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Center Parcs Longleat Forest
Needing a break, my wife and I took our three-year-old to Center Parcs, Longleat Forest in Wiltshire. Center Parcs holiday villages are large woodland complexes where guests can stay in lodges, enjoy the nature and take part in a range of sporting and outdoor activities.
As well as the Longleat Forest village, there are three other Center Parcs locations: Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, Elveden Forest in Suffolk and Whinfell Forest in Cumbria. A fifth, at Woburn Forest, is due to open in 2014.
The holiday park is located in a natural setting, surrounded by the tall American Giant Redwood trees which can be found in Longleat woods. The resort is quite a size and certainly makes the most of the natural environment.
Center Parcs is advertised as a place where you can leave the car behind and just surround yourself with tranquil nature. I wouldn't say it was completely a car-free environment though. On the day of arrival, cars must be parked in the car park. It's not entirely a car free zone though. The roads in the park were fairly busy when people were arriving and leaving. Throughout the weekend, there were also various service vans on the roads. We would have probably encountered less traffic if we had chosen to stay in a tiny cabin in some remote spot in the countryside..l
Can I Get to Center Parcs Longleat Forest Without a Car?
For our weekend stay, we didn't even bring a car. We got a train to Warminster, stocked up on food at the local supermarket and then got a taxi to the holiday park. The taxi driver drove us directly to our lodge. When we left again at the end of the weekend, we got picked up from outside our lodge. It was all fairly easy.
The whole Center Parcs complex is 400 acres in size. That meant lots of walking - which was great. For an additional charge, you can choose which lodge you get on the complex. It obviously costs more the closer you are to the main plaza building. However, getting around isn't difficult wherever you. There is a land train which drives around the park, so you can easily hop on that if you need to travel from one side of the village to the other and you don't fancy walking.
What is the Accommodation Like at Center Parcs?
There is a range of accommodation available, from one to four bedroom. At the upper end of the price range, you can stay in a lodge with spa facilities and a games room. There are even tree house style lodges with a games den an infrared physiotherm room.
For our stay, we opted for a Comfort Plus Villa, which turned out to be perfectly fine. Perhaps not as new as some of the accommodation available, but comfortable enough for us. It had with everything we needed in the way of facilities (television, well-equipped kitchen) to make our stay pleasant.
The forest backed onto the wood and there was a little area for barbecues outside. My boy liked looking out onto the forest through the french windows and watching the squirrels who dared to venture up close to us.
What Can I Do at Center Parcs?
There are a range of activities available at Center Parcs. We only scratched the surface with our stay. Our little one was only three at the time of our visit, so there were a lot of activities he couldn't really get involved with. No abseiling or quad biking for him. We couldn't even go for bike rides yet.
There is a huge range of activities available at Center Parcs. Indoor sports include aerobics, badminton, squash, ten-pin bowling and wall climbing. Outdoor sports include abseiling, archery, go-karting, horse riding, paintballing and quad biking. There are also water sports like canoeing, raft-building, rowing, sailing, scuba diving and windsurfing. Guests can book activities in advance.
Everything has to be paid for, of course. The only activity which doesn't have to be booked and paid for is the swimming. The swimming complex is known as the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. It has a wave pool, slides, wild river rapids and a heated outdoor pool. We had a great time here. Our little one even braved one of the water slides.
What is the Spa like at Center Parcs?
One afternoon, we took our little one along to the Time Out Clubhouse village creche, so that he could enjoy a Pirates and Princesses Party, leaving us to enjoy a relaxing session at the Aqua Sana.
Inside, there are various themed rooms with different saunas, such as Balinese multi-steam bath, Greek herbal bath, Japanese salt steam bath and Turkish hammam. I made an effort to sample all the rooms and rather enjoyed my first spa experience, while my wife went for a treatment that she had booked.
Is Center Parcs Worth the Money?
Truth be told, a trip to Center Parcs can end up being pretty costly. The cost of accommodation is not cheap. When booking online, you are encouraged to book activities beforehand to ensure a place. The expense can soon build up.
One gripe I have is regarding one of the activities we booked in advance, a family disco. On the night we went, we discovered that the disco was actually free. What the money we had already paid entitled us to was a credit note for our drinks at the bar. This did feel rather deceptive and a rather dishonest way of getting us to part with our money.
Despite that, we did have a good time at Center Pars. I was impressed by the range of activities available. The woodland environment was lovely. I'm kind of looking forward to going again when our boy one gets a bit bigger so can we go cycling and do some more outdoor activities together.