13 August 2010
We recently went on a family holiday to Butlins Minehead with our two children aged 2 and 6. We had a very active holiday and a great time. There was lots to do and the kids particularly enjoyed meeting the characters and the special character meal. This is our second visit to a Butlins site as a family, although I have many memories from visiting Butlins when I was younger. Our previous holiday was at Skegness Butlins when we had a toddler and baby at the time.
We chose the gold accommodation again for this holiday. It is quite a bit more expensive for the gold accommodation, but having good quality accommodation can make for a much better holiday. I'd recommend choosing at least gold if possible.
The accommodation was up to the standard that I expected. It is a similar build to the silver apartments at Haven Craig Tara, Ayr Scotland (former Butlins site), but at this site they have been maintained to a much better standard than at the Haven site. The rooms were nicely decorated with comfortable furniture and were clean and tidy.
The apartments are in 3 story buildings. The windows had safety catches, but the stairs to the apartment were metal exterior stairs. I don't like the stairs, although they were in acceptable condition they were still a little slippery when it rained. Our son is 2½ and was able to walk up the stairs okay with someone holding his hand. Had he been any younger and needed to be carried then it would have been difficult to carry him up the stairs. If you are on holiday with a child or baby that is any younger then I would strongly suggest paying the extra £10 for a ground floor apartment, but fortunately we didn't have any problems.
Car parking was in a large car park nearby. There were some trolleys available to help with moving luggage which were extremely useful. The apartments are conveniently located near to the main entertainment area.
Meeting the Characters - Bob The Builder, Angelina Ballerina, Billy Bear and Titan the Robot
One of the reasons that we chose to go to Butlins on our previous holiday was because our daughter was a big fan of Bob the Builder. Our daughter is older now and so enjoyed meeting Angelina Ballerina, whereas our son is more of a Thomas the Tank Engine fan, but Thomas the Tank Engine only visits Butlins outside of the school holidays. As it turned out our son loved meeting Bob, but was just as happy meeting the Butlins children characters such as Billy Bear and Daisy the Cow. All the characters make Butlins a great place to visit with young children.
In addition to seeing the characters in the shows and photo sessions, we also went along to the character lunch. This was £50 for a family of four, which when you consider that everyone had a meal was cheaper than it was in the past, although the child "prize" was bit smaller. It was a great way for the children to meet the characters (Bob The Builder, Angelina Ballerina, Billy Bear and Daisy Cow all made an appearance).
The food was acceptable. It was a hot buffet and there was a good choice, but the food was the cheaper end of the catering options.
There were lots of opportunities for photos with the characters with one professional photo included in the cost (although you could use your own camera as well). There was also a story read by one of the Red Coats with actions provided by Billy and Daisy and a game of musical bumps.
If you have young children that would like to meet the characters then this is well worth paying the extra.
For older children that have outgrown Bob The Builder then Butlins have their own Skyline gang as well as featuring Titan the Robot. Titan is very funny and a huge hit with the older kids, but quite scary for younger children. He scared our son when up close, but he enjoyed watching him from a distance and kept asking to see his picture in the entertainment guide afterwards.
Evening entertainment venues
Butlins is famous for it's evening entertainment featuring stars from Britain's got Talent and X-Factors along with character shows and their own entertainers. I'm not a big Britain's got Talent or X-Factors fan, but we did go to see some of the character shows and the Red Coat's Butlins 2010 show.
There were two character shows, one featuring the Butlins characters (Billy Bear and friends) and the other featuring Dora the Explorer. These were in the Centre Stage venue which whilst popular was not too crowded. Although to get the best seats you have to arrive early there was no shortage of tables arriving just before the start of the show. The venue is located upstairs with a lift available. The queue for the lift wasn't too long, but on one occasion I did carry the pushchair upstairs instead.
Reds was the busier of the two venues we visited. It is on the ground floor which made access easy, with a few stairs between the different levels. There may also have been a ramp but I didn't go looking for one as it was easy enough to carry the pushchair down just a few stairs. We arrived quite early for the show so didn't have any problems finding a table, but those that arrived during the Butlins 2010 show were struggling to find tables.
On two occasions we didn't have time to eat before going to the venues. There was little choice of food available in the venues so on one occasion we ate hot dogs in the venue and the other we took our own sandwiches with us.
Funfair and Bob's building yard
There are two funfair areas. The traditional outdoor area with the Carousel, Dodgems ("They are dodgems NOT BUMPER CARS!") and other adult rides and an indoor toddlers area featuring a large slide, vintage cars, small train ride and other children's rides.
Most of the fun fair rides in both areas are very old, and were already "classics" when I used to visit as a child some 20 years ago. They are however well maintained and are still just as much fun today. I'm not sure whether the No Bumping on the dodgems is to extend the life of the cars or as a health and safety precaution, but Butlins do take safety very seriously so I didn't have any concerns about the age of the rides.
Unlike the Skegness Butlins there are not really any rides suitable for young children at the main funfair. This is not a problem if you just have toddlers (keep reading for details about the toddlers fun fair area), but our older child wanted to go on some of the grown-up rides and this meant that our youngest wasn't able to go on any rides whilst waiting (except for in the carriage on the the carousel).
