So our first family holiday to Butlins has now happened! We’ve taken George on several holidays since his birth. However, these have all included other members of mine or hubbies family. Mums, dads, nans, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles.
I have found since having George that group holidays are hard work. You would expect that they would be easier and more relaxed as the babysitting duties can be shared. This hasn’t ever happened though and to be perfectly honest I’ve never wanted it to.
I’ve just spent 30 years holidaying by myself and 16 of those with hubby and I as a couple. I love the notion of having child friendly holidays now that we are parents. Doing all the silly activities we haven’t done since we ourself were children. Overall, since I became a mum I find myself becoming exasperated with trying to fit in with everyone else’s requirements.
Imagine my extreme excitement when myself and hubby booked a tots week to Butlins, Bognor Regis. Our first holiday as just the three of us, just a few weeks shy of George’s second birthday. It also included Thomas and Friends as the live show, which I knew he would love. (One of the reasons I booked this specific week.)
We arrived at Butlins on a Monday and was greeted with a friendly reception team. They directed us towards our children’s themed hotel room. The corridor leading to the room was carpeted with fish pools and life saving rings printed onto the carpet. Your entrance and exit to the elevator was via a ‘walk the plank’ effect vinyl flooring. Each room had a pirate ship steering wheel and navigation board as well as a large octopus cushion and octopus feet sofa.
George’s bedroom was a double bunk room complete with porthole effect lights as well as a soothing soft coloured night light built into the shelf above the wardrobe. The room also had a small flat screen TV. The ship/sea theme continued throughout the room with smart captions on the drawers and a fishy poem with pictures printed on the the bath area wall. We were impressed. It was clean, comfortable for us and exciting and novel for George.
After unpacking our luggage we decided to go on a quick walk around the Butlins site to check out the facilities. We had been previously but not for three years and hadn’t stayed during a tots week before. As we walked around we made a note of all the shows and activity timings that we would be interested in throughout the week. George was running around at high speed in complete awe of everything on offer, including the huge expanse of amusement arcades.
We did note however that there were quite a few older people without children, as well as a very large group of adults with carers. Many had a mental disability or cognitive disorder or down syndrome and it was apparent they needed an intense level of care. Their family didn’t appear to be with them, they all had a minimum of one to one care. I thought it strange they was on a tots week but mentally and emotionally many of them were behaving as children do so thought this may be why. We also couldn’t find anywhere advertising the live Thomas show.
Arriving back at our hotel reception we were informed that it wasn’t Just For Tots week and it wasn’t the Thomas live show week. Feeling deflated, we got the reception staff to check for us. One call to the manager later and we were informed that it wasn’t our mistake. The website clearly had sold us a Just for Tots weeks but it wasn’t in fact on until the end of the month.
The manager gave us complimentary tickets to a 3D Dino babies cinema experience to the value of £10 but given we had spent £262 on a break that was meant to be specifically aimed at toddlers we were less than impressed but felt helpless as really there was nothing anyone could do. Seeing George’s excitement continuing to build and the amazing smile he had on his face helped us to realise that in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter. He was completely oblivious to what could have been.
We chose to plough head on into our week of fun, despite the fact I couldn’t shake the feeling of disappointment. Having informed all our friends and family of our plans to commemorate George turning two, I felt a bit foolish realising it wasn’t going to fully be the experience we had hoped. A quick Facebook update to friends and family helped alleviate this. I also sent a tweet to Butlins to vent my disappointment, along with a screenshot of the misleading website booking.
Hubby, aware of how easily my mood shifts (we suspect I’m suffering a mild bout of depression) tried to boost my spirits by pointing out continually how happy and unaware George was. We threw ourselves into making it as memorable week as possible for us all. Clapping, singing, dancing and just generally being as silly and enthusiastic as the entertainment team on site as we went.
