Butlin’s Bognor Regis – Dining Plans, Restaurant Reviews and Which Accommodation to Choose?

I’ve written a detailed review of our Just for Tots break at Butlins Bognor Regis and also written a separate post on how to book activities at Butlins, as a lot of people have been asking about that. What I hadn’t done yet is review the accommodation and restaurants – as I’m sure a lot of people are also wondering which is the best hotel at Butlin’s, what is the food like at Butlins and is the Butlins DineAround plan worth it? So let’s take each one of these in order.

Butlin’s Bognor Regis accommodation – what are the options?

When I was a child and went to Butlin’s in the 80s we stayed in a caravan and did self catering. I know my parents weren’t particularly impressed by the caravan and I do remember it feeling a bit small, particularly the bedroom I shared with my sister which was big enough for bunk beds and not much else. But Butlin’s has changed massively since then – and even my husband who is very choosy and generally prefers luxury hotels was happy with the accommodation!

For one thing, there are no caravans at Butlin’s Bognor Regis any more – though the other two resorts at Minehead and Skegness (which are bigger) do. Instead, there are self catering apartments and hotels with either rooms or apartments. One of the hotels was built in 2012 (the Wave) and another in 2018 (Ocean) so they are very new and modern. There are also Deluxe Lodges but not many – whenever I have looked no matter how far in advance they have been unavailable.

The rooms all have different names – silver, new style silver, gold, and then according to the hotels they are in. When we originally booked you could filter the accommodation by star rating but I can’t see that as an option any more or any mention of star ratings in the descriptions. Sorting by price should give you a fair idea of quality;  you can compare what each type of accommodation includes here.

The first decision is whether you want kitchen and dining facilities for self catering or if you want to eat out (either on site or off site). Below I have reviewed the hotel that we stayed in.

Review of the Ocean hotel, Butlin’s Bognor Regis

We chose the Ocean hotel for several reasons – first, it had the highest star rating of any (though see above, I’m not sure the hotels advertise ratings any more); plus it has its own car park. There’s a car park right next to the hotel whereas for a lot of the accommodation at Butlin’s you will need to park in the main car park by the swimming pool, which is on the far side of the site to a lot of the accommodation. Apparently there are luggage trolleys you can use but it was a lot easier this way.

We paid extra to have a room on the top floor with a sea view; we mainly had a view over the fairground which was really nice too and could see the sea in the distance; Butlin’s is only over the road from the beach but the Ocean hotel is at the back of the Butlin’s site. Of course it did also mean we had a great view of the main car park but if we looked to the right we could largely ignore that!

The location of the hotel is pretty good; you are only a couple of minutes walk from the pool and probably about five minutes from the Skyline pavilion, once you get out of the hotel of course. There are two lifts and five floors with 200 rooms in total, and given the rooms can only be accessed from 3pm and most people arrive on-site earlier to use the facilities, be prepared for long queues at 3pm. Also, I’ve seen people on Facebook regularly complain that one (or occasionally even both) of the lifts were not working and taking the stairs could be quite a challenge especially if you have a buggy or luggage. So while a top floor room was great if you have any mobility issues perhaps a lower floor is better.

The Ocean hotel also has a spa which I didn’t get to see – maybe next time!

The room itself was quite spacious and modern; we had a living room area with a sofa bed that we used as a sofa, and another chair, plus the double bed. The second bedroom had two small single beds with an open doorway (ie there is no door that you can shut) that was perfect for our daughter. We had brought a bed guard with us (you can also hire them on site subject to availability) which was easy to slip under the mattress to make sure she didn’t fall out, as the beds are a good couple of feet off the ground. Her room also had a little TV facing each bed and some superhero style ‘pow!’ words on the wall.

