THE last time I went to Butlin’s was 40 years ago, to the now closed Filey site which still had the air of the military camp it had become during WWII.
It remains my most abiding childhood memory of a family holiday so when I took my six-year-old Madeline to their flagship Skegness site I wasn’t sure what to expect.
"The Redcoats are an iconic symbol of my childhood, and this well drilled, talented new generation more than uphold that proud tradition."
We’d got a late bargain deal of £130 for three nights, plus breakfast and an evening meal, so I wasn’t expecting too much for that sort of money.
We were in a two-bed silver chalet – I'm very old school about these things - but unlike my Filey experience, we were in a newly built block. The room itself wasn’t incredibley spacious, but just as good as any budget hotel. The main thing was that it was spotlessly clean and the beds were comfy. So we were off to a good start.
When you arrive on site, you're given a thick brochure outlining a packed programme of mostly free activities from early morning to the wee small hours.
Madeline is a swimming nut so first port of call was the Splash Waterworld. Once again, spotlessly clean with plenty of lockers. Even better news is that Splash Zone is a top quality fun pool with three slides of varying severity, and a gentle rapids that is perfect for young swimmers. There are no time limits so we were in for an epic two-hour stint in the tropical heat, repeated on all four days we were there.
Madeline kicked off day two with a tennis lesson that was led by two enthusiastic young coaches who really engaged the kids on the purpose-built indoor court. Day three saw her on the Astroturf pitch for a mixed football session, which was fun and well organised.
The other activities were based around the huge tented Skyline complex at the heart of the site patrolled by a seemingly endless succession of smiling Redcoats. Madeline loved performing in a lively drumming session with the Skyline Gang, before joining an impromptu cheerleading session that resulted in Dad being dragged up to join in.
The Redcoats are an iconic symbol of my childhood, and this well drilled, talented new generation more than uphold that proud tradition with their sheer enthusiasm, even towards the end of a long season.
The other shocker was the quality of the evening shows. I remember watching the Redcoats belting out bad versions of hits of the 70s, but there's none of that today.
The first night was a Lazytown show that was professionally produced and performed, with a show just long enough for the younger kids. I paid more than £50 to see a similar show in Leeds that wasn’t anywhere near as good, and this was free.
The second night the Brianiac crew were on site with an energetic show full of popular science and plenty of bangs. The last night was nearly a disaster as we sat through a terrible Britain’s Got (No) Talent show with a rubbish Scouse comic who I’d never heard of and a trick cyclist. Yawn.
But we wandered outside and caught Circus Rocks which is basically a more child-friendly Cirque de Soleil…amazing acrobatics, contortionists and cavemen flying through the air. It seemed surprising that Butlin’s could mount such a hip show.
My other major concern was the food, but breakfast was good, with a range of cereals, croissants, all the elements of a full English – including veggie sausages - and even kippers. Service was efficient, and all the food was fresh and well-cooked.
The evening meal was even more of a shock with a buffet style layout including fresh soup, a choice of four meals and unbelievably, a salad bar. Yep, healthy eating is in at Skeggie.
I’m sure the local glitterati will opine that ‘holiday parks in the woods are so much better for the kids’. But they're wrong.
The other bit of good news for middle class parents is Butlin’s has its own coffee chain - Soho Coffee Co - aping the high street offer of Starbucks et al. I had a skinny latte. At Butlins.
I am the king of moaning on holiday but I can’t think of a single thing that annoyed me over the four days. The main thing I'm concerned about is that Madeline has plenty to do on her hols, and Butlin’s certainly kept her occupied.
I went back to Butlin’s with a load of outdated prejudices which were demolished in what I hope will become an abiding childhood memory for my daughter. She already wants to go back next year and – frankly – if you have young children you’d be missing out if you didn’t check out the Butlin’s experience.
Or you could send your kids to a military camp. Your choice.