When I was a child in the 1970s, my sister and I were taken to Butlins Minehead several times by our grandparents.
Those were the ‘Hi Di Hi’ days when accommodation was a small but comfortable prefab chalet with a tannoy to summon campers to their meals with gusto at 7 am in the morning.
|My sister Sarah and I with our grandparents, Harry and Phyllis at Butlins Minehead circa 1974
There was an impressive network of cable cars which seemingly floated over the camp as well as a Gaiety Ballroom and a Gaiety Theatre.
|Sarah and I – gran always dressed us as twins! Can you tell I’m shattered?
Food was everywhere, particularly, I recall, freshly made mini doughnuts.
The fairground was free and when we weren’t there or in the arcades playing slot machines for a penny, we would religiously attend the Donkey Derby, the Glamorous Grandmother competition, It’s A Knock-Out and I think there was even the traditional Knobbly Knees competition.
The Red Coats were friendly, glamorous and talented.
We ate ourselves into oblivion, attended a show every night and stayed up far too late dancing in the disco.
Fast forward almost 40 years and I’m back at Butlins’ kind invitation holding on tight to my memories and wondering how the camp would have weathered the passing decades.
And this time I’ve got two kids with me who are roughly the same age as my sister Sarah and I were when we visited.
ARRIVAL & CHECK-IN
Our initial impression on arrival was a sense of overwhelm. I had forgotten just how big the site is and finding our way to West Lake Villages where we had a lake view chalet involved a little too-ing and fro-ing up and down the car park and a little heated marital discussion on the basis that the Husband had a map. Give a man a map and he automatically becomes Roald Amundsen.
|We had a Lakeview Chalet in West Lakes Villages
But everything is signposted and eventually, we found the chalet accommodation office where we were required to book in. If you do get lost return to the large Guest Check-In centre at the front of the complex and they’ll be able to help.
The site is a collection of ‘villages’ with designated check-in points so you have to make sure you go to the right place. You park your car, check in and then drive round to your accommodation where there is a designated parking place and you can unpack.
Our tips: if you get lost, return to the central Guest Check-In and they’ll direct you.
We were based in West Lake Villages, a complex of new style chalets built surrounding a man-made lake with a fountain. Everything was well laid out and pristine – and incredibly peaceful. You pay an extra supplement for a chalet right by the water but ours, with a lake view, was very pleasant.
Our chalet was on the top floor. The chalets are built in small runs of one-up, one-down and entered via a contactless key card.
|The bedrooms, bathroom and comfort family sized sofa
There was a double and a twin bedroom, a bathroom with a toilet, a combined bath and shower and a generously sized lounge/diner with a fully equipped kitchen including a fridge and a microwave.
|A generously sized kitchen and lots of retro detail
A balcony looked over a green central area towards the lake and was visited by ducks, geese and rabbits. There was a table and chairs on the balcony so you could just relax whilst the kids played football in the green space below.
Kids being kids, it didn’t take long before they were out making new friends. Top tip – take a football.
Our chalet also had housekeeping and towels were supplied. The bathroom had a small pouch with toiletries but you would need to bring your own and particularly a bar of soap.
I was really impressed with the quality of the chalet’s fixtures and fittings. The chalets are, of course, reasonably new, but the accommodation was a world away from the prefab days of the 1970s.
There were several clever little touches too – a chalkboard with chalk for the kids to play with, coat hooks running around the rooms for all those towels and coats and when we arrived our towels had been turned into an Easter bunny.
We didn’t take food with us, although we did take teabags and biscuits plus a bottle or two of wine. The site is well equipped with supermarkets which carry all the basics you could possibly need.
In any case, you will find you are amply fed if your package includes dining, with only lunch and snacks to provide for.
WiFi was free for us for two devices, however, depending on your package you may only have 30 free minutes a day and need to pay for top ups.
Our tips: bring soap, tissues and toiletries. If you don’t have housekeeping with your package, don’t forget towels and bring extra ones for swimming. Caffeine addicts should bring their favs with them plus some milk if you don’t like milk capsules. And there was a corkscrew, but a spare never hurts. Bring a ball for the kids (although you can buy one on site)
|There are plenty of maps and information leaflets to help you.
We had the Premium Dining package which meant that breakfast and dinner were all in and we could choose between two restaurants, The Deck or The Yacht which were situated in a block a short walk from our chalet.
|Caitlin and Ieuan testing the food at The Deck
The dinner menu changed daily and for the duration of our stay, we dined in The Deck which is the bigger of the two.
Both restaurants are on the ground floor with a bar situated just outside and toilets inside.
The food is served buffet style and there are stations for grilled food such as steaks and burgers, wok-based food and pasta. Dishes are cooked fresh for you if you want to wait or you can help yourself from the dishes already laid out.
There is also a large well-stocked salad bar, various soups in tureens and cabinets full of desserts, primarily cheesecakes or if you’re quick, cheese & biscuits.
The children’s buffet food is laid out separately and I would say that it is geared for kids much younger than Caitlin and Ieuan. There are plastic plates and knives and forks available and the menu is pretty much chips, nuggets, sausages and standard kiddy fare.
