Thursday, 16 August 2012

Planet Little People at....Pontins! Mini breaks explored....Ps

With the promise of a mini heatwave in the offing and the resultant brain strain of trying to think of things that I could do with the kids, I made an executive decision to search for a mini break, which I figured would cost me only marginally more than a couple of day trips out to the usual attractions.  With Juliet and her little people also on board, I set about searching for something suitable (and essentially child friendly).
My preference initially was to stay in a hotel, somewhere on the coast and a stones throw from the beach.  What I did not give due consideration to was the fact my 2 year old, Master Grumpalot, does not like to stay in one place for very long, so pitching up at the beach might only work for an hour at most before he would be looking for the next instalment of this particular adventure.  With only a beach at my disposal, this was clearly going to be a struggle.  There is also the fact that there is no damn place to hide those wired-in hairdryers found in hotel bathrooms.  Its a constant battle to stop my daughter wielding one like a weapon of mass destruction much like the Terminator crossed with Vidal Sassoon.
Juliet suggests hiring a caravan for the weekend, somewhere with some facilities on site.  Great idea but the shortest booking I can get is a week and nothing at all for under £500. 
Butlins, Hoseasons and Haven were all obvious choices if you're happy with a booking at the start of the week or end of it. I guess no one told them that some people work Monday through Wednesday and sometimes get the mad urge to down domestic tools and high-tail it to the coast for two days of flying by the seat of ones pants (but have to be back early Saturday because Auntie Maud is having an 80th birthday lunch).  Damn them.
When my search of "cheap, midweek, Thursday to Saturday, child friendly breaks" returned an answer of COMPUTER SAYS NO, I type in "Camber Sands" (mentioned earlier by Juliet as being ideally located) and up pops the word "Pontins" (but not just any old Pontins, this is new look Pontins, following major refurbishment after being brought out by Britannia).  I'm taken back in time to permed hair and day-glo towelling socks but beggars can't be choosers and rather than key in my requirements I decide to call them.  I found myself talking to a very pleasant chap who didn't pummel me with endless questions but instead noted my requirements and said if I would be happy with an upstairs apartment, they had something for those dates, inclusive all passes for the billy bargain bucket sum of £128??!!!  Woo hoo!!  Camber Sands here we come (and not a cagoul in sight).


Camber Sands is a stones throw from Rye which is the most gorgeous little seaside town, very quaint and picturesque.  The local beach is spotlessly clean, not a shingle in sight, just miles and miles of glorious sand.  I cannot recommend the local area enough.....however.........

I think the head honchos at Britannia need a map (or a quick study of the word "refurbishment" in the English Oxford) because Pontins, Camber Sands, looks like it has not seen a makeover, much less major refurbishment, since the days of, actually, come to think of it, permed hair and day-glo towelling socks?

The main building, painted blue and peeling like a British tourist on the third day of their foreign holiday, is an eyesore on the otherwise scenic road on which it sits.  Some poor, hapless teenager is reluctantly dressed as a crocodile and waves us in with all the welcome of the grey, overcast sky. 

Juliet and I exchange glances as we park up at reception only to be greeted by another reluctant teenager, this time telling us that we can't check in till 4pm.  Its 10.30am.  With four toddlers and one baby looking for some chow, we head to the restaurant for a late breakfast.

I have to be honest, this is where the complex truly fell short.  The dining area was a minefield of high chairs caked in discarded egg and beans, sausages and toast crusts scattered across the floor and one lone cleaner, who approached the job in hand with all the enthusiasm of a man, just one brush stroke away from botulism.  Clearly the time to arrive for your meal is not when 3000 people have just departed (yes, that was the amount of people on site according to an unusually forthcoming member of staff).  
While further experiences of the restaurant proved no more inspiring, I have to say that a full English breakfast at Pontins is well worth a gander, lunch and dinner was very reminiscent of food served up in your school canteen but the breakfast was first class, if you don't mind parking your behind in someone elses egg yolk or bacon rind.

Next stop was the adventure playground, a wooden shipwreck parked in a sea of sand.  This is where the kids really let of some steam and had the greatest time, the average age of children was probably ten and under but there was enough space that everyone could move quite freely without collision.  A pub, The Queen Victoria, was situated adjacent to the playground and offered a relatively small seating area outside and GREAT coffee.  I think this is where I had the most fun people watching and Pontins has no shortage of characters.  I think it is fair to say that everyone was friendly and helpful if not overtly curious about your goings on?!

When we finally got into the apartment I was relieved that there was enough room for us all to manoeuvre although we had to put the swinging cat back in the suitcase.  Everything appeared clean but my feet quite literally stuck to the floor when I kicked off my sandals and by the end of that evening I had furballs for soles.  However, the water was hot, the electricity meter economic and sheets were clean.  Its fair to say that your basic needs were catered for though why they don't advertise those complimentary fur lined feet is quite beyond me?!

Further exploration the following day revealed an amusement arcade, pool, go-karting and best of all, a kind of day creche where you can face paint or just draw, play giant connect 4 or just use the soft play area.  I think this was the best facility on offer for kids of a toddler age as it lacked appeal to the wealth of older kids and was also very secure (and didn't involve the faff of water or sand).  The member of staff running that end of things did look in need of a hit of prozac after spending the day keeping the troops amused though....

The evening entertainment promised us Sooty but the venue (based upstairs) was filled with much older kids, an incredibly loud PA system (and just one rattling lift in operation for all the pushchair and wheelchair users on site).  Not the chance to chill out and kick back that we had hoped for...

So, all in all, I'd say two days is more than enough to explore all that is on offer at Pontins and you may struggle to entertain children of a toddler age on site for any length of time.  I'm not even sure I can say it felt like such a bargain at £128 for what was on offer for us but the local beach and town made it well worth the trip for me and I can say without doubt the kids had a great time.

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