While not the official title of the holiday week I’ve just returned from (I’m sure there was copyright infringement on the idea, as well as other such as Toddlerpaloza, Toddle Fair, and Toddlerbury) I have witnessed my child party himself so hard that, on the last night, he tried with every once of strength to figure out how to sleep in the tub. I need to note this was a full bath with bubbles and his floating duck.
Welcome to Toddler Burning Man. Okay, Just for Tots, but the theme of love, peace, and dancing yourself into a hypnotic frenzy still counts.
I had a lot of flack thrown at me about Butlins, which was a concept thought up by a fellow named Billy Butlin back in the 1930s about the regular English family being able to go out and afford a holiday. Things have sort of changed since then, with cheap air travel abundant and the Euro waving at us as a sort of 10% off Europe coupon at all times. Going to the English seaside is what people call “naff.” I don’t really know how to translate it other than equate it to the word “icky.” When I chose Butlins I did so because the idea of traversing a huge distance with a toddler, no matter how low the price, had a very high chance attached to it that I might lose my sanity for the sake of a beach.
SIDEBAR: Toddlers are like living with manic depressives.
Now I do not want to discount mental illness here, but when you have a toddler aggressive mood swings are the norm. You may be bopping along, singing Old MacDonald for the 5,002 time that day when suddenly, “NO COWS.” You even hint that there may be a large animal with spots on it and a total screaming, raging, hitting meltdown occurs. It’s like the old metal bands of the late 80s and 90s smashing guitars onstage and then going on a bender: tipping over your toy fire engine, tossing all your stuffed toys, and then laying face down in a puddle of milk and whimpering for a half hour. (Please note that I’m sure that this is exactly what a metal bender of the 80s and 90s must have been like.) Then, like a phoenix emerging from crayon shavings they are up and singing about cows again. Cows were fine, cows were great, cows were… ooh Mr. Tumble is on! Who is up for a fresh glass of milk and a peanut butter and jam sandwich?
The main thing that drew me to Just for Tots was the idea that I would be surrounded by lots of other families who had ticking time bombs just like my son. It was sort of like joining an impromptu support group where we would all band together to let our little ones and their 15 minute attention span rule the roost for four glorious days. It was also my sort of hope that Butlins would harken back to my days of working at Miracle Strip Amusement Park (now being reborn). As a former resident of the Redneck Rivera the whole idea of going somewhere that may be a bit shabby but had a lot of nice people who genuinely enjoyed their work seemed like a grand plan.
And I’m pleased to say Butlins delivered.
The whole week being catered to tiny people was fabulous, and I was dead right about the impromptu support groups that formed in little pockets as kids rode the same rides a million times over, or needed help up in the soft play or playground. The ride operators and staff around were kind and helpful (if not fascinated that a clutch of Americans would even visit them). We had dinner staff who, when witnessing the start of a mood swing rush packed food for my husband and then rang over to the hotel to give him some food vouchers if that wasn’t enough. We had a maintenance man dash across the promenade to take a photo of us on little motor scooters because he thought we looked lovely together. And while my son happily smeared chocolate cake over a seat we had a cafe person just smile and wave him on as “we were on holiday.” (P.S. – I did attempt to clean that chair due to their kindness!)
Apparently there were shows and art projects and all sorts of activities, but as my son is more the kind to move over sit still we pretty much bounced between indoor fairground, outdoor fairground, two playgrounds, two play fountains and the hallowed water park, which he referred to simply as “THE BIG FOUNTAIN.” He let us rent a Dino Bike for a half hour (a four person buggy where two people peddled and one steered) and we whisked ourselves around the site, discovering pieces and parts we didn’t know about and noted things we would do “when we came back.”
For those wanting a bit of the breakdown of what I chose in terms of things I read a million reviews stating The Wave Hotel was the best, so I booked it and haven’t been disappointed. I also learned, after my son locked himself in the bathroom, that a towel over the door stops that sort of thing and metal spoons can be used to unlock said door. (Thank you maintenance lady!) The rooms are funky with the kids room being an underwater theme. There is piles of storage and we set up a library and toy shelf for his cars as well as stocked the mini fridge with food he would eat if he didn’t like what the restaurant had.
And as for food I didn’t skimp and got the Premium Dining Plan which came with swap vouchers for dinner elsewhere, so we had Turner’s one night and Papa John’s (hey, pizza is a kid food group) another. Both didn’t disappoint and the main restaurant we ate at had the whole gamut of perfectly healthy to fully fried toast.
Finally I did book a half day spa day at the Ocean Hotel and wasn’t at all disappointed. They have a big central whirlpool with “bubble loungers,” sauna, steam room, ice room, and two showers encased in mirrors and lights. There was an outdoor whirlpool facing the fairground and plenty of loungers for people who wanted to read or just sleep. I ended the day with a should, neck, and back massage and felt it was just enough amount of time.
So if you are considering a holiday that won’t break the bank and will fully appeal to tiny feet – Butlins. Seriously, Butlins.
I’ve booked to go again next year.