So our first family holiday has now happened! We’ve taken George on several holidays since his birth, but these have all included other members of mine or hubbies family. Mums, dads, nans, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles. Whilst group holidays are a nice way to spend some quality time together, I have found since having George that these type of holidays are hard work. You would expect that they would be easier and more relaxed as the baby sitting 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 nigh on 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. This is something I find is near on impossible when you have a string of family tags on with you. All with their own needs, wishes and desires. Some can’t eat past midday, some can’t walk too far or detest kids play places, others have their own small children with their own nap times, likes and dislikes, then there are the fellas who would rather just slowly navigate from pub to pub. Overall, since I became a mum I find myself becoming exasperated with trying to fit in with everyone else’s requirements.
So imagine my extreme excitement when myself and hubby booked a tots week to Butlins, Bognor Regis for 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 on a Monday and was greeted with a friendly reception team and directed 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 screen shot of the misleading website booking. I’m yet to receive a response from them.
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 attitude and terrible 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 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, failing to tell us they were stopping it no more than 10 minutes after we arrived. Realising they were clearing the food away whilst we were eating our dinner, we had jump up and grab deserts mid way through our dinner. The waitresses also didn’t ask if you were finished before they cleared your plate and had already 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. Leaving saying we would return the following say as we had a show scheduled, we returned the following day to find they only had two bikes and they have to be booked in advance so none were available. Probably things that are common sense to some but we didn’t realise and wasn’t informed. The bowling alley didn’t appear to be manned when we visited and 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 and George fell in love with the place and we are crazily 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 always gave us a warm welcome. And I will say that if you went self catering and didn’t visit any of the restaurants then you would probably write a rave review.
Having now tried a bog standard mid week break, as well as an adults only themed weekend, I am eager to try a just for tots week (although obviously this would be ticked off my list by now had the booking website not been inaccurate!) I would recommend booking over the telephone as the website is quite evidently poor.
Just to top the week off nicely we were surprised with a massive load of vomit from George on the car journey home. Something I wasn’t expecting as it’s only the third time in his life he’s ever been sick and 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……..