NIKKI BELSO: Enjoy a great value, all-weather, short break at seaside
I DON'T think we could have had colder weather for our short break at Butlin's — but we enjoyed it so much we really didn't notice the bitter cold wind and flurries of snow!
I last visited the holiday centre in Minehead, Somerset, in the summer of 1979… and, today, an old museum-piece carriage is proudly on display as a reminder to those days more than three decades ago when the monorail ruled supreme at Butlin's.
In its day, the monorail was ultra-mod, a vision of the future. And the holiday complex was also a vision of the future — the brainchild of Sir Billy Butlin way back in the 1930s.
It was Sir Billy who worked out the formula for a great, family break — an all-in-one package of affordable accommodation, food and fabulous entertainment organised by the famous Redcoats.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Our 21st century break at Butlin's started with being handed the keys to a swish, modern two-bedroomed apartment with all mod cons including a balcony.
But I'll be honest; I didn't get chance to use the oven, hob, microwave and dishwasher because we were too busy tucking into the Butlin's great-value dining package.
We enjoyed our daily breakfast and evening meal in a family friendly restaurant offering a fabulous, freshly cooked array of meals and drinks.
Our five year old was sold on the pancakes for breakfast... followed by a full English... and then a pot of yoghurt.
After filling his hollow legs, we then embarked on a day of fun activities.
First and foremost, the overwhelming memory of the stay for me will be the attitude of the staff at the resort. Butlin's take a bow.
Every single person we came across — Redcoats, admin staff, those in the dining areas, cleaners to name but some — were polite and genuinely seemed to want to make the stay a pleasant one. Many large organisations could take an extremely large leaf out of Butlin's book.
Oscar signed up at the Leisure Hub for Wem-Billy football coaching, archery and fencing.
All three activities were run by friendly staff who were very helpful and knew their stuff.
The football proved as popular as ever with more than a dozen little ones turning up for the coaching sessions.
Their efforts were rewarded with a visit from Wem-Billy the Bear and a prized, gold Butlin's medal.
The archery and fencing was also very popular. Thankfully, the children were given foam foils to use, so no-one was hurt! And the wearing of the masks was a hit.
The archery lessons covered basic safety rules and then the children took aim – with great results! Most were able to score.
The fun and games are not just limited to the children.
Following on from London 2012, Archery GB has organised special sessions to introduce the sport to visitors at Butlin's. My husband went along to learn more.
After a practise run, he then went for the real round and a quick written test of three questions — and he was thrilled when he earned a proper, recognised Archery GB silver award for his efforts.
The swimming pool complex, Splash Waterworld, is amazing… not only is it huge but there are activities to suit all ages, from tiny tots enjoying the baby areas through to adrenalin-fuelled water rides for older ones.
There are several waterslides, spas, a wave pool, and a lazy river. There is also a shallow pool area for young children, as well as an outdoor toddlers' pool that is open in the summer months.
Following the Butlin's ethos, this is all available at no extra cost.
Out of peak times, the pool is available for swimming lessons and parent and toddler sessions.
The entertainment area at Butlin's has been cleverly designed to sit under a huge, tent-like canopy called Sky Pavilion that keeps the weather at bay.
It is here that youngsters can find puppet shows, stage shows — Oscar enjoyed Thomas the Tank Engine, the Starlight Gang and Bob the Builder — an amusement arcade, plenty of shops for all manner of goods from food to souvenirs and the Centre Stage. Almost all entertainment is included in the cost of the holiday or day visitor entry.
Centre Stage is where we were lucky enough to see Dick and Dom, of Children's BBC fame. Their evening show was hilarious… and very messy for many in the audience. Oscar thoroughly enjoyed it.
We also enjoyed the pantomime Beauty and The Beast at Centre Stage — a professionally staged show that enthralled young and old alike.
Butlin's also stages hugely popular adult entertainment weekends when grown ups can enjoy a short break with live music.
The covered entertainment area is also home to bungee trampolines that saw little ones somersaulting to their hearts' delight. The Coconut Tree climbing challenge proved a hit too.
While I enjoyed a warming, hot drink inside, Oscar and his dad enjoyed several rounds of crazy golf. The course kept our little man occupied without being too difficult that he lost interest.
No holiday would be complete without a trip to the funfair — and you don't have to go far to enjoy all the fun of the rides at Butllin's.
The holiday centre's very own funfair is all-inclusive, so we hit the rides without having to worry about the cost.
The ever-popular dodgems were a great hit with everyone. For older ones, there were also some fast rides to enjoy.
If you can find the time, you can explore the local area. We left Butlin's for a couple of hours to explore the nearby ancient town of Dunster but we were soon back 'home' at Butlin's for more activities.
To get around the seafront holiday complex, you can hire family size go-karts that accommodate four riders at a time.
Since the 1990s, the Minehead resort has undergone major upgrades. However, most of the original buildings remain, including almost all the original chalets.
Minehead is now the last remaining Butlin's camp that is still largely as Sir Billy designed it.
And it is proof positive that his vision was spot on... Oscar is already asking when we can go back.