A postcard from… Butlins, Bognor Regis (May 2014)

Our stay in the Shoreline Hotel at Butlins, Bognor Regis

We had a wonderful half term week staying in the Shoreline Hotel at Butlins, Bognor Regis. Our third floor ‘State Room’ had a lovely view of the sea, was spacious and clean, with bright and modern decor.

The entrance hall was a good size and if you have young children you could easily store a pushchair here. On the right was the bathroom, straight ahead was the children’s room with crossover bunk beds and next to this was the main bedroom and a lounge area. The sofa could also be pulled out to make an extra bed if you have an older child. There was also a large balcony, spreading the length of both the main room and twin room.

The room had plenty of storage space, including a large wardrobe/shelving unit in the main bedroom, plus more hanging space in the children’s room and drawers under the bottom bunk bed. There was also a mini fridge which was big enough to keep all our picnic lunch bits, fruit and snacks we’d taken along for the week.

The room also had a good sized flatscreen TV and DVD player (plus another TV, DVD player and PS2 in the children’s room), coffee table, dressing table with mirror and hairdryer, kettle and mugs, coffee and teabags, boxes of tissues, robes and slippers for the grown ups and last but definitely not least, a telescope! There was also a small selection of toiletries in the bathroom.

We had chosen to stay in the Shoreline as it is aimed at younger children and so we thought it would have more child friendly features than the other two hotels. We were pleased to see there were corner cushions on the furniture, safety covers in the unused plug sockets, a step stool in the bathroom and even a rubber duck for bath time! Each day when the room was cleaned, our little one’s cuddly toys were either tucked into bed, reading books or climbing on the rails of the bunk beds!

As guests of the Shoreline, a character breakfast (with Billy and Bonnie Bear) was included in our stay and we were also able to go and see Billy Bear at bedtime, to help tuck him into bed and sing him a lullabye. He was quite naughty most nights and wanted to bounce on his bed or play hide and seek with the covers, but once he was asleep all the girls and boys could kiss him goodnight before going off to bed themselves. I thought this was a really nice idea because the little ones would know it was bedtime when Billy Bear went to sleep and so they wouldn’t think they were missing out on anything!

Other hotel exclusives included tickets to two afternoon shows (rather than having to take young children out to the evening shows), plus a hotel only swim session, where the pool would be much quieter than any other time.

The hotel staff were friendly and helpful and the reception area was very welcoming, with comfy chairs and sofas for the little ones to sit and watch cartoons while parents were checking in or asking for information from the reception desk. Behind the hotel was a sand and water play area which was usually quiet and we often popped in for a play on the way back to the hotel.

I was generally very impressed with the housekeeping, particularly the towel animals which were left on our bed each day. On the first day there was even a leaflet left to show us how to make our own! When we first arrived at the hotel, our room was ready two hours earlier than the check in time stated on the website, which was very impressive! Around half an hour after settling ourselves in, a member of staff came to check everything was ok with our room – again, very impressive. There was a pillow missing from one of the bunk beds, but a spare one was brought to us straight away.

The only thing we did notice about the housekeeping is that the balcony unfortunately wasn’t cleaned as thoroughly as the rest of the room, as there were cigarettes littering one corner (to be fair we only noticed them ourselves halfway through the week, so they could have been missed when cleaning, but a decent sweep of the balcony should have solved this). There was a little wear and tear in the room too, such as a crack in the bathroom sink and tatty edges on the sofa. However, as the oldest of the three hotels I was never expecting it to be perfect and you have to allow for a little superficial damage with the amount of families staying there. My only other issue was the metal edge on the top bunk bed. I (rather stupidly) banged my head on this after bending down to pick something up and it really really hurt! This could be so easily solved by adding a strip of cushioning, the same as the corner cushions on the rest of the furniture, to prevent little ones from doing the same (if they happen to be as clumsy as me!)

One of the best things about the Nelson State Rooms are the large balconies with fantastic views. There are sun loungers out there as well as a table and chairs so you can sit out with a coffee in the mornings or enjoy the sound of the waves and the pretty evening skies. If the weather had been nicer we’d have sat out there for lunch too, but our daughter wasn’t going to let the rain spoil her fun and often enjoyed a spot of rainbathing!

