Last weekend, we went on a big family holiday to Center Parcs Longleat. There were 13 of us altogether – aged between 6 and 76.
The holiday was postponed from this time last year. We could have gone last year, but there were restrictions. So we decided to postpone until 2021, when everything would be back to normal and there would be no restrictions.
Spoiler alert: There were still restrictions.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, you were only allowed two swimming slots of just two hours during a Friday to Monday stay. This wasn’t great. Center Parcs is all about the swimming pool. For most families (definitely for ours), the bulk of their time is usually spent in the swimming pool.
We booked sessions for Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.
Then a couple of weeks ago, we got an email to say we could book one other two hour slot. The current situation is you can have three slots on a weekend holiday, four son a weekday (Monday to Friday) holiday and seven if you are staying all week.
We struggled to find a third slot and had almost resigned ourselves to sticking with the two, when we found we could get one on Saturday immediately after our first session – giving us four hours in the pool. This was a great improvement.
To reduce overcrowding in the changing area, people are advised to go to the pool wearing their swimwear, so they can just put their stuff in the lockers and go. This worked very well for us.
With the pool less crowded, I assumed there would be less queuing time for the slides and rides. This was largely true, apart from the Tropical Cyclone thrill ride/ slide. You go down it in rafts designed for four and, when we visited previously, we had four people on them. But now it is only two people, which does rather slow the queue down. I’m not sure if this is a Covid change or a change for another reason. It is still using the same rafts for four people, so hopefully that will get back to normal in future.
Another big difference is arrival time. Normally you can arrive at 10am, which we always do, and go straight into the pool.
With Covid-19, you can’t arrive until 12pm. We’d planned to arrive at 12, but had forgotten the minor detail that many other people were still travelling to Devon and Cornwall. So the traffic on the M5 was bad, plus there was a road closure in Bath, so we ended up arriving at 1.30pm. And of course we couldn’t go straight into the pool.
Center Parcs advises people to wear masks in indoor areas, but most people didn’t bother.
There seemed to be far greater demand/ less availability in the restaurants – probably due to reduced seating. So if you’re going to Center Parcs soon, it would be sensible to book your restaurants before your visit. App ordering is mixed – we found you had to use it at the Pancake House, but not at Bella Italia.
If you can’t get a restaurant booking, Center Parcs does operate a very good takeaway delivery service. We ordered and got our food (for 13 people) in just over half an hour.
Whereas in the ‘outside world’ most shops prefer you to make card payments, in Center Parcs under Covid-19 restrictions it is card payment only in all shops and restaurants.
On leaving Center Parcs, you are asked to leave all windows open in your lodge to help with ventilation before cleaning and the arrival of the next guests.
On the whole, apart from the changes to the swimming, it didn’t feel too different at Center Parcs under Covid restrictions.
Although the strangest thing was that, on my daughter’s favourite activity aerial adventure (outdoors and high in the trees) anyone over 11 had to wear a mask all the way round. My daughter wasn’t happy about that and I totally understood why! That wouldn’t even have been a legal requirement when masks were a legal requirement.
Apart from that, I felt Center Parcs had the balance right – not too restrictive and not too over the top. I think that for a small minority of people who are very nervous about Covid, it might not feel like enough was being done. There were, for example, areas of the swimming pool, which would briefly get quite busy. But I think the majority of people would be happy with the current level of restrictions.
It was still brilliant to spend so much time with my family. We loved spending more time with my brother, as we don’t usually see as much of him. It was lovely to see my two boys getting on better than they have done in a long time. It was especially lovely to see my eldest hanging out with my 8 year old niece on all the slides, as they don’t usually get on very well together.
But, best of all, was the sheer joy of seeing my dad on the rapids (an outdoor water slide). There didn’t seem to be any other 76 year olds on them. And I’m pretty sure there were no other 76 year olds who had been on a ventilator with Covid eight months previously.
This was the situation at Center Parcs in August 2021. If you are planning to go in the next few months, check your booking to see what the current restrictions are.