Back in April, we decided to have our last family holiday before Honey Nut arrived. I was 30 weeks pregnant, so we wanted somewhere where I wouldn’t have to do much walking and somewhere that Tyler could be easily entertained – and that’s how we ended up having a Butlins ‘Just for Tots’ holiday.
I must admit it not somewhere I was proud to say I was going to when people at work asked me where we were going, Butlins at Bognor Regis – not quite Cornwall! I had images of a run-down holiday resort, bad food and loads of screaming children. But it wasn’t like that at all. I’m not a Butlins ambassador and we paid for everything ourselves – it was £400 for 4 nights accommodation (Mon-Fri) in the Ocean hotel with a ‘full seaview’ balcony and breakfast.
You can watch this little video for a taste of what it’s like, or read on for my tips.
If you’re looking for a child-friendly holiday, I would say turn off your inner snob and try out a Butlins Just for Tots week in Bognor Regis. Here are my tips for surviving the week:
1) Choose the right accommodation
The newest hotel is called the Wave hotel, and it is all shiny and new and looks amazing in real life. But I chose the Ocean hotel as in the photos the rooms had funky lights, and whereas the Wave hotel only had bunk beds, the Ocean hotel had twin beds in the kids den. But when we got to our room, I was a bit underwhelmed, it was smaller than I expected, and although it was like the photos, it did have tatty carpet, the paintwork on the walls was a bit shoddy (maybe that’s the designer in me, but my eye kept going to the errors!), the bathroom fittings were a bit old, there were cracks in the bathroom floor tiles, and our ‘full seaview’ looked across a car park before you saw the sea which kind of took the ‘wow’ out of the view.
But saying that, the once it was dark and you switched the funky lights on, the room was amazing. And Tyler LOVED it.
The lights were cool, but our double bed was the most uncomfortable bed we had ever slept it – lumpy and soft with a spring sticking in my back. These mattresses definitely need replacing.
Each hotel room has a kids den room as you enter, which is next to the bathroom, and then there is the main bedroom with TV and little fridge, kettle. And then you have the balcony with floor to ceiling sliding doors, and 4 chairs and a little table on the balcony. The kids den room was brilliant, Tyler loved it and slept in there without bothering us for the 4 nights – now this is a miracle as he’s always coming into our bed at home. The den room also had it’s own TV, and boxes under the beds to store toys.
One really bad thing for me was that my iPhone just would not connect to the hotel wifi! My husband’s phone and our Hudl had no problem, it was just my iPhone, so I had to use my data, grr. And on the resort itself, you only get 30 minutes free wifi, or you can buy an internet package. So best thing is to stand in any of the hotels to use their free wifi.
It wasn’t all bad, so I’ll leave the decision to you. If you want brand spanking new, choose the Wave hotel. If you want funky lights and a really cosy kids den room, choose the Ocean hotel. Both hotels are equal distance to the attractions on the resort.
2) Breakfast – go late
We were really impressed with breakfast at the Ocean hotel, the restaurant was really funky and has great views of the resort. Breakfast is served from 7am – 10.30am. And there’s a ‘rush hour’ between 8-10. We always went at 10am, when it was super quiet and there was still loads of food available. Cooked english breakfast buffet, cereal, milk, yogurts, squash, pastries, fruit, teas, coffees. I know this is late for most people. Tyler would get up at 8am, so we’d give him milk and biscuits for a pre-breakfast – that way we could have a lie-in each morning. Then we’d go for proper breakfast at 10am, and I totally recommend that, as it’s so busy and stressful there if you go any earlier.
3) Don’t feel like you HAVE to do all the activities in the brochure
When you check in you get a little brochure with all the kiddies activities they have on for the week, like Thomas shows, painting classes, parent and child swim sessions, shows, kids discos. There’s so much, it’s brilliant, I had all these plans to do as much as we could as it’s all included in the price. Forgetting that Tyler is just not into group activities or shows!
On the Tuesday I took him to the Thomas live show in the marquee, and he went a bit weird seeing ‘Thomas’ in real life – well a giant version of those toy ride-ons you see in shopping centres, and then when Diesel started talking on the screen, Tyler put his hands over his eyes and said ‘No!’ and just walked off! I have no idea why he reacted like that, I just guess he doesn’t like live shows.
Tyler much preferred going on the giant soft play centre which was located behind the stage. The first day I was terrified I would lose him. This is the biggest one I’ve ever seen and adult are not allowed to go in. The child has to be 1m or over, which he was, and then you just leave them to it. It was hard to get him out, he loved it so much that we went everyday. We would sit on the seats underneath and surf the net with the half-hour allowance of free wifi.
