Sunday, 16 August 2009

Butlins ain't what it used to be

As I was lying on my hotel bed a few nights ago I decided to update my Facebook status. This is what I wrote...

Emily is having the best time at Butlins...seriously.

It was the end of the first day of our two night stay and despite being without a husband, who had yet again been called away on a job, the two girls and I had had a blast.

When I checked Facebook the following day I was met with a deluge of negative comments.

*Oh sweetheart, you have obviously lost your mind. We took the kids one rainy weekend and I just about lasted without killing myself or the kids. You are a stronger woman than me.

*I'm scared for you Em.

And this one was perhaps the most telling...

*But you're middle class. For God's sake don't let the girls speak French. You'll get lynched.

I can't say I was totally shocked by the reaction - Butlins, (if you're reading this from overseas) is well-known as the destination of choice for the working man and his family. And how many middle-class people holiday in Britain these days anyway?

Well, quite a few it seems. That is, if they even holiday at all. Thanks to the Credit Crunch, middle classes especially, are choosing to holiday on home soil, which is perhaps why Butlins continued to forge ahead with the development of a brand new £20 million Ocean Spa Hotel, when other competitors were making cutbacks.

I knew a while ago that my only hope for a holiday this Summer would be a week in Norfolk visiting the Grandparents, so when I heard that Butlins were inviting all manner of press, including bloggers to come along for the launch of the Ocean Hotel in Bognor Regis, I jumped at the chance. Renée herself had been known to shriek with excitement every time she saw the adverts on television, complete with smiling children and waterslides - asking if one day we'd be able to go there. "Of course, darling", I would say "Of course we'll go day", hoping that she would forget the request and I'd never have to fulfill her dream.
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I loaded up the car and headed off. Would we be lynched as my friend had envisaged? Would I be on my knees threatening to kill myself before the two days were up? I sincerely hoped not, especially as I was on my own with the two girls and the responsibility to bring them home safe and sound was solely mine.

But I needn't have worried about a thing. I mean, does this look like the sort of place you'd be lynched?


The Ocean Hotel itself is visually breathtaking, especially in the bright sunshine which we were unbelieveably lucky to have...and once inside it didn't disappoint either. The yellow tub chairs, slightly reminiscent of early series of Big Brother, set the decorative tone, which was continued throughout the hotel, from the very chic and funky Kaleidescope Restaurant and Bar to the different coloured floors of the hotel.

The disco mirrored lifts were a novelty, for perhaps the first five times, but when your child has gone missing and you're frantically trying to reach your bedroom in the vain hope that they might actually have made their own way there, then flashing lights and Bee Gees screeching in your ears is perhaps not the most soothing of atmospheres. I'm not saying that actually happened to us of course...cough... splutter...I'm just saying if it happened.

As with most hotels, there are rooms with fantastic views and rooms with views that are far from fantastic. When we were first given a tour of the hotel we were shown both views, in this case one of the sea and one of the car park, yet unaware of which one we had been assigned. So I was somewhat disappointed to find that we had been given the car park view. Strange thing was, on closer inspection, it wasn't the car park view at all - it was in fact, sea view extraordinaire, only with a car park sandwiched in between the hotel and the sea. Now I hate to bite the hand that feeds me, but surely the car park could have been positioned elsewhere? Just a suggestion mind.

The accommodation was otherwise fantatsic. A main room complete with double bed, green suede sofa, fridge, ample storage, plasma television, huge balcony, twin beds in a separate room and a bathroom.

The two girls were ecstatic to see a flat-screen tv in their room as well, only not quite so ecstatic to find that there was no children's tv...just another suggestion for a family friendly hotel...or was it just me not pressing the right buttons? It has been known...

But the real reason why I think you'd be drawn to this hotel is for the exceptional Spa.

Inside there's a sauna, a snow cave (one of only two in the country), an outdoor hot tub, hydrospa, steam room, relaxation pods, 'disco' showers, plus an inordinate amount of treaments available to book. I'd originally reserved a complimentary spa treatment, but on learning that my husband was unable to make it, I had been forced to cancel, there being no one to look after the children. And as I enviously eyed-up the other bloggers sloping off for their manicures and facials, I made a last-ditch attempt to enquire about creche facilities.

