Tuesday 1 May 2018

Butlins Just For Tots: Our Family Holiday

When I was getting close to the end of my pregnancy with our 2nd baby I said we should plan a break away when our baby is a few months old. I thought it would be nice to have something to look forward to, because lets face it having a new born isn't easy. And this time we'd have a toddler and a new born to deal with and I knew I could probably do with a break. We considered our options and in the end Butlins in Skegness seemed like the best option.

Waiting for the Teletubbies to come on stage

When I think of Butlins, I think of seaside holidays, red coats, 70s weekends and tacky entertainment that only a British family could appreciate. But more recently I'd heard good things about their family holidays, particularly their Tots breaks geared towards children under the age of 5. It worked out really well for us financially, so we thought it was worth a try. We were sure our 2 year old would enjoy it if nothing else.

The accommodation was less than £250 for 4 nights (we were able to get it cheaper which you can read about here), which included all the entertainment and the majority of the activities, you really can't ask for more than that. All the staff were super friendly and helpful and they did their best to make it a special time for the little ones.

So what did we really think of our family holiday and what did our 2 year old think. Well it's really hard to know exactly what he thought as our conversations with him are pretty limited. But I have a pretty good idea of the things he liked the best from the reactions he gave. Here are our best bits and the parts that weren't so good.

The best bits

From what I can tell he had a great week. I thought we'd end up having a lot of melt downs with him when we didn't let him go on every ride we passed and buy every toy he saw. But we managed to divert his attention. His favourite things were:
  • The swimming pool. He loved the small slides and the rapids. All the changing rooms were for both male and female with family changing cubicles, which was fantastic for us. In the family cubicle there was a changing table for the baby and small seat specifically for a toddler.
  • The water fountains. This was an area outside with seating all around. I can imagine it being even better when the weather is warm, but that didn't stop our boy from having fun. 
  • The beach. Can you tell our boy likes playing in water 😊 There was an entrance to the beach from the Butlins site, which I guess was just for Butlins guests. It wasn't really the weather for the beach, but we took a walk down to the water all the same. As soon as we saw the water my 2 year older started to try to pull his coat off and said "swim". We have been to the beach before, but this was his first proper experience with the sea and he was serious he wanted to go for a "swim", or a paddle as he probably meant. I was reluctant to let him paddle as I knew it would most likely be freezing and I wasn't prepared for him getting wet. But what is childhood for, if not exploring. So yes his feet did get cold, but he loved it and after the initial shock he kept going in.

  • Messy Play session. On two of the days they had a messy time session that you could drop in and out of as you wished. They had Play-Doh, painting, sand etc... We didn't stay long, but the time we were there he enjoyed and joined in all the activities on offer.

  • Little Stars Fairground. There were lots of rides (that cost money) in the main centre where the activities and entertainment was and of course our little boy was eager to get on them. But we hardly ever have cash on us so weren't able to let him on most of the time. But it didn't matter too much as they had a fairground for the little ones which was included in the price. He absolutely loved this and wanted to keep going on the rides again and again. Of course there was no limit to how many times they rode the rides, apart from giving other children a go. But we convinced him to get off one, to go on the next. There was aeroplanes, ladybirds, teacups and cars. 
  • Seeing Paw Patrol. Throughout the week there were different characters putting on entertainment and posing for photos with the kids. Most of them our boy wasn't too bothered about, mainly because he doesn't watch those shows, but there were plenty of other children queuing up to meet their favourite kids TV character. On one day we were passing through the main centre and who should be stood there, but 2 of the Paw Patrol. That put a huge smile on a two year old's face!! They weren't on the schedule, so we passed through at just the right time.
Looking a little star struck with 2 of his favourite cartoon characters
  • The entertainment. The variety of entertainment and shows throughout the week were great. It didn't keep our boys attention fully, but that says more about his personality than the actual entertainment. What he did sit and watch he enjoyed. We watched some puppet shows, the Teletubbies, Mr Men and Little Miss, Theo the Mouse and Skyline Gang. We could have also watched Mr Potato Head, Billy and Bonnie, Dave Benson Phillips, Cinderella, Finley's Fantastic Animals and Mr Bloom.

  • 2 penny arcade machine. I know we could be anywhere for this, but it's not something we ever do really. Before heading to Butlins we raided our copper jar as we thought there would no doubt be some arcades. Our boy just loved playing and Mummy and Daddy may have got a bit addicted to playing too 😂. It only cost us a few pounds, but it provided some entertainment in the evening and we won lots of tickets that we were able to exchange for toys.