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Shoreline Hotel and would happily recommend it to families with young children. Yes, there are a few things which could be improved and updated but I was generally very impressed with the accommodation and the general atmosphere within the hotel.

Our hotel dining plan at Butlins

Our break at Butlins included a hotel dining plan. Staying in the Shoreline Hotel, this meant we could eat downstairs in the hotel restaurant, or we could ask at reception for vouchers to eat in any of the other restaurants on site.

The hotel restaurant was a self service all-you-can-eat style buffet. There were hot and cold options, healthy and not so healthy choices and even a lower counter so the little ones could help themselves.

The kids really enjoyed eating here, especially our daughter who would always have a mountain of food on her plate and eat every last crumb! We ate here the first evening and only paid extra for the Fruit Shoots we ordered – everything else was included and pre paid. Our little boy loved Billy Bear’s Ice Cream Factory where he could make his own ice cream and add toppings of his choice. We also ate breakfast here every morning except Thursday when we enjoyed a Character Breakfast at Papa John’s with Billy and Bonnie Bear, as this was also included in our dining plan. The bears came round to each table and posed for photos, before getting all the children up to dance around the restaurant!

It was easy to sort out vouchers to eat in the other restaurants, all we needed to do was ask at reception each morning and our vouchers would be valid any time after 4pm that day (although there are a limited number of vouchers per restaurant per night, so it’s worth booking them all on the first day). It’s also worth noting that the vouchers only cover food, not drinks and the value is £13 for each adult, £6.50 for children over 5 and £3.25 for children under 5. You will need to pay extra if you go over the value of the vouchers, but we found we only spent around £5 – £10 extra in each restaurant. However, I do think the under 5s voucher should be a little higher in value as all of the children’s meals were more than £3.25.

We also discovered the vouchers could be used to order a takeaway from Papa John’s, and teamed with the free DVD hire from the hotel it made a perfect evening in our room to recharge our batteries! Our dining vouchers stretched to 2 small (6 slice) pizzas and 3 sides without spending any extra. There is a ‘create your own’ option with plenty of topping choices and the meal was delicious. We skipped dessert that evening in favour of the healthier fruit and yogurts we’d taken with us.

We really enjoyed our meal in The Diner, complete with rock n’ roll music and singing waitresses. Myself and the kids can be a bit picky with food and asked for a few things without the sauces/spiced butters they were advertised with, but it was no trouble at all. The highlight of the meal was The Ultimate Fondue which the children shared – chocolate lollipops, marshmallows and fruit to dip in the chocolate and toffee sauces – all for £5.45. The Choc n’ Pop Cheesecake was also delicious and the Egg Cup Profiterole is perfect if you can’t manage a big pudding (plus you get to keep the egg cup!)

The service in The Diner was great and the staff were so friendly, taking the time to come and sit with us and chat to the children and make them laugh. Generally the staff at Butlins do go out of their way to make sure you are having a great time, it’s what Butlins do best!

A more relaxed place to eat and enjoy a traditional pub meal was the Beachcomber Inn. I was particularly impressed with the children’s pick n’ mix menu here, as there were lots of healthy options and great for fussy eaters. Our son was very happy they had potato waffles here! The children’s meals were also very good value at £3.75, but a vegetarian option on the pick n’ mix mains would make this even better. There were activity sheets and crayons to keep the little ones amused while we waited for our meal – not that we had to wait long at all, it was unbelievably fast service!

It is worth mentioning that we ate at around 4.30 – 5pm each evening. This is a quieter time and we never had to wait for a table. It also meant we could enjoy some of the evening entertainment afterwards and the children wouldn’t be too late to bed. Eating early also meant we didn’t need much for lunch and the snacks we took with us lasted the week.