Our room had a small fridge which was bigger than I was expecting – plenty of room for drinks and snacks. The bathroom was fine and everything was clean and modern – though my parents who had another room ok the same floor said they only had one coffee cup even though it was a double room and my father in law who had another room had two coffee cups but they were dirty. Still those are only small complaints and overall we were pretty happy with the room and the hotel. We really didn’t spend much time in it at all – we had glorious weather and didn’t return to the room once we had left in the morning until after we had seen a show in the evening (apart from going back to collect swimming gear) at which point it was straight to bed for our three year old and collapse on the bed right after ourselves!

Dining plans, DineAround and restaurants at Butlin’s Bognor Regis

Butlin’s has a variety of options for eating in its on site restaurants. You can self cater – there is a small Co-op supermarket on site which had a good selection of food and essentials though if you need a lot, it’s probably better to either bring things with you or go to a supermarket in town. Also, one day I went into the on site shop at 1pm intending to buy sandwiches for lunch and the packet sandwich section had been completely stripped bear – so if you do want to buy sandwiches for lunch go early!

If you are staying in the Ocean or Shoreline hotel you can book ‘hotel dining’ which gives you breakfast and a buffet dinner at £28.95 per day for adults. Or there is Food Court Dining (from £21.75 per adult a day), which doesn’t matter where you stay – this gives you breakfast (served by staff but unlimited) and a changing menu for dinner every evening, with five or six different options for the main course each day ranging from roasts to curries, pasta, pies, fish and chips and more, with a vegetarian option (though seemingly only one each day) and a children’s menu plus desserts and an ice cream factory.

Then there is Premium Dining (£28.95 a day) where you will be allocated a restaurant – either the Yacht Club or the Deck. The sample menus available online look similar to that of Food Court Dining but with more choice and in the Deck, the addition of live cooking stations making burgers to order as well as other meats. I’ve read mixed reviews of both and we decided against them last time but I would be curious to try them if/when we go back.

Finally, there is the DineAround plan, which is more expensive at £32.95 a day for adults and allows you to prepay to eat in most of the branded restaurants on site – again you get breakfast and a two course dinner with a drink.

You can see sample menus for all of the restaurants on the Butlin’s website in the Bognor Regis section.

Are the dining packages at Butlin’s good value?

The price of the dining packages may seem steep as it has to be for all members of your group for the entire duration of your stay and you can’t mix and match, but when you consider the cost of eating out (two courses and a drink) normally I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all. However, I wouldn’t normally eat a big or indeed a cooked breakfast and would prefer to do self catering at breakfast and eat a sandwich or in a cafe for lunch then a restaurant for evening. You can of course do that and pay as you go, but for one problem. It seems that only people who have a dining package can actually book a table in the restaurants for a particular time, and otherwise you risk having to wait or even being turned away. This is fairly key if you have small children in your party who can’t wait an hour extra for dinner or you have booked a show to watch or even if you just want to be able to have dinner when you want to. When I asked Butlin’s in advance of our break they told me that you can also book restaurants on the day if you have a dining plan but that it isn’t guaranteed and I had seen enough Facebook posts from people saying they had to wait hours for a table at one of the restaurants that I didn’t want to risk it.

We booked the DineAround plan for that reason – with a relatively large group of six adults and one child I thought it would give people more choice and more opportunities to find something they would like. 

How do you book restaurants on the DineAround plan?

Once the booking slot for your activities goes live (usually 7-14 days before your break – see here for more) if you have the DineAround plan that’s when you can also select the restaurants you want to eat in each day. You are limited to choosing each restaurant no more than twice; the ones included in the DineAround plan at Bognor Regis are the Diner, the Beachcomber Inn, Papa John’s, Fish and Chips and the Firehouse Grill. However when I booked the only options we were given for breakfast were Papa John’s and the Beachcomber – the Diner also does breakfast but it didn’t come up as an option, so we ended up eating at each of those twice. We had four dinners to choose and five restaurants available so the one we missed out was the Firehouse Grill, as I had read several reviews where people had found the food there disappointing or at least not as good as the other restaurants.

