Butlins. Just a tacky holiday camp?
Let’s cut to the chase. My husband once said if we ever went to Butlins again he’d divorce me. As a couple in our mid twenties I had this ‘hilarious’ idea to take him on a cheap break to Skeggy… swimming, crazy golf, a walk along the beach – I could give him a taste of why my childhood holidays were so much fun. What happened? He hated it. He found the whole experience really tacky. He detested the canteen-style food, our cramped accommodation and at the point where the Cheeky Girls came on stage singing at the top of their voices about why they were so cheeky, he was about ready to leave. So what happened between now and then? Well we had two boys who love to have lots of fun and Butlins started doing short breaks aimed at under 5s – wall to wall activities for the kids in the company of other parents who also have young children. Yes it has it’s downsides which I won’t shy away from later, and many people are snobby about the idea of going to a holiday camp, but it has got a lot going for it.
What is a ‘just for tots’ break at Butlins?
Just for Tots breaks are short breaks held at Butlins resorts throughout the year in term-time. There are three Butlins sites – Skegness, Bognor Regis and Minehead – and the dates for each of them vary. The breaks include many of the activities that you normally get on holidays there like the soft play, swimming pool and fairground rides, but more of the shows are tailored towards young children and sporting activities are aimed at toddlers and pre-schoolers. Imagine being a parent of a three and a one year old and going to a big soft play at home full of older kids? Hell right? Well the best thing for us about these short breaks is that you’re just surrounded by families with children who are mostly the same age as yours, so your little ones as less likely to get knocked over / splashed by bigger ones. We have only been to Skegness – the simple reason being that we can drop our cat off to my mum who lives en route – so do bear in mind that facilities will vary a bit at each of the sites.
What are the best things about a Just for Tots break in 2017?
Like when we’ve been previously, the best thing about our Butlins break in 2017 unlike other UK holidays, was that there was more than enough to keep the children occupied without you spending very much money. The best thing to do if you want to know what’s there on each break is to download the Butlins app on a Just for Tots week as you get a day by day schedule of what’s on. Activities include Little Tikes cars, swimming, soft play, football, arts and crafts, tots disco, little fairground and of course the shows. We went in April 2017 and loved the Mister Maker show and the Teletubbies show. My eldest son is a fan of the ‘Skyline Gang’ but there were fewer shows by them than in previous years which was a bit disappointing – although those that we did see were great fun. It did feel like this year Butlins has either invested its money in Teletubbies and Mister Maker leaving them less money for other shows – or they have reduced their budget for well known characters. Last year they had Thomas the Tank Engine, Fireman Sam, Angelina Ballerina and Mike the Knight – it certainly felt like there were more pre-school characters. In 2017 they have Dangermouse – a show which runs throughout the year – my eldest son – approaching four had never heard of him. You can watch our video below of the moment we met Mister Maker, then scroll down for more information.
What can we eat and drink in Butlins, Skegness?
You have a number of options. You can go self-catering and cook food as long as you book an apartment. There is a Spar type shop on site that sells quite a lot, although as you would expect it’s more expensive than a supermarket. A bottle of Prosecco is £10. You can also buy sandwiches in there as well as in a coffee shop. If you want to eat out, there’s a fish and chip place, Italian restaurant, BBQ type restaurant and a pub. I’d say the average price of a meal in the restaurants is £10-£12. You can also buy a dining package. We have tried both dining packages. The biggest difference is that the premium dining has freshly-cooked stations and a wider variety of food. It also feels a bit more like a large busy restaurant – the standard one has more of a canteen feel to it. Personally if I’m going on a holiday which is aimed at the children, then I don’t want to cook. We have a good-sized cooked breakfast with fruit and pastries around 9am; a cheap sandwich at lunch and then dinner around 5.30pm. If you like a glass of wine then the bar is reasonably priced, but if you want to drink back at your apartment and are fussy about your wine then maybe take a couple of bottles with you – I struggled to find a good Malbec.
What’s the accommodation like at Butlins, Skegness?
