Review: CenterParcs, Longleat

Hello and welcome to another week on The Domestic Princess!  Today is another guest post by the lovely Clare.  In her last post, Clare shared with us her top 10 activities for toddlers on a rainy day and today she’s kindly written a travel post about her recent trip to CenterParcs.  Take it away Clare!

At the end of April we took our first ‘real’ family holiday (rather than taking the girls to stay with their grandparents) and headed off to the mecca of family breaks: CenterParcs.  We stayed for 4 nights in Longleat Forest in Wiltshire – here’s a short review of our stay.

Accommodation

We opted for a 3-bedroom Woodland Lodge in the Pine area (the additional bedroom meant my parents could come along, allowing hubby and I to go off to the spa one evening – more on that later).  We paid a bit extra to be able to select which lodge we wanted to be in, and I’m glad we did, as it was less than a 10-minute walk from the main Plaza.  The bedrooms (one double and two twins) were a good size, although both hubby and my Mum felt the mattresses were a little soft for their liking.  The kitchen was well-equipped (including a dishwasher, which is available in all accommodations apart from the Comfort villas) and there was a TV and DVD player in the lounge area. The girls loved the large blackboard as well. The lodge comes with one highchair and cot provided and you can pay for additional ones (although we opted to take our own).

Image credit: CenterParcs

Eating out

There were numerous places to eat, both at the Plaza and the Jardin des Sports, which was over the other side of the village.  Everywhere is extremely child-friendly, with highchairs and crayons etc are in ready supply.  The Sports Café and Hucks Diner also have play areas that proved very popular.  Some of the restaurants can be booked prior to your visit and you can also request highchairs in advance.  We also sampled the ‘Dining’ takeaway on a couple of evenings and I can particularly recommend the Chinese.  For those wanting to self-cater, ParcMarket is well stocked and reasonably priced.

Image credit: CenterParcs

Activities

There is a huge range of activities for adults and children, which can all be booked in advance, although the girls weren’t quite old enough for a lot of them.  They did try the Tinies Tumble Time where there were slides and ride-ons etc., but I think they would have been just as happy in one of the free play areas.  The absolute highlight for them was, without a doubt, the ‘Subtropical Swimming Paradise’ – the girls are real water babies and as it rained nearly the whole time we were there we ended up at the pool 3 mornings in a row!  There is a toddler area with small slides and then a bigger slide for the more adventurous, which one of my girls was addicted to!  The main pool has a wave machine and a ‘rapids’ area where the current speeds you round in a big loop – this was also a hit with the girls (future adrenaline junkies I think!)

Image credit: CenterParcs

When there were breaks in the rainy weather we tried out the beach at Jardin des Sports and some of the outdoor play areas at the Village Square.  We also kitted the girls out in wellies, together with the all-important JoJoMaman waterproof trousers, and explored the area around our accommodation; with leaves and stones to collect, and puddles galore to splash in, they were very happy.

Even though CenterParcs is very family-oriented, this doesn’t mean that all the activities are for children.  Once we’d packed the girls off to bed one evening we left the grandparents in charge and scooted over to the Aqua Sana spa for their Twilight Spa experience, which is a 3-hour visit to the spa costing a very reasonable £49 for the two of us.  This didn’t include any treatments but there are lots of ‘experiences’ ranging from the Indian Blossom Steam Room and Laconium, to the Greek Herbal Bath and I was more than happy to sit and unwind in each of these!  I can also highly recommend the Rajinda Pradesh restaurant where we went for a post-spa curry – the Chicken Shashlik was delicious.

All in all we had a wonderful stay and the main things we loved about this holiday were:

  • It’s just so easy there as it caters so well for children; there’s no worrying if there will be enough high chairs or what to do with them if it’s raining the whole time.
  • The staff are really helpful, from the guest services who helped out with our thermostat (see tips below), to the people delivering our takeaway who tapped quietly on the window in case we had children asleep (well we did but they were so tired after being in the pool that you could have set fireworks off in their room and they wouldn’t have stirred!)
  • It’s a lovely quiet, car-free environment to be in – the girls had never seen trees so tall and to be able to feed ducks (and ducklings!) from our patio doors was a great experience for them.

Nowhere can be perfect, so here’s what we thought could be improved upon:

  • The toddler area at the swimming pool wasn’t the most child-friendly we’ve come across: instead of being made from softer rubber material that you often see, it was all stone which is not so compatible with excited toddlers rushing around!
  • Again at the pool, the changing area can get very, very full (it’s best to arrive as it opens) – hubby took one of the girls to an open plan changing area as all the cubicles were busy and this section only had one change table which wasn’t too helpful.
  • We know that CenterParcs really encourages people to take bikes or walk everywhere; however, Longleat is a pretty large village (a good half hour walk from the spa back to our accommodation) and although they provide a land train, this got full very quickly on rainy days, so they could do with adding more carriages or running it more frequently.

