An easy, cheap family friendly break in the UK? Over to Georgina to share the review of her recent trip to good old Butlin’s!
With two kids under 5, our best holidays either involve fabulous childcare or back-to-back entertainment and activities for the kids. If it’s the latter, we just resign ourselves to the fact that while we will be creating incredible memories, we definitely won’t be relaxing ourselves!
We’ve been to Center Parcs, but we wanted to try somewhere with more activities and entertainment for little ones, particularly shows and activities that wouldn’t require pre-booking and additional payment. Butlin’s fitted the bill, and the Bognor Regis site was closest to home.
I have to confess to some misgivings about Butlin’s when we booked. I wasn’t sure if we’d enjoy the entertainment. I had also heard some reports of poor cleanliness on site. In any case, we found a great deal for a midweek break the week before October half-term (our daughter’s school has different holidays from most) and we thought we’d give it a go.
I called Butlin’s directly to discuss the different accommodation types available:
- Hotel rooms – Within the Ocean, Wave and Shoreline hotels. These rooms are bookable on a nightly basis. Some rooms include separate sleeping areas for children. Daily housekeeping is included.
- Apartments – There are Standard, Silver, Gold and Seaside apartments. They all include kitchen/diner areas, and some have balconies. These can only be booked for designated blocks of time, including ‘midweek’, ‘week’ and ‘weekend’ breaks. Daily housekeeping is available, and in some instances it may cost extra.
Although we only wanted to stay for 3 nights, they were doing a special offer that meant that a ‘midweek’ (Monday to Friday) stay in an apartment made the most sense for us. We also really like having our own space to make breakfast in the mornings and to relax in the evenings. I asked for the best apartment option that was available, and we booked a ‘Seaside apartment’. These are newly (as of 2016) refurbished apartments located near to the exit for the beach. There is lots of information on the website about each accommodation type, including floorplans.
It took us 2hrs 30 mins to get to Butlin’s Bognor Regis from our home in NW London. Well, it actually took longer but you don’t need to hear about the extra time spent trying to get a tantruming toddler back in the car after a pitstop.
It is clearly signposted as you enter the town.
We arrived on a Tuesday, so we didn’t experience the normal check-in process as most people arrive on Mondays or Fridays. We parked and walked onto the site to collect our keys from Guest Services, and wristbands for the adults. They also offered us paper wristbands for the children that we could write our telephone number on. We then moved the car to the nearest parking spot to our accommodation (in Atlantic Bay) and then walked round to find our apartment. It was a bit of a trek with the kids and luggage, but there were luggage trolleys available. Our apartment was on the first floor of the block, with no lift available (accessed via external metal stairs) but I was made aware of this when we booked. We had good mobile phone signal throughout the site. I did pay extra for wireless (in case we needed to do some work while away) but we didn’t end up using it much.
Our apartment had a double room, two twin rooms, a small shower room, and a kitchen/lounge/diner.
We brought our own travel cot (but they are available), and there was a step available in the bathroom. The kitchen was equipped with a fridge (with small freezer compartment), kettle, microwave, hob and oven, but no dishwasher.
There was a TV in the lounge and in the double bedroom. The apartment was clean and bright and newly finished, although the buildings did look as if they had been constructed/updated quickly and cheaply, so I’ll be surprised if they stand the test of time well. We had plenty of room to spread out and relax. Unfortunately we were right by the road so it was a bit noisy.
We were provided with a dishtowel, a tiny bottle of washing up liquid and a sponge. I brought the basics from home: washing up liquid, dishcloths, washing up brush, antibacterial wipes, clingfilm, foil, eggs, butter, milk, cereal, cafetiere, ground coffee and teabags. We did bring some food but we ended up eating out for lunch and dinner each day.
We were very impressed by the programme of activities and entertainment, especially given that that most of them are included in the price, and don’t require booking in advance. The printed schedule is easy to understand, and there is also an app listing all of the activities (although you can’t use it for booking like you can at Center Parcs). The site was relatively compact, so while there was plenty to do, we didn’t have to walk very far to get from our accommodation to any of the activities. This was a major bonus for us.
