Center Parcs Review – Family Friendly, but not budget friendly.

Well now. Centre Parcs. This is actually a very tricky review to write, so bear with me – it may be a long one. We visited Center Parcs Longleat for a long weekend, and we didn’t actually have the best of times. But we certainly didn’t have a bad time either. I think majority of our problems came from our personal situation – four children, with such varying ages, created a few ‘challenges’ for us that simply wouldn’t have been present for many other families. Much of our stay we loved – but it was also positively stressful in many places!

The new style Woodland Lodge was smart and modern (though finding the previous residents used sock under the bed was a little disconcerting), and whilst it did not have a homely feel, it was well equipped with everything you would need. We were right out at the edge of the park, however, which meant that cycle hire was a must just to get about.

The cycling, which we had anticipated with glee, was possibly the worst – purely because of poor old Toby. He wasn’t allowed a tagalong on Daddys bike, which is our normal family-biking method at home, as his feet didn’t touch the ground both sides when he sat on it. So he had the choice of the baby carriage (NOT happening!) or stabilisers. Which we thought would be a little slower, but fine, as he zips about on his bike with stabilizers at home. Until we realised he has no real concept of how to use his brakes on a hill – at which time he was 2 thirds of the way down a steep hill and WAILING. He had the option at the bottom of turning left or right and sailing to a gentle stop. He took the third way of aiming dead straight ahead at a wooden post (resulting in a spectacular double-flip off the bike, impressing his big brothers no end). After which he simply point blank refused to cycle downhill. Or round bends (in case they went down hill round the corner). Or up hill (because if he stopped cycling, then he rolled backwards and it became a downhill). Or within 100 yards of any of the above (just in case). And Longleat is very hilly. When he was managing to cycle he was often whimpering loudly in terror that any of the aforementioned dreads would approach at any point and unseat him, whilst Mummy muttered and growled and huffed and gritted her teeth behind him whilst Daddy sailed on ahead with two uber confident older boys and Ella in the trailer.

The other thing we had anticipated enjoying hugely was the swimming, but again with 4 of mixed ages it was not so hot. The pool was busy, and designed to be split into different areas – so visibility was minimal between them. It just meant we were on constant vigilance the whole time, as they all wanted to be in different areas, and everyone had to compromise. The best part was actually the rapid run just off the main pool area. But even that Joe and Cam headed to in front of us, Cam (9) is a strong swimmer but Joe (6) is not – he tried to wait on the edge, got swept in and scared the hell out of himself before Cam managed to haul him back out (how I’ll never know). But after that Cam went round on his own, Daddy had Joe on his front, I had Tobes on my back and carried Ella-of-no-weight out in front like a ships headmast figure (she LOVED the water!). That was fun – we were attached to all the children, and all doing something together. The logistics of 6 of us in one changing room was ‘interesting’ too…

The laser shooting I had chosen for our ‘activity’ was a HUGE hit – but only for over 6’s, so just a big boys thing which disappointed Toby, and at £21 for an hour each is not something we would consider normally. But big beaming smiles from Daddy and the two boys when they returned told me quicker than anything just how much they had loved it.

However, just the act of choosing an activity for us, and arranging the kids clubs was a major headache. I had three different age ranges to cater for, and when I actually had it all sorted, only Joe and Toby could be fitted into the Time Out clubhouse (which I have to say they adored and kept asking if they could go back for more). Extra activities were pretty impossible for the whole family together – Toby was completely the wrong age at 5 for most things, being too old for the pre-school activities he was in the right age bracket for, and being too young for the things he really wanted to do. It has to be said the range of activities on offer is just brilliant – it was the trying to do something all of us together which was the problem.


We actually chose the crazy golf over the effort of doing the swimming again on the Sunday afternoon! That really was excellent, and a perfect activity for all of us to enjoy.

Mr Laura was treated to the spa session as it was Fathers Day (he chose the Elemis Urban Cleanse Facial) – and did feel a little intimidated being one of only a few men in such a female zone. He also commented that his therapist really could have been a little friendlier, but the main spa staff were lovely and incredibly helpful, despite him turning up at completely the wrong time (my fault…). He felt the sales pitch on the products was a little unnecessary, and would have appreciated more explanation about what was happening, him not being a ‘facial’ pro. Whilst he was being pampered I took the others down to the lake where they played happily in the sand and at the waters edge for an hour.

The food varied between really incredibly good (our first night meal in the Grand Café was just fantastic) to really very unsatisfactory. Our meal in Huckleberrys was really not-so-good; apart from the play area being closed which disappointed the children, an American themed diner with no burger options for the children and no major ice cream desserts just seems pointless. We had described to them an American Diner, complete with Knickerbocker Glories and Banana Splits, and Cameron ended up with a rice pudding?!

We made use of the babysitter on the Saturday to go for a meander, see the redwoods, go for a coffee and a stroll. But could find nowhere that you couldn’t hear people, nowhere was quiet – and disappointingly there were no bike trails away form the residential areas, meaning no ‘for fun’ cycling.

We have actually had loo-o-oong discussions about Centre Parcs since we have been home. They do lots of things so very very well… small things that make all the difference. And no matter where we went staff were unfailingly helpful, polite, efficient and went out of their way to welcome the children.

But… there’s just something about how you become so very insular so very fast that we kept coming back to.

We were also surprised at how fast the extras soon added up, and we didn’t think we were being lavish. Bike hire for the 3-day weekend would have cost us £95, the Laser Combat £63, the Time Out clubs £30, and even with one meal included for us, and a family grocery pack which covered all our breakfasts we still managed to spend over £200 on meals for the 6 of us in the two days (the villa being so far from where you spend your day is a huge incentive to eating out rather than self-catering!). Add all that to the not inconsiderable cost of your accommodation (Over £500 for a weekend in September, over £700 in August) and your basic short-break budget starts to really have to expand.

At the end of the day we went with an open mind, knowing full well it was not our personal ‘choice’ of holiday, and we’ve come away with a ‘we had a good weekend’ feeling, so they obviously get lots of things right. I think overriding everything was the benefit of being somewhere that no matter where we went, we could go as a family, enjoy stuff all together and all 6 of us would be welcome. That takes some beating.

Author: Laura

A 70's child, I’ve been married for a Very Long Time, and appear to have made four children, and collected one large and useless dog along the way. I work, I have four children, I have a dog… ergo, I do not do dusting or ironing. I began LittleStuff back in (gulp) 2004. I like huge mugs of tea. And Coffee. And Cake. And a steaming cone of crispy fresh fluffy chips, smothered in salt and vinegar. #healthyeater When I grow up I am going to be quietly graceful, organised and wear lipstick every day. In the meantime I *may* have a slight butterfly-brain issue.

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