A while ago and with some shame I started to buy The Sun newspaper in order to save up tokens for one of their £9.50 holidays! They came with so many recommendations that I couldn’t resist giving one a go – EVEN if it meant buying The Sun!. We chose our dates, wrote down our five choices for parks and sent of the £9.50 per person. Then we waited to see…
While we waited I mentioned on social media what we were hoping to do and suddenly got a barrage of messages from people telling me that Pontins (my first choice) was actually NOT the place to be at all and that I’d made a HUGE mistake in my choosing! No, no, I kept saying! My good friend goes to this one all the time and she says it’s fab. When I spoke to her, just to tell her what everyone else was saying, I was gutted to realise that in actual fact she hadn’t recommended Pontins at all… I hadn’t listened properly and although she often stays at Camber Sands, it’s another park company entirely that she chooses. She too confirmed to me that she had heard only bad things about Pontins!
I got my first choice of Pontins in Camber sands and started to get very worried, especially when I kept reading Trip Advisor reviews and tweets from people who had been. The reports said dirty, un safe, looks like a concentration camp… I know what we paid for and I was happily expecting basic but plug sockets hanging off walls and pubic hair from previous guests left in the apartments was NOT what I was hoping for for Jimmy’s first birthday holiday! I was more than gutted and started to write to them for reassurance. Eventually I got so worried I emailed the CEO and then I got a phone call from the park.
They assured me I would not be disappointed with the cleanliness or safety. The chap who called me was very honest and said he knew it wasn’t for everyone but that he could assure me we would not be able to fault it on these basic needs. He took photos and emailed them to me; he even offered me a complimentary upgrade. He said this was in no way to say the more basic apartments wouldn’t be fit but just for us to be afforded more comfort as they were not busy. I accepted and off we went – still with a little trepidation but a lot more confident than before.
We arrived and on first impressions I saw uninspiring metal fences, unattractive peeling paint outside and not a lot of stuff happening. Our apartment however, although old, was perfectly clean and safe. Pontins who have been taken over by the Britannia Hotels Group are in the midde of major refurbishments and our apartment had already been updated. We liked it, there was room for eating, cooking, playing and sleep. The beds were super comfy but a little short and that would be my only complaint! I’m 5ft 2″ and my feet were only just on the bed but it’s a very small thing.
The staff from the word go were terribly helpful and polite. Not just to us but I observed them with everyone and they all worked tremendously hard to ensure everyone was happy. The chefs, the blue coats, the waiters, reception staff… They were very good.
I found everywhere to be clean and safe but perhaps looking a bit tired. The main building and signs could be spruced up somewhat but I know they are working on this. I guess there is a limit to how much one can do with the way the apartments look from the outside but the metal fences which DID make it feel a bit prison like could be updated with wooden boards in front of them I think.
Other things we weren’t keen on were the facts that the activities in the day time, like the swimming pool and trampolines, bike hire etc were only on for limited times. Swimming started at 10 and finished at 2 which meant you could either swim or go out for the day. We wanted to go out and do things so we only had one swim which was such a shame as the pool is good! It’s big and warm with an excellent area for really tiny ones! I didn’t take Jimmy with me when Florence and I took our dip thinking we would be able to go again but with the closing times it meant he never got a splash. We love swimming so it was such a shame for us but I guess we went out of season and they told me that they were nowhere near full so had to cut the cloth somewhere.
We did catch trampolining once but we never made it for the times of the bike hire or inflatable slide so we just played in the parks. They have a few including a new one being built which looks fab! We played mini golf which is free and lots of fun and the indoor play zone is good too. Very clean and with areas for under and over 4’s. I was impressed.
We were exceptionally lucky and treated to some complimentary meals in the restaurant. Again I found it mostly clean with the odd high chair not being wiped down not being a major problem if a little annoying. The food was not really to our taste, lots of chicken nuggets and chips, fried foods and not a great deal of choice or differences between days. The chef was leaving because he had come from the army and couldn’t handle the lack of care in the kitchen but he said that the food was all treated perfectly well and he could recommend eating it. The children lapped up all the beans and chips and we ate what we could. It wasn’t particularly cheap, breakfast was about £7 for an adult. They bill it as ‘All you can eat’ but I wouldn’t say the quality of sausages etc is particularly good and personally I’d rather have less with better ingredients but other people seemed to be enjoying it. I had a rather odd beef stew with some sausages in it which would have been bad news for some of the Muslim children who were staying on a school trip from Germany.
We thought the area was superb and had a fab time exploring and going out for the day! The beach, which is a five minute walk away and just across the road, is simply stunning and because we were so lucky with the weather we made full use of it!
Using Pontins as a base was ideal. It was cheap and cheerful if a little tired but it absolutely did it’s best and the area really is utterly wonderful! We had a lovely afternoon in beautiful Rye and another day where we visited the Romney, Hythe and Dimchurch Railway! A 15-inch guage working railway and we took a fun trip up the coast! We also enjoyed their lovely play area and visiting their model railway upstairs!
We also celebrated Jimmy’s first birthday while we were away and had a great time at Drusilla’s Zoo which is an hour’s drive away before celebrating with a nice meal at Pizza Express!
I think where Pontins really came into itself for us was the evening entertainment. While it might not be what Jonny and I would choose to do on our own of an evening, it is the perfect thing for children and that’s what this holiday, indeed ALL holidays for us really, are about! The famous blue coats kept the little ones happy with a kids disco, games and then more dancing. Florence got on the floor at 7 and didn’t get off until we said it was time for bed at 9! The ‘coats’ worked terrifically hard, their job is extremely difficult, I know more than most as I was once the equivalent but for ‘First Choice’ holidays. When I was 19 I spent the summer in the Canary Islands doing this exact job so I know when it is done badly, this was not, it was top notch! We played bingo, danced, met all the characters (which was her favourite bit) and Jonny and I could have a beer while we watched. Jimmy loved it too and before he fell asleep had a lovely time with his sister. I literally couldn’t fault it!
On balance I can honestly say I had nothing to worry about. We paid £38 and although we were upgraded which isn’t the norm I looked through the windows of the cheaper apartments and they looked fine. Adequate. When you’ve only paid around £40 you can’t expect the earth and clean and safe is all you need. They could do so much more at Pontins but it is a bit like knowing where to start? These parks became popular in the sixties and I wouldn’t say much has changed in the grounds which is a shame really as times have changed and an update could help things along I think. This is an age where money is of the premium and more and more of us are staying at home for stay-cations. This is perfect, it probably more suits some demographics to others but everyone could easily have fun here and if using it as a base then what else could you want?
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Pontins staff who were all so helpful and kind to us. I spoke to other guests who were just as happy yet staying in more basic accommodation. I heard no complaints!
Would we go back? Yes! For sure! We were actually very sad to be leaving…
I have not been paid to write about Pontins and I was not offered complimentary tickets in return for a review. I decided to write about the park because although there certainly are areas for improvement, I don’t think the reviews I have read on Trip Advisor and the like are representative of the stay we had.