22 May 2014

The Pluses and Minuses of our Butlins Bognor Regis Break.

In yesterday's post I introduced our Butlins holiday, my doubting inner snob and some of the facilities our resort offered.

As promised today, here are the pluses and minuses we encountered.

1)  The cost of our break would have been £1864. This price is based on 4 adults and 4 children sharing a Dolphin Interconnecting Room at the Wave Hotel = £233 per person.  There were actually only six of us = £310 per person.  This is a peak school holiday rate and comparatively reasonable, considering everything it includes - 4 nights top notch accommodation, a Premium Dining Package (breakfasts and evening meals) and (mostly) free entertainment and fun facilities.  

2)  The Hotel itself is really quite cool - modern, clean, quiet and classy.  It was also equipped with a Games Room, but not as we know it! Think high tech X-Box, Wii, PS, huge screens and stuff.  Kindles and films are available for hire as well, but we didn't use any of these things.  We were lucky with the weather - however rainy days / early nights with younger children and / or having older ones who are into these things and we may well have. There were individual TVs on each of the childrens' bunk beds plus one each in the two separate bedroom areas, which, again, we didn't get much use out of, but the option was there when we fancied a bit of a breather sitting on our balconies with a quick lager cuppa overlooking the resort and the sea!

3)  The main advantages of choosing to stay in any of their three Hotels rather than the apartments or chalets is one 'Hotel only' exclusive use of Splash Waterworld 'swimming' pool and slides and the afternoon showings of two the evening shows, thereby avoiding jostling with the other 1000 people on site.

4)  Speaking of Splash Waterworld - this is an amazing system of 'flumes' and a 'space bowl' - water slides to you and me, some of which are not for the faint hearted or very young, but there is something for everyone, and we all enjoyed it immensely.  It's included in the holiday cost, is one of the few things that doesn't need booking and you can stay as long as you like.      

5)  The entertainment.  Some of it was brilliant.  Small shows are laid on all day in a special Character Theatre and there is the highlight of the day, a main one every night.  They're always free. There are Billy and Bonnie Bear, really popular Gang Shows and Character Shows (Fireman Sam, Mike the Knight and loads more) and plenty of mixing with the children for autographs and photos.  To see ours laugh so much at 'Cirque de Hilarious' and Scooby Doo was glorious.  They also loved 'Dick and Dom,' who I'd never heard of, but have seen them all over Sky TV since we returned.             

6)  The fairground.  Living in Brighton we have one at the end of the pier, but we rarely go because of the extortionate cost of it.  Here, all the rides are free and we were forced on them revelled in them regularly. The children loved it - especially the one evening it stayed open late which added an extra buzz.    

7)  The optional extras included an Inventive Science Show and an Amazing Animal one at their new Discovery Studio, plus outdoor hair raising high ropes, tall wall climbing, crazy golf, indoor bowling and more.  They are generally £5 per go or Activity / Adrenaline passes that limit the cost to a one off up front free can be purchased.  Again, handy for older kids and you can get the gist in yesterday's post's video

My friend Liza took the eldest ones to one of them, whilst I looked after the little one having a nap and this is what she had to say about it.   ''Steve and Lucy were the stars of this really engaging, cleverly constructed science packed show. It was like siting through a 3 D  fast track tour of the history of the world, illustrated through scientific inventions and fascinating information about the inventors of the day , -  electricity, Cockerell's hovercraft, the first aircraft and the  Wright brothers...but presented in a very engaging way to an audience of 200 ( maximum capacity) 7 plus year olds and their parents. Audience participation was key, and I particularly enjoyed the spoof inventions like the baby mop, a set of 4 absorbent pads you could strap to your baby's arms and knees designed to help you clean as s/he crawled about on the floor, and a similar, but smaller cat mop. Brilliant! pity  I couldn't buy one of those for the dog.....''

8)  The staff are unfailingly cheerful and helpful.  The service is generally sublime. 

1)  It was very busy - nearly 3000 people were there!

2)  This meant a long queue to register on arrival, queues on the water slides, queues for some of the rides and queues for the shows, or ending up sat on the (sticky) floor by the stage - which we preferred to losing an hour at a time just waiting around in the bar areas with the children when there was so much fun to be had elsewhere.  We didn't invest in the 'B-line passes' to jump these queues in order to get good seats - and they still would have meant hanging around, but possibly in rather more comfort.   

3)  Apart from the 'Hotel only' assigned Splash Waterworld time, some of the slides or changing rooms whiffed a bit of urine, which was most off-putting.  Aside from the actual smell, being in a pool with 800 other people can be quite intimidating. There were a lot of large bellies, tattoos too and that was just the women ;) !  It's a peak time of year and I think it could be managed better.  Everything else needs booking and it wouldn't hurt to apply the same principles here.  It would be much less chaotic and, there might be less, erm, 'little accidents.'   I tried not to think about how many people might pee in the pool.