'Oh yes. We have a nursery. Would you like me to make a reservation for your children?'

I think I nearly kissed the woman. Instead, I promptly booked my little ones in for a two-hour nursery session. Now apart from the nursery being as far away from the spa as was geographically possible and unable to reach without passing through the cavernous indoor activity area which was full of every kiddie ride imaginable... which meant I was at least half an hour late for the spa, the experience was unequalled.

I had the pleasure of getting to know a couple of other fabulous bloggers - Elsie Button and MrsOMGWe'rePregnant, in the open-air hot tub and I even managed to sneak in a quick pedicure.

It was bliss.

When I collected the girls from the nursery they too seemed to have had a great time - brandishing, as they were, newly-painted bits of paper to show for their morning's work.

The other rides we tried were the Merry-Go-Round, trampolines, tug boat and climbing frames. But perhaps the best outdoor entertainment were the karts which could be driven around the complex, either solo, as a couple, or as a foursome. Renée and Nixdminx's Miniminx hired one... and off they was a moment of independence which I think Renée will remember forever. As for Edie, she was a tiny bit too small to go on a lot of the rides which her older sister was able to go on which meant me having to pre-empt tantrums with promises of lolipops and ice cream, but they seemed to do the trick nicely...

We even made two appearances at the Splash Waterworld complex - which included waterslides, flumes, rapids, wave machines, paddling pools and water cannons. The children loved it. But for me, as a Mother on her own with two small children, it was probably the most unrelaxing part of the stay. Unrelaxing and just a tiny bit unsanitary too. I did spy rather a lot of floating plasters and the underside of my right foot is starting to tingle just a touch...

As for the famous redcoats and the evening entertainment - we had been promised Eoghan Quigg and Chico from the X-Factor - and although I wasn't completely enthralled by the lineup, the queues were far too long for me to even consider going along with two children. Instead I opted for a few drinks with some other Mummy Bloggers and called it a night.

There are many more stories to tell you, aside from how much fun it was hanging out with all the bloggers and their families, but this post has taken far too long already. So I will just leave you with this instead...

Did I enjoy my stay?
Absolutely. Definitely. I had a blast. And so did the girls.

Has it changed my perception of Butlins?
Yes, without a doubt.

Would I go again?
Yes, for the Ocean Hotel alone.

So that's all for now. Thanks to everyone at Butlins who made our stay so special. I'm sure we'll be back. Maybe next time I'll bring hubby along and I can enjoy the spa for a wee bit longer. And finally, thanks also to the other bloggers who made it even more fun...
NixdMinx, And1MoreMeans4, PerfectlyHappyMum, ZooArchaeologist, DaddaCool, SingleParentDad, Part Mummy, Part Me, Elsie Button, MrsOMGWe'rePregnant, HaveALovelyTime, FunnyWomenMedia.


  1. The hotel looks lovely , looks like fun was had by all.

    I don't get why Butlins is hated so much by all, we went for a week during the summer (Minehead) . We could of gone abroad but decided that travelling on a plane with a 4 year old, 2 year old and 8 month old would be a hassle and decided to stay in the UK. We all had a blast

  2. Oh my gosh E.
    It looks fantastic.
    Was that really Butlins??????
    I don't believe it. Are you sure you weren't brainwashed??
    I'm in Chicago, slumming it with friends.
    Enjoying myself as a mummy without child.

  3. It sounds great....although the floating plasters may have just changed my mind. Glad you managed to get to the spa- what a treat!

  4. Is it just me or does it look like Willy Wonka's place???? But sounds like you had a great time - 3 cheers for Butlins!!

  5. Finally!! =) I wish I came to the spa with you! And the jacuzzi looks amaaazing!
    Big kiss from the living room xxx

  6. What a fabulous place, it certainly makes me thinkin about going !!

  7. Where can I book my ticket? If they had one in Canada I'd be there tomorrow. You've definitely changed my mind about Butlins. Glad you and your girls had a great time!

