Center Parcs. We were for the most part stressed as hell because of the impracticality for a family with 4 young kids.
I cannot help but compare our Centre Parcs break with our other UK holidays.
We have stayed with Hoseasons, Haven, Lyons holiday parks among others and never really had a single complaint.
Cheap and cheerful is how I would describe them but in each instance we got more than we paid for. Namely the staff, I think the people working there make all the difference, at Center Parcs I felt they were doing what they where told to do. Be cheery etc but in the case of the kids entertainers it was a all a bit fake. Compared to our £90 trip to Lyons holiday parks last year, where the kids entertainer was so rough and tumble, high energy and seemed to genuinely love the children.
The swimming pool at Center Parcs was amazing, if anything we should have used it more. We went 3 times and all had a great time. There was a dedicated child pool that was ideal for all the kids. The girls spent hours going down the two slides and Jasper was happy to splash in the warm water. There was a toddler pool and that also had slides, J was too small for them but enjoyed the bubbles.
Outdoors there was a jacuzzi pool and rapids as well as a large pool. There were little safety jackets at the side of the pool for kids to use which we did when we were all in the big pool for the waves that happened every half an hour.
The village was immaculately clean, I didn’t see a single bit of litter the entire time. Everywhere was so pretty and well kept.
We spent an entire day at Longleat Safari Park and it was fantastic, we could have stayed longer only it was closing! So much to do and we’d love to go again and see the things we missed.
Once we arrived home we discussed if we would go back and the answer is, No.
Not whilst the kids are so small anyway. Maybe once they are at an age they can walk long distances or ride a bike safely but for the time being it just wasn’t practical for us.
Maybe it was partly to do with our lack of organisation but when we’re on holiday that’s the way we like to play it.
The kids had an amazing time and we enjoyed it, but for the money Center Parcs just didn’t live up to the hype.