4)  It's also a shame that, for said peak time of year, that the main Master Blaster water slide wasn't working and nor were some of the showers, producing more cold queues that young children simply can't (and shouldn't have to) cope with.  Again, numbers should have been limited to the 'Hotel only' 500 ish, or more of these should be given, thereby automatically taking off the pressure later on in the day for everyone else.  The only snag with the one that we enjoyed was getting the kids up early after a late night, but hey ho, it was worth it!

5)  Some of the food was really disappointing.  It certainly didn't match the standard of our Hotel.  Although some people have raved about 'The Deck,' the one we were automatically assigned to by staying at The Wave, even the children complained about the quality of the sausages and burgers on their section and they weren't over impressed with the adults' either.  I thought this was a shame and offering more healthy options on their stations would have been a prudent move.  It's a kind of huge, up-market food court looking establishment - with a grill corner - that is actually chicken or burgers cooked in an oven and finished on a grill - not what it purports to be, a pasta corner, using sauces from frozen cubes and the omelette corner (for breakfast) uses liquid egg.  It all looks SO good - there is tons of variety and choice - all beautifully displayed, but the quality of ingredients is sadly lacking. 

We also ate at Turner's where the meat was much better but the service was poor.  I heard at least three people say it was their first day.  It was much quieter, without children running around helping themselves to drinks and anything they could, and not really too formal for very young ones.  The peace was a pleasure after the large, airy open noisiness of everywhere else, but we missed our evening show because of the undertrained and thereby inadequate staff.  I think that (better run) independent eateries like this one may well be the way forward for Butlins.  This is the only one at Bognor.

The third establishment we tried was The Shoreline Hotel at the other end of the resort - and this fitted the bill perfectly - a decent range of dishes, better quality ingredients, not too enormous a restaurant, everything presented gorgeously and all self-service, so no time constraints except our own, but we didn't find it until the last night, it having been recommended by a Receptionist at our Hotel, who diplomatically indicated that we weren't the first to find fault with The Deck.  Seeing as this is part of the Butlins group of restaurants it doesn't make sense to be serving superior stuff here to at least one of the others.

We ate breakfasts late and dinners early, avoiding what could easily be deemed to be unnecessarily expensive lunches.  We were advised to take snacks and drinks around with us which worked well and killed some queuing time quite nicely.

6) The Birthday balloons and card we'd arranged for our Hotel room to greet the youngest on our arrival, were not there, not that he missed them, but he didn't get them until half way through the day which didn't have the same effect - especially for me, for the fuss of him I really wanted to make!

7)  We got a bit complacent about booking stuff, easily reserving what we planned for the first day or two whilst we found our way around, having been guided to do so by other Blogger Ambassadors, but by the time we tried to secure our plans from the programme for the last couple of days, we were too late for anything extra.  It wasn't a big hardship as there was still plenty to do but there's only so many times any adult doesn't mind having to accompany the younger ones being thrown around in the Twister!

8)  I think we'd have had quite a different holiday had the weather not been so incredibly kind.  It suited us that the children weren't really interested in the Gang Shows or Character ones which would have meant being inside, more reserving stuff in advance and worrying about trying to get a decent spot in the crowd.  There were lots of kids' clubs and activities inside too, but ours just loved scooting (literally) about the site as free spirits and rarely even saw a Redcoat!

Here's another video where all of us (except the little one who was in a permanently silly mood and made no sense whatsoever!) give our highlights.  It opens with my friend Liza.

I have printed Butlins response to my comments underneath, together with our overall conclusions.

Hi Anya,

I’m glad to hear you were impressed by the holiday, however was concerned to read you were disappointed by the quality of food on offer at The Deck. We receive lots of fantastic feedback for our meals there so I really hope you were able to speak to one of our Guest Catering team as I’m sure they’d have been happy to help put things right for you. I have passed your comments and feedback onto our Guest Catering Manager to look into ways things can be improved for all our Guests.

Thank you for your feedback for our Splash Waterworld team. Although we do have busy times, I was pleased to read you were able to enjoy spending time at our Hotel only swimming session. We want to ensure all our venues are safe and clean so all our guests can enjoy spending them, so I’m really sorry to read your comments and have passed them onto our Splash Manager to make sure things are addressed as soon as possible ready for guests staying with us on our next break.

If you do need any more help or have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know. 

Kind regards,
Butlins Customer Care

This was a good holiday.  The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  Although we were disappointed with the en masse catering in a couple of the establishments, there is no doubt that Butlins has moved on to a degree that no longer deserves its old fashioned image and where they let themselves down they are most definitely moving in the right direction.  My kind will be their kind once this is sorted.