There were plenty of places to grab a snack during the day if we needed to and one of the best was Scoop, the new ice cream parlour. We loved the bright decor and the cow benches outside! They sell tubs, cones and hot waffles with so many delicious flavours – the mint choc chip on a waffle was pretty amazing. The prices are a little higher than you’d normally find at the seaside, but being real Italian gelato ice cream I’d say it was worth it for a treat!

The Hotel Dining package would have cost £264 for a family of four staying for four nights during half term. If split equally this works out at £16.50 per person, per day for both breakfast and dinner, which isn’t bad at all, especially if you stick with the all inclusive hotel buffet for each meal.

Activities and kids’ clubs at Butlins

There are so many activities going on all day long at Butlins and it’s difficult to fit in everything you’d like to do, so I really recommend downloading a What’s On planner from the Butlins website just before you go – my little ones loved highlighting all the activities they’d like to do and it added to the excitement the day before our break.

There are lots (and I mean lots) of arcade games – they are literally everywhere you turn and are great for teens (and dads!) as long as you have plenty of change. It’s very difficult to say no when little ones are constantly seeing claw machines full of toys but Dad was lucky enough to win one on his first go – after 32 years of trying! If we visit Butlins in the future we’ll start a savings jar full of 2p’s for the coin machines as our daughter loved those and was just starting to get the hang of it towards the end of the break and won herself a keyring.

One of the activities both kids really enjoyed was Splash Waterworld. There is an early morning session once a week for hotel guests only, which means it is one of the quietest times to go. We had a very early, light breakfast (except for Dad, who was determined to take full advantage of the hot buffet!) and arrived at the pool just before opening. Within a few minutes we were let in, along with only a handful of other families.

The changing rooms were clean with plenty of lockers available (remember a £1 coin for the lockers) but by the time we’d finished changing it was getting much busier.

The pool was packed with things to do, including a large four lane slide for families to race down into a splash pool and because it took four people at a time the queues for this went down very quickly. There was also a mini playground for toddlers, which was brightly coloured with water jets and small slides.

The main pool had a wave machine as well as underwater jets making bubbles on the surface. At the back of the pool was a section with people riding on rubber rings – we didn’t get chance to do this but definitely something to look forward to for next time. As we left we noticed a shop selling towels, swimming costumes, goggles and armbands – all the essentials incase you’ve forgotten to pack something!

There are clubs for each age group, however our children are both at an inbetween stage at the moment – our youngest at 3 and a half is probably a bit old for the ‘toddler’ sessions and our daughter was one of the oldest in the 5-8’s club. Having said that, they both joined in with the 5-8’s ‘Get Busy’ activities and had a great time. Because of the age range, parents stay and watch (and sometimes join in with) these sessions.

We did the Arts and Crafts session and Fun Fencing. Both were very well led by the redcoats and focused on having fun. Our daughter (being with lots of younger children) felt a bit unsure in the fencing club but soon got into it when parents were invited to join in! She’ll be 9 in a couple more months so if we visit again she’ll be able to join Club Red (for 9-12 years) and be with children the same age and hopefully make friends and enjoy herself without us having to stay. There is also a ‘VIP’ club for teens. These clubs were all included in our break at no extra cost, however you needed to book a space for some of the activities. Our daughter wanted to try Circus Skills but when we tried to book it (at the start of our break on Monday afternoon) it was already full, plus an extra session had been put on but was full too! So it’s definitely worth booking activities as soon as possible.

One of the activities with an extra charge was archery, which our daughter desperately wanted to do since trying it on a recent day out. She had highlighted every single archery session on the planner! We booked this on the Monday for an hour’s session the following day, which cost £5. This activity was led by qualified instructors, but still focused on fun as well as learning. Split into teams and encouraged to make friends, they played games and scored points, aiming for certain colours on the target and even trying to pop balloons at one point. If you have older children (8 and over) this is a nice family activity the adults can also do.

Another activity we were all able to enjoy as a family was ten pin bowling in Hotshots, the sports themed bar inside the Skyline Pavilion. The charge for one game was £5 per adult and £4 per child, under 4’s were free. We chose to do this on the last day, after we’d checked out of the hotel and it was a nice treat for all four of us before leaving the resort. Amazingly, having never played bowling before, our little one loved it and managed to beat the rest of us by a fair few points (but to be fair, he was at a bit of an advantage with the ball guider!) Again, this is something to book in advance as the lanes fill up very quickly.

