Center Parcs in Longleat Forest starts in an unassuming car park. We are winding our way through slow moving traffic late on a Monday morning to reach the cycling foot path leading to the much-anticipated dome. Double glass doors opens to reveal a Starbucks. Perfect placement as the smell of freshly ground coffee fills the air. We pass it by in search of the subtropical swimming paradise.
Stepping into the dome feels like going through a portal. Light streams in through the glass ceiling panels even on a wet day in March and looking at the trees and fish pools, I suddenly feel as if I am on holiday. All thoughts of work, responsibilities and stress fade away.
We buy Kelly’s ice cream cones, wander around and read the menus of the various Restaurants as we walk by, spotting the only supermarket on site and following the fish, we discover the entrance to the subtropical swimming paradise.
The pool alone is worth a visit. It’s summer inside even when its snowing outside and it could be an attraction on its own. We spend most of the day here and head out around four, back to the car park to pick up ours and head to our self-catering chalet. It’s a beautiful drive and the crush of vehicles with bicycles, luggage, laughing children in the back just add to it. It’s exciting to hunt down our chalet number.
Our four-year old spots it first – a terraced chalet on the edge of the village. I feel disappointed by having neighbours so close. It is a little village, not as isolated as I had expected. There isn’t much space to park and unload, but the path is bricked and once inside, I change my mind. The interior a modern open-style space with a patio that overlooks the woods. The chalets are built at an angle and once inside, it feels private and more isolated than it actually is. All I can see through the lounge window our patio, the woods and during the course of the week, a deer, plenty of ducks and many squirrels. I would be happy never to leave.
Self-catering Woodland Lodge
The Woodland lodge are one of the lower tiers of accommodation available with prices starting at £219 and the Fir area is the furthest away from the amenities. We love it. It is quiet, clean and comfortable. The reality looks just like the virtual tour on the Center Parcs website.
The only drawback was that there was an issue with the plumbing. The pipes gurgled regularly loud enough to be bothersome during the night. Water backed up into the kitchen sink, bathroom sink and tub as well as the toilet. The sinks blocked up every few hours with rather dirty water. We reported the problem the next day when it did not clear up and had a maintenance team knock on the door within the hour and soon after returned to report that the issue was outside and had been fixed. We went out for the day and on returning early evening discovered soon that it was not fixed, but decided to leave it at that this time of night. We left the next day, but reported the issue again at reception before leaving.
On-line booking, check-in, check out times
Check-in time is 3 pm, but facilities on-site is open from 10am on the day. Check-out time is at 10 am but facilities on-site are available until 10 pm on the day. We arrived mid-morning on a Monday, spent the day in the dome and joined the traffic queue to the chalets around 4 p.m. On Friday, we vacated the chalet just before 10, parked the car in the car park and again spent the day at the pool. It is an added extra bonus to receive 5 full days with 4 nights instead of the usual 3 and a bit on each side. I would recommend driving over to the chalet after 3 p.m. as there is a bottle neck of traffic as most people seem to aim to reach their accommodation as soon as it is available.
On-line booking made it easy to check-in, we didn’t even get out of the car and the process took less than 5 minutes. It was a quick stop, friendly introduction, get the keys and park the car. On leaving, there are various drop off points for keys, including by the roadside for those who do not want to stop, to drop in the keys and that’s it. Check-in is not until 3 p.m., but a member of our party found walking to the accommodation, ours was serviced and available an hour or two earlier which could be useful for anyone needing an afternoon rest.
The sleep quality was amazing in luxurious beds. The bedrooms are well-proportioned and with plenty of storage space, I was able to pack things away and sleep in a beautiful tidy room. The curtains are not black-out, but they are reasonably thick and dark. The mattress, duvet, pillows and bedding were clean, ironed and of high quality. It was quiet during the day and night, which was great for napping and anyone who has an irregular sleep schedule.
There was exterior light near the bedrooms and interior light was limited to a small but bright red light on the fire alarm affixed to the ceiling and another on the wall-mounted TV in the master bedroom. Neither should be an issue except for those with severe photophobia who require complete darkness to sleep. If that’s you, pack a sleep mask.
All bedding provided and included in the cost.
The chalet has a fully equipped kitchen with oven, hob, microwave, fridge with icebox and dishwasher. Dishwasher tablets are provided for the first day only, so don’t forget to bring your own. Groceries can be purchased at the dome, but it is a 15 minute ride or 45 minute walk to the furthest chalets, awkward with fresh food and depending on the season, prices can be marked up significantly above standard supermarket pricing. We noticed on the Friday morning that many price labels had been removed and staff were going around the Center Parcs shops including the supermarket, adding more expensive price tags to some products on the shelves. I would recommend bringing your own food if you plan to do much cooking unless visiting at the lowest season.
