Having never stayed at Butlins before, we didn't really know what to expect. But as we are getting to the stage where any holiday which keeps the kids happy and us less stressed is worth a visit, so we were game for anything.
We opted to stay at the contemporary looking Wave Hotel in an 'Octopus' room which had a double bed and separate bunk bed room for the kids. It wasn't exactly cheap, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise and as funky as the brochure had shown. Cleanliness was good and everything seemed to be quite new, so no complaints. The aircon was good, and had a good sized empty fridge with tea making facility above - and all built into one of the wardrobes.
On the ground floor there was a large 'Games Zone' for kids of all ages to play on everything from a DS to big screen Wii games, there was also a couple of Apple computers hooked up to the free internet for the adults to use when your little uns are otherwise occupied. There is generally a staff member around to deal with any technical issues or troublesome teens, but overall quite a nice facility.
We opted for the all inclusive dinner plan which oddly was served in a building outside the hotel, which although fine for us in the summer might be an issue when the weather isn't so good. As we were there during the school holidays it was quite busy and offers a buffet style set up for breakfast and dinner (no lunch included in the plan). The food itself was ok, offering the usual fare that you would expect from an all inclusive plan, i.e. plenty of carbs and comfort food, and plenty for the kids to eat. So although there is plenty of temptation for eating unhealthily, you can actually get better if you are prepared to wait at the deli/a la carte counter where they prepare grilled chicken or a fresh burger for you on the spot (or omelletes in the morning). Again, because the kids were happy and they chose their own dishes, they actually ate much better than usual - even if there was a bit of waste!
Top tip for food - eat breakfast early i.e. before 8.30 or at wait til 10am to avoid the queues (stays open til 11am), or eat dinner at 4.30 or 6pm.
There was plenty to do throughout our 5 day stay, with something to aim for show wise every couple of hours. You also have the main pool area with its flumes, wave pool and kids areas to fall back on if there was nothing else on that you wanted to see, but oddly, it shut at 5pm which seemed odd in the middle of the summer and holidays. So make sure you get in early as it gets quite busy. The main flume ride had a wait of up to 45 minutes, but was fun all the same.
In the main tent there are loads of amusement arcades and games, along with a Burger King and various cafes and restaurants, all of which were of an acceptable standard. If the kids are determined to spend money at the arcade, get them to use the 2p games, as our two managed to spend an hour of fun having only spent £2!
The courtyard shows were ok, and geared toward the younger kids, but 'Titan the Robot' was well worth a look and very entertaining. The other bigger shows needed you to get in line much earlier than they start to ensure a reasonable spot in the theatres, but overall, they were fine. They had a Michael Jackson tribute and a Shaolin Monk show when we were there and both were very enjoyable. Not quite Vegas or a cruise ship standard, but better than we had expected.
There is a Spar supermarket on site if you wanted to buy on a budget, but to be honest, we didn't find the drinks that bad in the venues bars. A Pint was £3.20 and kids drinks £1.40 - which is similar to some vending machines for soft drinks, so 4 drinks for 2 adults and 2 kids for under a tenner seemed fair value. We also stayed for a wrestling contest in one of the big arenas, which although quite contrived and amateurish, was surprisingly fun!
If you drive there you will find plenty of parking, and if its at one of the hotels or suites then its free. You will have to have your booking reference handy to get in, but otherwise quite hassle free and secure.
There is also a funfare on site which again is quite old fashioned, but typical of what you would expect to find. Be aware that not all rides are free - but if you look around many are, so it needn't end in tears if the kids want on something. There was also a separate area for things like Karting, 'Orbing', adventure park and football coaching - all for a fee of course, but plenty to do for any age. We also pted to pay an extra £5 per head for teh circus - which was in quite a small tent next to the fair. It wasn't quite the spectacle we were expecting - with no circus animals, but stil fun all the same for an hour.
Some of the communal areas are clearly looking a bit dated and in need of some regular TLC, and there was an annoying lack of attention to detail in the restaurants which prevented us from giving a higher rating (e.g. they repeatedly ran out of plates and cutlery in the restuarants meaning you had to stand about like an idiot having your food get cold whilst someone went to wash some, or the automatic drinks machines simply threw out indigestible concoctions because no-one appeared to know how to top up the coffee beans or mix what was obviously diluted juices). So a shame really, as that was an easy fix and would have prevented many irate diners.
The staff on the whole were pleasant and helpful, so we can't say it was terrible, but when you are comparing this to resorts in Europe or the States, places like Disneyland get 4+ stars. One quote that someone mentioned seems to fit well for Butlins - namely that if it was a car it would be a Ford Cortina as opposed to a Mercedes - both will acheive the same objective, but just in a different style. So if you aren't too bothered about a different class of resort which definitely keeps the kids happy, then it ticks all the boxes - just don't expect the Ritz...
- Also Known As:
- Wave Hotel & Apartments Bognor Regis, West Sussex