One of the best free activities at Butlins is the fairground – you can go on as many rides as you like, as many times as you like at no extra cost. There are of course stalls where you can win prizes or buy sweets and traditional fairground goodies like candy floss, but the rides themselves are free. Unfortunately our son is a bit scared of going on most of the rides, but he did love the trampolines (and also the Dune Buggies which are just around the corner from the fairground). Our eldest enjoyed the Helter Skelter, however due to the rain we only saw it open a couple of times during our stay. The first day we saw it open the mats were damp from the rain and so everyone was having to hold onto the sides to push themselves down as they were going down really slowly! Our daughter pointed out they could put a roof or cover over it so it can still be used in the rain – I think she’s got a very good point there!

We found the fairground to be very quiet around 10am when it opens each morning and we had a few goes on rides without having to queue. If I’m honest, some of the fairground staff didn’t seem that ‘cheery’, but that may have been because we got used to the super-friendliness of the Redcoats around the rest of the resort.

Entertainment at Butlins

Entertainment is Butlins’ middle name. There is never a dull moment in the Skyline Pavilion, with one show after another, from Billy and Bonnie Bear’s morning workout, to Thomas the Tank Engine and our personal favourite – Titan the Robot.

Entering on his very own docking station (driven by ‘Dave’) to a dramatic Matrix style tune, he demands your attention from the very moment you set eyes on him. Towering over everyone, he starts by giving out some safety information. His show is performed on the floor rather than the stage (as it relies heavily on close interaction with the audience) and everyone has to stand during the performance. Presumably as anyone sitting on the floor may not be seen and could get trampled on! The Redcoats did a very good job of informing everyone of this before Titan appeared.

It’s worth noting for this show that the crowds tend to be packed in closely, making it difficult to leave – and even more difficult to get back to your spot – so make sure the little ones go to the toilet just before it starts. Food and drinks won’t be needed as Titan will take your full attention!

Titan is very quick to react to the people in front of him. Seeing a baby in the audience, he strolled over and made babbling sounds towards him, then spotting someone with a beard he attempted to ‘laser’ it with water. Water becomes a common theme with Titan, so watch out, if you’re near the front you’re likely to get wet!

While Titan can be quite intimidating when standing right in front of you (I’m not joking, there were some adults hiding behind their children!), most were mesmerised and in awe of him, trying to figure out how much of the act is human and how much is robotic. We’ve seen Titan a couple of times before and much of the material was similar to last time, but none the less this show is an absolute must for children and adults alike and we’d love to see him again in the future.

Of the shows we saw in Centre Stage, our favourite had to be Dick and Dom. We saw the hotel exclusive afternoon show rather than the evening show, so didn’t think it would be half as busy as it was. On the first night we’d turned up to watch Snow White around 20 minutes before it started but there was absolutely no chance of us finding a seat! The doors opened for Dick and Dom at 2:15 for a 3pm start. We thought we’d wonder around the Skyline Pavilion from around 1:30 to see when people started to queue, but when we arrived at the Pavilion we were greeted by the queue which already snaked around the edge and past the shops on the other side.

The time spent in the queue did seem to go pretty quickly. We did, however, think it might be a good idea to have fold out seats on the wall for people who are unable to stand for that long. The kids sat on the floor for half an hour and played Angry Birds on Dad’s phone. It wasn’t long before a Redcoat spotted them and came over to ‘help’ with their game, and then a second Redcoat came over to entertain them too!

We also played Dick and Dom word association… which mainly consisted of the kids shouting out “Bogies!” and other Dick and Dom related words, to pass the time!

The B-Line queue were let in just after 2pm, as they had bought special passes to fast track entry into the shows. At £20 per person for the half term week, this would have been way too much for us for the amount we’d actually use them. If our son was a little bit older we’d probably have seen more of the evening shows but he tends to get overtired and grumpy if he’s up too late! I can definitely see the appeal of the passes though, as you don’t have to queue for too long and can get the best seats in the house.

