The last time I went to Butlins I was 11, it was at Barry Island with my school, we stayed in rather nasty chalets and it was cold and grey. I remember the soggy white bread with the cooked breakfast we had every morning, trying fencing (being very proud to be one of only two girls who had to wear ”chest” protectors) and abseiling, and dancing every night to Kung Fu Fighting in the disco. I absolutely loved it.
Thirty-two years later, I was 43, it was at Bognor Regis with my three children (Jessie, ten, Joe, seven and Danny, three) and it was still cold and grey. Oh and really windy, too . But I still loved it; and so did the children. And what a difference. You can, if you really want to, still stay in a chalet, though these are now called apartments and are somewhat more luxurious than I remember, or you can, as we did, stay in one of their hotels in Bognor Regis – the Shoreline and the Ocean.
We opted for the Ocean. Funky is how the website describes it and the decor was indeed bright and cheerful. With brightly coloured strange blobs and bubbly lights in the foyer, plus a brilliant game involving jumping on pictures of bubbles, balls, waves or roulette chips projected on the floor, which then magically responded and moved. The lifts were definitely funky! We’d boogie between floors to the sound of YMCA and the flash of disco lights, standing like statues whenever the doors opened. It was when we caught another family doing the same thing (and then joined them for a mini disco night between floors) that we realised we weren’t alone in our guilty pleasure. Our room, with a balcony overlooking a windswept car park, but then the sea, was brightly coloured too with an area separated off for the children with its own flat-screen television and DVD player. That in itself was worth the journey for my three. And you could borrow DVDs from reception. Danny’s favourite, however, was the bath. Bathtime became for him an almost religious experience: bubbles in, main lights off, colour-changing mood light on. There he would sit gazing at the colourful bubbles until, in a stupor, he was put to bed. The beds themselves were, unfortunately, rather too narrow – all three kids fell out at least once (quick end to stupor there) and I was aware of having to wake up to lift myself up to turn over. And what I really needed, exhausted by the days’ activities, was a good night’s rest.
Where Butlins totally succeeds is in keeping your children entertained from the minute they wake up to the moment they go to bed. We literally rushed (through the rain) from one activity to another. While the big two tried out archery or fencing, football or circus skills, my three-year-old, watched Bob The Builder shows, played in playgrounds and went on fairground rides. Then the big two also played in playgrounds and went on fairground rides. Terrified myself of going on most rides, I made use of the ever-available, always cheerful and all-knowing Redcoats, to accompany three-year-old Danny while I waved pathetically from the side. I did, however, go for the bumper cars in a big way. One arm clamped round Danny as he roared with laughter, one hand gripping the steering wheel as we charged after his siblings. They were really, really fast and in fact “dodgems” as the man in charge kept warning us because if you did bump, things could get unpleasant. The swimming pool was brilliant with slides and squirty things and whooshy bits, all supervised by enormous numbers of lifeguards. We even managed to fit in a cinema visit (really cheap) and a haircut. There were shows and circuses and arts and crafts and row upon row of arcade games, which did lead me to lay down a “one-game-a-day” rule.
I did manage to drag the children away from resort for a few short hours. Bognor’s pebbly beach is just a short walk away and one windy afternoon we got soaking wet having a hilarious time skimming stones across the waves. I have never seen someone do it in such a concentrated manner as Danny. If we had ignored the flashing lights, loud squeals, whizzes and bangs of Butlins, we could have walked into the centre of Bognor, visited Arundel castle or even made it to Portsmouth’s historic shipyard had we had the time or inclination.
What with all the rushing about, I didn’t get a chance to use the spa but did wistfully look around it. Bright, colourful and with even more disco – this time in the showers – it even has a steam room, foot spas, heated loungers, a choice of treatments and even a chilly snow room with artificial snow – the perfect antidote to the sauna. Maybe not the most relaxing of environments, but definitely worth a visit.
The buffet meals were an example of full-on gluttony as I tried and failed to restrain all three from their continual onslaughts on the abundance of goodies on offer. The food itself was better than the soggy white bread I remember, but not brilliant. Though Danny, Joe and Jessie would disagree, as they returned for the fifth time to the make their own Mr Whippy ice cream sundae awash with every possible colour of sprinkle and sauce.
After a non-stop four days I was ready for my nice wide bed, and we still hadn’t tried every activity or seen every show. That’s what we’re planning to do when we go back.