Matt Reeder finds a different Butlins from the one he remembered.
The lure of a week away in a posh coastal hotel, complete with sea-facing balcony, fancy restaurant and relaxing spa, was too good to turn down.
The fact that my wife and I could also take along our three young children and feel confident that they too would be well catered for, was also something of a bonus.
Indeed, one week of fun and frolics later and our trio of Hannah, nine, Benjamin, eight and six-year-old Charlotte were happy to tell anyone kind enough to listen how they had just enjoyed their “best ever holiday”.
From the way they were recounting their tales of daring-do you could have been forgiven for thinking they had just been somewhere fancy in Florida – Disney World or Universal Studios, perhaps?
Talk of roller-coasters, swimming pool flumes, afternoon shows packed full of star names and a fantastic hotel room which gave them their own flat-screen television in their own little den-style room complete with lively, pop-art decor and lifts which constantly pump out disco music and put on a flashing light display whenever you go for a ride. It is easy to see how and why they were so taken with this particular holiday.
And it is also easy to see why mum and dad were happy too as we joined in with the youngsters in their thrill-seeking activities but also found time to experience that relaxing spa.
But this is not Florida, or indeed anywhere abroad. No, this is England, and believe it or not, this is Butlins.
The Red Coats may remain, but the Hi Di Hi days are long gone. Butlins, that British institution of the seaside holiday, has gone up market, and boy has it made a difference.
As a boy growing up on the south coast, we would regularly make the short trek along to Bognor. Day trips by bus with dad’s cricket team were a summer favourite – fond memories of times past.
Years later, as we headed south down the M1, I could not help but wonder what we were letting ourselves in for.
I am sure that aged five or six, the Butlins experience had been fantastic for me. Indeed, I had only good memories of the place, but that was all of 30 years ago and let’s be honest, Butlins has struggled with something of an image problem in recent years. Would it still be cabins by the freezing sea and knobbly knees competitions?
To my delight, such days seem to be firmly in the past. Finally, having spent upwards of £20m on hauling themselves up to date, it would seem that the house which Billy Butlin built all those years ago, has undergone the facelift necessary to rectify their slight image concerns.
The bulk of that cash has been spent on improving accommodation and at Bognor Regis, you cannot help but be impressed with what they have come up with.
Two hotels, as far removed from the old Butlins image as you could possibly imagine, rise up from the shoreline like two huge sea-going liners. Dazzling white during the day and brightly lit at night, each room within the contemporary Ocean Hotel and the luxurious Shoreline Hotel has a coastal view and each room is something of a talking point – modern, up-to-date, almost funky.
Indeed, if we had let them, the children would have been happy to spend their days sat in their den watching their flatscreen TV.
However, the promise of enjoying an afternoon at the swimming pool, of watching a film at the on-site cinema, or enjoying the many roller-coaster rides gave them a reason to depart.
We even saw a show with the finalists of the X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent which was a particular highlight for the girls.
Away from the park, there is also plenty to do in Bognor and a visit to the splendid town of Arundel, and its fantastic castle, is a must. We spent a whole day exploring the 40 acres of sweeping grounds and gardens and with it being a school holiday, there were live battle re-enactments, educational talks on life at the castle in days gone by, and special tours around the gardens. And after a long day sight-seeing, where better to go than return to our hotel for a slap-up meal and a well-deserved beverage.
Butlins may still have something of a reputation, many people may still see it as a holiday destination living on past glories... but those people have yet to experience this modern-day version of Butlins.
A modern-day Butlins which, whether it be spa treatments, luxury hotels or swimming pool flumes, now provides something that the whole family can enjoy.
Special offers for a Butlins break
October half term: Prices for October half term at Bognor Regis start from £99 per person per break based on four people sharing a Silver self-catering apartment. Prices include accommodation, all live entertainment and access to most of the facilities on the resort.
Christmas: There are six seasonal breaks at Bognor, either pre-Christmas, during Christmas, post-Christmas or over the New Year.
Christmas Fantasy Breaks, December 9-12, 16-19 and 19-22. Prices start from £59 per person per break based on four people sharing a Silver self-catering apartment.
The Christmas Break, December 23-27: Prices start from £152 per person per break based on four people sharing a Silver self-catering apartment.
Christmas Party Break, December 27-30: Prices start from £100pp per break based on four people sharing a Silver self-catering apartment.