So, only a few months after our first Hilton, we find ourselves visiting our first Butlins, in Skegness.
I have fond recollections of teenage holidays spent at various Pontins camps in East Anglia, but I’ve never ventured into Butlins. Gaz, Nic and the boys were booked in for a week, so we figured a few days with them all might be fun.
Rather than self catering, we decided to book in a ‘Silver’ room, with a Premium Dining package, Towels & Housekeeping, guaranteed ground floor and WiFi.
The total cost for two of us, for four nights, was just shy of £375.
We arrived on Monday March 30th, just after 4pm, the reception staff were bright and cheery despite the grey, forbidding, weather. We were given clear directions to our room in Turtle Court in Starfish Quay.
The accommodation is both named and designed to reflect a New England / Florida Keys vibe.
Our ‘Silver’ standard room was reasonably close to the centre of things, but we were forced to park several hundred yards away. There are plenty of baggage trolleys to hand, though.
The room itself was both spartan and ‘bijou’, no, let’s be honest, it was ‘pokey’, about twelve feet by twelve, with wardrobe (to be fair, with plenty of hangers, iron and ironing board), dressing table (with kettle, tea & coffee), reasonably comfortable bed, chair, and a wall mounted TV.
The ‘bathroom’ was about eight by four, with toilet, washbasin and shower.
When our neighbours returned to their room at about eleven PM with a brace of over excited kids (fully ‘Hariboed’) we realised that the rooms are definitely not insulated for sound.
I paid extra for WiFi for our four night stay, this cost £15 – for one device – while other devices are allowed a free thirty minutes a day. WiFi returns about 1Mb/S – not bad, but hopefully the days of having to pay for WiFi are numbered.
We’d also paid for a ‘premium dining package’, costing just under twenty five quid a night. This allows us dinner and breakfast in ‘The Deck’ or ‘The Yacht Club’, both ‘premium’ restaurants in the Skyline pavilion.
Dinner at both restaurants is cafeteria style ‘all you can eat’ with Carvery, Char Grill, Curry and Pasta stations. The food is okay, nothing to complain about there, but nothing to write home about either.
After dinner we had a couple of drinks in ‘The Jellyfish Lounge’, reasonable bar prices, between £3.50 and £4.50 a pint. Well, reasonable prices ‘down south’ perhaps, maybe a little pricey for Lincolnshire.
We tried breakfast in the ‘Yacht Club’ slightly more up-market than ‘The Deck’ – it has carpets and faux leather seats – again it’s all you can eat with a ‘full English’, vegetarian, and omelette stations. We had no problem with the food, which was both well cooked and tasty.
Customer turnover was brisk and the table clearing & cleaning little short of ruthless.
We spent most of our days in and around the ‘Skyline Pavilion’ the largest of several tent-like structures that helped keep the worst of the Lincolnshire weather at bay; ‘where rain never stops play’ – nor gale force winds.
Although, to be honest, throughout our stay, we never felt warm.
Inside the pavilion there is a main stage area where ‘character’ themed shows are staged, a puppet theatre, a couple of bars and several retail (a small supermarket, a bear ‘factory’), fast-food outlets (fish & chips, a coffee shop, Cornish pasties, Burger King…) and a few bars.
On the Tuesday we watched the queues for the ‘Diversity’ dance shows, people were queueing from 10am for the 3:15 shows!
We tried dinner in the ‘Yacht Club’, this time there’s a choice of roasts, but no pasta bar, no char grill, and a smaller choice of curries. We were not particularly impressed, but the furnishings make for a quieter experience.
Frankly after trying both ‘premium’ buffet restaurants, I would not go for a meal package, despite saving a few pounds a day over the headline prices. I’m hardly skinny, but in all honesty I would struggle to eat twenty quid’s worth of food for dinner at either restaurant, and while the breakfasts are okay, not worth nearly a tenner – that’s four star hotel prices – there are better value fast food options available from the various franchises.
Or to be honest, there are supermarkets just a few minutes drive away!
I guess Butlins will argue that their food and drink revenues fund the entertainment available, so it’s worth mentioning that.
As previously mentioned there’s an entertainment stage in the Skyline Pavilion. During the daytime this hosts ‘character’ based entertainment for the youngsters – Thomas the Tank Engine, Barney the Dinosaur, Angelina Ballerina, and so on) – each followed by a (free) photo opportunity for the youngsters. Other (more expensive) photo opportunities are available and there are a number of ‘retail therapy’ outlets. In the evening the pavilion hosts ‘live’ music and films. There are the big, set piece live shows, including the aforementioned ‘Diversity’, and plenty of activities to keep children occupied around the campus; some are included in the price of the holiday, some are extras.
Oh, and the pavilion is home to several dozen coin operated children’s rides, an enthusiastic parent or grand-parent could easily get through twenty or thirty quid a night.
Overall, the one positive that struck us about the whole Butlins experience is the relentless cheerfulness of the staff. Everybody from the gate reception, through the restaurant greeters, the chefs, bar staff, glass collectors, and, of course, the ‘redcoats’ were relentlessly cheerful.