After three days of sea air, it was only as were leaving that it dawned on me: we hadn’t gone anywhere near the sea. 

There was not a grain of sand in a child’s shoe, not a single whiffy shell stuck between the car seats.

Butlin’s has the sea on its doorstep but the action is firmly onshore and largely weatherproof. Like Center Parcs, it is now aimed squarely at those in search of a family break rather than a holiday.

A soaring success: The flying swings at Butlin's famous funfair in Bognor Regis

A soaring success: The flying swings at Butlin’s famous funfair in Bognor Regis

We spent a weekend at Butlin’s Bognor Regis, one of the group’s three resorts left over from its holiday camp heyday (the others being in Minehead and Skegness).

Though the redcoats are still keeping the entertainment ticking over, the old, regimented group activities have long gone.

Give them a decent indoor aquatic park and my lot – two girls aged nine and seven and a five-year-old boy – are content anywhere. 

Bognor’s Splash Waterworld has the three key ingredients: a wave pool, tubular helter-skelters and something with rubber rings. 

Even after hours in the water, we still had to be kicked out.

Each weekend includes a few star turns: Teletubbies or Danger Mouse for younger guests; Diversity, the dance troupe who won Britain’s Got Talent, for older children. 

Our stay happened to be a Dick and Dom weekend. Anyone with school-age children will know the BBC’s junior version of Ant and Dec.

Robert says the main outdoor attraction at Butlin's Bognor Regis is the fairground, with 'plenty of old favourites including dodgems and a few stomach-churners'

Robert says the main outdoor attraction at Butlin's Bognor Regis is the fairground, with 'plenty of old favourites including dodgems and a few stomach-churners'

Robert says the main outdoor attraction at Butlin’s Bognor Regis is the fairground, with ‘plenty of old favourites including dodgems and a few stomach-churners’

They turned out be a hoot, ribald enough for the parents and going well beyond what was presumably in the contract in terms of photos, autographs, book-signings and banter. 

By day, they held a ‘practical joke academy’ during which our three learned how to chop up a banana without peeling it, the floating tablecloth trick, the ‘oh-no-I’ve-accidentally-chopped-off-my-finger’ stunt and so on.

Come the evening, Dick and Dom put on a riotous show in the main venue culminating in merciless custard pie action.

When faced with the usual dilemma of whether to feed the children before or after the show, the answer turned out to be: during. 

Butlin’s takes a relaxed view on what you eat, where and when. So we simply ordered pizzas from an Italian restaurant and grabbed a table in the cabaret-style theatre. 

My two girls spent the best part of an afternoon flying round on the centrifugal swings until they started to feel queasy. My son could not be prised from the go-karts.

There, my three made almost as much mess as Dick and Dom.

Some parents like to chuck a little education in to the mix, too. Horrible Histories breaks have proved popular. And last year’s Astonishing Family Science weekends were such a hit that Butlin’s has introduced Science Zones in all the resorts. 

The emphasis is very much on fun, not GCSE chemistry, but they might learn something along the way.

The main outdoor attraction is the fairground, with plenty of old favourites including dodgems and a few stomach-churners. 

Butlin’s may not have the mega-rides of the huge theme parks, but nor does it have their queues. Nothing required a wait of more than five minutes.

My two girls spent the best part of an afternoon flying round on the centrifugal swings until they started to feel queasy. My son could not be prised from the go-karts.

For those who remember the Butlin’s of old, founded by Billy Butlin in 1936, the biggest change will be the accommodation. 

Bognor’s original chalet blocks have been replaced by apartments. And the skyline is now dominated by three swanky Art Deco-style hotels which are run by Butlin’s ‘butlers’.

Our two-bedroom family suite, decorated in greens and purples, certainly enjoyed a fine view of the Channel.

But that, I’m afraid, was the nearest we got to the sea.  

TRAVEL FACTS 

Butlin’s (butlins.com, 0330 100 6648) has resorts at Bognor Regis, Minehead and Skegness. 

A three-night break at Bognor costs from £95pp room-only.



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