A couple of years ago we forsook a package holiday in the sun for a family road trip around the South of England. We had an absolute blast; staying in a caravan on the Isle of Wight, an apartment in Southsea and a child-friendly hotel in the New Forest.
The kids officially declared it to be the “best family holiday EVER” so in a bid to recapture some of that magic, we boarded a flight once more for Gatwick this Easter… This time we didn’t have to organise any car rental.
A 50min train from Gatwick with Southern Rail saw us arrive in sunny Bognor Regis. Wheeling our luggage through the pedestrian shopping zone, we headed for the Esplanade. Weaving between the day-trippers and coffee stands, a 10-minute walk saw us arrive at our final destination… Butlins. We were greeted with a smile and directed to the main reception in order to check-in.
The family-friendly vibe was palpable… while Stuart and I did the dull paperwork side of things and collected our chalet keys, the kids were showered with activity packs and chocolates (from the look on their faces, I knew this holiday was already a hit!). Eager to explore, we dropped our bags into our “Seaside” Apartment, taking a few minutes to appreciate how spacious it was and to admire the nostalgic décor with a funky twist or two.
The kids were keen to hit the fun park first. The brightly coloured helter skelter caught their eye immediately, quickly followed by the chair-o-planes circling overhead. As we moved deeper into the park, the old fashioned rides gave way to a few more adrenaline fuelled options. There aren’t the high-octane roller coasters you would find at a theme park as this is very much an ‘old school’ fun fair with some modern additions.
The mix of rides and stalls appeal to all ages adding a certain charm to the experience… the children squealed in delight as they tried things for the first time while we reminisced about our own childhoods, swapping stories. We could have stayed in the fun fair much longer but we had a dining package booked for our stay and had worked up an appetite after our journey!
For the next four days we would have breakfast and dinner in The Deck as part of our Premium Dining Plan. The food was good… self-service with a wide choice. Traditional roasts at one counter and fresh pasta at another. Burgers cooked to order, salad bars and ice cream stations. Meal times were a breeze as there was always something to satisfy everyone (no mean feat for a family of five!).
We settled into a routine fairly quickly that involved a full cooked breakfast and a morning of children’s activities from climbing walls and archery to football school and arts and crafts (some activities have a small additional charge per child). We had stocked up on a few supplies at the onsite supermarket so we had a light lunch usually back at the apartment before some water based fun at the new Splash centre (newly opened this season after a 40 million pound investment). Water slides galore with an outdoor lazy river – this was a massive hit with Team Thompson.
On arrival we had been given tickets for some of the live shows at the park this season. We managed to squeeze in an afternoon performance of “Paddington at the Seaside” and an early evening “Sleeping Beauty”. Both shows were fantastic… very upbeat with great sets and big musical numbers that got everyone on their feet. After dinner, in the evenings we were spoilt for choice from Talent Shows and Tribute Acts to Quiz Nights and Cabarets.
On the one rainy day during our trip, we took up residence in the Pavilion where the kids did Ten Pin Bowling and hung out in the giant Soft Play between watching the Red Coats take to the stage for a Dance Party and the SFX Street Circus perform stunts that left everyone agog. We packed a lot in to our short trip making it a great value family holiday experience.
With three children in tow, aged 11, 9 and 7, there was so much for each of them to enjoy as well as the opportunity to spend quality time together as a family… as 9 year old Isaac declared, while filling up his bowl with ice cream for the second time that evening, “this is probably the best holiday EVER mum”.