There are multiple restaurants as well as an order-in service, see more details here.
Swimming: The subtropical swimming paradise in the dome is a must-visit and included in the prices. Lockers take a refundable £1 coin and the dryers are non-refundable but optional to use.
The Adventure Playground is situated next to the lake and has three sections with slides, steps, climbing zip-line for all ages and is a great outdoor activity when the weather is nice. Nearby is a small artificial sandy beach brilliant for building sand castles with picnic benches dotted around conveniently. A smaller playground with a large climbing frame and a small preschool playground is located in the Pine area. The indoor soft play areas are free as well.
Walking and cycling – cars are not allowed and there are plenty of places to walk or cycle around the village, however its more a way of commuting from chalet to entertainment or lunch than dedicated walking or cycling routes. All routes are footpaths and roads on the estate connecting facilities – there are no off-road into the forest options.
First – there is more than enough to do without spending any extra money – I did not believe when a family member who visits regularly provided this advise just to be proven wrong. The outdoor facilities combined with the pool offers so much that I would highly recommend particularly for a first visit not to think about adding more to do.
The exception for me would be the 3-hour workshops with no parental supervision required in the Activity Den. Highly recommend for parents in need of a quiet morning or afternoon, but they are also at the upper price limit. Children with disabilities are welcome without a carer/parent needing to stay and the venue had level wheelchair/mobility impaired access throughout, more venue details here. We were delighted to purchase not only quiet time for the adults who had a little work to catch up on, but also a wonderful adventure for our 4-year old who could not stop talking about how wonderful it was for the rest of the day.
I cannot comment on the quality of all the activities, but we tried the treasure trail, pedalo hire, ballet lessons, face painting and hair braiding. The treasure trail was a bit disappointing, the anagram clues were signposted next to tarmac roads (often near a bus stop) and the reward at the end for after the land train was a pocket compass with the Center Parcs logo and a small bag of sweets. The pedalo was great fun, the ballet class was enjoyed but a little short for little ones to learn and a little long for parents to stand and watch. The face painting and hair braiding were both excellent and high quality.
Center Parcs is for everyone. It is a great place for groups of young people who can share the cost of a chalet, families with children of all ages and multi-generation family breaks. It is an excellent retreat for adults only, including the older generation as facilities are accessible, there are plenty of activities for adults, including the Spa with a selection of treatments as well as restaurants that have a more mature feel to them.
The surroundings are beautiful and accommodation is available at different tiers with the top-tier having its own hot tub and game room. Some chalets are 10 minutes from the facilities at the dome or just across the road to the spa or sports centre, whilst others are more isolated, providing more tranquility but also longer distances to travel. It’s accessible, varied and whether it’s a luxury spa break or an outdoor BBQ whilst the children climb a tree, there are many types of experiences to aim for.
Center Parcs Longleat also offers facilities for corporate events, meetings and conferences. More details on their corporate site here.
There are wifi hot spots near facilities, and all accommodation at Longleat excluding the Comfort, Comfort Plus and Woodland Lodges have wifi. We prefer taking our own which can be set-up conveniently and with our EE Osprey Mifi we had a reliable decent connection for the duration of our stay. Mobile phone coverage throughout the resort the is spotty and not to be relied upon.
Center Parcs has a robust environmental policy in place. It is company committed to protect and enhance local wildlife and habitat and reduce their carbon footprint. It is implemented at every step of the process, including construction (sustainable timber is now used for all new villas).
As a guest, there are recycling facilities available, leaving your car in the car park for the duration of your stay is not optional and my favourite part was that there were so many educational opportunities to teach my preschooler about being environmentally friendly. Service vehicles are electric, many activities were nature based and walking, cycling or using the train to get around provided the chance to talk about the negative impact driving everywhere in our cars can have.
Travel season: Winter
Accommodation: 3-bedroom terraced Woodland Lodge
Length of stay: 4-nights, Monday – Friday
Location: Longleat Forest, Warminster, Wiltshire
Map: PDF map can be found here.
Fully equipped with kettle, toaster, microwave, dishwasher, sink, crockery, cutlery, glasses, utensils, pots and pans, fully stocked hospitality tray with cafetière.
Family bathroom with toilet, sink and shower-over-bath, Guest toilet with sink and toilet at the entrance.
Iron and ironing board, hairdryer, cot (cot linen not included) and high chair, patio with furniture, central heating, open fireplace
Utility storage with some space at the entrance, kitchen cupboards have some empty shelves, each bed has its own single wardrobe (one of each side of double beds), secure bicycle storage space by the front door (bring your own lock)
Multi-channel TV and DVD/CD player in the lounge
TV on the wall in master bedroom
Plugs in each room
Pack your own: washing up liquid and dish washer tablets, bathroom cosmetics and (recommended) bring your own food. Coffee connoisseurs, there is a cafetière in the woodland chalets, but no coffee machine. Bring your own bike lock – not supplied even if you hire bikes.