Also on site there is a Burger King, inside the skyline pavilion (which isn’t part of any dining plans) and also a cafe inside the skyline, which provided a useful base at times for grandparents to sit and have a coffee. There’s also a cafe in the Wave hotel, a bar in the Ocean which was closed due to covid while we were there and an ice cream cafe with two branches, one of which was shut.

Here is my review of each of the restaurants we ate at.

Traditional Fish and Chip restaurant

This was our favourite restaurant at Butlin’s Bognor Regis. It looks gorgeous from the outside and the food was excellent, unfortunately it was really let down by the service.

It has indoor and outdoor seating which is lovely on a sunny day; there is also a separate takeaway restaurant next door with a different small seating area. They have sustainably sourced fish and other options like sausages and pies and there are a couple of vegetarian options. On the Dinearound plan we could have a main course and side dish and either a starter or a dessert. You can order fish and chips as a package which means you can choose another side dish like bread and butter, peas or salad, or you can have chips as your side dish if you have something like scampi, which I did – it was delicious and cooked just right. My husband enjoyed his sausage and chips and our parents had the traditional fish and chips which they said was very good. 

The children’s menu like all restaurants at Butlin’s is divided into tots and juniors which is good as it means you get the right portion size, and there is a bit more choice on the juniors menu for older children. My daughter loved her cod bites chips and peas!

My father-in-law was the only one of us who had opted for a starter instead of a dessert and I wished I had too when I saw the size of his prawn cocktail dessert which he said was excellent. However, we had to wait nearly an hour for the food, despite the restaurant being almost empty when we arrived at 5pm. When they did bring the food out, they brought my father-in-law’s starter and then the main courses for the rest of our table at the same time – including my father-in-law’s main course as well. He sent it back pointing out that his fish and chips would be cold if it sat there while he ate his main course, so they took it away – but didn’t replace it or even do anything to keep it warm as when he was ready for his main course they brought back the same dish, now cold.

The rest of us weren’t thrilled about having to wait an hour for food particularly with a hungry three year old, and also a show to watch at 6.30 – we had thought an hour and a half would be plenty of time for dinner. My husband, daughter and I ended up only eating our main course and leaving the restaurant before our desserts came, which we had of course already paid for due to the Dinearound plan, so that we could go to the show. Our parents meanwhile opted to stay and eat dessert which means they missed the show. It was really disappointing especially given how nice the food was.

Papa John’s – breakfast

Breakfast on the Dinearound package at Papa John’s was basically a full English unlimited buffet, with sausages, bacon, hash browns, beans, eggs and vegetarian options plus pancakes with chocolate sauce, as well as crossiants, yoghurts etc. I’m not really a breakfast person but I thought this was a good selection and decent food; there was never more than one or two people in the queue to get food either. I also liked the fact that they provided brightly coloured plastic plates for children.

Papa John’s – dinner

This is a genuine Papa John’s so if you are a fan of their pizza you won’t be disappointed. There are also pasta dishes as well as the usual Papa John’s sides, plus desserts. I had the chicken and pancetta tagliatelle which was very good but so creamy I couldn’t manage more than about half of it. My husband really enjoyed his pizza and there was something the whole family could enjoy – though as the portions were very large I don’t think any of us managed to finish our meals!

The Beachcomber Inn – breakfast

Pretty much the same food as at Papa John’s breakfast only instead of a buffet you order from a menu (so the food isn’t unlimited in quantity either). It was quite nice but we preferred the Papa John’s buffet.

You go to a table at the top end of the restaurant to get a hot drink which is dispensed for you by a member of staff. They only had small packets of long life milk and my three year old actually wanted a glass of milk. I asked the server who said they didn’t have any, only the tiny long life packed. I asked if they had milk back in the kitchen (thinking they must use it in cooking etc) and if there was any possibility my toddler could have a glass of milk with her breakfast and was again told no, quite abruptly. I was so surprised at that response that when our waitress came to our table to take our breakfast order I asked again and she said of course no problem, and came back a minute later with a cup of milk for my daughter!