Clare’s tips and hints

  • It works out cheaper on a price per person per night to go for the mid-week 4-night stay than to go for a whole week.  The price can often be more than double.
  • The land train doesn’t run on Mondays or Fridays, as these are the main arrival/departure days.  So if you’re planning on booking a restaurant on either of these days, it’s worth checking how far it is from the car park if you don’t have a bike with you.
  • Mobile phone reception can be very patchy, so we arranged where to meet up with my parents in advance, as there’s no reception at all once you’re in the main Plaza.
  • The thermostat in the lodge was pre-set to 14 degrees, which really wasn’t warm enough considering the weather.  The guest services were very helpful in providing instructions on how to override this (which works in 12-hour chunks).
  • As for the best time to arrive, this is probably weather-dependent.  You can’t get into your accommodation until 3pm, but can enter the village and use the facilities from 10am.  It was pouring when we arrived (around 11.30am) and there was only a short queue at the arrivals gate. However, when we left on the Friday at around 1.30pm it was better weather and there was a long queue of cars waiting to check in – something to bear in mind if you have young ones who will get restless.

Thanks Clare, sounds like it was a fabulous trip, with something available for everyone.  Have you been to CentreParcs?  Or are you planning a trip there sometime soon?

With much love

The Domestic Princess

xoxo

Parky’s Pub – The Royal Oak, Maidenhead

Today, we have a guest post from the Domestic King.  As you’ve probably all guessed, the Domestic King, is none other than my wonderful Papa.  Now, if you were to write a list of what the perfect Dad looked like, you would undoubtedly describe the Domestic King, so I am honoured that he has taken the time to write this little post for me.  Hopefully, we’ll be hearing lots more from him in the coming months.  Over to you Papa….

On 24th February 2012, on our way to watch the Wales vs England rugby game, 12 close friends descended on a real gem of a pub – The Royal Oak in Maidenhead – otherwise known as Parky’s Pub!  The pub is owned by Sir Michael Parkinson and his son Nick, who runs it, and what a great job he does.  Understandably, its website proudly boasts the achievement of winning a Michelin Star for culinary excellence three years on the trot.  From the moment you drive into the car park you get a sense that you’re about to experience a pretty good place.  Entering the pub on our first visit, there, on the sofa, relaxed and supping a pint of beer with a friend was the man himself, which supports the claim that Sir Michael eats here “… most days of the week ….”  Although proud of its gastro credentials, the place also has all the hallmarks of a traditional pub, but one that benefits from loving care!

The customer will appreciate the welcoming climate, the well-stocked bar, comfortable seating, intelligent use of space, and skilful combination of brick and polished wood to complete the appearance of this tastefully finished pub.  The substantial dining area exudes the ambience of a friendly, organised and well-managed restaurant.

Our favoured drink was a superb pint of Fuller’s award winning London Pride.  A perfectly kept, well-balanced ale, distinguished by its malty, fruity flavour and its lingering bitter finish.  So good was the first pint, we couldn’t resist a second in preference to wine as an accompaniment to lunch.  If you did fancy a glass of wine, there is an extensive wine list, and to quote their website, “catering for all palates and purse strings.”

We opted for the fixed menu lunch offering two courses for £25, or three for £30, which included tea or coffee; most of the group decided on two courses combining starter and main course.  The food, all freshly prepared from produce sourced locally, was quite superb.  The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, and provide service that is courteous and efficient.  The choice of three starters, three mains and three desserts was sensibly limited, with an enticing basket of warm, freshly baked bread (refillable on request), an ideal companion for the wonderful London Pride as we awaited our starters.  The Iberico ham de Bellotta with a fried duck egg and Parmesan was cooked to perfection and a wonderfully flavoured starter.  My main course of black bream with creamed potatoes, fennel, citrus fruits and olive oil was mouth-wateringly good and beautifully presented.  Only one of the gang chose a dessert, the glazed lemon tart with raspberry sorbet that earned the accolade, “the best dessert ever”!  Excellent coffee and petit fours concluded our lunchtime gourmet experience.

A few of the gang intend re-visiting before the next England v Wales Six Nations meeting in 2014, mainly with their partners.  Some, however, felt the menu to be over priced and the portion sizes failed to sate their appetites.  They considered the 67% increase in price over the £15 fixed menu of 2010 to be quite unreasonable.  Obviously prices of produce have increased since our visit 2 years ago, but it pays not to lose sight of the ‘value for money’ concept, especially in harsh economic times, along with the need to retain customers.  That said, my guess is that The Royal Oak will feature on the itinerary for the 2014 reunion, if only for the wonderful London Pride!
Thanks for sharing this Papa!  We’ll definitely be popping in on one of our next trips to the UK.  I’d love to know what celebrity-run pubs have you been to?  Have they lived-up to the hype?  And, what do you think makes a good gastropub?  Do you have any recommendations for us to try?  Look out for more restaurant reviews over the coming weeks.

With much love

The Domestic Princess

xoxo

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