This year we decided the family holiday would be centred around our toddler, so when we saw Butlins advertising their ‘Just for Tots’ week, we were intrigued and decided to give it a go. Butlins was completely new to us, and I have to say that my original thought/stereotype was not a positive one, probably because of stories I had heard over the years about rowdy hen parties and such. I didn’t need to worry because it was more modern than I had imagined, especially the Wave hotel, where we stayed. Plus because it was a week especially for babies and toddlers, there were no hen parties or loud groups of party-goers, it was all families with young children.
The Wave Hotel
We stayed for 4 nights in June in the Wave hotel (Bognor Regis). I deliberately chose this hotel because I wanted a separate room with a door for my toddler (who sometimes gets out of bed), and because I didn’t want the TV noise to wake him. The Shoreline hotel; while it had a separate room it did not have a door, so even though the Shoreline is targeted at younger children, they really hadn’t thought that aspect through, so I had to book the hotel meant for teenagers just because there was a door! Even though we missed out on ‘putting teddy to bed’ in the shoreline hotel, I was not disappointed with the Wave for these big positives:
- It was the newest and most modern of the hotels
- You could rent DVDs, Nintendo DS and their games, and Kindles (but note the Kindle requires a HUGE deposit!)
- The child’s room had a bunk-bed, with TVs and DVD players on each bunk – that was a lovely treat for Nate
- It was very near to the best restaurant for breakfast – the Deck
- It had air-conditioning (which was really needed in the hot weather we were lucky to have)
The hotel also has a big games room, but it wasn’t a positive for us because our toddler was too young to be able to play any of the games. In a few years that would definitely become a selling point.
Butlins is well-known for it’s big-centre stage performances, with the red-coats and the special shows, but alas I was not able to see this for myself because, although it was ‘Just for Tots’ week, their nightly big performances still started at 9pm. One evening when I wandered out to get some snacks, I saw a very long queue and I thought, how are people able to do this? If you have a baby or a toddler how are you able to go out late at night? Do they take their babies/toddlers and let them fall asleep to the very loud music? Do they go alone and leave partner at home with the little one? That is what my husband and I do when we are at home, though it is not as fun on your own. Do they have family or friends with them who could babysit? Very good plan, we should try this next time. If anyone has the answer, please let me know as I am intrigued. Even on holiday our little boy was in bed by 7:30pm, mostly because he wouldn’t be able to stay awake any later anyway, and partly to keep him in his routine. Perhaps when he gets a bit older I won’t worry so much about bed times on holiday.
The day-time entertainment, however, was very good and we tried a wide-variety of the activities on offer, most of them free of charge:
- Theatre shows showing Thomas the Tank Engine, Fireman Sam and more. Nate enjoyed these, although not as much as I thought he would.
- Puppet Show – there was a puppet theatre showing a variety of shows, including “Monster’s Got Talent”, they also have a session where you can play with the puppets. Nate enjoyed the puppet show but wasn’t interested in playing with them.
- In-door play area – Nate enjoyed this on the first day, but the next day he was told he was too short to go in, even if I went with him, this made him cry his little heart out. My toddler is quite tall for his age so bare in mind the average 3 year old wouldn’t be tall enough for what looked like a pretty standard soft play (100cm or taller to be allowed in). The side for babies and young toddlers was tiny, Nate barely played there for 5 minutes. This was disappointing.
- Little Tikes land – this was superb, it is a race track filled with every little tykes vehicle you can think of, with slides, play-houses, wet-play and even a little castle around the track.
- Fairground rides – a major perk that these are free, downside is the outdoor ones are only open for 4 hours a day, which we found very limiting and therefore didn’t really get to try any of the rides due to it being closed, closed because of weather or long queues. The indoor rides however were open all day, and therefore Nate got to ride them several times, and because of the lack of queues he got to stay on the one ride 4 times in a row, which he enjoyed.
- Swimming pool – this was fantastic, it had some great slides and water features, all of us really enjoyed that, and despite reviews I read elsewhere, the changing rooms were perfectly adequate and not too cold.
- Tots soccer – deep in his clingy phase so Nate did not play for long, which is a shame because he loves playing football usually.
- Messy play – it was indeed messy, with lots of stations set-up for different types of play
This was probably the biggest let down for us, because my husband and I are big foodies. On the otherhand, we were not expecting to eat amazing food at Butlins, so in all fairness the food was as expected. Probably the best food experience we had was breakfast at ‘the deck’ restaurant. It was opposite the wave hotel, so pretty convenient, and of all of the restaurants there that sold breakfast, it was the biggest, offered the most variety and tasted delicious. In the evenings we ate at Papa Johns (didn’t taste the same as the takeaway, so not as good), an american restaurant (too noisy, slow and didn’t care about my son) and on our last night ‘Beachcombers Inn’. We actually really enjoyed the beachcomber, not because of the bog-standard (although quickly served) food, but because it is right next to the park, and since it was a beautiful and warm evening we took the seats right next to the entrance and enjoyed our meal while Nate played. It was the perfect ending to our holiday.
My final thoughts on Butlins are that if your child is of the right age and personality to enjoy all the activities on offer this place will definitely keep them busy. The Wave Hotel was wonderful and in general it was much more modern than I thought it would be. *We paid for this holiday ourselves.