As a disable person, when you think about somewhere like Centerparcs the first assumption is that it is too outdoorsy so no, it is not accessible.
It’s woodland, trees, hills, swimming and outdoor activities. How can it be disability friendly?
Our family decided to book a holiday at Centerparcs Longleat and having been there before I was registered disabled I knew roughly what I would be able to manage and what I would not.
There would be no bike trekking or quad biking this time, not even casual evening walks would be manageable. But I knew that there was some stuff I would be able to do and I had a fond memories of my previous trip so I was looking forward to the break away.
Instead of a full review of the Centerparcs holiday the following is a rough guide to the main aspects for accessible needs.
Accessibility at Centerparcs
Firstly, the website is messy and difficult to use with navigation that did not always make sense.
After some time failing to find the information I needed I decided to call Centerparcs instead. I needed to request for my lodge to be closer to the other part of my family to help with my accessibility needs. I was informed that there would be a £50 surcharge to make such a change. I had assumed (or at least hoped) that some leeway might have been made here for my additional needs and was disappointed it wasn’t.
No extra considerations are given for disabled bookings or carers despite their additional needs. I would recommend calling at some point during your booking process to double check the arrangements that are being made.
The website is frustratingly bad. It is poorly designed and badly organised. To find out really simple information is hard and frustrating. Something simple like – How much is bike hire? Is almost impossible to find and requires a lot of clicking around.
A comprehensive list of activities is also extremely difficult to find in one place as they are spread out over several pages.
Finding information on the mobility scooters is also impossible. All in all you will likely be more annoyed by the website than excited and this is before even finding out the accessibility information.
There is a separate area of the site that does have accessibility information (after some searching) and explains the provisions in each location and for each venue within Centerparcs. This is useful but does not extend to activities.
I found more information about the park and activities from other blogs and reviews. The booking process for activities is also unreliable as when trying to book archery the website indicated it was full, yet when calling to check, there was in fact spaces available.
For most, the accommodation at Centerparcs is one of the best things about the holiday. The “lodges” are in the woods with a degree of privacy and micro community. They are well designed and fun.
However that said, unless you are in a very specific few lodges as a disabled person expect a degree of difficulty. Despite calling to explain the disability and the mobility needs, the need to be close to family for support and help, the need to unload a vehicle, it was extremely disappointing that we were allocated the lodge we ended up with.
We were given early access to the accommodation so that we could park up as close as possible and unpack with less stress. I highly recommend enquiring and using this option. Roughly 30mins before the gates open, we were able to drive up the service road, through the staff car park and to our lodge.
The issue came when we got to the lodge, the closest parking space was roughly 50 feet away along an undulating pathway. This was very far for us to carry all of our stuff and caused a lot of difficulty. By the time we had unpacked, I was in so much pain that we had to postpone some of the evening plans.
There is some accessible accommodation and while I prefer to let wheelchair users and the less abled take disabled parking bays and accommodation, make no mistake, if you are at all disabled, reserve these lodges, you have to pay extra either way.
I was disappointed the sales staff had no knowledge of the distance from the road to the lodges to be able to recommend a lodge and were happy to charge me to book the lodge that we had.
I would have thought that Centerparcs could have also offered a portering service to disabled persons or assistance unpacking. This would go a long way to making the experience easier for disabled people.
There various modes of transport around Centerparcs. The most common and prevalent being bicycle. The first time I visited this was great fun and you have run of the forest and grounds. This time, however, a bike was off the cards and other methods were needed. I took a motorised scooter with me. Not a disability one but a stand on electric scooter I had from when I was young.
The scooter was almost perfect however there was nowhere to charge it around the park so it frequently ran out of battery and became more of a burden. So much so that I abandoned it during day 2. Unfortunately there was no scooter parking like in other venues and leisure centres so that mobility scooter could be charged. I questioned the staff about this and they had no idea what to do. I was also told that any personal mobility equipment would not be monitored and left at own risk.
There is a land train service. This is a long train that goes a certain route through the park. This does have a special carriage for wheelchairs and disabled people. It is entertaining and a nice ride. For me, as mentioned above, despite the request, we were housed too far for me to walk to and from a stop. When I did choose to use this option, I found the lack of leg room to be painful and the journey took almost as long as it would have done to walk at my slow pace including breaks. What upset me was that another area of the park was so well serviced by the land train, it practically looped around twice, close to other villas and had more stops. I would book accommodation there next time. The distance to the villas from the road seemed shorter also.
The train is free but stops at a certain time, is one way and rather cramped. It also doesn’t run on changeover day.
On our second day I found out, almost by accident, that there was a dial-a-ride service. No one had mentioned at all that the service existed and only when my scooter ran out of battery and I was stuck at my villa with a dinner reservation did I found out about it. I called the number for the front desk, which took me to a “central” call centre, not to anyone actually at Longleat, I asked if there was anyway someone could bring me a scooter or if security could possible give me a lift. They explained about the dial-a-ride and sent someone.
This service needs to be booked and will take you to the areas you need. It can pick you up and drop you off at your villa too.
I highly recommend using this service but there is a level of inflexibility and waiting around for a slot to get your lift.
There are sit-down scooters available to hire, these are £55 per day. Given I wouldn’t class this as a leisurely mode of transport like a bicycle, I do find this an unfair charge compared the affordability of the bikes.
The expectation becomes that a disabled person must bring their own scooter or wheelchair. A wheelchair is grossly inadequate to traverse the park, and to get around, one would have to either own and bring a motorised scooter or be very limited in their transport.
The car park is large and easy enough to get around. There are only 6 disabled spaces however for what must be close to a thousand car spaces.
There is not much to say here except get there early, expect a carnival and the disabled spaces are really only for those that really really need it. I moved our car after realising how few spaces there were. I can get by a little easier than somebody completely wheelchair-bound.
It’s a tough call with the activities on offer. There are some obvious activities someone with a disability cannot do e.g. Treetop Adventure and others that we can do. It has to be assessed one by one, but extra guidance before the holiday would be helpful.
Is CenterParcs disability friendly?
It tries to be, but I don’t think it does enough. Much like the enclosed economy it is, it does what it does knowing there are no other options for people to choose from. It has the facilities but not the knowledge and much of the offering rests with the individual staff.
In a park of which I can maybe only experience a small percentage of what’s on offer I find it difficult to be happy paying the full price without a higher level of service and support. The accommodation is unfairly distributed or serviced by the land train, the staff are unfortunately lacking in knowledge or support facilities.
That said, I do believe that if you know this prior to visiting and intend on being accompanied by able bodied persons who are prepared to help you and you are happy to take approximately three-four times longer to get around than others in the park, then it is a wonderful place and I would recommend it.
– cook for yourself, the restaurantsm in our experience, weren’t great.
– take your own scooter or wheelchair
– try in earnest to book ALL of your transport around the park when you have a time sensitive activity.
– allow at least an hour between activities for transport
– Carer goes free to activities
– Availability of scooter (at cost)
– Early access to accommodation
– Cannot enjoy whole park
– Cannot do many activities
– Very few accommodation options with special provisions
– Staff not all trained and well versed in disabled needs
– Scooters are very expensive (£55 per day)