Half-term. The very thought of it brings a real mix of emotions for many families; the kids, naturally, can’t wait for some much-needed time off school, the parents... it’s complicated.
Unless you’re lucky enough to not have to work a 9-5 job, half-term usually means more childcare, or time off work, and if you want to get away, you’ll find holiday prices have mysteriously doubled in cost.
If you spend the week at home the kids still need entertaining, and a holiday abroad during half-term can often be even more stressful when you factor in international travel. It’s a real quandary for many families, hence the continued appeal of the UK staycation.
After enjoying Tots Week at Butlins’ Bognor Regis in 2019, sampling the new state of the art swimming facilities, we were thrilled to be invited back to spend a half-term at the company’s Skegness site.
Would half-term on the bracing Lincolnshire coast offer be the solution to our family half-term woes, or would a week living out of suitcases miles from home turn out to be a nightmare beside the sea? We packed our two girls (20-months and four and a half-year-old) into the family motor to find out in February half term.
Opened in 1936, Butlin’s Skegness was the company’s first ever resort, and is located in Ingoldmells just a stone’s throw from the North Sea coast. We drove, but Skegness train station is just down the road, making the site easily accessible for most.
The site offers a number of different accommodation options from basic rooms that can sleep up to seven, to the mid-range apartments (2-6 people) with kitchen and dining facilities, all the way up to the premium apartments (4-6 people) with kitchens, housekeeping, and optional balconies and patios.
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We had a cosy two-bedroom Seaside Apartment with patio that was conveniently located within easy reach of the central attractions such as swimming, the Skyline entertainment hub, and the beach. With it being a rainy February, the patio furniture didn’t get much use, but we could see the potential for use in the spring and summer months.
Although there are a lot of people on site and the apartments all close together, the accommodation was surprisingly private, and we never felt too close to our neighbours. The use of blackout blinds and curtains in every room was also a godsend for us, giving total darkness to nap times.
The kitchens are well appointed with everything you’d need to cook a family meal, with our only complaint being a lack of bath for the youngest member of our family. But when you’re swimming every day, a daily bath isn’t a huge sacrifice to make.
There’s something for everyone on site regardless of budget. Many opt for self-catering and there is a well-stocked convenient store on site, or several supermarkets within easy reach in Skegness. There are also a number of fast food restaurants and cafes on site, including a Burger King and a fish & chips restaurant, although they can prove pricey, so better suited for one off treats.
On the dining plan front, there are three options: Food Court Dining, Premium Dining, or Dinearound which can be used at five different restaurants on site. We had the Premium Dining plan which gives you unlimited buffet breakfast and dinner in a choice of two restaurants.
For parents of picky kids, the buffet option is a must, and there are Ella’s Kitchen pouches available for the under-2s too. At £27.75 per adult per day, £6.95 for children aged 2-5, and £13.95 for 6-14-year-olds, it’s easily the most cost effective way to dine on site.
Breakfasts offer cooked breakfasts, made to order pancakes and omelettes, pastries, cereal toast and unlimited fruit juices and hot drinks. Dinner is different every night, with live cooking stations, carvery, a range of international cuisines, and dessert options including an ice-cream machine which our four-year-old loved.
Most importantly, the staff are really friendly and eager to help with any questions you have, and happy to help with any requests. The restaurants can get very busy, but there’s always room to manoeuvre the dining and serving areas.
Unlike another certain forest-based staycation brand, most of Butlin’s best attractions are included in the price of the stay. The headline attractions are Splash Waterworld, The Fairground, and the Skyline Pavilion and there’s enough to do to keep you busy all week long.
The Fairground has a number of fun rides for kids of all ages, including a carousel, simulator, waltzers and dodgems, but at Skegness they’re definitely better suited to younger visitors. All the rides are manned by amiable staff, and there’s a separate Little Stars Fairground for the under 5s.
Swimming at the Splash Waterworld is just as much fun, with enough different pools, swimming areas, wave machines, rapids, and flumes to keep everyone on site entertained. It can get busy in there, particularly in the changing room area (don’t forget your pound coins for the lockers), so it pays to be tactical with your timings. Hit the pool during one of the site’s big stage productions and you’ll mind it markedly less busy.
The site’s close proximity to the beach is a huge bonus too, and must really come into its own in the summer months, but for the rainier days you can always rely on the Skyline for some indoor fun. With its arcades, rides, cafes, bars, shops and even its own cinema (admission comes at an extra cost) it’s easy to kill a couple of hours.
Throughout its history, Butlin’s has been known as the home of light entertainment with its energetic cast of friendly Red Coats and that heritage continues to this day.
There are daytime character shows throughout the week including ones starring Paddington and the Teletubbies taking place on the Centre Stage. There’s usually a huge queue for these events, so get there early or – for an extra but worthwhile cost – invest in a Sky Bar pass to guarantee a premium viewing spot in the first floor seating area, or a B-Line pass to jump the queue. We watched the Little Mermaid pantomime and were all thoroughly entertained for an hour. There are also headline acts in the evening with Rak-Su, Harlem Globetrotters, Sam & Mark, Diversity, Paul Zerdin all performing this year.
There’s a range of stage events on the main Skyline stage and at Reds too. Butlin’s Skyline Gang are the headline attraction: they’re a gang of colourfully dressed characters and their bright orange dog Rainbow, who sing and dance, meet and greet with the little ones, and perform a few different stage shows. They’re strictly for the younger visitors though, and could probably do with a bit of a brand refresh: a bit of diversity in the line up wouldn’t do any harm would it? The kids love them though, so what do we know? They also host a Dance Academy for 5-14-year-olds at an extra cost.
For the older visitors there’s a full spa on site that offers a range of treatments, including a three hour spa experience with access to a private pool, steam rooms and saunas.
If going abroad isn’t an option, we don’t think you can go too far wrong spending half-term in Butlin’s. There’s something to do at every waking hour of the day, and in the evenings too. The accommodation is clean and comfortable, staff polite and friendly, and the food is generally pretty good.
It can get pricey if you have demanding kids, but for the really little ones who don’t ask for much, it’s good value and if you plan correctly you don’t need to spend much money on site. Full disclosure, although were guests of Butlin’s this year, we booked to go back in 2021 on our own dime, before we came home. It’s a real seaside treat.
A three-night school summer holiday break at Butlin’s Skegness costs from £395, while four nights start at £615 (prices based on four sharing Silver self-catering accommodation). That price includes headline shows from the likes of Diversity, Paul Zerdin, Rak-Su, Twist & Pulse and the Harlem Globetrotters (varies depending upon the date of your break). The price you pay also includes the traditional fairground, Splash Waterworld, and a wide range of other daytime and evening activities and attractions.
For more details go to www.butlins.com