I was grateful not to have to do the cheesy Redcoats thing, but would never have deprived the children of it.  It's a tried and tested formula that really works for younger children who will make some wonderful memories.  It's fair to say that what is on offer for the older ones is actually quite impressive.  

Although it would be tempting to return at a less busy time of year, and a term-time one normally works out better value, there is a wider range of shows and more exclusive entertainment during the school holidays, plus more activities and kids clubs.  

It's really worth keeping an eye on their offers page - www.butlins.com/offers and considering a a day visit, Room only or Bed & Breakfast at the Hotels or Apartments.  The Premium Dining package is about £25 per head per day but there are plenty of places to eat independently of it, including a brand new Diner that's only just opened. 

The Ocean Hotel has a more relaxing vibe and its own Spa (£19 for two hours, best booked before you go) and The Shoreline has a play park for small children next door plus offers breakfast with some of the 'Characters.' We really did love The Wave though.

If we were lucky enough to go again, my inner snob might wobble re the food and the weather, but it wouldn't feel the need to book the nearest resort in case a hasty getaway was required!

Well done Butlins, you've proved your point, that you have, indeed, gone upmarket and that your facilities are for the modern, fussy (ish) family. You're nearly there!

Disclosure - We were provided with the holiday and dining package as part of the Butlins Ambassador programme position.  All words and opinions are our own, obvs. 


  1. Such a comprehensive review. The water slides sound like they'd be just GG's cup of tea, and I agree with you about Wave hotel - we stayed a night there, and it's really cool.

    1. Thank you. I thought they deserved it. The slides are fab fun and The Wave is very us!

  2. Really interesting to read your review. We've been to Butlins in Bognor 3 times and would happily go back. Would love to try out the new Wave hotel but I've read so many blog reviews of it I feel like I have been already, so perhaps will save some money and stay at home.

    The Ocean hotel is great, especially the lovely spa. We went once and the weather was terrible but it didn't matter at all as the kids still enjoyed hanging out at the hotel and using the indoor facilities. What I like about Butlins is that it feels very safe and you can let your children have a bit more freedom whilst knowing they'll be fine.

    1. Thank you Joanne. The kids would love The Wave even more, if the weather was bad - it's got more of a teenage vibe than the others - esp the Games Room. Thanks for your input about The Ocean - I've only heard good things but never got to check it out and tha't's a good point about the safety.

  3. What a fabulous and balanced review Anya, and I like the way you included Butlins responses too. I wouldn't have described myself as a Butlins type but I think I would be more inclined to try after reading this. It does sound like the kids would love it.

    1. Thank you very much - I'm glad you appreciate the care I've taken to represent them fairly and that you'll actually consider them now too. #jobdone!

  4. I went there Xmas 2011 and LOVED it so so much. Being Xmas we 100% relied on the entertainment as the weather wasn't a factor. I couldn't fault it at all, but then we stayed in the Shoreline, so that fab food you experienced too late, was what we ate every day.

    I would DEARLY LOVE to be a Butlins Ambassador and have the green eyed monster whenever they come up for grabs. Normally people are so so thrilled to be chosen, it glosses over their review. It's great to see you keep your objective viewpoint, and what a great memory you must have, to be able to write it all up, even when home. Rose-tinted glasses and the brain of someone over 40 may have stopped me remembering all of the great details that have been so helpful for you to type up. This is great information for someone to read who is about to go. It's ALSO very good for Butlins to improve, as the sign of a good company is hearing feedback and doing something about it.

    We ate at Turners when we were there and it was great, so maybe they were having a bad day, or being that I went in 2011 maybe they have had staff turnover issues since then. Either way, they'll pick up once their aware of this review. Maybe the manager is concentrating on the food to the neglect of the service. We are all so frazzled nowadays we rely on great service to keep us on an even keel.

    Good on ya for writing such a comprehensive impressive review. It's a really good read too, so I couldn't speed read it, as I was hanging on your every word.

    Liska xx

  5. You're so kind, Liska, thank you. I took the review seriously - it's an expensive holiday, so worked quite hard whilst we were there. I made notes (not the brill memory you're crediting me with) and lots of pics and video, most of which are in the previous post at the end. I know this one could have done with some pics, but I put links in instead because it was already overly long, but I didn't want to skimp. It's important to be fair and honest and overall, they proved their point and we did have a good holiday. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to read it and leaving such a lovely comment xx

  6. Ohh, so much Anya. Great balanced review, well done. Mich x

  7. That was an incredibly thorough review. I really does sound like a great place for the kids but I must admit to balking at the amount of people staying during peak time; that's a lot and must make for a lot of queuing and frustration. It's good Customer Services came back to you with your concerns (urine - yuk!) and really hope they improve upon their services. Great review. X

  8. what an honest review. I am still not convinced that for that amount of money it is upmarket enough to be honest. I think Butlins is trying to be something it isn't and is in limbo at the moment. And really needs to look at how they are running their sites. I would love to go and see for myself (my mum's first job was as a Red Coat at Butlins so it is sort of in my blood. Sort of. I think?) but I have read a couple of reviews now that leave me thinking I will go to Center Parcs instead until Butlins get it right.

