Looking out across the perfect arc of sand watching the sun go down in the warmth of the evening glow, I felt very privileged. The scene from the balcony was spectacular, and I’ve seen a lot of stunning beaches in my time. Given the glorious weather, and the sight of the kite surfers, you could be forgiven for thinking I was enjoying a Mediterranean holiday. I was actually at Minehead on a Butlins Just for Tots break.
The short breaks have been created for families with toddlers and babies and are held on selective dates across the three UK resorts. I was lucky enough to be chosen to review a Just for Tots Break at Butlins on behalf of the What’s Good To Do website. It’s a hard job, but somebody had to do it! You can read my full review of the Just for Tots break and the facilities . We stayed in a Blueskies apartment and had the most incredible time as you’ll see if you read my review.
Rather than repeat myself, I thought I’d make this blog post about the insider tips and tricks to help you survive a Butlins Just for Tots break when you’re outnumbered by small people.
Butlins insider tips and tricks
Accommodation – Blueskies apartments
Arrive on site from 12 noon on the day of arrival to make the most of your break. Apartments aren’t ready until later in the day but it adds an extra afternoon to your holiday. You can also stay at the resort until noon on check-out day too.
We stayed in the seafront Blueskies apartments, which meant we were able to park directly under the apartments and take our belongings up on a luggage trolley in the lift. We really appreciated this on the final morning when it poured down as we were loading the car. Other grades of accommodation involve a walk from the car park to the accommodation, so if you’re staying anywhere else it’s worth taking a plastic sheet or keeping a towel out to cover your bags while you load and unload, just in case the heaven’s open.
There was a welcome pack of tea, coffee and biscuits waiting for us in the apartment, so you can enjoy a brew even if your tea bags are packed somewhere in the depths of your luggage. There was a little set of toiletries in each of the two bathrooms, so don’t worry if you forget to bring yours or want to shower before you’ve unpacked. There was also a rubber bath mat (essential for bathing multiple children at once), so you don’t need to bring one with you.
Although there’s loads to do on site at all times, take a few toys to play with in your accommodation. It’s essential for everyone’s wellbeing and sanity that you force some downtime on your kids, as they will just keep going until they implode. Check in advance if your accommodation has a DVD player so you know whether to bring any movies. The Blueskies apartments had a free DVD library in the concierge area and watching a movie was the only way we could get our kids to stop for a couple of hours.
Take photos of the room before you let your kids in, so you have a memory of how lovely it looked before they destroy it and turn it upside down 🙂
Bring binoculars as the view from the balcony could easily keep you occupied for hours.
Eating and treats
Takes sweets and stickers with you and carry them around at all times. You will probably need to bribe your kids off rides and back to the accommodation for a bath/bed/dinner on more than one occasion. There is nothing worse than trying to forcibly drag a screaming, over-tired toddler off a fairground ride when a simple sticker on the t-shirt or a jellybean could solve the problem and keep them happy.
Most things were free, but typically our kids wanted to go on the paid-for rides. We used these as bribes and promised they could choose a couple of them on the final day if they showed us good listening skills through the week (this is a skill they severely lack!) The thought of not getting a go kart ride or going on the big trampolines kept them on the straight and narrow (mostly).
Bring a few bits of food for lunches, to save spending money constantly. If you have the Premium Dining package, you can fill up at breakfast and dinner so you don’t need much to keep you going in between. It’s also a good idea to carry snacks about with you which means you aren’t constantly buying doughnuts/candyfloss/sweets/sandwiches. Take refillable juice bottles with you to save buying the kids expensive drinks every ten minutes.
Be prepared for mealtimes to be stressful if you have multiple young kids. The buffets provided a wide choice (even my pair of picky boys loved it), and the food was delicious, but it involved lots of walking to and from the station to collect everyone’s food. With older kids this isn’t so hard as they can carry their own trays but with three under five it was challenging. By the time you finally sit down to eat yours, they’ve finished and are ready to go off and play. On the plus side,this means you don’t get to go back for seconds or thirds like I probably would have done if given half the chance – so no post holiday diet is needed! If your kids are happy to sit and colour or play with stickers, take some things with you as this will give you more time to get that second dessert!
We had the Premium Dining package and could choose to eat in either The Deck or The Yacht Club. The Deck has a simple cafeteria feel and serves an international menu with some meals cooked to order at various stations, whereas The Yacht Club has a restaurant decor and serves mostly English meals like roasts. If you have the option of eating in either and can’t all agree which you prefer, you can sit in one restaurant but pop next door for food.
At breakfast, The Deck restaurant offers food such as omelettes cooked to order, hot sandwiches and crepes reheated to order. Just be aware that cooking fresh food to order takes a bit of time, so if you have hungry kids this might not be the best option (or get them some toast or cereal to start while one of you goes to wait in line for the hot food).
Shows and entertainment
Before you arrive, check out the programme of entertainment so you can start planning your days. Also, download the Butlins app and take a highlighter pen with you so you can go through the hard copy of the programme when you arrive. The schedule is packed and you don’t want to miss anything. Thankfully most things are repeated so you should get chance to fit everything in.
Don’t panic about getting to the Centre Stage shows too early. When we went to see Mr Maker Live, there was an enormous queue around the Pavilion when we arrived at 1.15 ready for the 1.30pm start. When we went in, all of the kids sat on the dance floor anyway, so there was plenty of room and everyone got to see perfectly. Arriving earlier would have just meant standing in a queue with three over-excited children which would have been stressful on everybody! Even for the evening shows we didn’t queue – we just went in after the Centre Stage had opened and found a table with a good view easily. I’m not sure how this would be during peak summer season though as I expect the resort will be much busier.
