Like many people this year, we had to cancel our holiday due to coronavirus. We had booked a Just for Tots break at Butlin’s with my family, including my two-year-old daughter and three-year-old niece, who I thought would have a brilliant time together. My sister and I loved Butlin’s when we were children – I’m not sure how much my parents really enjoyed it as everything I remember doing was obviously very child-focused! I do remember even then the accommodation not being great, but the company has had something of an upgrade since the 80s – the Bognor Regis site has apartments and hotel rooms rather than the caravans that I remember!
It was such a shame that we had to cancel, though I’m hoping we will be able to go next year, when my daughter will be three, so she would get even more out of it. My husband and I still had our week off work in May and decided to keep the time off even though we had to stay at home – at that point we were still in ‘proper’ lockdown so there was nowhere we could go and we weren’t even allowed to go and visit family – but we needed the break from juggling work and childcare. Luckily, the weather was absolutely gorgeous that week – so we decided to recreate Butlin’s at home.
How do you recreate the magic of Butlin’s in your own home? Clearly nothing can replicate the experience, but there are some fun things you can do at home that your children – and you – are sure to enjoy.
Set the scene
We had recently got some new garden furniture and I strung some bunting above it hanging from the fence and a tree. We also laid out the slide that we already had, the paddling pool and a sand and water table – you can also see our barbecue in the picture which we used several times that week. If you don’t have a garden you can do some of these activities in the park and set up your own space with a picnic blanket, bunting and more – as long as you take it all away with you afterwards!
The Skyline Gang
Since my daughter had never been to Butlin’s before, she didn’t know what it was that we were trying to recreate. It’s changed a bit since I went there as a child when there were Redcoats and I was a member of the Beaver Club (yes, really). Now, their mascots are two bears called Billie and Bonnie and they have the Skyline Gang, who appear to be a host of colourful characters who perform shows and make appearances around the resort. I’ve seen a few photos where children are dressed up as their favourite Skyline Gang member which is definitely something you can do if you have older children or ones who have been before and remember them, but I think it would have been a bit lost on my daughter (and me for that matter). You can also print out pictures of the Skyline Gang for them to colour in at home.
The swimming pool
One of the best bits of Butlin’s for me as a child (along with the indoor fairground and the live shows). Paddling pools are quite cheap and you can get pretty sizeable ones – there’s even a swimming pool that the whole family can fit in that’s not much more than £100. We have a simple paddling pool that we were gifted but it has a metal frame and is big enough for me to sit and splash in with my daughter – or you can go for something with built-in entertainment like this paddling pool with a slide!
If you don’t have a garden where you can use a paddling pool, lockdown restrictions have now eased and you can (on the whole) go to swimming pools again, hooray!
The Skyline Gang like to show off their circus skills so why not get your child to try juggling, hula hooping, or if you have a swing, pretending they are on a trapeze (sitting on the swing that is, not hanging off it!).
If you have a Nintendo Wii you can swing your controller like a club… or find a mini golf game on any game console or most likely an app on your phone. Or set up a mini golf course in the garden with your own obstacles – anything from flower pots to the old favourite of a water feature to negotiate your way across – which could be a bridge across a paddling pool or going behind a ‘waterfall’ made from a hosepipe with a sprinkler… the only limit is your imagination!
Some people are lucky enough to have soft play equipment at their home but if you don’t, more manageable options include a ball pond (or filling a paddling pool with balls), a pile of cushions to clamber upon and a selection of ride-on toys. If you have the space and the money, you can even hire a bouncy castle for your garden!
Butlin’s at Bognor Regis is right next to the beach and even though there is so much to keep you entertained on site, you can’t go to the seaside – and not go to the seaside! The closest we could get at home was a sand and water table, though our two year old didn’t quite get the concept of actually keeping the sand in the sand pit!
I have one very specific memory of Butlin’s where we were sitting at tables I think watching evening entertainment of some kind and going up to a bar that was child-height and being able to order my own drinks – which were blue with a swizzle stick. I was probably about seven or eight at the time and felt so grown up going to get my own drink – I think the holidays were all-inclusive so you didn’t have to pay – and swizzle sticks were just the best. Looking at the Butlin’s website before our trip I had planned that we would have burgers at the Diner, and my husband quite liked the idea of a Papa John’s pizza while he was there – which are easily things you can do at home. I even bought some takeaway style burger boxes from Tiger a while back which came in handy.
The ice cream parlour
Definitely worth a separate mention outside of the restaurants category. My daughter loves ice cream so I decided to set up our own little ice cream parlour with wafers, sauce and sprinkles. As she is two she did make a bit of a mess, but we enjoyed making our sundaes together, and then eating them!
My daughter loves to dance so put the lights down low, and turn the music up! We have Hue lights in our living room which can be controlled by an app and can also change colour so we have ready-made disco lights! You can also buy disco balls quite cheaply, for instance at Argos, or look on second hand sites like Facebook Marketplace.
The live shows
We were due to see Justin Fletcher, as well as Paddington Bear and the Teletubbies – but had to make do with watching them on the TV at home. You can make the time a bit more interactive if you have cuddly toys of any of the characters, and if you want to go the whole hog you could dress up yourself! Now, where did I put Mr. Tumble’s spotty bag….?
Not very easy to replicate at home. At all. One of the things I loved about the Butlin’s fairground was it was free (included in the price of your break anyway) so you didn’t have to pay per ride – which must have been a relief for my parents! There are companies that hire out fairground rides (my university summer ball had dodgems if I recall, and I went to a work Christmas party once with a bucking bronco!). But I don’t recommend that for your back garden, unless you have a lot of space and money, and even then it seems a bit excessive! If you have ideas on how to create fairground rides at home I would be curious to know…
One of the activities on the Just For Tots weekend includes getting creative with play-doh, which you can easily do at home. You can even find recipes online to make your own version of play-doh.
Music and movement with the Redcoats
Grab your musical instruments, put some songs on the stereo (or Alexa) if you aren’t confident in your singing ability, and make some noise!
This one looks really interesting – according to the Butlin’s website, under 5s can discover science using child-friendly lab equipment. Recreating this at home could be fun, if a bit messy, and you certainly don’t need a science background to do some easy activities with your kids. If you’ve ever wanted to know what happens when you put mentos into a bottle of coke (stand back…) or add vinegar and different food colourings to bicarb of soda, now is your chance. There are plenty of ideas for fun science experiments for toddlers online and I should try out a few of them myself!
Arts and crafts
This is easily tailored to the age of your child. My two year old loves stickers so we did some card making. Butlin’s also offers a pottery painting session – you can get paint-your-own kits from places like Hobbycraft.
And not forgetting… the Butlin’s spa.
If you have children who are old enough to occupy themselves, or you have someone who can watch a younger child for a bit, then after all this you thoroughly deserve to lock yourself in the bathroom with a face mask and some bubbles – and I mean the kind that you drink out of a glass, not just the kind you bathe in!
It certainly wasn’t the same as being at Butlin’s but we had glorious weather and a week off work, and made sure that every day we did different fun activities that really made our time off feel like a staycation. Hopefully we will get to go to Butlin’s next year!