Center Parcs Longleat provides excellent access, staff are knowledgeable and well-trained and much effort goes into providing access to all. For detailed information about accessibility at Longleat, see Center Parc’s Longleat accessibility guides here.
The accommodation and facilities are mostly accessible to anyone with a moderate to severe visual impairment, including blind users. Many facilities, like restaurants, signs and maps have braille and large print menus and text. The large tactile maps in particular are excellent.
Guests with photophobia (light sensitivity) or migraine triggered by light or glare may experience some discomfort, but this can be mitigated with some prior planning. Pack a sleep mask, the alarm light in the bedroom is always on and provides a faint glow. Pack a dim light for the bed side table. Although wall lamps are fitted, I found them too bright and took along a Sunrise alarm clock to use as a light in the evening. I found the light type and level in the dome quite bright on sunny days, but wearing sunglasses solved the problem for me. I took a small bag through to the pools when swimming in which I kept a cheap pair of glasses for when not in the pool and there are darker areas to retreat to both within the water and out. Lighting used indoors in most of the facilities were too bright for me, but some restaurants had more natural light and most places had outdoor space with no artificial lightning.
I found Center Parcs Longleat highly accessible with a mild to moderate hearing impairment. There were visual signposts throughout and for those who require an induction loop, these were available at key points as well. At the subtropical swimming paradise, the waves came with an audio warning (the Tarzan call), but there were also two lights mounted on each side of the pool that flashed and both were visible from anywhere inside the pool.
Guests with hyperacuses (sensitivity to sound) should experience a high level of accessibility as well. The accommodation was quiet with no noises (except gurgling pipes for us) during the night. I would highly recommend not turning the dishwasher on during the night as the kitchen is next to the bedroom and it is disruptive. We never heard any noise from other occupants and villas are set-back away from the road and we did not hear the service vehicles, land train, pedestrians or cyclists passing by.
The public venues both indoors and outside were relatively quiet. The pool can be noisy during busy times, particularly the changing areas and I would recommend going at off peak times or being ready for some noise. The playgrounds and indoor play area also generate noise when many children are playing, but there are plenty of tranquil and more isolated place to enjoy and again, as the noise is crowd dependent, on lower traffic times it is a quiet environment.
Input and touch
I found facilities, indoor and outdoor accessible and for the most part frustration free. Adapted toilets are available throughout the venue with adapted handles, however standard taps and cubicles were harder to negotiate and required a grip, control and some hand strength to use. Adapted facilities, like the changing room at the pool and toilets had ergonomic handles and easy to open doors, the standard changing cubicles were accessible as well with a drop down shelf that acts as a lock, but the toilet doors leading to cubicles were heavy and auto-closing, requiring some assistance. The locker keys are quite large and relatively easy to turn, but I needed help to use them.
The cutlery used in the restaurants we visited and at the villa allowed me to slip on a grip and I did not have to travel with a set of adapted cutlery.
I found the standard accommodation accessible with some hand, wrist and upper body issues.The switches and front door key are standard, all handles are large and easy to grip and the bathroom door locks are standard, but the larger type of twist locks.
The taps are standard mixer taps that require some grip and control to turn and the guest toilet has a standard flush. My biggest frustration was the flush mechanism in the main bathroom. It was recessed and required a strong push with a single finger to use. I could not press it without dislocating my finger. I don’t mind asking for a little help to get the shower running, but I would have appreciated the ability to use the nearby toilet at night without having to wake someone up to flush it for me.
The kitchen drawers are easy to open and the oven has a wide handle. The location of the microwave makes it less accessible as it raised, requiring the ability to lift items shoulder height to put it in and get it out.
The light switches are standard and there is a master control switch by the front door that makes it easy to turn off all lights when leaving. If a light switch isn’t working, it’s probably because the master switch is still turned off.
Movement and mobility
The standard non-adapted chalets are highly accessible to anyone with impaired mobility. It has flat-level access throughout except for a few door thresholds that are raised (see images). The bathroom has a tiny raised step – no problem for a wheelchair, but it was the bane of my existence, I tripped over it on a daily basis. The front doorstep is about an inch ( see image below), which most wheelchairs should be able to navigate. The patio door has a higher threshold – easy to step over with reduced mobility, doable with a manual wheelchair, but not with a heavy electric ‘chair.