Getting your photos taken with the stars of the show involves queuing. If you’re in a couple, you could get one of you to join the queue while you watch the performance with the kids then as soon as it’s over you take the kids to join them. We missed getting in the queue for the first Mr Maker show as they closed it after about 30 seconds as it was so busy, so for the second show we got in the queue just as the show was starting. The kids hated waiting, so in hindsight it would have been better to have let them go off with one of us instead of making them wait in a hot room. Waiting in line was stressful and although we’ll treasure the photo (my boys are OBSESSED with Mr Maker), I’m sure the kids would have rather been on a ride instead of standing still for half an hour. I needed a stiff drink after the experience. But T2 is still so excited he got to tell Mr Maker that he likes making craft just like him, so it probably was worth the effort. If you plan on waiting in line with the kids, take some sweets with you 🙂
Keep your eyes peeled for characters as you walk around the resort. This is a much quicker and easier way to get your photo taken with your favourite character than waiting in line after a show at the Skyline. We found they were often about around dinner time and breakfast.
If you can leave your buggy behind somewhere during the shows in the Centre Stage it means you don’t have to wait in line for the small lift. However, it also means you might have to hold a wriggly baby for the whole performance. We left our buggy outside once, but as Husband was on wriggly, exhausted toddler duty I think (know) he regretted leaving it there. If she’d been younger and willing to nap in his arms while the show was on it would have been easier to cope without it.
Don’t wait in line for a photo at the giant Bob the Builder. Every evening there were lines of people waiting to take snaps, but through the day he was often free and you could climb on him to your heart’s content.
Go in the Splash Waterworld at lunchtime when it’s quieter, or when it first opens as people don’t tend to feel like swimming after breakfast or around lunchtime.
Hire a chain lock for your buggy from the Waterworld reception (£5 refundable deposit) and keep this with you through your break. It allows you to leave your buggy places if you want to go and watch a show or have fun on rides without worrying about your expensive buggy. Just don’t forget to take it back at the end of your stay.
Consider telling your kids that children aren’t allowed in the shops. Unless you want to be pestered out of £££ for bubble machines, soft toys and dinosaurs 🙂 Although they weren’t particularly expensive toys, my sons wanted EVERYTHING.
If you want to go on any of the popular small fairground rides, tackle them on the way to breakfast or near closing time when they are quiet.
Don’t leave the donkey rides (which cost extra) until the final day. We planned on doing them as it was glorious weather all week, but typically the last day it poured down so they went home and we didn’t get a ride. Thankfully, I was more upset than the boys who felt it was a great chance to go in the indoor softplay.
If you like pretty things, make the effort to go in the gift shop (sans kids). It wasn’t just full of the usual sticks of rock and tea towels. I spent a bit too much in there on my new favourite mug, an overnight bag and some awesome coasters. I could easily have bought a lot more. And unlike other gift shops, the prices were better or the same as I could find them online as I double checked most of the items before buying.
If you’re going to buy a light up toy or bubble machine (the main things you’ll see on the dance floor), my advice is to go with one of the light up toys. T1 managed to empty his bubble machine in record time. I ended up getting both boys a light sabre (note to others with multiple kids, this isn’t necessarily the best idea unless you’re happy for them to fight with them and almost behead other guests). If you buy one on your first night, remember to bring it out with you again every night otherwise you’ll be forced to buy another. Three light up toys cost me £17, so it’s not the cheapest night out I’ve ever had but the kids thought they were the best things ever so I’m pleased we invested early to get our use out of them all week.
Make sure your kids have your mobile number attached to them somehow (the boys wore the wristbands we reviewed last summer ) and tell them to find a staff member if they get lost. I found a lost little girl and luckily she had her mum’s telephone number on a wristband (although be aware my phone signal was none existent all around the resort which wouldn’t have helped if any of mine had got lost). Her mum had obviously told her to find another mummy if she got lost, so when I took her to a member of staff she refused to talk to them and insisted on waiting with me until we found her mum. Luckily a few minutes later we found her flustered mum and all was well.
Bring home some reminders of the holiday. We bought Mr Maker lanyards which they refuse to take off, and they also insist on taking the Butlins brochure to pre-school every day to show everyone where we went. It’s great learning opportunity to get them to remember things and talk about what we got up to. Although I’m sure pre-school staff are getting a bit bored of it by now.
If the weather is fine in the evening, it’s lovely to buy a drink and sit outside the restaurants to watch the kids play as there was a big wooden playground and a smaller Little Tikes playground. They will happily play for hours while you enjoy a glass of wine and a sit down.
Build in some recovery time for after your holiday as it’s exhausting and full on. After leaving Butlins, we spent a long weekend in the New Forest at a quiet caravan park calming down, and it was the perfect way to finish our holiday (review to follow).
My final piece of advice, is to go for it and book your holiday. Butlins has come a really long way since I last visited over 20 years ago. It’s now a customer focused, clean and welcoming resort perfect for families with young children. I honestly can’t think of another holiday that would be this entertaining for the kids in the UK. If we weren’t about to migrate to Australia, I’d definitely be coming back and I think I’d also pay the extra for the Blueskies apartment too. With young kids you tend to spend a bit more time in your room, so having luxury accommodation with a view meant we enjoyed our peaceful evenings when the kids had gone to bed.
A 4-night Just for Tots break including Premium Dining and Blueskies apartment for five (two adults, three under fives) would cost £1068 in June, although there are usually special offers on to reduce this figure.
* My review was carried out for the What’s Good To Do website. All opinions are my own.