What is it? A summer weekend getaway with the kids.

Where? Pontins Camber Sands near Rye in Sussex.

Description: Fancy a true British weekend away – replete with both the good and the bad? Do what Delia Lloyd did, and take your family to a Pontins holiday resort…

To explore the English holiday camp phenomenon during my son’s chess tournament.

Pontins runs activities throughout the day on its ample premises, so be sure to review the schedule at check-in to see “what’s on.” In addition to the outdoor activities (see below), inside the main building you can play snooker and table tennis on a large number of tables. The arcade, replete with numerous slot machines and video games, was a huge hit with my kids. Younger children can enjoy art, a ball pit and a soft play area in a designated room. Nearby Rye is a charming English village only 3km from Pontins and well worth the escape. History buffs will also enjoy exploring 1066 country.

Grab a beer at the Queen Vic pub and sip it outdoors as the sun sets. Then try your luck at one of the many Talent Competitions where you can strut your stuff at Snooker, karaoke or disco and become eligible for a Free finals weekend. At the end of the day, Lunars bar is buzzing with live music and acts suitable for adults and older teens. Pontins own “Bluecoats” singing group perform live shows and cabarets, and can also be seen on the Pontins TV Channel.

There is no babysitting available at Camber Sands.

There are no spas on the premises but there are several spa hotels in nearby Rye.

Local activities: See above.

Wish we had known: How difficult it is to obtain a taxi on a Sunday afternoon in Camber. We missed two trains back to London trying to get a cab and finally had to take the (infrequent) bus.

Our top tip: Bring lots of cash. You will need to buy tickets for many of the on-site activities and they don’t take debit cards.

Kids say: Allie, 7, says: “That was the best swimming pool slide I’ve ever been on!” Isaac, 10, adds: “This is sort of sad.”

Getting There: National Rail has a high speed train that will get you from London to Rye in just over an hour. Book in early to get good seats and fares. Pontins offers a range of highly reasonable holiday packages, starting as low as L316 for a four-night stay. Check the website for the latest offers. There are always deals to be had.

About our stay: If you mention the word “Pontins” to a Brit, they will immediately be familiar with the concept of a family holiday camp. But as an American who’s lived in England for five years, I had no idea what to expect when I signed up for my son’s annual chess tournament at Pontins Camber Sands. I can’t say that the kick off to this trip was all that auspicious. The website for this particular Pontins was bright and sparkly, featuring happy people frolicking on white sand and in blue water. In contrast, when I arrived at Camber Sands, I was greeted by chipped, pastel paint and a sprawling, 800-unit compound of “chalets” that spread as far as the eye could see. The reception area was dark and felt vaguely like a 1960s-era ski lodge, illuminated only by the occasional burst of sound and neon flashes from the adjoining arcade. Once you get past the army-barracks feel of the premises, the accommodations aren’t all that bad. They are definitely “budget” in feel and decor, but our room was clean and neat, even if my husband and I did need to sleep on separate beds. If at all possible, try to obtain a “club” room as they are a definite step up from more affordable “classic” or “popular” chalets. (It is telling that there are no photos of the rooms on the website, only floor plans.) One weird but intriguing feature of these rooms is that you need to insert a small electricity card into a boiler-type apparatus in order to have heat. At first I found this somewhat annoying – particularly as said card “ticks” its way through its energy supply (out loud!). But by the end of the weekend, this old-fashioned device struck me as rather charming. (Be sure to stock up on extra cards when you check in – you’ll need four or five to make it through the weekend.) Activities at Camber Sands are a mixed bag. The website boasts “over free 70 family activities” but there were only a handful running on the weekend in late June when we visited. And most entailed a fee of L2 or L3. Until quite recently, PGL operated on the premises, but they have since terminated their contract with Pontins. So some of the more promising-looking activities – like a zip-wire that ran some 50 yards across – have been shut down, lending much of the park an abandoned feel. So we made our way down to the “Leisure Zone” and tried our hand at the Go Carts and Quad Bikes, both of which operate on small, outdoor tracks and both of which were safe and fun. More enticing are the water-based activities at Camber Sands. The swimming pool is enormous and has a fabulous, built-in water slide. My kids loved it and would have happily spent their entire day there. My daughter also rode paddle-boats on a tiny, outdoor pool. But perhaps the biggest draw of the weekend was the “water walker”- a large, inflatable see-through plastic ball which allows kids to literally “walk on water” inside the bubble (and then fall down.) The paddling pool is small and plopped down in the middle of a grass lawn right in front of some cottages, so the setting is less than ideal. But there’s no question that the children loved this highly unusual activity. Camber beach is right across the street from Camber Sands and is absolutely fabulous. If you come in the summer, I would recommend that you block out a big chunk of time to walk and swim along this large, dramatic Southern coastline. You can buy hot dogs and food right nearby and stay the entire day. Another positive of our visit to Camber Sands was the staff, who were uniformly cheerful and helpful. As this was the very first day that Pontins was operating some of the (previously PGL-run) activities, things were a bit disorganised and there were long queues. But on several occasions when I asked for directions, staff members took the time to personally guide me to the right place and did so pleasantly. Pontins is under new management. My hope is that as the new owners take stock of what they have, they will build on the strengths of Camber Sands (especially the water-related activities), while improving the overall look and feel of the facilities. Should they manage to do that, I think that Pontins Camber Sands could be an enjoyable family budget holiday. My children certainly enjoyed themselves. Just make sure your expectations aren’t too high. Delia Lloyd is an American journalist and blogger based in London. She blogs about adulthood at www.realdelia.com.

Created: 2011-10-30 18:25:36.560

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