How does a Butlin’s summer holiday break differ from Just for Tots? What is the best Butlin’s break for young children?
Do you need a dining plan at Butlin’s and can you eat in the restaurants without a meal plan?
These were some of the questions in my mind when I booked my third Butlin’s break in the space of a year (really!). We had been twice already on Just for Tots breaks in term time, as my daughter hadn’t yet started school, and prices are about half what they are during the school holidays. But my sister wanted to bring her daughter, who was already at school, and since she couldn’t join us on either of our term time breaks, she booked a Friday to Monday weekend break in August.
I knew how much my daughter wanted to go to Butlin’s with her cousin so I effectively invited myself along too – my mum was also coming with my sister so it made a nice female family break!
Accommodation- Ocean Hotel and access by public transport
As my sister had already booked her accommodation, a silver apartment, and it was fairly short notice there wasn’t much choice left – I had the option of a standard room, which looked extremely basic, an Ocean hotel room, or some options that were a lot more expensive – and I didn’t think would justify the price. I was already paying nearly twice as much for two people for three nights in August as I did for three people for four nights in April, so I decided to go with one of the lower priced options, but where I knew what I was getting and that it would be good quality – the Ocean hotel.
We had a smaller room this time and I shared a double bed with my daughter (and hired a bed guard for £6). We had two comfortable chairs by the window, albeit no balcony and a view that looked over the car park and back of the Butlin’s site, a mini fridge, television and a good sized bathroom with a bath and shower. I was quite happy with the room.
Another difference was that this time we travelled by public transport, taking a direct train from East Croydon (a short taxi ride from our house). We got a taxi at the rank in Bognor – it’s only a ten minute walk and there are also buses but I decided to get a taxi, which was a £5 flat fee for a journey of only a few minutes.
We were dropped at the Beach gate entrance and walked across the site via the skyline pavilion and a stop in the soft play before heading to the Ocean hotel. Our room wasn’t ready so we left our luggage behind reception and went off to enjoy ourselves (and meet my sister, mum and niece, who arrived by car shortly after).
On arrival my 4.5 year old went straight to the soft play – this was her third visit after all so she knew exactly where she wanted to go!
I should also mention at this point that I’m writing about a summer holiday break we had in 2022 – and the booking system has changed this year with the introduction of VIP passes. You can find out more about them on the Butlin’s website. I have an upcoming break to Butlin’s at Easter and decided not to buy the VIP passes, so you will be able to find out later whether that was a good idea or not! Butlin’s Bognor Regis is also in the process of expanding its offering for older children/adults which also involves moving the fairground, and later apparently the soft play, into a separate building. More on this in a later post!
How does a midweek break/ summer holiday break differ from Just for Tots?
At this point we had been to Butlin’s twice before (not counting the times when I was a child!), both times on Just for Tots breaks, but they are during the week in term time and this time my sister wanted to come with her daughter who was already in reception class, so it had to be the school holidays.
The obvious difference is the cost! We paid around £260 for four nights for three people in the best room in the Shoreline hotel (Nelson stateroom) on a term time Just for Tots break and this time I paid over £500 for two people for three nights in a standard twin room in the Ocean hotel.
The term time price is an absolute bargain for the standard of the accommodation and all the activities and entertainment (and you can get cheap rooms in the self catering block for as little as £100 then too).
I wondered if it was double the cost, is it still value for money? So I added up what I thought would be roughly the cost of everything we did over the three days, based on what I would normally pay for swimming, soft play, shows, fairground rides and so on, not including the activities we paid extra for, and I got to around £400 of value. That means we effectively paid just over £30 a night on top for the hotel room (food was extra). You really can’t complain with that kind of value!
The main difference otherwise is that on a Just for Tots break, everything closes early, and all the entertainment is aimed at 5s and under – whereas on a normal break, things are open later and there are more activities for older children.
There are obviously pros and cons, particularly if you have one child under 5 and an older child – I’m really not fussed about entertainment for adults because once my daughter goes to bed I’m in our room reading or browsing the Internet, and I wouldn’t want to take her to any shows that were too late in the evening.