  8. It really does look fab! If it weren't so far away from me I'd definitely go. Maybe when the kids are older.


  9. Hello lovely - what a great post, I do wish we had been able to spend longer on the day after the launch but we headed off to Enid Blyton country for camping and now I'm totally and utterly back in London! Watch out for my photo pressie for Renee, love the minxes xx

  10. Another blogger shaming the inefficient.

    I thought the TVs were Freeview jobbies, thus Cbeebies etc, though I didn't try the one in the cabin part.

    I can see how Splash Down would be a nightmare more than a joy when your 2-to-1 ratio is the wrong way round.

    And it was great meeting you too, or three.

  11. I have enjoyed telling people I was in the outside hot tub in Bognor. Raised eyebrows everywhere I'll tell you... even more so when I explained I didn't even have to unpack my stab vest! I must get on with my blog post about our little jaunt....

    Best bit though was getting to meet all the bloggers and my top to toe pregnancy special bump treatment. Pure bliss. I finally glowed!

  12. Laura - I know - it's funny how its reputation precedes it. I've never been before so I wasn't able to pass judgement. But yeah, I don't blame you for not wanting to fly with three little ones. Butlins was great - we honestly had a blast as well. I'd definitely recommend it.

    Lulu - Hello honey - read your new blog...well done you. And yes - that is really Butlins!! Unbelievable hey? Hope you're having a great time - Oh how I miss a bit of slumming without children! xx

    Chic Mama - Yep, aside from floating plasters it was great. I may just have to take a fishing net next time! Spa was amazing - just wish I could have stayed in it a tiny bit longer!

    Kathryn - No it's not just you! It looks like a cross between lots of places - part Big Brother, part Willy Wonker, part Andy Warhol as NixdMinx said. They've really gone all out for a change of image.

    Marion - I know - the jacuzzi was amazing - wish you had been there too - and the girls would have loved it. Another time... x

    Ragna - It was great. I would definitely recommend it...

  13. Lady Mama - I know - it was fantastic...shame they don't have them in Canada - but when you're visiting us over here - I'll book you a few days!!

    Insomniac - Yeah I think if the kiddies had been a bit older I could have relaxed just that little bit more...instead of panicking that they were going to run off. There's tons of things to do for all ages, but little ones are never easy!

    nixdminx - Love the minxes too...we're very lucky to have them! Will look out for photo pressie (big red balloon perhaps)?? Not sure I want to remind her... And yes, wish you could have stayed a tad longer too, but we had much fun nonetheless xx

    SPD - Not that I would think about kiddies watching TV when there's so many other things to do, but it was so hectic and full-on that we needed to lie on the beds and just chill for a bit...but they weren't impressed by the News unfortunately!! And yes, Splashdown particularly stressful because my two think they can swim...Good to meet you too. Max is a cutie...but I know you know that!

    Mrs OMG - Darling - you glowed already! I may jest, but you did. Thought you looked fab pregnant - and not an ounce of fat to boot. How have you done it? Good to meet you...we had fun didn't we? Hot tub was a highlight! xx

  14. Ahhhh it sounds brilliant hon and I loved your write up. It looks like a fabulous place. And what a lovely bunch of bloggers you were able to meet. Brilliant. :D

  15. I'm intrigued by the snow cave.

  16. Like Iota, the snow cave is intriguing me. Sounds like you had a great time, and I have to say, we'd never considered Butlins as a holiday possibility in the UK. I shall have to review my conceptions!

  17. D was attracted by the ads too .... fortunately the experience lived up to what she was hoping for! We did manage to find Cbeebies etc fortunately!

  18. Brilliant post! and I still can't get over the fact that I missed so many bloggers!!!!
    Once again it was great seeing you again, and I look forward to the next time :) xx

  19. That looks absolutely wonderful! And you got a press trip. Lucky girl. I'm not sure what Minehead is like now, we went a few years ago, but, as you know, I've been trying to organise a village outing for a three-day stay but have never got round to it. I'm going to get my arse in gear and get on with it.

  20. I've been reading these reviews of the Bloggy Mums' Butlins trips and I think Butlins were right to do it through the mummy blogging network. As I said at Frog in the Field, so many of us must have terrible memories of Butlins and the second rate accommodation, food and entertainment, so we need to see real people enjoying it for us to give it another go. There is a whole generation of mums out there refusing to go to Butlins because of our experiences in the 70s. Butlins have a major PR job on their hands!

  21. Sounds like you had a blast. I didn't know about the nursery. If only I knew before, I would have reconsidered coming on my own, too. (i.e. without hubby, not without L, obviously)

  22. PS: Am I the only who thinks it's funny it's called BLOGnor?

  23. great post hun! we had such a fab time and seeing you again made it the best trip ever! So glad you had fun i will be going back and i will go in the spa this time. Actually i think we should all go at the same time and have fun again! xxxxx

  24. Great post, love the facebook stuff lol! Wish we had gone to the splashzone. I'm thinking that perhaps we should all arrange to go again on a second blogfest. A BMB takeover of the entire complex, if any Butlins PR is reading this....

  25. Yes a BMB takeover please, I really want to go! Such an image change for Butlins, I wonder if they'll overhaul their other places too? Sounds like you had a great time!

  26. Er, Butlins did NOT look like that when I worked at their Skegness (pronounced 'Skeggeh') outpost n 1990..harumph!

  27. What a great post, you really did it justice! it's lovely to hear that everyone had so much fun - good old butlins eh! and i meant to ask you about the nursery the following morning - glad it worked out, wish i'd thought of that! the outdoor hot tub experience was great, but also very very surreal! x

  28. Blimey, Butlins has changed a hell of a lot since I went there, it looks fab.

  29. Jo - It was fab sweetie - would have been even better if you had been able to come too... next time. We'll work on it x

    OP - I know!!! The photos are amazing aren't they? It was great...and I want to go back!

    Iota - Sorry - should have explained it a bit better. Thought my post was rambling enough and no one needed yet more info. But snow cave...a little room covered in 'snow' from floor to ceiling complete with icicles...kept at a constant temp of -16C to help your pores close after the sauna or hot tub apparently! Something like that anyway. I went in to have quick peek but even with my clothes on it was a tad too cold...wouldn't have wanted to go in there in the nod. Which is why I opted for the hot tub instead!!

    BiB - Right - see reply to Iota above for snow cave answers. Not sure I even answered it properly but as of yet I'm not an expert! And yes, I'd never considered it before, but I may even go again. Was fab...

    Antonia - Sorry I missed you...glad you had a good time too - and think we had the same experiences at the swimming pool by the sounds of things. Must have gone on the floating plasters day! Can't believe you found CBeebies - I knew it was possibly my technical ineptitude...I wonder what I was doing wrong. I only managed to find 4 channels!

  30. PHM - I know - even with my relatively long list, I still managed to miss a few bloggers too. Most anoying. Wasn't like our confined space at the Rainforest Cafe! But yes, wonderful to see you again...and 'feed has moved' is still annoying me. I am technically's official! Will try again tomorrow x

    Maddie - I know - I'm not quite sure how I wangled it...! But yo must go - although my review was just based on the new hotel which they've spent a ton of money on - I can't vouch for any of the others (so don't blame me if you do get lynched)!! But seriously, I think you'll have a fab time anyway - do it. Get organising xxx

    WM - you're so right. Not one person I spoke to about the trip beforehand had anything good to say about Butlins at all. Even the people who had never been could only say negative things. They do have a major PR job on their hands, but so far they're doing all the right things I think. Will be interesting to see how it all pans out...

    Met Mum - You should have come anyway - we would all have looked after you and Little L. But no point in me saying that after the event now is there!! Yes, nursery was a godsend - wouldn't have put them in for more than 2 hours (not that it was bad - on the contrary) - was just that the trip was about all of us, not just me and there were so many other things the girls wanted to do. And yes, Blognor is funny - it's a little badge that Laura of AreWeNearlyThereYetMummy''s husband designed...I love it!