My only gripe with the food we had is that the temperature of the children’s food could have been much hotter and the chicken dish laid out one evening had gone completely cold.
My suspicion is that given the number of adults to kids, the adult food gets replaced far quicker and far more frequently than the kids’ food does.
The temperature of the adult food can also be a little hit and miss depending on what you choose. One evening we had freshly cooked chicken, noodles, veggies and soy from the wok station which was lovely but on another, we had a vegetarian Jalfrezi curry which was just hot enough.
Dining runs from 4.30 – 7.30 pm so you take pot luck depending on when you choose to dine. Sunday night seems to be the night for early dining as there was a pool party starting at 7 pm in Splash Waterworld.
But the desserts…… apologies to Butlins at this point for Caitlin and Ieuan emptying the ice cream machine and the cheesecakes were lovely.
Teas and coffees are available from a self-serve machine as squash for the kids and these are free of charge. Alcoholic drinks are available from the bar outside and have to be paid for by cash or card – you can’t add the cost to your room.
Occasional fluctuations in temperature aside, the food was lovely, great quality and varied enough so you didn’t have to eat the same thing each meal.
Breakfast offered pastries, fresh fruit and yoghurt, cereal and a buffet style full English with the works – including fried bread and kippers.
Breakfast is served from 8 am up to the very reasonable 10 am but, again, towards the tail end of the time period, you may find some of your favourites have gone.
Caitlin and Ieuan loved going off to get their own food (particularly the ice cream and squash) and of course, you can refill your plate if you are extra peckish.
Our tips: come early for the hottest food and biggest choice and don’t forget cash/card if you plan to buy drinks from the bar.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES
As I child I remember being so tired getting back on the coach to return to Plymouth that I could barely speak. (The Husband can only dream of this now). I was expecting a jam-packed few days and there are certainly plenty of things to do.
The central hub of the camp is the Skyline Pavilion – a massive white tented structure which houses a shopping mall, the stage areas, numerous cafes and restaurants, arcade type machines, a pool and bowling hall and more toilets.
|The Skyline Pavilion is the hub of the camp
There is also a handy information desk which helps you get your bearings and tells you the day’s available activities and what shows are available at the Skyline Pavilion (which has a large stage area surrounded by seating), Centre Stage and Reds.
The Skyline Pavilion stage is home to the Skyline Gang (a Butlins version of Lazy Town) and Silent Cinema. Centre Stage hosts the bigger, music based shows, for example, The RollerBoys and Freddie In Concert (A Freddie Mercury tribute act) whilst Reds hosts shows for the little ones such as Justin Fletcher’s Just Sing & Dance and Billy & Bonnie In The Wizard. Billy and Bonnie are Butlin’s resident bears.
We saw three shows, wrestling, Sam & Mark On The Road Show and the Teletubbies. I say we, I watched the Teletubbies whilst Ieuan muttered: “I am SO too old for this”. I enjoyed it. Both the Teletubbies and the wrestling were in the Skyline Pavilion where, again, the noise levels were an issue for me. I much prefer the Centre Stage venue which, though spacious, is more intimate and hosts fewer visitors.
Our tips: plan your shows in advance so you can use your B-Line passes if you have them and secure early entry and better seats. Some of the shows don’t start until around 8:30 pm.
DAILY ACTIVITY SCHEDULE
Each day has a full timetable of activities included in the price of your break, details of which are available on the leaflet “Butlins When And Where”.
In it, you’ll find lists of daily activities and shows all handily designated with the age range these are best suited for.
On first sight, these are primarily geared towards tots and I was initially worried that there would not be enough for Caitlin and Ieuan’s age group to do.
I needn’t have worried. For example, there is archery, shooting and crafting for the over 9s. There’s also a circus school, drum workshop, magic workshop and numerous science workshops.
The Husband took Caitlin to the code-breaking workshop hosted by Bletchley Park. In this, they had to crack the code by breaking into three safes to assemble a six digit code to break into the master safe. They also wanted to go to the Bath Bomb workshop hosted by The Royal Institution and L’Oreal UK & Ireland to investigate the science of fizz but it was fully booked.
As it was Easter, there was also an Easter Egg Hunt where youngsters had to crack the code by finding crates in secret locations around the camp and solving the puzzle to get part of the code.
There is something on right throughout the day, whether it’s a sporting activity, crafting or a show and the programme spans from 8 am through to 12:30 am with live music in one of the complex’s pubs, Inn On The Green.
Not everything is free, however, for example, the Adventure Golf, Ten Pin Bowling, American Pool, Go Karts and Bungee Trampolines all have a charge. The golf is £3.50 per person and go-kart hire is £9.50 per half hour per kart. It’s worth getting an All Action Pass which includes all these activities a £17 per person.
|We loved the go karts
You can also buy B Line fast passes from £20 per person for 3 nights which allows priority access to Centre Stage, Reds and Splash Waterworld.
