Friday, 10 November 2017

Review: Tots Week at Butlins Bognor Regis - part 2 (food, facilities and a small gripe)

For part one (getting there and accommodation) you can click here.

Facilities and activities

After we settled in, I asked Issy what she wanted to do and was met with "SWIMMING!!!!" So we grabbed our cossies which I had packed at the top of our case and headed to the pool, which was exactly the same - but older - than I remembered it as a kid. The changing rooms and pool area itself was clearly a bit tired, but there were signs saying they are about to build a new one, good news for future customers. Issy loved the pool and even braved the big slide with some friends she made on our last day.

After swimming we decided to visit the outdoor fun fair area as I'd heard there were dodgems (my fave!!) but unfortunately Issy and most the other kids were too short for many of these. How she needed to be over a meter to sit next to me in a dodgem car when she's been on them at every fun fair ever, I'll never know! Thankfully there were smaller indoor rides for the little ones and a soft play which kept us entertained on those rainy days or breaks between shows/activities.

I signed Issy up for numerous activities including mini-bow (archery) and balance bikes which she loved so much we did three times! There were also drop in sessions for crafts and Playdoh modeling, which were very popular. Show wise we loved Playdoh 3D and Mister Maker, but would have liked the option to chose which timing of Mister Maker we were allocated on arrival.

We avoided anything with an extra cost except for ice creams both onsite and on the beach, just a minutes walk from the main gates. It's worth mentioning how lovely and clean the beach was, but those seagulls are rife and a fair few kids lost their ice creams to them! Also the pebble dip onto the beach is quite steep so not very accessible with very little ones/pushchairs. The beach provided a very welcome place to escape, splash and chill away from the noise of the big white top at Butlins, which sometimes did get a bit much. There was also a lovely reading corner with beanbags and lots of books where you could just go and escape for a few minutes.

The food

We opted for the premium dining plan which meant we could have breakfast and dinner every day in The Deck located just outside our hotel. I wasn't sure what to expect as it is buffet, but the first night I was pleasantly surprised with the food being tasty, fresh and nicely presented. There was something for every taste and squash, tea, coffee and hot chocolate was included. Fizzy and alcoholic drinks were extra but reasonably priced.

After a cracking nights sleep, breakfast was well received and again really nice. Fresh fruit, cheese, made to order omelettes, breakfast toasties, pancakes and a full English on offer meant we could skip lunch and just go for an early dinner. Unfortunately on the second night the rather relaxed vibe from dinner had gone and it seemed like a bit of a free for all with it taking a while for food to be replenished. Due to this we decided to try out the trade in available for premier food guests where you give up dinner at The Deck in return for vouchers to use at any of the other outlets such as Papa Johns, the pub or Brian Turner's restaurant.

We opted for the pub which was great and we managed to get a three course kids meal & drink, plus decent steak, pudding and a pint for me which only cost £1.50 extra. It was so chilled with a play area outside, not to loud music and comfy seats. We enjoyed it so much that we had our final nights meal there too. The food package looks expensive on paper, but we found it a great way of eating out at times that suited us with no surprise costs at the end of the meal.

The bad

I've mentioned elsewhere how lovely most of the staff were and Issy really took a shine to a few of them, but unfortunately there's always one. In our case two.

Many of the redcoats are rather young and with their power did come a bit of rudeness. We found when queuing for character meet and greets they forgot that we were at a break for kids and kids don't always play ball when made to queue for ages. On one occasion we were a few from the back of the queue and I stood where another mum had stood to take a photo of Issy with the characters when I was blocked and ordered to stand elsewhere by a red coat. I moved just as my daughter was ordered out of the way before I could take her photo. When I said this, they told me it was my fault and to just go and buy the professional photo as "it is only £10!"

I explained I didn't have £10 for a photo and she rolled her eyes at me. The mum who had been behind me said she didn't mind Issy going up again but the red coat refused. Issy cried so we left. Customer service were fantastic and rectified it so we could have the photo, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

This attitude was noticed by other parents too who noticed children being refused their photo with characters who were "on their way backstage" unless they wanted to go have them done by a professional and pay for the privilege. It may seem like a small thing, but remembering it's a tots break wouldn't have gone amiss.

The end

All in all we loved our little five day break and Issy was very sad to leave. I was sad to be returning to washing up and a mountain of clothing to be cleaned! We certainly would consider returning again as I think we had fantastic value for money, but would certainly go for one of the hotels again. Special shout out goes to the reception team at The Wave who were just delightful and great with the kids.

Have you ever been to a Butlins? What did you make of your visit? 

Review: Tots Week at Butlins Bognor Regis - part 1 (getting there and accommodation)

If you'd have told me a year ago that I'd go on a holiday a) to Bognor Regis and b) to Butlins I would have laughed. Butlins to me was somewhere we went to with day passes as kids and while I'm sure we had fun, they were never anything I was in much of a hurry to repeat.

