I know it probably sounds odd to regard a trip to Butlins as a peaceful break, but the kids were just so happy there, I’m on the verge of sticking the word ‘relaxing’ into this post. There was absolutely no boredom whatsoever, Rory was too busy to demand to be held all the time or hound me for milk all the time, and Arlo forgot to whinge (apart from the car journey there… HELL).
I don’t know whether this is a common parent thing, but I am SO eager to see my children happy. I LOVE seeing their little grinning faces, and I will literally consider going ANYWHERE that I think will bring them joy. Butlins falls under this category. It’s not a place I would have imagined myself going to on a family holiday, but now that I have a preschooler, and my life pretty much revolves around keeping him happy enough that he’s not causing me added stress, I could quite clearly see the appeal. Long gone are my ideas of a holiday being a chance for ME to unwind, I just want to have fun with my children whilst they are still young enough to want to have fun with me, and to see them happy. Happy children = happy parents is SO true for our family right now.
In terms of making my children happy, Butlins did a perfect job. Arlo really thought Butlins was MAGICAL. A place where you LIVE, and it also has a fairground and some amazing play areas? AND live entertainment?! AND a cool swimming pool. AND you can ride your bike everywhere? And have pancakes for breakfast every day??
Let’s just say that the journey on the way back was a LOT more peaceful, as I’d told him that we wouldn’t be going back to Butlins again if he moaned in the car. (This bribe is actually proving super useful for most aspects of life with an almost-four year old at the moment.)
As part of our role as Butlins Ambassadors, we review two Butlins resorts over the coming year. I plan to wait until after our second trip to write the full, nitty gritty, trip advisor style low-down. I know this will probably be most useful for families considering a Butlins holiday, and I feel I will have better cemented my opinion after two visits.
An in-depth review is not only important for readers, but also for the Butlins team, who are working in close contact with their blogger ambassadors this year (Us bloggers spent a day at Butlins HQ this month, and there are more meetings in the pipeline for 2015), and are looking to us to let them know our opinions on where their strengths lie, areas in which Butlins excel at providing family breaks, and most importantly, areas that could be improved upon and ideas for how to achieve this.
For now, I am going to tell you what we got up to during our three-day break, including what there is to do on-site at Butlins Bognor Regis AND off site in the nearby area for families with young children. This blog post will focus on things to do for toddlers and preschoolers at Butlins Bognor Regis. Stay tuned for a follow up post and video on our accommodation (we stayed in the gold apartments).
Although check-in at Butlins isn’t until 3pm on Friday (you are allowed to use the facilities on-site from 12pm), with Sam booking the whole day of work, we were keen to make a day of it, so we set off bright and early, stopping at Arundel Wetlands Centre for lunch and a potter.
This visit was clearly Sam’s idea – I think I’ve written before about the Colin’s Bird Guide that HAS to accompany us on any holiday or trip, and the Wetland Centre was top of his wishlist for our time whilst staying at Butlins Bognor Regis.
The paths are buggy-friendly, and Arlo very much liked leading the way around the Wetlands – if you have children that like to explore, they should be happy here for an hour or so. On wet weather days, the cafe has huge floor to ceiling windows looking out over the Wetlands. We finished up our trip with a boat ride around the Wetlands, before getting back in the car to head over to Butlins for check-in. (The drive took us past Arundel Castle, which looked like another great place to explore. In fact, Arundel on the whole was looking very pretty and leafy and if we’d had more time, we would have loved to explore it further – one for next time).
We spent Friday afternoon wandering around Butlins, acquainting the boys with their surroundings and the things on offer for them to do. We had our evening meal at The Diner – a 50s styled restaurant offering the usual burgers, hot dogs and milkshakes that you’d expect from a diner menu, with a jukebox and singing waiters/waitresses for added entertainment.
I can’t be bothered to have the added stress of a strict routine during holiday-mode, so the boys stayed up later than usual this evening playing in the arcade.
Saturday, I was to be on my own with the children for most of the day. When in the planning stages, we knew it was going to be tricky to fit in our Butlins trip this side of the year in between Sam’s work trips and my weekend family photoshoots. As it turned out, our only free weekend wasn’t even totally free, as Sam needed to head back to Selhurst for a very important Crystal Palace match. Ahem.