Having said that, we did end up with fairly good seats and managed to grab a table right at the front, to the side of the stage. The view from the side is restricted as you can’t see the back of the stage, but luckily Dick and Dom were mainly at the front of the stage so that everyone could see.

The show itself was hilarious and I hadn’t thought I’d enjoy it so much, but it was aimed at the grown ups just as much as the kids and involved lots of participation from the mums and dads…

Yep. Including me.

I was asked to go up on stage at one point and had to wear boxing gloves and try to punch my way out of a giant paper bag. I did fail (in my defense it was a really strong bag….!) but had so much fun. The kids (and husband) of course found this highly amusing and they just couldn’t resist getting lots of photos to ensure I never forget it!

I did get off pretty lightly though, compared to the other ‘volunteers’, including the kids involved in a big custard pie fight at the end of the show!

With plenty of jokes, sing alongs and audience interaction throughout, Dick and Dom put on a thoroughly entertaining show. We’ll be singing “My Bogies Lie Over the Ocean” for quite some time…

Another Centre Stage show we saw was Scooby Doo, which our son absolutely loved. Since returning home he’s gone Scooby crazy and wants to watch his Scooby Doo DVD every day or dance around to the theme tune on repeat play!

Again, we had a front/side view, due to all the centre tables being taken. Unfortunately this time a lot of the action took place towards the back of the stage and we missed a lot of what was going on. There are screens at either side of the stage to show the full view but unfortunately they weren’t turned on for this, it was a real shame.

With a classic Scooby Doo mystery to solve, Scooby and the gang went in search of ‘the creeper’ and entertained us with catchy songs, choreography and more audience participation, such as shouting “Naughty naughty Scooby Doo!”. The actors looked and sounded like the original characters, particularly Shaggy – I don’t know how he keeps up that voice for the entire performance! This did help in making the younger children believe they were seeing the ‘real’ Scooby Doo.

Aside from the screens not showing the action on stage, we really enjoyed the show.

Even if you don’t go and see any of the shows, you can’t escape the Butlins entertainment – it is literally everywhere! From the Redcoats entertaining people in the queues, to ‘businessmen’ in bermuda shorts wondering around the resort, chefs chasing giant chickens, the Skyline Gang hanging around the fairground to chat to everyone and of course the characters such as Billy Bear, there is always someone around to make you smile.

Thanks for entertaining us, Butlins!

Exploring the local area around Butlins, Bognor Regis

The weather was a little dull on our Butlins holiday, but was that going to stop us splashing in the sea? Of course not! We headed down to the seafront a couple of times during our week in Bognor Regis and were surprised at how quiet the beach was. I imagine it will be a different story during the warmer summer months, but we did enjoy having the beach to ourselves!

It is a pebble beach, but when the tide is right out there is a lovely stretch of wet sand to play and make footprints in. There are plenty of little places selling fresh seafood and ice creams along the seafront, as well as telescopes, a ‘Whaleway’ train and information boards on the local area and the wildlife you can spot there.

On our way to Butlins on the Monday we noticed the traffic coming the other way was at a standstill and figured this must be due to everyone checking out and leaving at midday. So we decided we’d spend a couple of hours at nearby Hotham Park after checking out on Friday, to try and avoid getting stuck in all the Butlins traffic.

The park is an area of 22 acres and has a playground, crazy golf, miniature railway, ponds, boating lake and the best thing of all – loads of space to run around and let off steam before the journey home.

The kids had a wonderful time chasing each other, climbing, jumping, playing and spotting squirrels! Already worn out from a fun filled week at Butlins, the little one slept all the way home. Mum and Dad could have done with a nap too (or another holiday to recover!)

You may also be interested to read:

The real cost of a Butlins holiday – Is it worth it? Plus money saving tips for your trip!

 

We were invited to stay on a 4 night break at Butlins as part of my role as a Butlins Ambassador.  All opinions are my own.

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