What we thought:

There is so much we loved about our break to Butlins, it was particularly great that they had really thought about what the younger kids would enjoy. For us this was better than a holiday geared to families as this was planned with toddlers and babies in mind. 
  • There were plenty of baby changing and feeding facilities available. 
  • They had a small step in the accommodation so the children could reach the sink in the bathroom. 
  • Staff really engaged with the kids to help them get the most out of our stay and make them feel special. 
  • There were plenty of places to safely keep pushchairs when swimming and at activities.
  • Our accommodation had pretty much everything we needed, including a convenient hygiene kit which comprised of a dish sponge, washing up liquid, dish cloth and t-towel.
What wasn't so good:
  • Upstairs apartment. We had an upstairs apartment which was really difficult to deal with when you have a young baby. We had to negotiate the stairs multiple times a day. Sometimes that was with a double pushchair (our pushchair converts from single to double), which as you can image wasn't easy. We knew it could be a possibility, but doesn't make it any easier to deal with. But we had some other kind parents help us out some of the time.

    I've just looked on Butlins site again and see you can pay to have a guaranteed ground floor apartment. So we would probably do that in future.
  • The ice-cream parlour (Scoops) closing at 5pm. We decided to have dessert out one evening as a little treat, there was an ice-cream parlour on site and we thought that would be the perfect place to go. But it closed at 5pm, and we were always too busy during the day so we never ended up getting ice-cream.
  • The restaurants all closing early. On the evening we decided to have dessert out we thought we'd get something from Seaside Treats since Scoops was already closed. They did pancakes, waffles and ice-cream. Getting out of our accommodation was always challenging as our toddler didn't understand that we were heading out to do fun things for him.We wanted to make the most of the entertainment before having dessert, so did that first. Well by time we were out from watching the entertainment Seaside Treats had already closed and it wasn't that late. The only thing still open was Burger King. Not quite the treat we were planning.

Tips for your stay:

Here are a few tips for you if you are thinking of going to one of the Just for Tots breaks.

What to pack
  • Salt/sugar etc... - If you are going to be cooking for yourself you may want a few condiments.
  • T-towels - there was a t-towel provided, but we still found it useful to have a couple more.
  • Hand soap - there was no hand soap provided in our accommodation.
  • Towels - if you pay for housekeeping you'll get towels included, but you'll want some for swimming.
  • Toilet rolls - there were toilet rolls provided, but we still needed a couple more. I guess if you pay for housekeeping then you'll get extra if needed.
  • Cash - there was a cash point on site, but it charged over £1 to withdraw from it. Even if you don't plan to spend much or any money you'll need a £1 coin for the lockers if you go swimming. They kindly exchanged a £10 note for pound coins, so we didn't need small change. There are also rides the kids can go on that cost money and the arcades.
  • Meal plan - If you're planning to eat out on site more than once or twice I'd suggest thinking about paying for a meal plan. 
  • Pay for housekeeping - We didn't pay for housekeeping as we were trying to keep our stay as cheap as possible, but in hindsight we probably should have. I think it cost around £15 and for that you got towels included, they cleaned daily and apparently that included washing dishes 👍
  • Pay for ground floor apartment - As mentioned above we had an upstairs apartment which made things difficult with a young baby. I've noticed since being home that you can pay to have a guaranteed downstairs apartment.
  • Take a highlighter pen - When we arrived we were given a list of activities for the week. You can access the activities on their app, but I liked seeing each day on paper. I used the highlighter to select the activities we were interested in. There are overlaps in activities so it's not possible to do everything every day, so just select the ones you're interested in doing.
  • Have some down time - You'll probably want to get as much out of your holiday as possible, but it can be very tiring for all involved. So try to plan some down time here and there. Our 2 year old has started to drop his nap during the day and if I want him to nap I usually need to take him for a drive or walk in the pushchair. He did really well for the first full day without a nap, but by Wednesday he really needed a nap in order to get through to the evening. And by Thursday afternoon he pretty much took himself off for a sleep. This meant he was far happier in the evening when we were usually out passed his bedtime.

So would I go back to Butlins? We have already been thinking about our next trip. I definitely want my family to experience other places on our holidays. But for the price and the fact that all the activities are planned with toddlers in mind it really is a great place to go. And because you don't have to pay out loads of extra money for the activities we didn't feel pressured into joining in as many activities as possible. We just took the week at our own (or our toddlers) pace and did what suited us. 

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