Butlins: Great For Kids But Stuck In The Past

I know some fellow Bloggers are Butlins Ambassadors. I am not but having just spent a week at Butlins Bognor Regis, in The Ocean Hotel, I thought I’d review it. After all, we did spend a fair amount of money on it.

 Accommodation

The rooms at the Ocean are spacious, modern and comfortable. The kaleidoscope lights are a cool feature and the kids loved their Wham! and Pow! Beds and stuff boxes. The bath and showers are excellent and the bed comfy (I slept very nicely for a whole week). The wi-fi is very simple to connect. So far so good. Even better were the Butlins Butlers. A team down on the lower ground floor who, as well as taking your luggage, will book anything from a restaurant, to an activity to make you a balloon animal (Whirlwind woke me up with hers the next morning but even so…). They are friendly, funny, efficient and great with the kids.

There are a few small peeves. The kid’s den doesn’t have a door. On the first night this meant Whirlwind kept getting up and running round the room after which OH and I decided we’d prefer if it did have a door. Also there are only two lifts. This would be ok if check outs and ins were spread out but as they all take place on the same day you can’t get in the lifts on those days – really annoying considering that everyone staying there has kids and / or elderly people in the party and a good deal of luggage. There are too many rooms for the cleaners to get round. We had gone four days before it got a ‘full’ service and even then they didn’t change the sheets. The loo was only properly cleaned once.

Overall though probably a 7.5/10.

Food

Certain things put me off when eating out. Among these are buffets, unseasoned meat, meanness and bad service. We got all of the above at one stage or another. Buffets fill me with dread, a cornucopia of food drying out, going cold and being sneezed on and the Ocean’s buffet didn’t disappoint. The breakfast was never less than lukewarm. At least on the first couple of days we could serve ourselves but after that we had to be served like prisoners causing longer queues and colder food. On two random breakfasts there are no tea spoons to stir your drinks. The butter and sugar keep moving. On the last day they run out of milk and someone is dispatched to the shop. One waiter tells us it will be 30 mins. Another 5. It was about 10. This put us off the buffet in the evenings and we tried a few places round the complex.

Of these Turner’s is the most ‘well heeled’ – which is to say expensive. The menu is by UKIP (£12 for Cottage Pie) and on the first visit the service by Basil Fawlty. The strap line should be “Turner’s – taking the ‘modern’ out of Modern British”. When we went on the Tuesday night we weren’t allowed in without using the hand sanitiser (the families either side were though) by a man who looked more like a roving manager than a waiter. He then forgot to give us a wine list or the butter that comes with the steak that was supposed to season it, leaving a bland hunk of unseasoned meat. We still go back for the last night blow out and it’s much better, the girl serving us giving the best food service of the week.

Papa John’s fresh pizzas were great but, once again, price very much encouraged you to have their buffet instead. Eat there all week and you’ll end up the size of Rick Waller.

The Beachcomber pub does standard chain pub food well (think a good Harvester) but when we try to get a voucher for it we’re told we need to give 24 hours notice. “No one mentioned that at check in” we point out to the butler. “That’s because the rule changed this week.”

Eventually it was explained to us that the hand sanitisers and being served by the staff were because of a suspected outbreak of a sickness bug. We met no one all week whose kid had this but plenty who’d thrown up once due to a treats, excitement and rides combo. The sanitising doesn’t work anyway. For the last three days Whirlwind gets a terrible flu bug and is confined to barracks. Possibly this is because, while you have to practically suit up to eat, everywhere else germy hands are being placed on rides and in to piles of 2p pieces.

The dining packages are a rip off unless you do stick to the hotel buffet. We spent a good deal on ‘overspends’ and yet never really got back our initial outlay either. I would love someone from Butlins to justify why the buffet is valued at £17.50 per adult yet the adult allowances on vouchers for other venues are only £13.50?

The overall impression is of penny pinching and box ticking. 4/10.

Kids and Entertainment

This is where Butlins should score highly and I’m pleased to report they did. There are large-ish queues for some shows and for the free ones you have to get there early but they’re well worth the wait if you have little ones. Both ours loved Barney and Thomas, gibbered happily about the puppet shows and boogied at the Tots Disco.

Sports were also really good (but see below). Boy did two football mornings, one a free for all and the other requiring booking and we also played family rounders. Both kids adored the pool. Whirlwind, before she got ill and despite being only 2 was on the water slides in the little pool and the bigger slide with Daddy while Boy loved the wave machine and also set a new personal best for the furthest he’s swam. The go-karts were a big Boy favourite but be careful, as they’re £5 a go for about 4 minutes.

The redcoats are amazing. So good with kids. In the first half of the week in particular we had two very happy children.

There is managerial stupidity even here though. Boy’s second soccer session is moved to an old Astroturf pitch covered in sand and water. The pro soccer coach (who’s excellent) and Ajax style drills are moved while a falconry display is held on the new state of the art soccer pitch. It’s immensely frustrating and drops the mark from 10/10 to 9/10

What else?

The negative part of this review might come as a surprise as I tweeted quite positively early on in the week. However the grinding application of petty rules wears on you, especially when you’re told it’s to protect your child and then they get sick anyway.

It has to be said the kids mostly enjoyed themselves and that’s what family holidays are about so we’d probably go back. We wouldn’t buy a meal package again however. Holidaying in the UK means no airport and flight stress, again great for the kids, but for half the week the weather was awful.

As an adult going to a Butlins Hotel you need to ignore the flashy marketing, blogger tie ups and Vine posts and set your expectations to mass check in, all you can eat and lager with everything. Until you can choose whatever days you want to holiday and until managers concentrate on giving the guests a good time instead of health and safety check lists Butlins will always live in the past.

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  1. #1 by Melksham Mum on June 1, 2013 - 8:11 pm

    So good to see an honest review. I went as a blogger Ambassador so feel that any positive feedback I give people will think I’m biased! Initially I wished we had booked the Shoreline at Bognor and made the extra effort with travel as I had heard so much good stuff about it. The all inclusive approach did put me off though and I’m glad we opted for self catering and an apartment style accommodation. I was pleasantly surprised by it all and importantly the kids loved it. I will be posting an honest review soon! x

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