  9. Brilliant review Anya - it's so nice to see honest thoughts in a review.

    I will say that I went last year in the Summer Holidays and LOVED it but I would have actually said taht the food was brilliant quality so wonder if it's either gone downhill or you hit a bad week. We didn't spend masses amounts of time in the pool - it was very busy as you said which can be a little intimidating for younger ones but again, no issues regarding hygiene or facilities not working. I do hope your week was just a blip but I'll definitely consider it before booking to go again.

    Thanks again for such an honest review x x x

  10. Just the thought of a swimming pool heaving with people makes me go cold all over! Can't stand the "human soup" aspect of public bathing! And given our differing food needs/intolerance's I'm always cautious about where we eat! And it's a shame, because quality mass catering can be done and done well - hopefully they'll take on board what you've said! 3,000 people all in one place queuing for fairground rides and water slides really isn't for me!

    1. They're really good at catering for intolerances / special diets Mary x

  11. Really enjoyed reading this Anya - it's probably the most balanced Butlins Ambassador review I've read. We went to Bognor last month (I'm not an ambassador, I was just invited to review their new Just For Tots breaks) and I wrote a review that is fairly similar to this one - there were LOADS of fab things about our holiday but also loads of things that left me feeling disappointed. I think Butlins has come a long way in the last 10 years but they have a long way yet to go before (in my opinion) they have truly nailed a quality family holiday.

    1. Thank you Alison. I have read your review now - so interesting how we've taken similar approaches and reached similar conclusions. Amazing progress, but not quite there. Thank you for your comment :)

  12. Lovely to see an honest and open review. I have been there on an event without the kids and formed the decision that I would not take them as it just wasn't our cup of tea. My inner-snob is rampant too.
    Ultimately I look at it like this - for the cost of the overall holiday ta Butlins we could enjoy a shorter European break and be able to roam free, please ourselves and soak up some culture x

    1. I was at the same event as you Annie, and I had Aaron with me. I must say Aaron absolutely loved it, but we got a FAB discount for that break, and you're right with your points when it comes to make the decision to go full price xx

  13. Been to Butlins with Lisa and Annie at the same event and we enjoyed it because we were together. Otherwise...I must say it wasn't really my cup of tea.Maybe I felt like that because it was winter and cold but just think that the prices are way big unfortunately. That being said I think that we might give butlins another chance when the girls will be older.
    Loved your review! Very honest as every review should really be.

    1. That was my first time meeting you :-) You had one girl then. Everyone loved your Bruce Willis lookie-likie husband if I recall. Hope to see you soon.
      P.S. Anya sorry for replying to two of your comments. I promise to go away now ;-) xxx

    2. Lisa - you're welcome to join in anytime, anywhere! You always have something valuable to add xx

  14. I am not sure this place really appeals to me, but I appreciate it has it's place. The sheer amount of other people would put me off. But it does sound like good value for a family holiday in the UK, and one that you don't have to travel miles to get to. I really like the style of your review. We travel a lot, and to me reading a review that I can trust is important. I think it gives the company a chance to improve on things too. Emma :)

  15. A great overview both good and bad of Butlins Bognor Regis, hopefully Butlins take note of your views and make changes other than their poor attempt of a reply they have sent already.

  16. The hotel was definitely the thing which impressed me most. When you have young children you have to stay in your room more than older ones and the fact they are so well equipped really makes the stay more enjoyable.

  17. A very balanced review and I like the fact that you have been so honest. No holiday is perfect and I agree with a lot of the points you have made. The important thing is that the children enjoyed themselves but it seemed like overall your experience was a positive one.

  18. How refreshing to see an honest balanced review.I don't think I'm a snob, it's just we're more inclined to enjoy a country holiday where me and the kids could learn new outdoor skills.I can't swim so it wouldn't be an ideal holiday for me.

  19. Super detail in your review Anya - and nice to make suggestions for improvements too. I'm a holiday snob, but if I'm honest Butlins actually sounds pretty good fun!

  20. Anya i really enjoyed this very thorough and honest review. i have to be completely honest and say that I am so glad that I took Burton out of school because the thought of staying at Butlins during the school holidays just horrifies me - all the queing etc... just is not my idea of a break!!
    With regards to the food, funnily enough with the exception of one night eating at the newly opened Diner, we ate at the Shoreline restuarant every night and really enjoye dit - the food was hot, tasty and the staff evry accomodating. we didnt see the need to traipse across the site to eat when we could just walk downstairs.
    well done you on trying Butlins and for a very in depth review x x