4) Take lots of change and exchange your tickets for a gift on Thursday
Tyler’s other most favourite activity was the 2p machines. There are loads of them, with little stools for toddlers to stand on (encouraging gambling at an early age ;-)). It’s quite hilarious seeing all these toddler playing on these machines, each holding their little pot of coins! You get tickets when you play on these, and once you saved them up you can exchange for a gift. My top tip is to do this on Thursday evening, as everyone leaves it till Friday when they are leaving, but the queue for the gift exchange shop is massive then. We made that mistake, and so had to rush our choice and got 3 little piddly toy cars.
5) Bring enough holiday cash with you
The cashpoints in the resort all charge to take money out, so make sure you bring cash with you.
6) Take out a dining plan when you book
We didn’t take out a dining plan, as it was about £40 per day and we thought there’d be places to eat outside of the resort in Bognor. Wrong! We should have taken the plan out, as there is so much choice of food on the resort, and it all worked out more expensive paying on the day. The Burgerking prices are extortionate compared to normal high street branches! There is a Papa Johns on site that do takeaway so you can eat in your room, but they only offer the pizzas as takeaway, anything else on the menu, like pasta dishes, have to be eaten in the restaurant. I think there should have been more takeaway options in general as all of the resort guests had children who go to bed in the early evening.
Here’s what we did eat, all on the resort: Burgerking on Monday night, Papa Johns on Tuesday, Pot Noodle and pasta from the on-resort Spar on Wednesday (that Spar was really expensive too!), pub dinner on Thursday night – yep, we discovered that a bit late! This is what we ate:
Now why did we choose Burkerking on Day 1? Well we were shattered. We first went into this nice looking place in the marquee, that had a beautiful reading corner with colourful beanbags for the children. But they only served cocktails or coke floats – no food! I did find that quite amusing – get drunk while your kids read books 😉
7) Take note of the Swimming Pool opening times
We just assumed, being on holiday, that the pool would be open all the time, I mean 3pm isn’t late right?? Well we got there with our swimstuff ready at 3pm and they said the pool closes at 3.30pm! But that day they were letting hotel residents go in for an hour from 4pm – 5pm, so we hung around for that. The pool was AMAZING, they had slides all in a shallow area, so we didn’t have to worry about Tyler drowning. He really had the best time playing here for an hour, while we just chilled in the water watching him. There was also a jacuzzi area and they did ‘waves’ – a siren blasted and everyone went crazy for these waves in the pool.
Now silly us thought this residents only hour was everyday, but when we went back the next day, we were told it was a one-off and they were doing classes that day instead. Very disappointing! You might say, why didn’t we go in the morning – well it’s PACKED then, and we just don’t do crowds.
8) Escape the resort and ride the Whaleway Train to Bognor seafront.
On Tuesday after the Thomas live show disaster, we asked Tyler what he wanted to do. He said ‘THE SEASIDE!’ – so we walked out of the resort (we had to take these ‘guest’ passes on the way out), and there in front of us was this little blue train. Tyler went nuts! It turns out that it takes you to the seafront, and you can ride it back when you’re done at the seaside. It’s £1.50 return and Tyler was free, and it runs every 10 minutes until 4pm. We did this twice in the week, my boy loved it.
He loved the seaside – running around, throwing stones in the sea, making train-tracks with his fingers in the sand. We walked along the seafront to the pier, which was a bit crap, and then went across the road to super funky coffee shop called The Coffee Corner for cake and milk. Totally recommend a visit. (EDIT: Sadly now closed down :-() Tyler then fell asleep on Dada’s lap, so we were there a while. In the end, we carried him back to the Whaleway train stop.
The second time we went to the seafront, we had a picnic lunch there which was soooo nice. I LOVE the seaside 🙂
9) Enjoy the Butlins Funfair
We could see the funfair from our balcony. It seemed closed most of the time, but actually it was open from 12pm – 4pm. Here’s what Tyler and his Dada went on (me being pregnant just took the photos!)
Note you have to pay £5 to go on this.
10) Leave before 12pm on the last day
Check-out is at 10am on Friday, but they can watch your luggage if you still want to stay on the resort for a while. But we were warned that we might like to leave before 12pm, as it was a 90s adult weekend next, full of stag and hen dos. And these guests usually arrive drunk according to the Butlins staff! That might explain the cracked tiles in our room, who knows what happened there?! All the kiddie chairs get removed so it feels sad just hanging around the resort, you’d be better off heading home.
I hope you found my tips useful. If you’ve got preschool children, they will love a Butlins Just for Tots break.
Have you been on one of these holidays, or are planning to?