I love travelling to new places! I’m pretty courageous and I enjoy going off the beaten track. As well as the usual European city breaks, I’ve been to India several times by myself for work and pleasure, I’ve explored Marrakesh, and visited the States.
However, travelling and holidaying when you have a visual impairment often requires a lot of energy and extra planning.
I’ve had a busy summer at work so we decided that a nice easy accessible trip to Center Parcs was just the thing. We chose the Center Parcs at Longleat in Wiltshire. It’s a couple of hours from home, and had all the activities and amenities we wanted. Including, top of Other Half’s list, a brand new water ride.
Other Half LOVES swimming and he’s a bit of a thrill seeker. So the minute we arrived and unpacked we were straight off to the pool.
The accessibility of the swimming pool was generally good for my needs.
The changing area was divided into mixed gendered changing cubicles which is really important for us. I can’t go swimming in my glasses which means I have to navigate without them using my 6/60 vision (I see at 6 metres what you would see at 60 metres). So I need Other Half to help me change, and guide me so that I avoid slips and trips.
There were also several disabled changing rooms, although I think a larger power wheelchair would struggle to access the space without some expert maneuvering, they did have a folding chair bench, grab rails and a bin. The main pool was accessed by steps or a sloping ramp. I did see a wheelchair user using a plastic chair which was pushed into the shallow water from which they could transfer and swim. There is also a hoist mentioned in the accessibility statement.
Other Half did make me go on all of the rides. Unfortunately, I’m not into fast movement, spinning or unexpected descents. I hated the larger rides which involved sitting in inflatable rafts and being cannoned down a series of drops, half pipes and twists. I did enjoy the flumes and most of all the rapids!
Please enjoy a very splashy rapids video! I apologise for all my squealing…
The various water rides were all accessed by steps and required considerable mobility to enjoy them safely. The steps were well marked in most areas, but transferring out of water using steps or ladders is really tricky for me as I have no depth perception. Other Half had to guide me very carefully and provided lots of information, especially as lighting levels varied significantly.
The Lodge was basic but comfortable.
We stayed in a one bedroom Lodge. This is really the only area of the experience that I feel a bit critical about, given the price of the holiday.
It wasn’t quite as isolated as I had anticipated, and we were adjacent to several other Lodges. I think the accommodation definitely needs updating at Longleat. We paid a bit extra so we could be in a good location, and that meant we were in an Executive Lodge. Unfortunately it didn’t feel very executive! The TV must’ve been at least 10 years old, it was tiny and only had access to about 8 basic freeview channels. Luckily we had brought along Audio Described DVDs.
I know this sounds extra fussy, but the sheets and towels were also really poor quality. The sheets were grey with over washing and the towels were very small and thin. The duvet was really thick and heavy, it was too hot for the time of year. There were no spare blankets or sheets and so we had to strip off the duvet cover to sleep more comfortably. The duvet itself was a bit grim and definitely in need of a wash! I would bring my own bed linen and more towels next time.
There are loads of different activities on offer at Center Parcs but you do have to pay extra
We love being busy and trying new stuff on holiday, so being able to have a go at a variety of activities was great. We enjoyed, (in order of preference), falconry, mini golf, pottery painting, laser clay shooting and kayaking.
The falconry was incredible, we held lots of different birds of prey and learned all about the lives of wild birds, their hunting style and personalities. I really enjoyed being able to see the birds up close. Several of the birds flew to our hands on command, including Reggie the hilarious Turkey Vulture who had terrible balance and preferred running around on the ground.
Kayaking was a bit soggy! We’ve previously really enjoyed canoeing, as it’s another accessible sport I can take part in, Other Half does the directions and I do the power! Unfortunately, the kayak let in a lot of water and we got rather wet posteriors.
Whereas pottery painting was a real surprise, it was a very soothing and creative experience. It also meant we got to make something to take home from our holiday which was a lovely way of creating a souvenir.
We also had a very relaxing time at the spa! The spa facilities were excellent, with at least a dozen different steam rooms, saunas and meditation spaces, as well as a ginormous hot tub style pool. I do love a spa, they are very sensory places! The different steam rooms and saunas had different temperatures and scents, and the meditation rooms had sensory lighting that was perfectly soothing. I also spoiled myself and had a back & shoulder massage with a facial, which was excellent!
Unfortunately they did not have mixed changing facilities at the Spa, but a very nice lady called Sally helped me. She guided me and enabled me to orientate myself, sorted out my locker and was generally fab. Sally told me how she’d helped another visually impaired lady access the spa, which was really great to hear.
The Center Parcs staff generally seemed to have good disability awareness.
There were lots of other disabled people holidaying at Center Parcs. Given the accessibility of so many of the amenities and the provision of accessible accommodation it’s a really good choice for a disability friendly break. I had a great chat with one lady and her friends using my very basic BSL and Makaton! It is really refreshing to have this kind of inclusive experience, and to not be the only visibly disabled person at a holiday destination.
The only issue was that Longleat is quite hilly! Whilst there was a Land Train, a small tractor pulling carriages around the roads, there were several long steep walks and lots of steps. The accessible accommodation was nearer to the facilities and had shorter easier walks but, I would recommend a flatter site for anyone with mobility impairments.
However, the hills did make cycling really fun!
One of the main attractions of Center Parcs for me was the prospect of having a go on a tandem bicycle. I rode a bike as a child and teenager, but I’ve not felt able to safely cycle as an adult. Even on quieter routes without traffic I’m unable to judge the distance of pedestrians or see potential hazards.
I’ve really missed cycling and it was wonderful to get back in the saddle. We definitely had quite a wobbly start and had to do some very slow practice circuits around the bike park. We soon managed to co-ordinate our starts and stops, but the balance remained tricky. Other Half was an excellent Pilot, and did all of the steering and a lot of the balance. He says it was quite hard work and different to cycling by himself. It felt very stable and safe at the back, but apparently I didn’t give enough power up the hills! We had to get off and wheel the bike up and down some of the steeper inclines as many of the turns were too narrow for us to manage and we were out of puff. We did get to enjoy freewheeling down a few hills safely, and I absolutely loved whizzing down and feeling the wind in my hair.
I’m going to investigate hiring a tandem from a charity so that we can get used to it and hopefully develop a new hobby!
I put together a short video showing some footage of us cycling. Check it out
Center Parcs really shows that there is a market for inclusive holidays. When the accessibility adjustments are there disabled people will take advantage!
We would absolutely visit a Center Parcs again, we think it’ll be a great holiday when we have the guide dog. It means a lot to know that my access needs won’t be seen as a hassle and that disabled people are included and valued as guests.
It was a stress free break, just what we needed.
If you want to visit Center Parcs and want to know if your access needs will be met, check out the accessibility statements.