Our family recently returned from a four night break at Center Parcs in Longleat. This holiday was truly magical and just what we needed.
Of course Center Parcs does wonders for the body and mind; being at one with nature, taking in that forest fresh air and rediscovering that fleece you’d forgotten you owned. But it doesn’t do well for the purse strings.
A holiday like this comes at a price and is all too well known as a some what ‘Middle Class hideaway’. Center Parcs is essentially a holiday camp in the woods with spruced up accommodation and all manner of activities with hi-spec facilities. It’s quite easy to turn your nose up at this overpriced glorified glamping experience. But you’d be WRONG! Very WRONG!!
Center Parcs is an absolute dream for a young family. From the moment you drive up to the check-in cabin until exiting your villa you really do lose yourself in all that is adventure, happiness and outdoors. It sounds cheesy but this place reignites that young, ambitious and sporty side of you. All the aches and pains of daily life are left in the car park, living you free to run down the boardwalk, swim a hundred lengths and eat as many pancake stacks as humanly possible.
My family will definitely be returning for more adventures and memories to cherish.
TIPS & ADVICE
Center Parcs doesn’t have to be expensive if you’re willing to be prepared and organised.
1. BEFORE BOOKING: Do your research! Look into the Center Parcs locations. Which one is closest, most convenient and cost effective?
2. DATES: Of course the school holidays are peak prices. If you have a toddler/baby avoid half terms! Pick a date that works with your family but that doesn’t break the bank. Also don’t assume a weekend (Fri-Mon) will be cheaper than a mid-week (Mon-Fri) stay. Use the Center Parcs website to flick through different dates to see how prices can vary.
3. FILL THAT VILLA: Center Parcs is really a family affair. It will definitely be cheaper to be in a bigger group. Look into a four bed lodge or apartment for a lower individual cost per person. The accommodation is very nice and well laid out so don’t be afraid to share.
4. CHOOSING AREA: Depending on which parc you choose will make a difference when booking your lodge. If you choose a lodge/villa rather than apartment or hotel chances are you will be asked for a preference in location. Look at the parc map and decide where’s best to be situated. It might pay to be closer to the plaza or make no difference at all. TIP: When booking initially select ‘No preference’, once your lodge number is confirmed then you can decide whether to pay extra to move elsewhere.
5. PRE-BOOKING: It’s best to book as much in advance when it comes to Center Parcs. This gives you time to pay off any extras before arriving, budget for food/drink only once there and also to plan out your days. You can use the Center Parcs website and app to search all the activities on offer as well as restaurants and spa.
6. BEFORE YOU ARRIVE: FOOD SHOPPING! Now the Parcmarket isn’t as badly priced as it was years ago. Center Parcs are now competitive with similar prices to Waitrose or Nisa local. However if you’re like our family who shop in Aldi then you’ll be disappointed if you arrive at Center Parcs empty handed. I’m not suggesting that you take all food and drink for your entire stay but it’s definitely best to stock up on essentials and kitchen necessities. Don’t forget toilet roll, salt and pepper, sauces, washing up liquid, tea/coffee and cooking oil.
7. CHECKING-IN: On the day you arrive you’re welcome from 10am but cannot access your accommodation until 3pm. Be sensible about these timings if you have a baby. We arrived at midday which meant we could feed Lola comfortably in the plaza, then time to play in the village square before settling her down for a nap in the villa before 4pm. Don’t stress yourself out over entry to the villa as there’s plenty to entertain you elsewhere. Of course if you’re perhaps travelling further it might be far easier to simply arrive after 3pm and drive straight to your accommodation.
8. UNLOADING YOUR CAR: You can drive up to your accommodation from 3pm. The rush to do this can be ridiculous as well as the return to the car park. If you can; ask your partner to take on this task whilst you relax in the villa, otherwise unload as late as possible. Recommend returning your car as late as you can and REMEMBER WHERE YOU PARK!
9. PLAN YOUR DAY. Work out what you’d like to do during your visit and work around any activities booked and food breaks. If you pack your own lunches this will be cheaper and make you more flexible for spontaneous boat trips or longer walks in the sunshine.
10. DRESS APPROPRIATELY. Center Parcs isn’t a place for glam/going-out out attire. Ladies don’t bring heels and a pretty dress. Blokes don’t worry about ironing that shirt. This place is more DRESS TO DE-STRESS than DRESS TO IMPRESS. So bring comfy footwear and layers for that chilly forest shade.
11. POOL & PLAZA. The plaza is a subtropical paradise so naturally it’s extremely humid and warm inside. You might find yourself wanting to strip naked whilst walking through the ponds and choosing your restaurant. The swimming pool can get very very busy. Ideally go in the evening as it’s open until late. If you have a baby like us the buggy park and family changing facilities aren’t the best. We found arriving as soon as the pool opened worked best for us. You get first dibs on a changing room and the pool is fairly quiet. (TIP: if you live close to the swimming pool just go straight there with as little as possible. Fold up your buggy so it’s easy to retrieve, Wear flip flops and a light hoodie. Packs bags sensibly with towels etc at the top and clothes in order of how you will use them. Sounds a bit much but it makes the process of drying/changing a whole family a lot easier and less stressful.)
12. BIKES: TO HIRE OR NOT HIRE? Yes we all love a cycle and to feel the wind in our hair but Longleat in particular is very hilly and we didn’t envy cyclists at all. If your living far from facilities then biking might be worth a punt but it comes at a price (money and pain). Also if you have a baby think about how you’ll carry your pram and essentials with you when cycling – you might find it’s far easier to have your pram as normal and walk. Longleat also offer a land train which looks very cute. (TIP: Don’t hire bikes, spend that money upgrading your lodge to a better location instead?)
13. GOODBYES & CHECKING-OUT. Most Parcs have an early check out time of 10am. This means you need to be packed, loaded into the car and back in the car park very quickly. This can be difficult even without children to contend with. The car park opens at 3:30am so I’d recommend collecting your car as early as the can (before 8am at least). This means less traffic getting back to lodge and a better parking spot for loading. Assign a car packer whilst the other person sorts out clearing the fridge/bathroom and any baby entertainment required. When they say vacate by 10am, they mean it. A cleaner cycled up to our door moments after we locked up. Once your car is once again full to the brim it’s up to you whether you continue on out of the car park and home or park up to spend a few more hours enjoying the facilities. DONT FORGET TO DROP KEYS IN THE DESIGNATED DROP-OFF BOXES BY THE EXIT OR IN THE PLAZA!
The above review and tips are purely based on our recent visit to Longleat and as a young couple with a baby. Every one will encounter different experiences I’m sure but hopefully the above might give you an idea of how you can make your trip less stressful and save some money.
Thanks for reading.