We stood and applauded as the children picked up their longbows and fired, increasingly accurately, at the target. A beaming Henry even managed to send one, quivering, into the narrow centre leg of the trestle on which it was standing. If we’d been a bit more switched on, we could have been playing Robin Hood alongside them – Butlin's has free activities such as archery, fencing and football for youngsters and adults alike. But you have to book early each morning to get a slot, and it never occurred to Mummy and Daddy that we could have a go too. Not until we saw other parents swishing and shooting with abandon. The moral of the story being: If in doubt, read the instructions.
Still, fun was being had by both Henry, 9, and Georgia, 12, who wielded swords and cricket bats with gusto when we weren’t all in the huge indoor Splash Waterworld with its slides, tubes, waves and jets. It was a gorgeous weekend in June, and the sea and pebbly beach of the Sussex
resort of Bognor Regis were just outside the gates, yet neither of the kids wanted to leave the Butlin's complex.
Butlin's is so easy – and changing fast. An hour and 20 minutes after leaving our home in Wimbledon, we cruised past the resort’s white, glassy Ocean Hotel with its classy 1920s seaside feel and spa – a far cry from the sitcom chalets of the 1950s. We stayed in the Shoreline Hotel, which is better-suited to younger families, with children’s areas and bunks in its rooms, and the South Coast Grill restaurant with colouring materials and a grassy play area outside. Our Gold apartment had two bedrooms, a flatscreen TV with DVD, a shower room, a comfy sitting area and a kitchen. All rooms have balconies facing the sea.
The hotel was a brief stroll from the hub of the resort – the Skyline Pavilion, a vast tent-like structure centred on a stage hosting lots of singing, dancing, and other family fun featuring the likes of Bob the Builder, Angelina Ballerina, Barney, Pingu and Butlins’ own Billy Bear, plus a bar, a café, a fish and chip shop, slot machines, shops, and a bowling alley that turns into a late-night stage for more grown-up entertainment. Beyond the pavilion, the resort has a fun park with free funfair rides, all-weather football and basketball facilities, dancing fountains, and trampolines, plus lots of pay-far activities, such as crazy golf, a climbing wall and a high-ropes course.
The children were a bit over-awed by it all at first, but they soon got into the swing of things, and when we, in turn, were overwhelmed and retreated to our apartment for a nice cup of tea, they were happy to accompany us on the basis that they could fetch their swimming things and head back out for more fun and frolics.
Although Butlins’ accommodation is self-catering, there are two breakfast–dinner options for those who want avoid too much kitchen activity. We went for the upper one, available only to visitors in Gold and Deluxe apartments, with meals served in the smart modern Yacht Club. The vast breakfast buffet included everything from good muesli to Full English with black pudding and fried bread, as well as kippers, cold meats and cheese, and as much good espresso as you can drink (or hot chocolate, which in our children’s case is quite a lot). Dinner was a changing daily feast of holiday camp staples such as fish and chips and massive roasts alongside stir-fries, paella and pasta, followed by enormous chocolate cakes, ice-cream from a machine and cheese and biscuits. There was no danger of anybody going hungry, and wine was reasonably priced.
Some people might regard the dinner hours (4.30–7pm) as being a trifle tea-timeish, but the timing does leave you free to enjoy the evening entertainment, which includes the wildly popular Storybook Panto show, and Superslam Wrestling. Our pair, however, simply headed back out to shoot hoops or have a kick around with like-minded souls.
A three-night weekend or four-night midweek break at Butlin's Bognor Regis is a full-on affair -as opposed to a relaxing place – with something always going on, there’s little time to simply chill. Still, it’s a well-priced option for those in search of family fun. Just don’t forget to book yourselves in for some activities – Butlin's is not all about the kids!
Next stop, Butlin's Minehead in Somerset or Butlin's Skegness in Lincolnshire.
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