Written by FurieTweet
A review of the "wonderful world" of Xmas Pontins.
We were invited by Pontins for a free holiday over the weekend before Christmas. Let it not be said that we're cheapskates, but free?
Of course we'd take them up on the offer - despite some reservations.
We spent a few days at Southport Pontins in 2008, again on a free promotion. I found it difficult to want to return again, even at that price. As this review will detail though, it's all a little more complicated.
You see, Southport is actually a decent destination for a family holiday. Okay, since Pleasureland was demolished, it's lost some of it's entertainment, and become a bit of a "carbon copy" town - but it still retains just enough "British Seaside Resort" to make it great. There are donkey rides on the beach (opposite the crinkly tin JJB Sport monstrosity), a long pier to walk down (or take the train), fish and chips by the sea, the model railway and miles upon miles of sandy beach (has anyone ever seen the sea at Southport).
Pontins is situated about four miles from the town itself, on the glorious sand dunes of Ainsdale beach. It's a good beach and the dunes are great fun for the kids to play in.
So the location is great (though not so great in the case of a winter visit).
So far, so good.
The staff are also very good. They're chipper, friendly and helpful. On stage? Not so great. A lot of these holidays (Haven, Pontins and Butlins) rely on stage show performances by the cast. Out of the three, Butlins really shine in this department. Their shows are well rehearsed, professionally written and well performed.
The crew members do try - they're full of energy. Even if the zebra thing is very scary it's not bad.
Pontins? Well, it's not bad, but it's clearly hurriedly put together by the cast members themselves. Kudos for doing it, it's well beyond anything I could manage, and they do entertain - full of energy and vigour. It's just that the level of professionalism isn't quite there. Still, it's a great effort and they do a good job in what must be tough circumstances.
For the Christmas weekend (the first one they have ever run), Pontins put on a fair amount of entertainment. As well as the usual swimming pool, play barn, arcades, clubs and pubs - they put on a "meet santa" show, had reindeer and a sled on show and laid out a "plastic" ice-rink. All of this was included in the cost of the weekend (erm, free, woohoo).
Plastic skating is good fun - it's just not ice though.
So the basics are all laid out for a fairly decent weekend really. Good location, decent enough entertainment and lots to do. So why was I not keen on returning, even for another free holiday?
It's the rest of Pontins that's the problem, primarily the accommodation. Even from outside the fences (topped with barbed wire), the holiday camp looks more prisoner of war camp. Two storey concrete masses will be your home for the days you're there. It looks awful from the outside, and it doesn't get better once you're in them.
If this was council housing, it would have been destroyed by now.
The one bedroom flats (sleep two adults, two children) are very simple. There's a single bedroom with twin beds off to one side. The main "lounge" area has a sofa bed, TV and dining table. The kitchen is directly off the lounge and has fridge, cooker and sink. A small bathroom completes the flat.
So, what is so bad about it? Let me tell you the tale in pictures!
The front door comes ready kicked in for you. No need to wear out your own shoes here trying to get in at 2 a.m. after the club kicks out.
The bed doesn't quite fold out with the dining table there. You have to move the dining table into the kitchen, which then gives you a very narrow space between the table and fridge to get in and out of the kitchen.
Although you can't tell from the photo, the mattress springs have all broken, so the bottom of the bed just falls through. We had to prop the mattress from underneath on the delightful, plastic kitchen chairs.
Both kitchen and bathroom windows were jammed open. I'm sure in the summer this isn't too much of an issue, but in December when it's -6 outside - it makes a huge difference. I'm sure I solved the issue though:
Solved with the patented furie draught excluder! Kitchen curtain stuffed into the gap. No, it didn't work!
One thing I remembered well from the 2008 visit was the swear words etched into the walls of the small bedroom. Phew, thankfully it's better in this flat:
The wallpaper is just torn and holey in this flat, no subversion of the children's language this time around.
I've seen a lot of reports about how dirty the flats are, in this case it wasn't too bad. Okay, I wasn't planning on performing open heart surgery on the kitchen table (actually, I'd probably not even consider cutting my toe nails in the flat), but it was clean enough. Not spotless, but clean enough.
So, overall, did we have a good time? The Friday night was cold, very cold. However, Saturday was spent out and about around the "resort". The swimming pool is basic, but warm. It's a little dirty too, but for a four year old it's great, and it's very deep which is great for an adventurous teen.
The indoor play area is excellent, and the outside play equipment good too. Everything though has a feel of "tatty". It's really the only way to describe everything - a bit tatty.
It's still good fun though, we had a great day playing, swimming, ice [plastic] skating, seeing Santa and watching costumed characters do dance routines. So if you can put aside the "tattyness", there's a good time to be had. However - we weren't sad about going, and certainly didn't feel any great need to spend a second night there.
Reception did say they would move us if we wanted to stay an extra night (after explaining about the cold and broken bed). However, we'd really had enough by then.
You can't complain about a free holiday, and despite the bad points above, I'm not going to. Would I be willing to pay though? No, I don't think so. If you plan well in advance, you can get a Travelodge room for between £10 and £30 a night. You could get one close to Southport and spend a few days in the area cheaper. While you'd lose the on-site entertainment, I'm sure you could have just as good a time anyway.
If you're really desperate for this kind of traditional British holiday, I couldn't recommend Butlins enough
One word of warning though. Our Satnav took us from Ormskirk to Ainsdale by a terrible road. It's called Plex Moss Lane and it's resulted in this:
Image from the "On the Spot"
It's a bad road, which is a bit of a nightmare to drive at night - so if your Satnav suggests it, avoid!
Bit of good news
Apparently Pontins are spending millions renovating the Southport resort in 2010. So keep an eye on the link below to see if it's worth looking at as a holiday destination in 2011.
Visit the Pontins homepage here:
I have an original "Trip Report" of the family_furie visit to Southport Pontins in 2008 if you follow the link below: