I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of British holiday camps – in the 1970s, my entire family decamped to these entertainment wonderlands for two weeks every year. Which explains my knobbly knees and fondness for brightly coloured polyester blazers.
When my own brood came along, I knew it was only a matter of time before we "hi de hi'd" with the best of them. And sure enough this summer we found ourselves at the Wave Hotel at Butlin's Bognor Regis in West Sussex.
Butlins has been serving up traditional holiday fun to the south coast since it opened in 1960. While the rows of prefabricated chalets are still very much present, Butlins Bognor has opened three surprisingly swanky hotels in recent years: the Shoreline, the Ocean and the Wave, with the latter aimed at families with older (8+) children. Despite opening mere weeks before our visit, it was already proving popular – indeed, it was filled to the rafters.
From the outside it has the look of a luxury ocean liner, all shiny white with shimmering balconies. The interior is equally as smart, with funky colours, Big Brother style lounge chairs and a popular Games Port with all the latest kid-magnets, from iMacs to X-box and 3DS consoles. With a Kindle library and DVD and games hire too, it's very much aimed at the techno-generation. Guestrooms are spacious, with underwater-themed cabins for the kids (each bed has a TV and DVD player) and a fully equipped en-suite complete with disco power shower. We opted for a dine-in package, which gave us a buffet dinner and breakfast for a very reasonable rate. If you fancy something more upmarket, Turner's Bistro is the posh nosh option.
Away from the glitz of the new hotel, the park feels a little dated – a fact not helped by the medley of '80s hits played on a loop. From dancing purple dinosaurs by day to cheesy cover bands at night, Butlin's Redcoats are renowned for offering all-round family entertainment in a safe (i.e. captive) environment. But while it's not to everyone's taste, judging by the crowds who come here year on year, Butlins is as popular as ever.
A big draw is Splash Waterworld, with flumes, slides, rapids and a wave machine that were a huge hit with my gang. The hub of Butlin's is the Skyline Pavilion, a large tented arena with fairground rides, softplay, numerous food and drink outlets and the main stage. While the entertainment erred very much on the cheesy side (wrestling anyone?), my kids were in their element – my 7-year-old twin daughters were besotted by the fairground while my 10-year-old son took full advantage of the football club and sports facilities.
I think Billy Butlin would be proud of the new vision for Butlins, and while it might not be the hippest holiday on offer in the land, it's cheap, cheerful and, most importantly of all, a kid's idea of heaven.
Check out more of our favourite UK holiday parks with kids.