Travel: Butlin’s Skegness

Pool fun at Butlin's Skegness
Pool fun at Butlin's Skegness
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A visit to the seaside birthplace of Butlin’s with a young family puts most holiday park experiences in the shade

We’ve enjoyed Holiday Park breaks before so I thought I knew what to expect at the granddaddy of them all – Butlin’s Skegness – but my expectations were way off the mark. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be so pretty or so jaw-droppingly massive. Nor had I banked on such good value; because we booked before the English schools break up, we benefited from bargain prices.

A self-catering apartment at Butlin's Skegness

A self-catering apartment at Butlin's Skegness

One of the most impressive aspects of Butlin’s is how well it caters for everybody. From the drive-through check-in to the highly efficient, all-inclusive, canteen-style restaurants, everything works amazingly effectively. There really is enough for everyone and queues are kept to a minimum. Redcoats and service staff aplenty are always jolly and delighted to help.

We were staying in a two bedroom newly refurbished Fairground Apartment, which was ideal for the four of us. It comprised a surprisingly spacious open plan living area and kitchen, a modern shower room, a double bedroom for my missus and me and a twin room for Reuben, four, and Sarah, two. Decorated in ice cream colours with vintage fun fair posters and wonderful images of Butlin’s back in the day, it was well equipped (with more TVs than we have at home), light, bright and within easy walking distance of all the on-site attractions. We opted to pay extra for a daily housekeeping service which meant we came back every afternoon to a tidy and gleaming pad. Even the kids’ toys were beautifully arranged with love and care.

We could have cooked a family meal every night in our apartment but we opted for the “premium meal package”. This allowed us to choose from the hot buffet every breakfast and dinner, where the selection of food was staggering and the quality quite exceptional. There were also several live cooking stations, where you could get pasta, omelettes or something from the grill made to order by very obliging chefs. Even my fussiest child (whose blushes I will spare) stuffed their face day after day. The only thing to complain about was an expanding waistline from cooked breakfasts and three-course dinners every night.

When booking our holiday I did secretly wonder how we could possibly occupy our days “stuck” in a holiday park with two very active little ones – and being myself one of those annoying people who can’t sit still. However, there was a vast selection of activities for everyone, even for my in-laws (who were on holiday with us, but in their own accommodation).

Hardy's Animal Farm, Skegness

Hardy's Animal Farm, Skegness

On our first full day on camp, I sent my wife, Sine, off to the Spa to recover from the seven-hour drive. After an hour and a half of pampering, in the form of a Sleep Therapy Dream Body and Face massage, she looked markedly more relaxed and raved about her experience. So, in need of some rare down time myself, I indulged in an Infinite Indulgence Black Mud Envelopment treatment, which was heavenly. There’s nothing like being caked in mud to force you to lie still and zone out.

The rest of the holiday was paced more at my usual speed of “full on”. There was so much to squeeze in, but I’m always up for the challenge. We were blessed with cracking weather so we promptly hit the beach, a glorious sandy stretch for which Skegness is famous. Butlin’s has a handy gate leading straight on to the prom and beach so it couldn’t be more ideally situated. The only drawback was the lack of toilets near the beach, necessitating a 10-minute scuttle back to the Sky Pavilion main hub.

For little ones there is a great choice of on-site activities including soft play, indoor and outdoor play areas, daily tots discos, mini funfair and numerous daily shows. Our kids particularly loved the Teletubbies and seeing The Butlin’s mascots, Billy and Bonnie Bears, come to life. The funfair was also a huge hit, featuring a separate area just for toddlers. Most rides were free so they went on the Ladybirds and Tea Cups over and over again, making us dizzy just watching. For older kids and grown-ups the main funfair has all the usual offerings plus go-karts for racers.

If you love the thrill of a terrifying rollercoaster, then Fantasy Island theme park just two miles away is the place. Apart from our four-year-old, we are a family of scaredy-cats when it comes to the white-knuckle rides which dominate here, but we still had a brilliant afternoon enjoying the less stomach-churning options. After a soaking from the log flume, we strolled through Europe’s largest outdoor market under the twisting tracks of upside-down screaming thrill-seekers and relaxed on traditional deck chairs to enjoy a Snow Cone on a fake beach.

We were all excited to explore another of Butlin’s star draws, the Splash Waterworld pool complex, and boy did we have fun. With toddler slides into warm water, water jets, caves, bubbles, a lazy river, gravity defying flumes and outdoor rapids, it’s a family must-do. Even grandad had a blast. It’s noisy and chaotic but queues move super-fast and ample family changing areas and lockers make everything easy to manage.

Heading a couple miles north up the tractor track we went to Hardy’s Animal Farm for all the smells and thrills of country living, from feeding the adorable baby rabbits (from 50p), to traversing the seven acres of Lincolnshire land in the trailer of red Fergie the tractor and watching the children being chased around the stables by kid goats. There’s a play area with a giant outdoor fort to challenge and exhaust kids of all ages, and if the weather turns, the indoor soft play area and café provide a great excuse for a seat and a cup of tea.

On another morning, we trawled along Grand Parade in central Skegness past the bustling amusement arcades, tea and cake emporiums and the obligatory fish’n’chip cafés to the heart of seaside paradise. There, just off the Tower Esplanade, lies quirky Skegness Aquarium with an introductory chat from the buccaneer, Long John Silver, about the swashbuckling journey ahead meeting pirates and murderous marine monsters, visiting shipwrecks and completing a quiz to win “treasure” – the kids were captivated.

The aquarium, with its family-friendly, dungeon-like atmosphere, has some impressive specimens, including the black tip reef sharks, zebra sharks, deadly puffer fish and bat rays that swim above your head, and the creepy-crawly tarantulas and scorpions that make your flesh creep.

The kids (with a little help) answered the quiz and were delighted to pick up their “treasure”, making this a great adventure for all.

With so much to do at Butlin’s and even more within a three-mile radius, we came home exhausted, but with loads of wonderful family memories and stories to tell.

FACTFILE

A four-night break at Butlin’s Skegness resort in August starts from £195pp based upon four sharing a silver self-catering apartment.

Premium Dining (breakfast and dinner) is available from £26.95 per day for adults, £13.50 per day for six to 14-year-olds and £6.95 per day for two to five-year-olds. Children under two eat free.

For more details go to www.butlins.com or call 0330 100 6648

Fantasy Island, Ingoldmells, Skegness, PE25 1RH (01754 871944, www.fantasyislandresort.co.uk)

Skegness Aquarium (01754 228200,

www.skegness-aquarium.uk)

Hardys Animal Farm, Ingoldmells, Skegness, PE25 1LZ (01754 872267,

www.hardysanimalfarm.co.uk)