Written by FurieTweet
A review of the Butlins' Christmas Experience.
Every few years we enjoy a little Christmas break, usually on the cheap, to set us up for Christmas. For 2012, Butlins in Minehead.
To be honest, after this review of Pontins in 2009, I feel a bit like I'm kicking puppies in a bag writing this review. Pontins was for a long time a competitor of Butlins, but where Butlins saw a declining market and a need to "shed weight" and concentrate on core improvements, Pontins retained their "concentration camp" feel, while Butlins shifted with the time.
Butlins aren't perfect, but they're very, very good at what they do - wide ranging, good value family breaks.
So this is what we experienced at the end of a very wet week in mid-December.
We arrived early evening on the Friday night and went to reception to book in. It has to be said there was a little in the way of mixed feelings amongst the Family_Furie. Minor_Furie is well on the way to Seventeen and thinks that perhaps these kind of family breaks are a little beneath him (yeah, right, leave him alone at home all weekend?). Maxi-Minor_Furie claims to have never been to Butlins and doesn't seem able to comprehend what to expect (despite having been to Butlins several times since he was born). I'm notoriously grumpy after a long drive and Madame_Furie has to put up with the rest of the emotional train wreck that has just arrived ;)
The was a pleasant surprise to find we'd been upgraded to "silver" accommodation (many, many thanks to Ms Kelly-Marie Sellick for arranging this, it was a fantastic surprise). This put us closer to the Skyline Pavillion and the Entertainment areas. It also mean an extra bedroom and a little more room in the apartment. After following the directions and moving in, we could relax a little and plan our weekend out.
Moving in was a doddle and - as these images halfway through unpacking show - we had a lot of space to spread out.
So the accommodation is very good. It's much "harder wearing" than a hotel would be, but it's still pleasant. We've stayed in the lowest level of accommodation before too, and while nobody is gonig to write great tracts of praise for it, it's still clean and functional. Apart from a lack of pots and pans (we didn't cook there, so didn't notice they were missing until we wanted one on the last morning - I'm sure they would have given us some if we'dmentioned it), the apartment was excellent.
So unpacked and having shaken off the travelling blues, we head up to the Skyline to see what's what and to find some dinner.
Butlins have made a solid effort for the Christmas season, with lights all over the site lit up when it goes dark. It's all very pretty and sets a decent mood for what's to come. When we arrived we were given tickets for a visit to see Santa, and for the pantomime, both the following evening. Walking through the lit site instilled a nice sense of excitement for the days and evening to come.
The Skyline is the central hub of a Butlins site. It's a large, open "tent" which contains a stage, puppet theatre, arcades, snooker/bowling room, bars, eateries, sweet shops, arcades and a play area. Surrounding it are more entertainment areas such as the theatre, Bob's Builders Yard (youngster's fair ground), the large fairground, cinema, outdoor sports arenas, miniature golf, swimming pool (and the pools are really excellent), adventure play area, go karts, shops, laser quest arena rope courses and probably a dozen other things I've completely forgotten.
So much to do and so little time. There isn't a single second where a child will have "nothing to do" provided by Butlins as part of the holiday cost. Stage shows are regular, with puppet shows at regular intervals. All the other entertainment is open pretty much all day, and the fairground opens for a couple of hours each evening too (even in the winter).
A puppet show was just starting as we got to the Skyline, so Maxi-Minor_furie sat down with a large group of kids and enjoyed the show. In the mean time, we planned out the weekend ahead. With a short stay, you do need to plan quite carefully so that you can fit in as much as possible. Fortunately, most shows are repeated either tow or three times a day, or across multiple days. So even if you miss one thing because you're on the fair for instance, you can grab it later on. We made a pretty tight list of timings and things we all wanted to do and then, once the puppet show had finished, headed for dinner.
