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Catherine Furze

Best holiday parks are not the big names like Pontins and Center Parcs, survey finds

If you are one of the many families deciding to give risky air travel a miss this year, UK holiday parks offer everything you could possibly want from a British break in one place. There’s certainly a variety to choose from, whether you want luxury accommodation with hot tubs or are just interested in keeping the kids happy with pools, water slides and other activities.

Big name family favourites like Pontins and Butlins have been pulling in the crowds for decades while relative newcomer Center Parcs has gained a reputation as a more up-market version of the holiday camp since it opened its first site in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, in 1987.

But research by consumer group Which? has shown that if you want the best experience, you'd be better off sticking with a smaller independent than a megabrand for your holiday.

Read more: Look further afield and beat the crowds for this year's staycation

First place Potters Resorts, which has sites in Essex and Norfolk, and second place Waterside Holiday Group, with sites in Devon and Cornwall, are both family-run brands that have been in the business for decades. They scored five stars in every category of the survey, including customer service and value for money. Even if you don’t want to splash out, John Fowler Holiday Parks, with camps in the South of England and Wales, family-run since 1953, has been rated as better and cheaper than big names like Hoseasons and Park Holidays. The Which? report said: "Cheaper than Pontins and about the same price as Butlin’s, but better than both. The best choice for a traditional holiday park experience."

You'll have to get down to number nine on the list before you see a household name holiday park, with Hoseasons, which operates site all over the UK, including Stanhope, Cresswell and Whitley Bay, coming in at top of the big names. It rated five stars for cleanliness and quality of accommodation, but a poor two stars for entertainment and an overall score of three for value for money.

Centre Parcs, which has a village in Whinfell Forest, Cumbria, scored 72% overall, with a poor two stars for value for money. It was one of the most expensive options, at an average of £71 a night, with activities to pay for on top of that. The quality accommodation went down well, but Which? judged "The price is too high, according to its guests.

But it was budget brand Pontins that came in for the most criticism by Which? "This holiday park heavyweight – was bought just over a decade ago by Britannia, a hotel chain consistently rated the UK’s worst by Which? members. So its subsidiary should feel quite at home at the bottom of our table," said the report. "With prices averaging just under £50, it was one of the cheaper brands. But it wasn’t nearly cheap enough." The report gave Pontins a lowly two stars for value for money and a verdict of: "Grotty chalets and lacklustre entertainment. Avoid at all costs."

Pontins at Brean Sands in Somerset famously hit headlines when it was branded the UK’s worst holiday park – with more than 3,000 terrible reviews on TripAdvisor, and Which? subscribers weren't any more complimentary. One guest described it as a ‘dull, dingy campsite’, while others complained of cobwebs, musty smells, sticky furniture and stained mattresses.

Perhaps the most famous holiday park brand, Butlin’s now has just three sites: Bognor, Minehead and Skegness. The brand has spent millions smartening up its accommodation and pool complexes in recent years, and it’s paid off. The Which? report says: "It may be towards the bottom of our table, but it got three or four stars across the board. Crucially, it outclassed rival Pontins in almost every category – particularly entertainment. Its iconic Redcoats helped to bag it an impressive four stars, better than many of its pricier competitors."

The full results (out of 100) are:

  1. Potters Resorts - 88
  2. Waterside Holiday Group - 87
  3. Aria Resorts - 85
  4. Bluestone Wales -81
  5. Hoburne Holidays - 79
  6. John Fowler Holiday Parks - 78
  7. Shorefield Holidays - 76
  8. Verdant Leisure - 76
  9. Away Resorts - 74
  10. Hoseasons - 74
  11. Haulfryn Holidays - 73
  12. Center Parcs - 72
  13. Forest Holidays - 72
  14. Butlin’s - 71
  15. Park Holidays UK - 71
  16. Warner Leisure Villages - 71
  17. Haven Holiday Parks - 68
  18. Parkdean Resorts - 68
  19. Pontins - 59

Now read:

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