Even when we booked up our week away, you'd see people smirking and I genuinely began to wonder if I'd made a mistake. Everyone spoke about drunk adults, arguments over the buffet and swearing in the swimming pool. However I'm pleased to say.... we loved our little trip!

We chose one of the Tots Weeks where all the activities are aimed at under 5s meaning that I knew there would be lots to keep Issy entertained. Mister Maker was there during our visit as well as Playdoh 3D and appearances from Tellytubbies and other popular children's characters.

Getting there

We got the train! I don't drive and I always think the train at Issy's age (it was the week before her third birthday) totally adds to the adventure. It was an easy ten minute walk from Bognor Regis train station even with a grumpy three year old and a suitcase and the stroll gave us our first sneaky peak at the beach! The town itself is a few minutes from the resort so if you want to leave the car at home but worry about grabbing any essentials then rest assured it's doable!

The accommodation

We had decided to go for a hotel and after looking at the 3 available, opted for The Wave as it seemed the most us. Check in was super easy despite us being early and we got a sneaky upgrade as we were there for madam's birthday. Reception staff were FAB and became invaluable for little nuggets of info throughout the week. 

Our room was way better than I expected with lovely bathroom (decent bath - yes!!!), super comfy big bed for me in the main living room area and a separate kids room with bunk beds (cue VERY excited child) and her own little TV! Our room had a little balcony that overlooked a car park and lovely play park across the road, but the noise never disturbed us. Great additions were a little fridge for the water (and *ahem* wine) and snacks we'd bought with us, plus decent quiet air conditioning.

Housekeeping were such stars throughout the week and made sure doggie (Issy's cuddly toy she is inseparable from) was kept entertained by making towel animals to occupy him and letting us borrow an extra towel for swimming when I accidentally placed ours out for washing.

On day one however there was lots to see so we dumped our bags, played around with some stuff in the room and headed out into the resort to find our way round!

For part two of our Butlins trip with information on facilities, food and our only issue with the visit, please click here.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Dear Issy - first day at school

*I wrote this on Issy's first day at school, but late posting*

Dear Issy,

Well today you started school. You were so proud putting on your uniform and in an instant you looked so much more grown up to me. You grumbled about me wanting to take your photo outside our house before we walked to school with Grandad, but you did it anyway because you are such a lovely little girl.

Somehow you managed to look so grown up, yet so small as you held my hand and squeezed it a bit tighter as we walked across the playground towards your classroom.

I’m so proud of the way you kissed grandad goodbye then gave me my kiss and squeeze before skipping off into class without missing a beat. I didn’t cry, Grandad would never have let me live it down, but know I did feel a little bit sad. I felt sad for you that someone was missing from your first day and didn’t even know that you were starting school as he calls so sporadically. I know you didn't give it a second thought, but looking at the other parents, I did wish things had been different for us. But you have me and I promise even when your a teenager screaming at me for being such an awful mum (I'm actually bloody amazing, but I get you won't get that at the time), that I’m always here for you.

We’ve been through a lot together kid and while you drive me crackers sometimes, more often than not mid losing my shit, I find myself smiling as I know deep down that I’m just arguing with a mini version of myself. I hope you love school and carry on asking questions, wanting to know more and wondering why things are the way they are. Those are the types of questions that can change the word and change it for the better you already have.

I loved school really and the fact you have my addiction to reading already makes me prouder than you’ll ever know. I’m sorry I can’t be there at the school gates every afternoon, but Friday is our day and for as long as you want it to be, it always will. I know sometimes you say you’re sad that I go to work, but I do it for us. For our future, not just our now.

I can’t wait to hear about all the things you will learn and look forward to learning more about phonics! You’re already better at those than me!

Forever and always my little squishy,

Mummy x

ps. I promise to learn how to do plaits and fancy hairstyles at some point, but until then it's crazy hair or ponytails I'm afraid!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Mummy, why won't you give daddy a kiss?

Because daddy walked out on us. Because daddy didn't care enough about us to keep trying. Because daddy broke mummy's heart and one day he will most likely break yours. Because the most important thing in daddy's life is daddy.

You'll be pleased to know none of that came out of my mouth and brain engaged in time to say "because mummy and daddy aren't friends like that anymore, but of course we still love you." I say that when she asks - which is getting more infrequent - why he isn't with us like her friends daddies but I'm not always sure the love is flowing from his end quite so freely. He laughed when she said I had to do a kiss goodbye. Laughed. Like it is funny that the man I promised to love for the rest of my life now repulsed me so much I don't want to even hear his name let alone blow a kiss down Skype.

I was strong when he was weak and I kept going. I didn't run away or turn to another man/woman for comfort. I turned to my daughter, my friends and my family. And yes, sometimes I cried myself to sleep because despite never actually being alone when you have a small child, I still felt so alone. He doesn't deserve her affection, her laughs and her smiles. I'm sure that sometimes he feels bad, but not for what happened and how he treated us but bad for himself. He was the victim in all of this. In his head.