I was disappointed however that there really wasn’t any entertainment in the evenings for younger children – I would have liked it if there was one show of the three or four options per night that we could have done. One evening we went to the circus which was brilliant (but we had to pay extra for), and the wonderful Skyline Gang were performing one evening but in the other venues everything was designed for adults or much older children. On our Just for Tots breaks we saw Goldilocks one evening and Billy and Bonnie Bear in Robin Hood another – both shows were still running but during the day.
The evening options on the summer holiday break were more music or dance based, and far too loud and not enough to keep a four and five year old interested- but on the other hand, the fairground had a late night opening on the Sunday so after dinner we were able to enjoy that.
My other concern had been whether the site being full of older children and adults would be an issue: the soft play for instance allows children up to 1.5 metres or age 14 which is a lot bigger than a 4 year old! But it wasn’t a problem at all (and the staff were very rigorous at sticking to the rules, measuring the bigger children who wanted to go in and turning some away). There weren’t many activities or shows which were particularly mixed in age, and we didn’t come across any drunk adults in the evening probably because we were in bed long before then!
A lot of the activities we did on our break were the same that we have done before, which I have written about elsewhere – though there were also several new things to try. As this post is already long, and more about the type of break itself, I will review those separately – including the Skyline Gang Dance Academy and the Circus.
I’ve written several posts about Butlin’s before which hopefully have all sorts of helpful information especially if you are a first-timer. Here, I’ve answered a few more frequently asked questions that I didn’t address last time.
Where can I leave luggage if I am coming by public transport?
There are left luggage areas in the hotel and Oyster bay reception – in the Ocean hotel it was just a case of leaving our suitcase behind the reception desk and the staff kept an eye on it. It’s also worth checking if your room is available early – this time in the Ocean hotel we did have to wait until 3pm but last time in the Shoreline our room was ready at 1pm.
How does the Butlin’s hire shop work?
You can hire all sorts of things you might need – especially good if you have limited space or are coming by public transport – see the full list here.
Ideally ring up book in advance to reserve what you want; on arrival you pay the cost of the item plus a £10 cash deposit. The app said the opening time of the shop was 10-4 and I was a bit worried when it was already past 5 and my sister hadn’t collected her bed guard yet, as she couldn’t get into her accommodation until 4, but the shop was still open. Recently I rang them again to book something and asked what time they are open on a Monday arrival day and they said 7pm.
What is a silver apartment like?
My sister, mum and niece stayed in a silver apartment – the middle row in the Oyster Bay block that you can see on the top right of the map. It wasn’t far to walk from the skyline pavilion at all and the little street than runs up the middle of the accommodation block looked quite nice.
Each room or apartment is then on a little street of its own; theirs was the first one at the end so we didn’t have to walk down the street at all. They had paid extra for ground floor; in the silver apartment block there’s only two floors but it would be a bit of a hassle to carry a suitcase up the outside stairs and to have to make multiple trips if you were staying there I think.
I had read mixed reviews of the apartments and read some fairly negative comments online, and I knew that silver apartments were the ones that hasn’t been updated yet (most of them are now called ‘new style silver’) but it was much better than I was expecting. It was clean (their only grumble was that the carpet was a bit dirty) with a good sized kitchen area, and in the living are, a dining table with four chairs against the wall and two two-seater sofas facing a TV. There were two bedrooms and a bathroom with shower – the bathroom definitely wasn’t as nice as mine in the Ocean hotel but otherwise it seemed pretty decent.
Is anything open on a Friday (arrival day)?
With our Just for Tots breaks there were a few things happening on the arrival day, which was a Monday – a few afternoon show and activities like Play Doh kitchen and of course all the things like swimming pool, fairground and soft play. On this summer holiday break, running from Friday to Monday, there were no activities on the Friday afternoon and no shows apart from the puppet show inside the Skyline, which we weren’t particularly impressed with before (not especially interesting and very uncomfortable sitting on the floor) so we decided not to bother with it.
Overall, I think a school holiday break is fine for younger children who aren’t at school yet – you will pay more, and there are more activities for older children and fewer for younger kids than on a Just for Tots break. But it wasn’t that busy, most children we came across were still relatively young (I expect older ones were doing different activities) and there was still plenty for my pre-school-age daughter to do.
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