Remember I said there were downsides? Externally, much of the accommodation at Butlins looks the same. And some of it looks quite shabby with paint peeling away. Don’t book a ‘room’ unless you can’t afford an apartment or there’s nothing else available. They have very few facilities and if your children are young like ours, then you’ll find yourselves staying in during the evening and will end up sitting on the bed – there’s no living area and they feel cramped. The standard and the silver accommodation is adequate but basic and does have a kitchen and living area. We don’t mind either but if you’re used to woodland lodges like on other holidays then you need to lower your expectations. The décor in the gold apartments is a bit better and you get towels and house-keeping. There are also newer fairground and seaside apartments but we haven’t stayed in them. Butlins at Bognor has a hotel. The pictures below are of a gold apartment.
Any tips for Just for Tots weeks at Butlins, Skegness in 2017?
Yes. If you want your picture with all the Teletubbies in the pavilion join the queue about 15 minutes before the scheduled start time. They close the end of the queue quite quickly. If Mister Maker does photos after his show like he did when we went then head to the left hand side of the stage as soon as the show finishes. He’s absolutely lovely but spent ages chatting to everyone – we unfortunately were at the back of the queue and waited an hour and a half to meet him. If you have one of the dining packages then get an extra piece of fruit at breakfast time to take with you for a healthy snack in the day. If you want to do one of the messy play sessions, then get there early as the sessions are quite busy. Don’t forget to head to the beach. The over-sized equipment at the entrance makes for some brilliant pictures.
What needs improving at Butlins, Skegness?
The older accommodation does need a revamp. We expect to pay for what we get – which is fine during a term-time holiday, but when you look at prices for the school holidays it does seem expensive. The nursery place which is where they do messy play and have more Little Tikes toys needs modernizing – it’s quite dark and dingy. The fairground which includes the bigger rides seems tired and thrown together.
How do you book a holiday at Butlins and can you get it cheaper?
The Sun holidays do include certain holidays at Butlins so it’s worth looking at those to see if any tots weeks are included. If you search for ‘Butlins voucher code’ you can often find ones for £20 off. Otherwise you just book through their website. There is a page on there somewhere which includes details about when all the tots weeks are. If I was getting commission for doing this I’d put the link, but just google them. Also if you book for next year you’ll probably get it cheaper than you will really near the time you want to go – particularly for the summer months.
We’ve got older children, would you recommend Butlins at any other time?
Hmmm. I’m undecided. We went once on a term-time non-tots week and didn’t like it as much. In all honesty there was a few rowdy people there – it was a cheap week in September. At the point where there’s a switchover at the end of tots week there was a definite change in atmosphere – lots more adults drinking at the bar at lunchtime and lots more bigger children. That said I have friends who went to Butlins for the first time during the school holidays last year and absolutely loved it. We’ll have to see.
Whilst you have young children, Butlins Just for Tots weeks are terrific, simply for the huge amount of activities and entertainment on offer for them. If my boys are happy, then so I am. Yes they’re still a bit tacky, but you’ll quickly get in to swapping your pound coins for 2p coins for machines to help win the kids tickets that they collect hundreds of in order to exchange them for a cheap bottle of bubbles. Yes, some of the facilities and accommodation need updating, but now you know that so you won’t be surprised if you go. If you want to read more about our experience of Butlins then here are 10 reasons why we love it. If you have found this post useful PLEASE do spend 30 seconds nominating me in the latest blogging awards. Just click this link fill in your details and head to category 10 for travel. Thank you!
I'm Laura, mum of two boys - aged six and four. I started this website at the end of Sept 2015 whilst on maternity leave. I now work four days a week and do this blog late at night once the little boys are sleeping. It's won several awards over the last four years and I continue to run it for free and mostly focus on free, cheap, and good value days out. Do drop me an email email@example.com if you want to contact me. Don't forget to follow all of our latest adventures on facebook, instagram and twitter and have a look at all of the videos of the places we visit on the Milton Keynes Kids YouTube Channel - subscribe to it for notifications every time I add a new place. And remember... you may been reading this post months after we visited, do check with the destination you're visiting for up to date opening times and prices. If you find this blog useful then please do comment on my posts and leave me a Facebook review - it makes doing this all the more worthwhile.