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.