It did mean, however, that Sam got to test out the ease of travelling to Butlins via train from London (Verdict: Very simple. Direct train from Victoria, 10 minute walk from Bognor train station to the Butlins site, and just £17 for a last-minute day return.) Plus, faced with the task of entertaining the children on my own, I figured it was a much better option to be at Butlins, where entertainment is on tap, than at home, silently seething at yet another solo weekend day.
As it turns out, Saturday was my favourite day of our trip (sorry Sam!). I’m not sure what it was exactly, but I think bit was a combination of being in a different place with loads to explore, and the effort of ‘finding things to keep us entertained’ was completely removed from my responsibility, and because I wasn’t doing my usual at-home juggling routine of working from my phone whilst attempting to parent, and generally making a hash of both roles until the bubble of stress rises to bursting point. We treated the day as an adventure, I dedicated all my attention to the boys, and we had a really lovely time.
After we waved goodbye to Sam, we headed down to Bognor Regis beach to enjoy a beautifully warm and sunny September morning. The beach is just a two-minute walk through the car park at the back of the Butlins complex. The boys enjoyed an hour playing with the pebbles on a wonderfully quiet and peaceful seafront (an out of season thing or maybe just a Bognor thing?)
We spontaneously hopped on a little train taking people up and down the promenade to Bognor Regis town (£1 return), which both boys loved. (Buggies won’t fit on the carriages but they let me fold ours down and put it in the hold at the back of the driver’s cab).
We arrived back on site in time to catch a mid morning show on the Skyline Pavilion stage – Mike the Knight – and Arlo did his rounds of the indoor fairground rides and soft play whilst Rory took a nap in the buggy.
As Arlo frequently tells me that he doesn’t like “noisy things, and things that are real”, I wasn’t expecting him to get on with the live shows at Butlins. Arlo is usually very predictable in this respect, so it came as a massive but lovely surprise that he quickly became fond of the shows, adopting a self-initiated routine of checking back into the Skyline Pavilion after breakfast or an afternoon activity to catch a show, genuinely interested to see what was happening on stage. He was particularly taken with the Skyline Gang – Butlins own colourful cast of characters.
We didn’t bother with any of the shows on the smaller stages that you had to pre-book and pay extra for, as I had initially assumed Arlo wouldn’t enjoy it and so it wouldn’t be worth doing. But I think that’s something we will potentially try on our next Butlins visit after seeing how interested Arlo became in watching the live shows whilst we were in Bognor.
We had a large window of time for an activity after lunch (Rather than attempt a sit-down restaurant meal by myself with two small children, we took a takeaway Burger King back to our apartment), so I decided to go all out on this solo-parenting experience and take two water hating non-swimmers to ‘Splash Waterworld’, the swimming pool complex at Butlins Bognor Regis.
The original plan had been to do swimming on Sunday, with Sam, as I didn’t think I would be allowed to take both children by myself (I’m used to our local pool ratio of one adult to one non-swimmer). But the guys at Splash Waterworld told me it wasn’t a problem, and I thought it would be a bit of a shame if we waited for our last opportunity to go (Sunday, as the pool is closed Monday mornings), only for Arlo to decide he REALLY LIKED swimming, but didn’t have time to go again.
So off we went, for what can only be described as an intense hour of Rory screaming hysterically as he clung to me (he really hates water), whilst Arlo refused to swim, but demanded that we all went on the really tall white slide, despite the landing being quite deep for a three-year old non-swimmer, and despite the fact that he would have to go down by himself whist I went down holding a hysterical Rory next to him. (Two older boys in the queue all did a rubbish job at persuading Arlo that it might not be the best idea. “It goes REALLY fast. You will go underwater and get water ALL over your face. I’m EIGHT and it’s really fast for me. That lifeguard will probably tell you you are too small” (The lifeguard said there wasn’t an age limit. Thanks lifeguard).
The boy hasn’t been near a swimming pool for about a year and had definitely forgotten every thing he’d learnt at swimming lessons when he was two. Needless to say, he wasn’t particularly thrilled with his experience, and refused to go back on the slide the next day despite the promise of Dada being there to hold him above the water. I TOLD YOU SO, ARLO.
Dinner at The Deck was also interesting with two children by myself. There’s always that conundrum at self-service places, do I leave them at the table, potentially out of sight, to go and get our food, or do I bring them all up with me, and struggling to carry multiple plates, drinks and a baby back to the table all at once? That being said, the provision of highchairs and children’s cutlery sets already at the tables is a thoughtful touch from Butlins that made that aspect of our meal that bit easier than it otherwise would have been.
