Should I Go To Butlin’s?!
I think the stand out line from my Mum, who delivered lots of brilliant observational gems on our Butlin’s trip, was when she said “Billy Butlin would turn in his grave if he could see what this place looked like now!” Created in 1936, the Butlin’s then, and particularly later on, in the 40s and 50s, would have provided families something of an absolute retreat. Never before having seen anything like it, people holidayed on the British coast in what’s now looked back on with fond nostalgia. However, though the Butlin’s of today, in lots of places, appears as though it hasn’t moved a muscle in terms of cleaning and repair, I feel the way we holiday now has changed irrefutably for the better. Sure, lockdown showed this kind of trip a new day in the sun, but I think that day has reached its peak, the sunset is very clearly showing on the horizon and though we made the best of our little jaunt to Butlin’s, and though the children really did have fun and there were quite a few merits to the trip, holiday camping, if it’s like Butlin’s, is not for me. Yes, the most important part is that the children have the time of their lives, however, it’s not the ONLY important part. Cleanliness is something I just can’t compromise on so we, for one family, won’t be back. But do read on to find out why I think the answer to my title, “Should I Go To Butlin’s?” would, having now been myself, be a big fat no! I’m going to give you all the details as we found them, and just because it’s not for us doesn’t mean it won’t be for you.
So here it is. Butlin’s: The good, the bad, and, of course, the ugly…
I understand there are absolute die hard Butlin’s fans out there, but having just spent the week at their flagship Skegness resort, I can hand on heart say I won’t be joining the gang. We went for a mid-week, term time Tots Week which, on paper, seemed like a really great deal, and while the children undoubtedly did have a great time, I don’t think Butlin’s is ever really going to be for me – even if all the improvements I think they need to make are made. I kind of knew it wouldn’t be quite my bag, on the basis of having been to Haven in the past, but, like when we visited clean and presentable Haven, I wasn’t actually going for myself, but for the children. I’d assumed Butlin’s would also be clean (it wasn’t) and relatively little hard work once there (how wrong I was), so I booked. It cost just shy of £400 for a “GOLD” apartment and for the premium (the only plan on offer for the week we went) dining plan of breakfast and dinner.
Unfortunately, Butlin’s managed to annoyed me before we’d even arrived! When they had to unexpectedly close the pool it was, of course, no fault of their own however, we were told we couldn’t change our dates, or have a refund, unless we’d taken out buyer protection. The whole reason I’d booked was because we’d wanted to spend the week swimming, and without a pool it didn’t really work for us anymore, no longer being the holiday we had booked. Butlin’s however, were unwavering on their policy. They offered by way of apology, one session in the splash play with the water slides (one suitable for 3 and over, another for 5 and over and the others for ages over 8 and 10), and ice skating had been put on in place of swimming. They also offered us a £20 voucher to spend on site.
Not off to a great start were we, but the Facebook page set up by Skegness Butlin’s fans advised we’d be able to book more swim and soft play (another activity we could only book once, and indeed only for one child) once there which was the most helpful thing about the group. The rest of it was heavily censored by the admins of the page as the “rules” of the group (which is nothing to do with Butlin’s themselves) are that you must only portray Butlin’s in a positive light.
I found it incredibly hard to find out much at all anywhere on line. In an almost “what happens at Butlin’s stays at Butlin’s situation” they seem to manage to keep their information on the down low and I found that absolutely infuriating, so I wanted to share our experiences, exactly as we found them.
The “GOLD” apartments:
We’d booked a 3-bed “GOLD” apartment on the basis that it was near the top of the tree, only slightly (there was £7 in it) cheaper than Seaside and Fairground apartments but with the added bonus of a third bedroom. I hadn’t expected the world and his wife, but, with it being graded “GOLD”, and not bargain basement prices, I’d assumed it would be above basic and, most importantly, clean. It was neither of those things… I made a reel which heavily features the one we stayed in, but amalgamates 2 others that I was shown when the first wasn’t to my liking. They were much of a muchness and we spent our first night in Butlin’s feeling very uncomfortable in other people’s grime. I’d say these apartments haven’t been cleaned properly in years by the looks of them, what do you think?! As for being well equipped, well, book the dining plan or take an air fryer. It was extremely sparse on any kind of kitchen utensils, and the like. This apartment for 6 didn’t even have enough chairs around the table. It could only fit four, and it was the same in the living area.
We’d also booked the premium dining experience which is breakfast and dinner with unlimited squashes and juice, as well as teas and coffees. After our check in I wasn’t hopeful for it being satisfactory but actually, along side the waiters who were very attentive and working super hard, the food was pretty great. I’m quite picky but I was impressed. There was something for everyone and on the one night when Raffie had wanted fish fingers and there weren’t any, a waiter heard and went off to have him some cooked. The variety was plenty, the standard good and I’d be surprised if even the pickiest of easters (this is us) couldn’t find something to eat. From grilled food and pasta cooked in front of you while you wait, to baby food in pouches and cheese and crackers for dessert alongside a plethora of everything else, AND the ice cream machine, we were all well catered for. My two criticisms would be that it gets quite messy and they don’t replenish quickly, however, there isn’t many of them and the ones who are working are always doing something, so I don’t see how they would manage to make it better without more staff. Like the cleaning of the apartments, I imagine, they just don’t have the time to make it perfect; but the food is good and the staff really are very personable, even taking the children to get ice cream at times. A smile goes a long way and these come in abundance in the restaurant. The second thing is the one use plastic glasses – seems bonkers in this day and age and there MUST be a better solution?! Bad for the environment and not very nice to drink from… Butlin’s need to do better on this front as a matter of urgency I’d say!
