A couple of weeks ago, during my half-term holiday we loaded up the car and headed to Butlins in Skegness for a holiday. We used our Tesco Clubcard tokens to pay for our 4 night stay in its entirety (apart from a £20 deposit) and I’m so glad…because if we’d paid full price we would have been even more disappointed in our holiday than we were.
The first mistake, I have to admit, was ours. Skegness is a bloody long way from Scotland! We did break up the journey with a two night stay in a luxury wooden lodge near Richmond in Yorkshire (Flowery Dell Lodges) and I actually wish we’d just decided to stay there for the week. It was lovely, very comfortable and had everything we needed (including free wifi – Butlins take note!). The only downside was the glass TV stand which of course Toby was immediately attracted to!
Anyway, after a long and windy drive through the Lincolnshire countryside we eventually arrived at Butlins on the Monday afternoon. We queued briefly to go through the drive through check-in and we’re given a map to find our apartment, wherein we had our first disappointment… (Apologies that this post is quite long (and there aren’t many photos) but we had quite a lot of disappointment and I didn’t want to leave anything out!).
We were booked to stay in a 2 bedroom ‘Gold’ apartment. We were actually given a 3 bedroom on the first floor of a block, about as far away from the centre of the resort as you could get.
The first thing I was worried about was that the two twin rooms were on the front of the apartment, meaning everyone coming and going would be walking right past Toby’s window. Actually I don’t think he was disturbed too much but it would have made more sense to put us in one of the top floor apartments that didn’t have the walkway right outside.
First impressions of the apartment were that it looked a bit tired and worn, particularly the carpet. I don’t know how much of this was due to the time of year, perhaps it would have looked fresher if we had gone in April. There were a few other things that let it down too; the fridge door seal was split and full of crumbs, the remote control for the TV didn’t have a cover over the battery compartment (not ideal with an inquisitive toddler), the shower tray completely filled up when you were having a shower (which meant you had to be really quick or it would overflow)…but by far the biggest problem was the bed.
I don’t think I have ever slept in a bed so uncomfortable, except maybe in a motel we paid $20 a night for in Vermont where I actually ended up sleeping on the floor! All the beds had metal frames with wire mesh supporting the saggiest mattress I have ever known. Barry and I both had to sleep hanging off the edges or we would be unavoidable on top of each other in the middle of the bed.
As it happened, Toby decided he wasn’t going to sleep past 1am unless he was in bed with me anyway, so Barry got kicked out to one of the single beds and Toby was in the double with me. Most of the other issues with the accommodation were minor niggles we could put up with, but the bed actually contributed to our decision to leave a day early.
There were some positives about the apartment – it had two small leather sofas which were in good condition, the kitchen was well stocked and the bed linen was clean and comfortable. Because we had a Gold apartment towels were included too and there was also a daily housekeeping service who came in and made the beds and emptied the bin. The layout of the apartment meant we could use the coffee table to block Toby into the living area so he couldn’t get into too much mischief. In fact his favourite place the whole time we were there was down the side of the sofa!
The Skyline Pavilion is more or less in the centre of the resort and it houses a stage, theatre, shops, bars, restaurants, cinema and arcade (with lots of 2p drop machines that we enjoyed spending a pound on one day). Around this are several restaurants, the swimming pool complex ‘Splash Waterworld’, a spa, fairground and ‘Reds’ where the Redcoats put on daily entertainment. There certainly seemed to be lots going on and I liked that you could get everything you needed without leaving the resort.
I did take advantage of the spa on the second day. I had a back massage, which I had booked the day before. The massage was great (just what I needed after the night in the stupidly uncomfortable bed!) and reasonably priced at £35. I didn’t make use of the rest of the spa facilities but it looked very inviting.
Unfortunately we didn’t have chance to visit Splash Waterworld. Toby isn’t overly keen on swimming at the moment and seeing as he was already grumpy and not sleeping well we didn’t really want to waste an hour getting him changed and in the pool only for him to have a meltdown. There are parent and toddler sessions where the slides and waves are turned off to make it calmer for young children but these were only from 4-5pm which seemed like a really daft time for me. That’s right before Toby’s teatime and a hungry baby is not a happy one in my experience. I would have liked to have seen a session in the morning too, especially seeing as it we weren’t there during the school holidays and therefore there must have been more toddlers there.