There is enough room in the chalet to allow wheelchair use for standard size ‘chairs with a small turning circle. Doors are a standard width and there are plenty of open space. Additionally, the furniture can easily be moved to create more space. The dining room table can be shifted closer to the wall and all the beds are on wheels and bedside tables are moveable. It is easy to push furniture to the further side of the room to create a large enough wheelchair space next to a bed with access to both a bedside table and wardrobe.
The kitchen is not accessible as it is high with a cupboard underneath, the bathroom sink is a bit high but has space underneath, making it accessible and the shower-over-the-bath requires the ability to get in and out of a standard tub, although larger villas have walk-in showers that are more accessible.
The land train is the only transport available other than walking or cycling. The stops are a short walk, I would say less than 5 minutes from most villas and there is a covered bench at all stops to sit whilst waiting. The land train has a large step up and hardwood benches and is definitely not wheelchair accessible, but should be accessible for anyone with a mild to moderate mobility impairment. Wheelchair users based at adapted villas are allowed to keep their cars for transport. Adapted cycles are available for hire at the Cycle Centre.
For those with severe physical disabilities, adapted chalets are available with level access, adapted bathrooms with hoists and nearby parking. See here for more information.
Motion sickness and balance disorders
Center Parcs Longleat is highly accessible for anyone with motion sickness or balance disorders. There are plenty of activities and the option to walk rather than travel. The land train has canvas sides that are usually open at least on one side even in colder weather and I found that sitting on the side in one of the front carriages provided me with plenty of vista to look at to reduce motion sickness.
Ease of Use
Accommodation and facilities are easy to use for the duration of the stay. There are highly visible, easy to read signposts, detailed information available on-line, in brochures displayed around the public areas and all members of staff are happy to answer questions and make recommendations or provide directions. Booking, checking-in and checking-out is easy and straight forward, but the interactive part of the website does not work when using Chrome.
Cognitive, language and math
There is a requirement for reading, technology use and understanding more complex terms when booking on-line, but once there, information is available in different formats, including visual and tactile maps, via helpful staff as well as text.
The only mandatory social interaction by one member of the party is when checking in on arrival. All visitors have to pull up to a kiosk and interact with a member of staff. Staff are well-trained and happy to come around to the driver (or passenger) if required to handle the booking process. This is particularly helpful for anyone with a hearing impairment.
Social interaction is predictable and standard at facilities, but never intrusive. The only possible exception is that staff do make the round through the village to carry out maintenance, stock checks or similar responsibilities. Once we received a written note, another time not and staff do also let themselves in if the occupants are out. There is no “Do not disturb” option available and some might find this disruption and unexpected visit distressing.
I came across no common allergens (other than pollen) during our stay.
The restaurants offer multiple options and most cater for dietary restrictions, including good gluten-free selections on request.
Trigger warnings & age ratings
Facilities and accommodation is suitable for all ages. Some are restricted to children of specific ages and The Spa requires 14 – 17 year olds to be accompanied by an adult.
Center Parcs has an established reputation for providing top quality family friendly short breaks. The first UK-based village was established in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire over 25 years ago. There are 5 villages in the UK, each set in about 400 acres of woodland with a Subtropical Swimming Paradise, Spa, Restaurants and Activities that accompany self-catering accommodation. Read more here.
RRP: Prices start at £211 for a 3 night stays (Fri – Sun) and peak at around £1149 for 4 nights during August.
Retailer: Center Parcs
Center Parcs can offer great value for money with the cost at £10 – 15 per person per night outside of peak season when filled to capacity. The cost includes many activities and if you bring your own bicycles, walk or use the land train, additional costs can be kept to a minimum. We found the prices at the restaurants and for activities to be in-line with our expectations, ranging from £5 – 20 for various activities.
It can be a budget option if planned well, but for those looking for a luxury break, the facilities included increase with the price. A Woodland Lodge is great value for money offering some luxury at a reasonable price.
Included in the price
- Self-catering villa with central heating in the winter
- Bedding and towels
- Access to subtropical swimming paradise, adventure playground, indoor soft play
- Land train taxi service (every half hour at local stops)
Center Parcs Longleat lived up to its reputation and exceeded our expectations. From the moment of our arrival to our reluctant and delayed departure, we enjoyed every moment. It is a highly accessible and inclusive venue set in a beautiful and easy to reach location. The accommodation was outstanding, the facilities and activities on offer were varied and highly enjoyable and the Subtropical Swimming Paradise was our favourite place to hang out.
It is a top spot during school holidays and during term times it offers excellent value for money and a more sedate atmosphere with only children under 5 and adults around. I would highly recommend it for a short break not only for families, but anyone looking for somewhere to unwind and relax.
The review is based on our stay in a 3-bedroom Woodland Lodge 16 – 20 March 2015.