The Beachcomber Inn – dinner

I would describe The Beachcomber as a family pub style restaurant. It has a pretty big selection of food including lighter bites and it’s easy to find something for everyone. However we thought the food was so-so – what I would consider cheap pub quality. I had a lasagne which was ok but really nothing special and chose to skip dessert as my daughter didn’t want to sit still any longer so I went to play with her while my husband had a square of chocolate brownie with ice cream. 

The Diner – dinner

I was looking forward to eating at this American diner style restaurant but didn’t realise that several items were excluded from the Dinearound plan – we could have a dessert but not a milkshake even though milkshakes were in the dessert section of the main menu, and my husband ended up paying extra so he could have one. I also found my burger quite dry and nowhere near as good as I was expecting but other people in our group who ordered different meals said they were good.

The service once again was extremely slow even though the restaurant wasn’t busy at all at first. On the other hand they were very kind when my daughter took one bite of her hot dog and dropped it on the floor and they replaced it straight away with another one at no charge. When you have small children little things like that really are very welcome!

It was a real shame the Diner didn’t come up as an option on Dinearound when I was booking breakfast as the breakfast menu there looked really nice!

Scoop ice cream cafe

Looks very pretty from the outside but I was a bit disappointed by the range of flavours on offer as there wasn’t anything particularly unusual – our local ice cream cafe offers a unicorn ice cream which is basically pink and blue mixed, and I think Butlin’s is missing a trick by not having something like this for children. They do have various toppings you can add though the one I selected from the menu was apparently out of stock and instead the server pointed to a large jar of mixed sprinkles which we could have instead. Still, an ice cream on holiday is pretty much a must have!

Does Butlin’s cater for allergens?

On the website there is a separate menu that lists potential allergens in food so you can have a look before you go. Butlins also asks you to tell the staff in each restaurant of any allergens or dietary issues. I contacted them in advance of our break about dietary conditions as well and was told: “Our team work hard to provide dishes to suit a variety of dietary requirements and preferences, with many of our retail restaurants having diabetic friendly and gluten free options. As our suppliers can constantly change we don’t advertise our different  options on the menus of our retail restaurants to ensure that we are always providing the most up to date and correct information for our guests about their dietary requirements. We do have team available within all restaurants who will happily sit with guests to discuss their requirements and explain which dishes can be amended to suit guests with gluten intolerances or dietary requirements.
 “We would always recommend that our guests take the time to speak with our team as whilst the menu will not show specific gluten, wheat or dairy free options, a majority of our restaurants will be able to provide dishes made with ingredients which do not include these things”.

My advice in a nutshell

When it comes to meals at Butlin’s, what’s best for one family isn’t always what’s best for another. If my husband hadn’t been so set on a hotel room I probably would have gone for a self-catering apartment, though in fact we didn’t go back to our room all day and had lunch out or on the go. I would have preferred not to have a dining plan at all, and take things like pain-au-chocolate to have in our room for breakfast, and bought a light lunch in a cafe or the on site shop, if it weren’t for the fact I was worried we wouldn’t get a table in the restaurants in the evening. We went for DineAround for the choice and variety to suit everyone in our party, and on the whole it was pretty good, though the service was disappointingly slow. My advice if you are booking a holiday at Butlin’s is to ask yourself what would suit your family’s schedule, the type of food you enjoy, whether you want to eat in different places or the same restaurant each day, and if you think you might venture off-site into town or along the promenade or if you would prefer to stay on site. For me, the Ocean hotel and DineAround time worked best – and just this week I have booked our next trip to Butlin’s for later this year, when we will be staying in the Shoreline hotel and doing DineAround again. If you have been to Butlin’s Bognor Regis already let me know in the comments which is your preferred accommodation and where you eat!

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