At Bob's builders yard there are 6 rides suitable for young children. Most are children only, but adults can accompany young children on the train. There is also an indoor play area and a large slide. Again these rides are old but well maintained and appeared to have been recently refurbished. The kids loved the rides and being free they were able to have several goes on each; the only thing is that in future they now expect this many rides when at pay-per-ride fun fairs as well.
The majority of the rides are included in the holiday but there is an additional charge for the bumper boats and the go-karts located near the main fun fair. This is great if you have older children (eg. teenagers) as it means that you can let them have some freedom on holiday being able to go an explore on their own without worrying about how much it will cost.
Swimming pool and swimming lessons
The indoor swimming pool is one of the main attractions for Butlins. At Minehead there is a normal swimming area, a toddlers area with slides, a wave machine pool, a swimming river as well as 3 flumes (one ending in a vortex) and a boat ride flume. There are minimum height restrictions for the flumes and boats, but most of these finish in shallow water so are suitable for non-swimmers.
The swimming pool was great fun for all the family. We took our children around the lazy river as well as using the toddler pool so that we were not just limited to the toddler area. The only problem with the pools was the waiting time for the flume rides and especially the boat ride which was about 15 minutes. For the flume rides they have added a separate chain barrier before the flumes, so as well as waiting for the light to go green riders also had to wait for the pool attendant to unfasten the chain. This is the first pool I've seen that they added something like this and it did slow the queue down a little. The best way to avoid the long queues was to get an early start in the mornings as the pool opened at 9.00 (most of the other entertainment started from about 10.00).
After the pool closed for the normal swimming there were other activities, such as swimming lessons, snorkelling, canoeing and inflatable fun sessions. The normal pool was free, but these sessions did cost extra. The swimming lessons cost £4 each for a 30 minute session.
We took our daughter to the swimming lessons on both days that it was running. There were about 12 children to 2 instructors. During the lesson they learnt swimming using floats with mainly short one-on-one teaching whilst the other children watched. At the end of the second session she was awarded a certificate of achievement based on the Rubbadubbers scheme run by the STA (Swimming Teachers' Association).
There is also an outdoor fun pool. This looked to be mainly paddling depth rather than a swimming pool and although we had reasonable weather it wasn't particularly hot and so we didn't use the outdoor pool.
Food on site
As well as the character lunch mentioned above we ate at two restaurants on site. The first was Pizza Hut which we visited at lunch time for the Pizza Hut all you can eat buffet.
The second was the Sun and Moon pub, which we went to during one evening. The food was reasonably priced typical pub food. There was quite a long wait for the food, but there are two children's play areas which kept the kids entertained whilst waiting.
There is also a fish and chip shop (with seating area) and a Burger King neither of which we tried.
The entertainment venues had hot dog stands and there were also some food kiosks in the Skyline Pavilion.
There is a great sandy beach just across the road from the site. There is ramped access to the beach (although once on the beach pushchairs are difficult to move in the sand) and a zebra crossing across the road. There is also a beach shop selling buckets and spades and the usual beach accessories.
Minehead on Dotto the Train
Butlins run a land train which goes from the site into Minehead. The cost was quite reasonable. There were two stops one by the sea-front shops and the steam railway station and the other at the harbour. We went to the harbour, where there is an RNLI lifeboat station and a pub called The Old Ship Aground.
We had lunch at the pub which was reasonably priced, but had a very long wait. The pub did have baby changing but not much to keep the kids occupied. After we'd been waiting a while already the bar staff gave us some pens and paper to keep them occupied, but they didn't have any colouring. We then went back on Dotto back to the site.
The holiday at Butlins is quite expensive. The holidays are all mid-week or weekend breaks instead of the traditional 7 day holidays (this is similar to how Centre Parcs price their holidays). For the cost of a mid-week holiday at Butlins it is possible to have a full 7 day holiday at most other self-catering sites and still have money left over.
When you look at what is included then it does offset the cost a little (free fun fair, free swimming pool, free entertainment). I'm sure that they could cut the price of the holiday by reducing the number of staff and free activities, but if they did that then the quality of the holiday would go down, so I'd rather they stick with the current prices than try and turn it into a budget holiday.
Where Butlins does succeed is in giving you a memorable holiday and at the end of the day that's what you are paying for and I think it's worth paying.
Fortunately we had reasonable weather, but some of the activities are indoor including the huge skyline pavilion so at least there is still plenty to do if the weather is wet.
As our daughter is now at school we went on holiday during the summer holiday which was busier and more expensive, but it wasn't too busy which was one of my concerns.
One of the things I noticed (or rather didn't until I thought about it later) was that the site was very clean and tidy. I didn't notice any litter of any other problems. The only thing that wasn't particularly nice was that they started cleaning the changing rooms whilst the swimming lessons were on so it was not possible to use the shower and there was a lot of the dirt that they were cleaning up on the floor.
There wasn't any problem with noise either. The layout of the accommodation meant that we didn't have many people walking past our apartment block and so it was quiet even in the evenings. In fact only noise issue was the seagulls waking us up the morning :-)
I'd recommend a Butlins holiday to anyone with a young family. I'm very happy with the holiday we had and my personal tips would be to go for the more expensive accommodation (if you can afford it) and if you have very young children pay extra for the ground floor.
Still unsure you could visit one of the Butlins sites as a day visitor and if you book a holiday at the on-site holiday booking shop then you can get a refund of your entrance fee.