Breakfast is served from 7-10.30am and dinner from 4.30-7pm. When it comes to the evening meal it felt stressful as if you want to do something like the mini disco at 6pm you’d have to be in the front of the dinner queue to get in there as soon as it opens and I assume be ready to get in that queue from about an hour before to secure that time. People went bonkers for queueing. As a result, we never saw the mini disco!
And I’d chosen to not book VIP passes for the shows on account of the fact it didn’t feel like I should have to. I booked for two shows, the one session of soft play and one session of swimming I was allowed to book and I expected to get in. This was a massive mistake as though we arrived half an hour before the show, all the tables had gone and we had to sit on the floor. My Mum cannot sit on the floor so she had to miss Animals Vs Dinosaurs and when I enquired how to guarantee a seat, asking what time we had to be in the queue by, I was told they let VIP in first, 45 minutes before the show and even then they have to queue considerably earlier and it became apparent that without a VIP pass we wouldn’t be getting a table for Mr Tumble the next day. I expect customer services were bored of me complaining and they gave me VIP passes for the four of us. For our break they would have been £5 each but they go up to £50 per person depending on when you book. I just don’t see why they don’t book as many seats as they have and be done with it. Or get more seats. It just felt very stressful and actually, so did absolutely everything else you had to queue for. And you have to queue for EVERYTHING! From getting into dinner (as previously mentioned), to every single activity and though I’d booked back to back things, thinking I’d booked places so we’d get in, I realised you need such a long stretch of time in-between everything you do, to account for queueing time, that you can’t actually fit that much in. Which is a shame as the shows we saw were BRILLIANT!
Actually amazing. Animals Vs Dinosaurs and Justin Fletcher really did surpass expectation and for the latter when we had a seat it was super comfortable to boot. I loved the shows and it was great to see people taking in their own food and drinks. I think this is probably not allowed but no one was stopping it. The shows really made the week for us, they clawed back quite a lot and I am incredibly grateful we got to see them. I’m pretty sure the children will remember this experience forever!
“Swimming” (in inverted commas):
So I found it really tricky to book extra sessions, just as I did in soft play and people were queuing to get in the queue to find out if there were more spaces which just made me shudder. I couldn’t face more queuing so pulled the card of knowing the customer service manager’s email and asked if she could do something to help. She did and she booked us swim sessions and soft play for every day we asked. With that pressure taken off it was just a case of getting in the queue half an hour before our slot because otherwise you spend half of you hour long slot standing in the rain waiting to get in. The changing rooms were mostly fine, but grubby round the edges but it was forgivable. The splash play, where you can’t take pictures, is basically a giant paddling pool with 3 basic slides and a few Little Tikes water tables. It was warm-ish and fine. An hour would be enough I think. Raffie also enjoyed the one flume he could go on and the rapids which we re-named the slows. They were the antithesis of rapid, you had to haul your body around with water seemingly going in the other direction. Water which is cold and that was comparing it to the outside temperature. Not fun for me but for some reason he loved it and again the staff were BRILLIANT! The stair way to all the flumes was utterly revolting though it has to be said and Raffie asked me why it smelt like the boy’s toilets at school, followed up with “do you think people wee here?” my truthful answer had to be yes. Yes I do think people wee there and I don’t think anyone cleans it properly. Overall they loved being in the pool area but I could have given it a miss and if you know me, you know I rarely say that about swimming!
I’d assumed this would be dreadful, not make up for anything and be a one time visit for us. Who wants to skate with a 3 year old? I’d also imagined it being that synthetic ice which is rubbish but I was super wrong. The rink was lovely and absolutely real ice. Again the staff were fantastic and to top it off kids can have rea skates or children’s ones which go over their shoes. And they have penguin aids too. Skating was a blast and it was never busy so we never queued. This was one of the real highlights for me. I don’t know if it was the lack of queuing that made me think it was more brilliant than it was or if it really was as ace as I remember it but either way go! It’s a break from the rest of it and that was welcome!
The rest of it?
Things like soft play again could be booked for daily visits with an elbows out fight (and queue of course) and the fair ground is there to be utilised too. It too was closed on our first day due to a staff sickness bug apparently but it opened again the next day. It’s ancient. Like really, really old looking but the children still thought it was brilliant! The Skyline play park was something we only went to at the very end. It was something I was glad about as it was way beyond Raffie and Posie’s capabilities and I had to rescue them both which was hard. A Dad said he was a professional climber and he’d have struggled with doing it so it’s that sort of level yet over 12s are not allowed to play on it. So it’s a bit odd? It looks great, the reality is it’s a bit boring unless you’re an agile 10-12 year old. But there’s plenty of other things to do. We couldn’t really follow the schedule because we never knew how long we’d be queuing for anything but we joined in a couple of times when something was on the stage in the main skyline area and again the children thought this was brilliant. They also did a rather lacklustre football session which Raffie enjoyed despite it being a little primitive.
They loved swimming/splash play, skating, the shows, the soft play and going to dinner. They would say they’ve had the best week ever and while that IS the most important thing, I’m afraid the things which weren’t right were SO not right we won’t be back. But I hope my review will prove helpful in deciding if Butlin’s is for you or not?! Message me any questions you might have and I’ll be happy to answer them.
In essence, to my Mum’s observation at the beginning of this review, I would say Billy, it’s time to start rolling!