I always knew one day I'd find myself crying again because of the ex-husband, I just thought I had a bit longer left before it stemmed from something the mini one said. I don't know what the future holds, but that laugh from him, that cruel laugh dissolved any shred of doubt I had that being a girls only house with just the mini one and I is the best thing.

She's my ball of everything and he's a figure from the past I have to tolerate, until he gets bored and decides it's all about him again. I know one day what has happened will all be my fault in her eyes as it was in his, but until then I will keep making her smile and doing my best to make her happy. Because that's what we both deserve and she can have all the kisses she wants from me.


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A few of my favourite things: Waterstones Cafe, Southampton

In the first of a new series (you can find out my method behind my favourite things here) it isn't anywhere fancy or high-end, but a coffee shop on the ground floor of a bookshop in West Quay shopping centre, Southampton.

I've always had a love of bookshops so adding in coffee and cake couldn't really go wrong. What I love about this little cafe is that while it is advertised on the windows for people passing by the first floor as well as being visible from the new and very shiny Watermark eating area, it still remains a place to escape the madness of the shopping centre, surround yourself with books and breathe.

Nic nacs in the cafe area

There is a very obvious seating area right by the cafe area itself as well as seating outdoors (blankets are provided for chilly days) and by the children's books area making it perfect for everything from 15 minutes by yourself, coffee with friends or a sit down while the 4 year old looks at the books and plays on the little climbing area. There's even the most amazing bright red leather sofa at the far end by the windows that you can melt into despite the sofa clearly having seen better days! The cafe area is bright and airy thanks to the floor to ceiling windows and despite people entering into the bookshop a few meters away, you don't feel like you're sat in a walkway.

Now the food and drink! Jammie dodger cupcakes, carrot cake, massive cookies the size of your child's head and cappuccino cake are just a few of the sweet treats we've tried. There's even gluten free and vegan offerings usually available.

Hummus, sourdough and falafel, or banana and peanut butter toasties (along with lots of other things on toast available) provide welcome and bloody tasty fuel to continue your slog round the shops or in our case just to make it home sometimes. The joy of shopping with a 4 year old.

Drinks wise they do a very decent cappuccino plus the usual selection of cold drinks (Diet Coke, fentimens, fruit smoothies for the kids, etc) and a fantastic selection of teas, which they used to offer by the pot or by the mug but only seem to do pots now. Shame as the mugs used to be just the right size!

Prices are on par with what you'd pay outside, maybe a little cheaper particularly with the drinks, but the atmosphere is much nicer. Staff always chatty and helpful when stuck on cake selection, as well as understanding when 4 year old knocks over water. For the second time.

While I know you'd love it there, a bit of me wants to keep this little coffee shop to myself, but that would be selfish.... just promise to leave me a slice of cake and that sofa free would you? X

Monday, 22 May 2017

A few of my favourite things

If I lived by one saying, it would be this

I've been doing lots of behind the scenes blog work trying to get myself into a proper schedule and setting time aside each week to write. One of the things that helps is having topic headings that I can add to as and when I have something to say so "A few of my favourite things" was born. The title works because if you remove all the swearing, sarcasm and dark humour I'm practically Julie Andrews anyway!

A few of my favourite things does just what it says on the tin. It could be a coffee shop, a park, a bar (less likely - what's a night out again?) or anything that takes my fancy. It is less likely to be raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. The only criteria is that unlike all the Costa Coffees and Nando's of the world which I still frequent (and love), these things are a bit different and a bit special.

I'm always up for finding new favourites so if you know anywhere, do let me know!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Separation: Staying strong for International Women's Day

When I knew my marriage was over, I started the grieving process. I'd lost something that was a huge part of my life and one day it wasn't there anymore. What was and remains the hardest part to process was that I wasn't just grieving for my marriage and the way all the good memories from the past were now tainted by how horrible the end was, but I was grieving for my family. I was grieving for what my daughter had lost. In one fell swoop she lost the normality of two parents, she lost her dad as a constant in her life and I lost my back up.

I'd always wanted to "do things properly" so marriage, kids, buying a house together, holidays arguing in caravans in Cornwall and whose turn it was to do the dishes. That was gone. I couldn't at the time imagine a way it was going to work just the two of us. I cried reading stories when the daddy comes home - Tiger who Came to Tea was particularly hard. My phone drowned in tears thanks to Adele, Coldplay and Spotify's break up list - yep that actually exists!

Then last weekend, I found myself sat in our local Bill's with my little girl having a cocktail (lemonade for her!) to celebrate one year of surviving each other. It wasn't sad and I didn't think about what could have been, I celebrated what we had achieved. Sometimes I'm her best friend, sometimes she doesn't like me and she doesn't want to talk to me. Either way I stick around because at the end of the day, she's a bloody great reason to celebrate life, not commiserate.

For International Women's Day I pledge to create a positive female role model for my daughter by being a single mum working hard to provide the best she can. This blog hopefully goes some way to showing my daughter that women can be strong, but still show emotions; tired, but still fighting; and thoughtful, but still fun.

Happy International Women's Day to all the amazing women, mums, daughters, sisters and aunties just trying their best.