Thursday, October 28, 2010

Center Parcs - the good and the bad

We're currently on a short midweek break to Center Parcs (Longleat Forest). We've been many times before, so we know what we're doing here. Generally it's a great min-break. Devoid of cars (mostly) the "village" is about bikes, walks, forest, nature and activities - or just relaxing.

With our kids now 16 (almost) and 13, it's great because we can just about leave them to their own things, although generally they've stuck with us. So far we've done a 3 hour spa session (me & Mrs Stats - the kids went off for night time swimming in the sub-tropical swimming paradise), a nature walk around Longleat estate with a conservation ranger, archery (kids), American Pool, crazy golf, lots of swimming/rapids/slides, eaten too much, bike rides around the forest and later we're going for an "Outing with Owls". All brilliant fun.

The downside? It's very expensive. Basically you pay for your accomodation - a "villa" in the forest. Most of them look a bit like posh portacabins, and many of them appear a bit run down from the outside. To be fair Center Parcs appear to be in the process of refurbishing them, but it's a big job on a 400 acre site with over 700 villas.

Inside they're fairly comfortable, with the basic level offering all you need. Pay eve more and the facilities increase. They also come in 2 berth to 8 berth sizes so can suit couples or family groups. As with many holiday companies, the prices are hiked ridiculously in school holidays. The same holiday for us a couple of weeks away from half term would probably be half the price.

You get access to the sub-tropical swimming paradise with all the rapids, flumes etc thrown in for free, but petty much everything else you have to pay for. But you pays your money and takes your choice. You don't have to if you don't want to. But it can get expensive if you want to get involved in lots of activities.

This time round, much as I've enjoyed it, I get a sense that some of the polish of our earlier visits has vanished. When we first came 15 years ago, it felt almost exclusive. Now it feels a bit like a poshed up Butlins. Actually, that's harsh, but but you might get a sense of what I mean. A lot of the utensils/cutlery in our villa was not clean, the customer service is patchy - great most of the time, iffy now and again.
And for a techno like me, being (mostly) away from a 3G/wifi and even GPRS signal for almost a week is hard going. There is free wifi at the main centres, and in the posher villas, but keeping a connection is hit and miss - at least was for me.

But at the end of the day, it's still a great holiday. Feeding squirrels from your hand out of your patio door, seeing hares, deer (we haven't this time but we have before) a multiple birdlife in the midst of a big forest, where it gets so dark you can really see the stars properly, and swimming in the open air on starry nights is fantastic.

Will we come again? Yes.

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