(Reading this back, I’m not sure I’m doing a great job of retelling the lovely day that I remember in my head, but it really was a lovely time – these are just the general stresses of parenting that happen no matter what. Our day was still a lot more fun than a usual weekday at home.)
After dinner, Arlo wanted to wander over to the Skyline Pavilion to catch the 7.30pm show. The Saturday evening entertainment was a bit more grown up, a wrestling ring had been created in front of the main stage for a WWE night. I wasn’t sure how well this would go down with the kids, but Rory did a very amusing job of shaking his fists like an eager crowd participant, and after the first match, Arlo turned to me and said “This. Is. AWESOME”. So there we stayed until Sam returned, and then we headed back to our apartment to wrestle our own children into bed and watch X Factor – Sam loving the ease in which he could step out for a late night Burger King.
Arlo and Rory had a run around the soft play and the indoor fairground rides again as soon as they opened at 9am, before Sam took Arlo for the aforementioned failed second swimming attempt when Splash Waterworld opened at 10am. Not wanting to subject Rory to the torment of swimming quite so soon again, he and I checked out the soft play and activity area for babies and young toddlers in the Skyline Pavilion, Billy’s Buddies, which was much more Rory’s kind of scene.
Although I probably wouldn’t opt for somewhere like Butlins if I just had Rory (the entertainment, ride heights, etc, is much better suited to Arlo’s age group and older – if you aren’t sure what age to take a trip, I’d say it’s definitely best to wait until your child is at least two, with three to six being the optimum age for the type of activities we did on our break), 16 month old Rory wasn’t left out by any means. He was in his element being able to roam free at Butlins – this is the first time in his life that Rory has had so much walking freedom, the whole complex is very toddler friendly and a lot of it is pedestrianised so it was very easy to let him have a run around.
Eager for another off-site adventure, we opted for lunch at the Crown and Anchor by the quayside in Apuldram. Then it was back to Butlins in time for the last hour of fairground rides, another dinner at The Deck (Although we opted for a self-catered apartment, our dinners and breakfasts at The Deck were included as part of the premium dining package, which I will talk about more in my next post about accommodation), and a Skyline Gang show about cavemen and volcanoes on the main pavilion stage – which was a big hit with Arlo (It featured volcanoes, of course it was!)
By now, we were getting in a nice little routine of watching the shows from a table on the raised platform of the skyline pavilion cafe with a glass of wine from Bar Rosso. I have heard that, at times, it can be impossible to find a table unless you camp out at one all day, but I think our visit must have been at a non-busy time (low season in mid September after schools have gone back) because we never had any issue with queues or lack of seating, either in the skyline pavilion, any of the rides, or in The Deck or The Diner. In fact, the only real queue we saw during our stay was for the boat slide ride in Splash Waterworld.
Monday morning was spent doing a last round of all the things Arlo loved most – the indoor soft play, the adventure playground outside The Beachcomber Inn, the fairground rides. We stumbled upon the Little Tikes Town, which my two absolutely loved. It wasn’t there over the weekend, but had been set up in advance of the midweek ‘Just for Tots‘ break.
We waved goodbye to Butlins (after a brief last-minute protest from Arlo as he realised the finality of leaving this place of wonders), and headed to West Wittering for lunch at the beachside cafe and a play on the sand before heading back to London.
For an overall idea of the activities and entertainment suitable for toddlers and preschoolers, watch our holiday vlog below:
Contrary to my assumption, the children didn’t get horribly over-stimulated by the vast amount of entertainment at Butlins. There was something to engage them at every step, and they absolutely loved it, in a very easy-going way. In contrast, the couple of weeks following our Butlins break has seen the usual tantrums and whinges return. So I can only conclude that it’s a result of boredom and frustration with our home routine – something that Butlins helped us temporarily alleviate.
As I’m writing this post, I’m looking back on our Butlins break with great fondness – it was a special time where we were all open to having fun. I put down my phone. Arlo had no time to whinge. Rory got an abundance of new experiences, and Sam enjoyed spending some quality family time away from the distractions of work. And really, at this point in life, with two children under four, that’s all we wish for.
We are Butlins blogger ambassadors and our break was complimentary for review purposes.