The first night we chose to eat in The Sun and Moon pub. The menu was what you would expect from a family friendly pub and the food was nice enough and reasonably priced. There was a large play area outside too – but nothing suitable for younger children.
On the second night we ate at Firehouse – the newest restaurant in Butlins Skegness. The easiest way to describe it is that it’s just like Nando’s; chicken with a choice of marinades and different sides. Again the food was good, but I thought a bit on the expensive side for what we got. Alcoholic drinks were also pretty pricey – £5.40 for a glass of wine.
The last night we decided to try one of the buffet restaurants. We had almost bought one of the ‘dining plans’ which allows you to eat in the buffet restaurants more cheaply if you book it in advance. I’m really glad we didn’t! We chose to eat in The Yacht Club, one of the two ‘premium’ buffet restaurants. It cost us £18 each to pay on the night and Toby was free. This includes an unlimited buffet and fruit juice or hot drinks. Alcohol drinks are extra, which I would expect, but I was surprised to see no fizzy drinks were included. The hot buffet was OK but pretty uninspiring (and not very hot). I was most disappointed though that there was no sign of the Annabel Karmel kids dishes which are prominently advertised on the Butlins website and on the menu board outside the restaurant. In fact the only thing I saw was a few lonely looking jars of Heinz baby food and a microwave. I have to say the buffet restaurant was somewhat redeemed by the desserts (so much so that Barry had three!).
We did experience some fairly rubbish customer service in the buffet restaurant too which didn’t help. First of all they seemed very confused that we actually wanted to pay and we had to wait for ages for someone to take our payment. Barry then had to wait another age at the bar to be served, despite there being three members of staff and no other customers!
We also had breakfast on our last morning at one of the other buffet restaurants, which apart from being very busy, was actually quite good and the man who showed us to a table was very helpful in getting us a highchair and explaining where everything was.
Butlins is famous for its Redcoats and their entertainment and there was certainly a lot going on. Again, it was perhaps our mistake, but Toby just wasn’t quite old enough to enjoy most of it. There was a show with Thomas the Tank Engine, dancing with Angelina Ballerina, story time with Billy Bear on the stage in the Skyline Pavilion as well as a tots disco and various evening shows as well. The story time show was enjoyable, and although Toby didn’t join in we saw lots of kids who were loving Angelina Ballerina. Our one big gripe was with the Thomas show. I thought Toby might quite enjoy watching it but we couldn’t actually stay in the Skyline Pavilion while it was going on as it was so deafeningly loud! The pavilion is quite a big place but most of the kids watching the show were gathered in a semi-circle within 5 metres of the stage. The Redcoats had their microphones turned up full and at the same time were shouting at the tops of their voices over incredibly loud music. It was unbearable.
Obviously with having Toby we couldn’t go to any of the evening shows either. I suppose you could if you have a baby who will just sleep in the buggy but Toby needs to be in bed by 8pm at the very latest, even on holiday. The only comment I can make about the shows that were on in ‘Centre Stage’ is that people were queueing out of the building an hour before it was due to start (I believe in order to get a good seat) and that was during term-time in October, I dread to think what it is like in the height of summer! You can pay extra to jump the queue but that just seems a bit money-grabbing on the part of Butlins to me.
We had a look round the fairground too – there wasn’t anything especially exciting I have to say, but it was OK considering you don’t have to pay an extra for it. There are some rides for younger children but again, Toby was just that bit too young to be able to enjoy them.
There was a lot to do for children from about two to three years upwards but there really wasn’t anything for younger children. Unless we missed it there wasn’t even a park with baby swings anywhere. We had to keep Toby in the buggy pretty much the whole time as there was nowhere that had a safe area he could crawl or practice his walking. There is a small soft play but again it was full of older kids, even a dedicated baby area in there would have been an improvement.
Overall I can see why people with older kids would go to Butlins and I’m sure it is much more enjoyable when you can take full advantage of all the entertainment and facilities. But this time Butlins just wasn’t for us. I can’t see that we will be going back again anytime soon though. Even when Toby is older and could enjoy all the activities on offer you couldn’t pay me to sleep in that bed again!!