We absolutely love the Go Karts which we hired twice and which brought home my dismal level of fitness quick nicely. Cycling round on these is a great way to get your bearings and to appreciate just how big Butlins Minehead is.
Our tips: get there early to get your pick of the best go-karts. The outdoor activities get busy early. Plan your day to make sure you get everything in!
EATING AND DRINKING
Because we have breakfast and dinner in our package, the only thing we had to provide for was lunch, snacks and drinks and there is plenty to choose from.
There’s Ludo’s Restaurant (Italian), The Diner (50’s themed burger joint) and the Firehouse Grill as well as the Sun & Moon family pub, Soho Coffee Company and Inn on The Green (drinks only).
We ate in both the Sun & Moon family pub, the Firehouse Grill and the Soho Coffee Company and found the food in all three good quality and good value. The children’s menus were adequate and the portion sizes generous. In fact, after a full breakfast at The Deck, we didn’t have all that much room for lunch!
Children’s menus are priced around the reasonable £6.50 mark for a main, dessert and a Ribena Mini.
Our tips: we found the Sun & Moon to be quieter and more relaxed than the food venues around the Skyline Pavilion.
The outdoor lido with the fountain I remember has been replaced by the huge Splash Waterworld, an indoor heated pool complex with a wave machine, a disco beat and a number of very long and exhilarating water slides.
The queues to get in were long although given that it was Easter weekend this was not surprising. (so a B Line pass is a good idea). Once through the door, you are given an allotted time frame (we had an hour and a half) and a coloured armband in the good old fashioned British style. (Yellows out of the pool now!!!).
There are multiple changing areas with cubicles and lockers which require a pound coin to get your key out. Due to the number of people who had already been there that day, the changing area we chose was a little less than fresh but this is a common problem where there is lots of nappy changing going on!
The Husband took Ieuan on the waterslide but, again, there was a queue. There are three slides of varying length and Ieuan waited 20 minutes to get on his. A lady in the queue behind him had waited 45 minutes to go on another of the slides so she was clearly earning her mummy stripes. Despite the wait, haring down a waterslide with his dad in a small inflatable boat was one of the highlights of his holiday.
I stayed with Caitlin in one of the three smaller pools. The main pool has a continuous current and a wave machine and is definitely not suitable for non-swimmers. We were in the second pool, smaller, no current and well manned by lifeguards. There is a third kiddy pool nearby.
I was really impressed by the lifeguards who were really attentive and not afraid to usher swimmers back into the shallows if it looked like they were not confident swimmers.
On a personal note, as a tinnitus sufferer, I found the volume of the pool absolutely deafening – not helped by the disco music played to encourage swimmers to circle round the wave pool but this is not a criticism of Butlins. If you do suffer from tinnitus I would suggest you take ear plugs.
Our tips: be prepared to queue, both to get in and to get on the waterslides; don’t forget pound coins for the lockers and if you are a tinnitus sufferer, take your earplugs. Parents of non-swimmers – make sure you stick to the designated non-swimmer areas.
Again, this is free. It’s smaller than I remember and I was hoping for a ghost train but there is a carousel, a helter-skelter, dodgems, waltzers, go-karts. Chair-o-Planes and the Rockin’ Tug. Kids have to be tall enough to go on each ride and if you don’t like fast rides you are rather limited to the safer choices of the helter-skelter and dodgems.
|You’re never too old for a carousel
The fair closes at 5 pm during the week but is open till 8 pm on Friday nights which coincided nicely with our arrival.
Little ones have their own Little Stars Fairground.
OUT AND ABOUT
Should you find the time to actually leave Butlins, Minehead beach is literally just across the road and is a lovely soft sandy beach. Nearby there is Dunster Castle and Somerset Valley Railway sends its steam trains along the perimeter of the camp.
|Minehead beach is literally a stone’s throw away – shame about the lack of sun!
BOOKING YOUR NEXT BUTLINS BREAK
The kids absolutely adored our 3 days at Butlins and were shattered by the end of it. I asked Ieuan what was his favourite bit and his response was “there’s so much to do. I’m struggling”. Both Caitlin and Ieuan asked to come back and, not surprisingly, Butlins Minehead is pretty fully booked for the rest of the year.
There is, however, an on-site Holiday Accommodation office where you can book your next Butlins break with an up to 40% discount. You can also secure your next booking for just £10pp. This makes subsequent bookings even better value if you rebook whilst you are there.
We have a 3-night break on the same basis (lake view chalet in West Lakes Village and the premier dining package) for just over £800 – with a significant saving of around £400.
Our tip: if you want to come back, secure your next break for the minimum deposit of £10 per person.
So, did Butlins Minehead 2017 compare favourably to the Butlins I remember in the 70’s? Yes, it did – it’s a lot more comfortable and nobody shouts at you over a tannoy to get you up for breakfast. Come to think of it though, that tannoy might be very useful on school mornings.
Big thanks to Butlins for our break and for giving the Husband a chance to laugh at my rubbish cycling abilities.
Things will be different next year. You’ll see.
Find more information and to book your break go to www.butlins.com.