New since the last time I'd visited Minehead was Firehouse, which seemed to be an in-house version of Nandos. The food is a mix of in-house eateries and brands (Pizza Hut and Burger King take pride of place in the Skyline), but it's all decent quality. We opted for Firehouse and were very surprised. The service was absolutely excellent, but we'd already come to expect that. All the staff you pass are friendly and happy to put up with kids bothering them about their latest toy or adventure. It's not even a forced patience, they are just really positive people. The staff at Firehouse were upbeat and couldn't help enough. The food quality was excellent, really delicious and we all had a fantastic meal. The spicy chicken wings were superbly hot and the less spicy food for Maxi-Minor_Furie was incredibly tasty. It's an excellent choice for eating out if you're on the site.
After dinner, we pottered around a bit, just getting used to the surroundings, planning things out and spoiling ourselves with the arcades and the like. Madame_Furie also booked us in for an early breakfast at the self-service restaurant in the morning, and got us a changed time for us to go to visit Santa. The one we'd initially been given clashed with the panto, which was a bit of an oversight. We got a replacement time on Sunday morning no problems though.
The following day was bit of a blur considering all we managed.
Breakfast at the restaurant was good. It's a buffet style self-serve and the food is all fine, but nothing extraordinary. You can have a lot of it though to easily keep you going until your evening meal.
We watched shows (detailed below), played Laser Quest, went swimming (for hours, the pool is great with lots of slides, water coaster, wave machines and a lazy river rapids), did the death drop thing (jump off a pole and freefall), played in the play barn, watched "Rise of the Guardians" in the cinema, went in the adventure playground, more arcades - essentially as much as we could fit in.
By the evening, we were pretty tired and ready for a nice long evening's relaxation. We watched the final stage show, then I went with Minor_Furie to see Skyfall at the cinema, and Madame_Furie took Maxi-Minor_Furie to the pantomime. We each had a great time.
The days shows consisted of several kid's TV favourites (like Pingu, Fireman Sam, Angelina Ballerina, etc) doing a show, the Skyline Gang and two of our favourites. The final show was had Santa along with the Skyline Gang (a bunch of brightly coloured miscreants and a ridiculously cute dog called Rainbow) and Billy Bear. It finished with air cannons blowing "snow" over the audience. The kids thought it was incredibly magical.
Our favourite though was Bjorn the Bear. A fantastic polar bear who comes out to see the kids, with his "handler" who talks about polar bears and their environment and the like. It's all about the kids getting the chance to stoke the highly animated bear on the nose though. They were all thoroughly captivated by the show and completely bought Bjorn as a real bear, which he is, of course ;)
Sunday saw us packing for home, but first we had a certain special someone to visit in his grotto. So we arrived at the building by the fairground and stood expecting a tinsel adorned broom cupboard with a cheaply false bearded bloke in it. Very wrong.
Butlins had tried to create a magical experience, and succeeded to a degree too. You entered into a mock child's bedroom and watched a show on TV. There, you were encouraged (with the help of redcoats) to perform magic that would turn the wardrobe into a magical portal. After several shy attempts, the magic eventually worked and the door opened, revealing a dark and mystical snow kingdom inhabited by fluffy Icelandic creatures, wonderful light shows and the group who had gone in before us, still standing and waiting for their turn on the sacred knee.
The wait was made enjoyable with a little "spot the presents" game given to us in the bedroom, where the kids had to find a certain number of presents hidden in the scenes. Before we knew it, we were in the presence of the great red jolly man himself, had a selection box and were on our way home.
Butlins is a superb place to take the kids. There really is so much to do and while there's plenty of opportunity to spend, spend, spend - you don't have to and never feel compelled to be constantly reaching into your wallet.
The staff and quality of entertainment are beyond anything else you'll find in the country. Accommodation is fair to good, but facilities are all good at the very least. there are a few places it's starting to look a little tired, but Butlins seem to be constantly working to improve areas, so it's not likely that things stay drab for long.
If you're looking for a great pre-Christmas break, do it. I really can't recommend it enough. Once again, a thanks to Kelly-Marie for helping make the holiday that little extra bit better (it would have still been fab, but it was fabber :) ).