There is no crèche or on-site babysitting at the Bognor Regis site.
Here’s what we did:
- Shows at the Skyline Pavillion stage
Our kids loved the short (generally 20 mins to 45 mins long) shows at the Skyline Pavillion stage. It’s very casual, kids sit on the floor and adults sit with them or grab a table at the cafe or bar next door. Highlights included Fireman Sam, Angelina Ballerina and Bob the Builder, plus Butlin’s’ own Skyline Gang and Billy & Bonnie. Most shows involved the kids getting up to dance, and were often followed by a ‘meet and greet’ where kids could meet the characters. There were always a couple of Redcoats around during the show to encourage the kids, and to ensure that everyone was sitting nicely. Our children absolutely loved these shows, and we really enjoyed the fact that we could sit close by, enjoying a bottle of wine.
- Puppet shows at the Castle Courtyard
The puppet theatre is at the back of the Skyline Pavillion and it’s a nice alternative to the shows at the main stage.
- Shows at Centre Stage
We didn’t make it to any of these, but Aladdin was showing while we were there. There was an afternoon show and an evening show listed on the programme, and it said that tickets were required for the afternoon show. I enquired about this at Guest Services, and they said that these tickets are usually just for visitors staying within the site hotels, but they were happy to offer me some anyway.
- Soft play
There are two nice big soft play areas in the middle of the Skyline Pavillion.
- Tots Fairground
There are 4 indoor rides for little ones measuring under 1.5m tall which run from 9am to 5pm.
- Arcade games
Our kids loved playing on the 2p machines in the old-school arcades.
- Billy’s Buddies play area
This is a play area for under 5s. There’s a small basic soft play area suitable for really little ones, and also an area where you can join in with activities together. We tried out a small messy play session and our kids did enjoy it. The staff were lovely there but there was an overriding damp/musty smell that was quite offputting so we didn’t spend long in there.
- Face painting
This was available all day long for £5 per child.
- Fairground rides open 10am to 4pm
There is a great selection of rides for kids, almost all of which are included in the price, although it would have been great if the opening hours were longer.
You can step right out onto the pebble beach. We had a lovely windswept walk along there with the kids.
- Chargeable activities
There is a small additional charge for Adventure Golf, Archery, Bowling, Climbing, and a couple of the rides. During the school holidays there are more activities on offer. We did pay for a couple of rides and activities, but we never felt like we were constantly forking over extra money (as we had at Center Parcs).
The Splash waterworld is a swimming pool complex with a wave machine, splash area, and plenty of slides. Our kids really enjoyed it, there were plenty of lifeguards, and it was nice and warm. It did feel a bit tired though, and very heavily chlorinated.
EATING AND DRINKING
Eating in – If you’re staying in an apartment you can easily cook all of your meals for your entire stay. Spar stocks a range of basic food items on site, and the Papa Johns restaurant offers takeaway.
Eating out – There are plenty of restaurants around the site. The only ones that need to be booked are Turners and the South Coast Bar and Restaurant (one of the hotel buffets).
Overall we were underwhelmed by the quality of the food on offer. We ate several times in The Diner and The Beachcomber Inn, and had a few ice creams from Scoop. The staff were lovely everywhere and our children were always very welcome. Some of the restaurants are open all day, and the rest open very early for dinner, which was great for our kids as they usually eat quite early. However, the food was not cheap and the quality really wasn’t good enough for the price. We attempted one meal (the Ocean Drive buffet) where we ended up being given a refund as the food quality was so poor.
The best food was at Turners, where we really felt like we had stepped outside of the Butlin’s bubble.
We had an absolutely wonderful time at Butlin’s. The food could have been better, the accommodation could be improved, and the site wasn’t sparkling clean. However, the entertainment kept our kids going all day long. There was a lovely friendly atmosphere on site, thanks to the Redcoats and all of the lovely, friendly staff that we encountered.
Our break at Butlin’s was significantly cheaper than our previous holidays to Center Parcs. We felt that it offered incredible value for money (we paid £320 for a 4 night break in a Seaside Apartment) and that the entertainment and activities were much better suited to our children at this age.