    Amy - Oh I wish we could do it all over again too. Definitely didn't have quite long enough in the spa!! And those large glasses of wine could be drunk again don't you think? Have said it before, and I'll say it again - was lovely to see you and your family. And your girls behaved beautifully and are a real credit to you x

  31. Zoo - Imagine that?? There are over 500 members now, so I think we might just fill it to the brink. They could always house us in the other Shoreline Hotel - quite fancied the look of that one too. And yes, Splashzone was fab - would have been even better with hubby there too or if the girls had been a tiny bit older, but they loved it nonetheless. Would definitely go back.

    Whistlejacket - Hello to you and thanks for popping by. Yes, it would be interesting to see if they update the others, like you say. I think for the moment they've spent so much on the Ocean Hotel that they probably don't have anything left for the others. But possibly, depending on how much of a success it is, then they'll start on the image of the others...And yes, a BMB takeover sounds like a great idea...

    Raj - Hello gorgeous. What a shame for you hey? But you always were a bit of an early adopter...come back and visit again with us - it would be hilarious!

    Elsie - Yep the nursery was great (was a total lifesaver in fact) - imagine if I hadn't have put them into nursery I wouldn't have been able to sit in the hot tub and chat to you! But the girls did have each other and they are used to nursery (well Renée goes to school and Edie 2 mornings at nursery) so they were fine. I wouldn't have been able to leave them if they hadn't been used to it. Wouldn't have been fair on them or the nursery staff! But it was all good and yes, by the sounds of things I think everyone who went had a great time.

    magnumlady - I know. It's ridiculous. If those photos had been shown to people without knowing where they were, no one in their right mind would have said it was Butlins. It's a major overhaul (and I think one they desperately needed).

  32. Holy Moly! You gonna see me under all these comments???

    Glad you had a lovely time - it dont 'alf look fab!


  33. Even more gutted now that I missed it

  34. RM - How can I fail to see you beautiful lady?? Yep, was fab - would have been even fabber with you there though. Don't say no to the next one...

    YM - I know...Didn't mean to make you jealous with the pics. Sorry! You'll get another chance to go and there'll be no stress involved and it will be even better...

  35. Wow can't believe that this place is only 10 minutes from my house ... not sure if my dear husband would agree going there though, I'll have to work on that.

  36. Admission time... when I saw the title, I thought (jealously) 'not another Butlins review', but I read it anyway and I'm glad I did. What a great post. The hotel sounds wonderful and I'm glad you had a good time. I suppose that's one in the eye for the Butlins snobs on facebook! x

  37. frogs - Hey - you could always do a day pass thing. Get hubby to take kiddies round all the rides whilst you relax in the spa!! Sounds perfect to me!

    Sandy - Oh I love your honesty. And I totally know what you mean too (don't tell anyone but felt that about all the Disney blogs)!! Oops...have written it now! But thanks...yeah it was a hard post to write actually - kind of sat there for a while looking for an angle that wasn't just a boring old arse licky review and when I saw all my Facebook comments they kind of leant themselves for inclusion. Was fab (even if it is boring for everyone to read about)!! xx

  38. Ha! Ha! Just read your post - we were also in Butlins at Bognor - end of July. Loved it (mostly) though we were slumming it a bit in silver accomodation. Was also fun spotting the middle class mummies - mostly found on rides with children being a bit scared. (Possibly I screamed on the boat one, but convinced by 5 year old I was just joking).
    Lovely post.

  39. Hello.

    I've had a go at rounding up blog posts about Butlins and added my thoughts here:
    I'm bound to have missed some, have quoted you and linked here.
    All the very best. xx

  40. tattyhouse - Ooh thanks for stopping by. Didn't even know there was Silver accommodation - I dread to think, sweetie really I do!! It's kind of fun though really - isn't it? Almost embarrassing to say so, but there you go...

    Linda - Ok honey - will pop by yours and have a look. Well done you - I know just how long mine took...wasn't easy was it?! x

  41. Sounds like a great trip - Minehead Butlins doesn't have a spa or Disco lifts, but if you've got kids, they just have the best time.

    We've been using Butlins Minehead for a few years now and love it that much we bought a static carvan as a home from home.

  42. Simon - Yep, kiddies have no idea about what they should or shouldn't like - so they are always great judges. And they loved it!! Caravan sounds fab x