What is it? A four-day break in Butlins, staying at the recently opened Ocean Hotel.

Where? The seaside resort of Bognor Regis.

Description: Luxury and Butlins don’t normally go hand-in-hand. But a new hotel at Butlins in Bognor Regis is offering brand new luxury accommodation, combined with hedonistic pampering treatments in their new state-of-the-art spa. Now if only the rest of the resort could get a similar makeover, says Wendy Sloane [ocean_hotel.jpg]

To experience the resort’s latest luxury hotel – and see what Butlins is all about.

Butlins has loads of inclusive entertainment, including a swimming complex, playgrounds, cheerleading camps and full-on spectator sports. We saw a circus, went on loads of funfair rides and even played bingo – the woman who ran it had the most hypnotic voice I’ve ever heard. There are on-site restaurants, pubs and shops, and now there is the brand new Ocean Spa.

Butlins is famous for its all-inclusive entertainment programme. While we were there, the highlight of Josie’s evening was watching the stars of the X-Factor – including Ruth Lorenzo – live on stage. Many programmes are on in late evening, however, and my children were too young to fully take part. Check the programme before you book if there is something you want to particularly see.

Nursery care for under-fives is available at extra cost after the first hour. Ask about other childcare options on offer.

The Ocean Hotel has its own on-site spa, with treatments that are generally affordable (a two-hour session costs L19). Features include a snow cave, relaxation pods and disco showers, as well as special girly treatments for young teens. As my kids were too young to go in we abstained, but they loved trying the tester hand cream in the spa lobby area.

Local activities: Bognor Regis is a nice town in and of itself, although parts are a bit seedy. A miniature train can take you to the centre of town from outside the resort’s back gates for 70p (L1 return), or you can walk there in 10 minutes flat. We strolled along the promenade and Josie and I spent a very happy afternoon shopping in the main precinct. You are also a close drive from other resort towns such as Brighton, although I imagine most people who come to Butlins stay in Butlins!

Wish we had known: That so many problems still need to be ironed out at the hotel. We were given a key to our room only to find the beds unmade and dirty towels strewn across the bathroom floor. Apologies were made, and we were ushered to the restaurant for a free snack while cleaning staff remedied the error. Yet four and a half hours later the place was still dirty. When I used my key another hour after that, I found all our luggage moved and a strange man inside, who announced that the deluxe corner room we had been allocated was now his, and that we had been moved to a less nice room down the hall. Things gradually got better (the room, once we made it safely inside, was lovely – although when our loo rolls ran out two days later I had to practically beg to have them replaced). But other Fawlty Towers-type snafus abounded. One guest told me that maids had marched in her hotel at 4pm without knocking, waking her baby. When she complained, she was told to change the baby’s nap time in future to accommodate their cleaning schedule.

Our top tip: There is a small fridge in the hotel room, so we bought some food in and ate on our balcony. There is also an on-site Londis, where you can buy staple items as well as treats for the kids, with a much better assortment (and cheaper) than the on-site sweetie shop.

Kids say: “I loved the rides, the spinning things except the merry-go-round because it just went around slowly and was boring,” says Clementine, who’s only four but has a stomach made of steel. “The trampolines were wicked,” says Josie, nine. “I loved the climbing frame,” says seven-year-old Tilly.

Getting There: Breaks at Ocean Hotel with spa start from L366 for a four night mid-week break for a family of four sharing a Mariner Room including breakfast. To book an Ocean Hotel break call 0845 070 4730 or visit www.butlins.com/hotels.

About our stay: Butlins is not the type of place you’d expect to find a luxury hotel. But those clever marketing gurus at Butlins HQ sat down recently and realised that not everyone likes self-catering holidays in budget apartments, and that some folk really will pay a bit more to have someone else boil their eggs and make their beds in the mornings. So in August they opened up the Ocean Hotel, a L20 million, seven-storey, 200-room building that is becoming the focal point of their beachside Bognor Regis resort. With disco lifts, a state-of-the-art spa and funky bedrooms sporting a new-McDonalds-meets-the-set-of-Big-Brother interior feel, it certainly is worlds away from the old self-catering chalets Billy Butlins set up in 1936. However, once you step outside the door of the hotel you’re in… Butlins. [redcoat.jpg] Let’s be honest here. My daughters, aged four, seven and nine, adored our four nights in Butlins, which was really the point of our trip. And I must say that the hotel was nice, despite myriad teething problems (we arrived just a week after the grand opening). But its gleaming facade – bright, shiny and sparkling new – only served to make the rest of the resort appear old and tired. Splash Waterworld is considered the highlight of the resort, an indoor swimming complex with waterslides, wave machines and a big toddler play area. But the smallish pool has become pure human soup, housed in a decaying building with mouldy corners, dirty floors and filthy changing rooms. We waited in an hour-long queue for a 45-second water raft ride (I timed it), and although the ride was lovely, it certainly wasn’t worth the wait. Much of the rest of the resort is centred around the undercover Skyline Pavilion, which has shops, restaurants, shows and activities under one roof, including a rather seedy arcade and bingo hall. My kids loved the sweet shop, although it was faded and understocked with jelly beans all over the floor, as well as the rather amateurish Latin circus in the main hall, where half the audience stood on chairs to get a view. My eldest, age nine, also loved watching the finalists from the X-Factor perform, although ten minutes in a crowded hall filled with crying toddlers allowed up past their bedtime was more than enough for me. [butlins.jpg] Other inclusive entertainment was on offer, including Superslam Wrestling and a country music programme, but watching the hordes queue up hours in advance put us off. We did manage to see a few Redcoats – once they were on centre stage in the Pavilion singing “Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes” to the littlest guests – but off-stage they always seemed in a big hurry, except for one kind girl who briefly posed for a photo with my youngest before rushing off to bigger and better things. Apart from the breakfast buffet in the hotel, which served up the traditional English as well as fruit, cereals, baked goods and yogurt, the food in the other on-site eateries was fairly dire. One evening we had a L19.95 chicken “feast” for four in the Pavilion – seemingly good value, until we discovered that almost every piece of chicken was burnt. The next night we opted for the early bird buffet at the on-site pizza restaurant, which included pizza, pasta and a salad bar. My fork was filthy, half the pizza slices were cold and my husband’s serving of congealed pasta was inedible (we complained and got free ice cream). Saying that, Butlins staff were definitely trying hard (one waitress told me lots of hotel staff had quit since the opening as the workload was too much, and that they were struggling to keep up). The old-fashioned funfair was a hit in part because of the young employees there: the girl who worked on the trampolines spent 45 minutes of her time teaching my nine-year-old to do basic tricks, and the young man who ran the Bumper Cars was hysterically funny. They all seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves, and it showed. Josie, Tilly and Clementine all had a great time at Butlins, which was, after all, why we went. Would we go back? Hmmmm…. Only if my husband Duncan promised to look after the kids, allowing me to enjoy the Ocean Spa’s pampering treatments without ever having to leave the hotel… (Wendy Sloane is Travel Editor of entertainthekids.com. She divides her time between writing, travelling and taking care of her three young daughters.)

Created: 2009-09-14 13:06:00.980

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