George fell absolutely head over heels with the two star characters featured at Butlins, Billy Bear and his girlfriend Bonnie Bear. We watched and got involved in so many shows, we really did have a blast and the shows are really high quality.
Unlike other holiday camps there are regular children’s shows and activities from 10am through to late at night including puppet shows, putting Billy Bear to bed, and live shows of their favourite TV characters. This week features angelina ballerina, bob the builder and fireman sam.
The biggest negative of the week was the overall customer service we experienced at some of the onsite food establishments and bowling alley. In the first day alone we walked out from the Papa Johns after being seated but no service. Three places couldn’t make the cocktails I requested from the menu. This was due to lack of ingredients or “technical difficulties” as I was told.
One restaurant charged us £22 per adult for an all you can eat buffet. They failed to tell us they were closing no more than 10 minutes after we arrived. Realising they were clearing the food away whilst we were eating our dinner, we quickly grabbed deserts mid way through our dinner. The waitresses also didn’t ask if you were finished before they cleared your plate. They made George cry when we visited for breakfast as they removed his food before he had finished. After complaining to management they couldn’t offer any compensation or refund.
We also visited the bike hire to enquire if we George was suitable to sit on the front of a family bike, which he was. We left saying we would return the following day as we had a show scheduled. Returning the following day we found they only had two bikes which wasn’t available. They recommended booking these in advance but had failed to mention this the previous day. This is probably common sense to some, but we didn’t realise and wasn’t informed.
When we visited the bowling alley it appeared to be un-manned for quite a period of time. It was a huge effort just to try to track someone down to enable us to book a game. Overall though we had a fabulous week. George fell in love with the place and we are considering returning next year.
I would recommend it as a concept but I’m eager to try one of their other resorts. And I can’t reiterate enough that the shoreline hotel staff and all the entertainment crew were incredibly friendly and welcoming. I will say that had we not frequented any of the restaurants then this may have been a rave review.
I’ve now tried a mid week break, and an adults only weekend. I am eager to try a just for tots week. This would be something I’d have ticked off my list by now had the booking website been clearer. I would recommend booking over the telephone as the website is quite evidently poor.
The week couldn’t have ended better than with George vomiting on the way home. All over the car. Something I wasn’t expecting as it’s only the third time in his life he’s ever been sick. I hadn’t experienced the previous two times as they happened at nursery. Thankfully we had a car full of spare clothes and towels. But I have a car seat to deep clean now! Oh the joys of going on holiday! (She’s says gleefully)
Until next time……..
Edit: April 2017 – and we have had contact with Butlins and all issues explained and resolved.
- Butlins believe their website booking system to be clear and easy to navigate. I however must have had difficulty understanding it and actually booked a mid week break. I never booked a Just for Tots week so this was as much my error as theirs. As for the hotel staff corroborating this. The guest solutions team have stated it’s unlikely they understood it as they don’t regularly use it.
My screenshot above is supposedly inaccurate and this one gives a better impression of how to guarantee you are selecting a “Just for Tots” break.
- The Butlins guest solutions team are unable to help with the disappointing restaurant establishment experience. This is due to the fact our holiday was over 6 months ago. The staff now will have undoubtedly changed. I have been assured all staff receive training and Butlins have received positive feedback since my time there.
- As for why my query wasn’t resolved sooner. I was sent a feedback survey and tweeted an guest solutions email back in October when I raised my concerns. Returning the feedback survey, I didn’t realise it states that Butlins will not respond. Believing I had sent my concerns, I didn’t respond to the guest services email. I was oblivious to the fact that had I contact the email instead then this would have been resolved sooner.
- To summarise, Butlins have kindly offered me a price drop guarantee and the best discounts for rebooking. I am in liaison with them for some dates for a Just for Tots week. This is a kind goodwill gesture and one I am happy with.
- I can recommend Butlins and will return myself. My contact with guest services has alleviated some of my worries about returning and experiencing the same issues. I am not a complaining type so I was genuinely disappointed at the time.