Trip in a nutshell: A fun-packed resort suitable for babies to pensioners and everyone in between, with everything you need on-site for a wonderful family break.
Who went:Tara McBride, husband Joe and 18-month-old daughter Jasmine.
Best for: Families who want a hassle-free, fun UK holiday by the seaside. A wide variety of accommodation and cost options are available to suit all pockets.
Essential travel info: Coaches and trains services run regularly, and Bognor Regis railway station is just 1.3 miles away from the resort. If driving from London, stick to the motorways – the A roads look quick and direct, but take you through small villages and it takes a lot longer.
Family-friendly features: What isn’t family-friendly at Butlin’s! Dedicated kids’ sleeping quarters in hotel rooms, complimentary high-quality cot loan, blackout curtains, in-room child safety features, age-appropriate activity programmes from toddlers to teens, excellent entertainment to suit all.
If, like me, the last time you went to Butlin’s Bognor was as a kid in the ’80s, your abiding memories will probably consist of the Redcoats, Captain Crumble’s club and a swimming pool featuring nothing but water and a big pink hippo. Whilst the iconic perma-cheerful Redcoats remain, the transformation over the last three decades has been phenomenal.
The first thing you notice as you approach the resort is the massive Millennium Dome-style ‘Skyline Pavilion’ dominating the horizon. This alone is every mum’s best friend. No more running between your chalet and activities in the pouring rain, you can (and will) get lost for hours in this fun palace. It contains everything you need, from shops, restaurants and amusements, to the biggest softplay area you’ve ever seen and live shows throughout the day on the Pavilion Stage.
The shows inspired particular awe in my toddler, Jasmine. ‘Pingu!!’ she shouted in wonder as she saw her cartoon favourite conduct a fun family fitness session; other characters in action include Fireman Sam, Angelina Ballerina and Bob the Builder. The Redcoats are always on hand to encourage the youngest audience members to get up and join in the dancing and singing, and there are photoshoot opportunities too.
But there’s never just one choice. Older children might prefer PuppetCastle, or ‘LazyTown – the Energy Show’ – they’ll be guaranteed to have mastered the dance routines and catchy songs by the end of your stay.
Tricky teens can sometimes be reluctant to get involved, but the Big Red Beach Party will get them moving, and evening shows such as Glee-Force and SuperSlam Wrestling are fantastic, as is the wide choice of cabaret and tribute acts. The ‘Lady Gaga’ we saw was barely distinguishable from the real thing.
My little one loved Messy Time in the supervised under-4s play area, and there’s a well-equipped nursery where you can leave your child for a two-hour session – make sure you book in advance.
If the sun’s out, be sure to check out the fairground and fantastic adventure playground, where you can find a zip wire, climbing wall, bungee trampolines, go karts and even water zorbing. Sporty youngsters can try their hand at everything from fencing, football and beach frisbee, to archery, target shooting, beach volleyball and cricket. Bonza!
The new-style accommodation is a real treat, and certainly up there with any four star hotel I’ve stayed in. We chose the Shoreline Hotel, as it’s designed for pre-schoolers, and it didn’t disappoint. Jasmine and I were equally charmed by Billy Bear’s bedroom, a magical chamber nestled amongst the guest rooms where Butlin’s furry mascot resides.
Every evening, a group of wide-eyed toddlers (and parents) gathered to greet pyjama-clad Billy in the youngsters’ area in the hotel lobby, and we’d troop off to Billy’s room and listen to him being read a bedtime story by his Redcoat friend, before the children gave him a kiss goodnight. Just lovely! Kids can even pop a letter in Billy’s special postbox and get a personal reply, not to mention enjoy the fun of a character breakfast.
Oceans of choice
The fun continues in the Shoreline garden, which boasts a sandpit, water play area and tunnels in Teletubbie-esque grassy mounds. Lucky guests may even find an origami towel courtesy of the creative housekeeping team when they return to their room. For peace of mind, all rooms are equipped with safety features, such as corner covers on furniture, and safety plugs in all sockets. The fridge is a real bonus too for baby milk and supplies.
If you have a more grown-up stay in mind, try the Ocean Hotel, with its state of the art spa, or the Wave Hotel, brand new for 2012. Long for the the old-school chalet experience? It’s still here for the taking! Although the basic silver chalet blocks are looking a bit tired on the outside, inside they’re warm and deceptively spacious, boasting colourful decors, comfy living rooms and well-appointed kitchens (finding a microwave is always a welcome bonus!)
The choice doesn’t end there – pick a room-only option and eat out at one of the range of on-site eateries, or choose a dining plan, ideal for families who fancy the informality of buffet meals with a massive amount of choice – as long as you don’t mind eating early (evening service is 4.30-6.30).
All in all, Butlin’s surpassed all my expectations. It’s moved with the times, and has its finger on the pulse of what kids want, which can be seen by the ready availability of X Factor singers and street dance acts and workshops.
The superb facilities, friendly staff and those thoughtful touches make the stay extra special for even the youngest guests, and left this family reluctant to leave and even keener to return.
Oh, and the big pink hippo in the pool? Apparently it got put to pasture in the early ’90s. But with waterfalls, flumes, mini slides and rapids in the fabulous remodeled Splash Waterworld, and everything else this delightful resort has to offer, I think I can get by without it.