(This post has been updated for 2021).
So what is a socially distanced Butin’s break really like? I went for a week at Butlin’s Minehead with my husband and two children (aged 7 and 2). We went a week after they reopened, arriving on 31st July 2020 and are looking forward to again in 2021. We love Butlin’s and have been going every year since 2017, we booked our 2020 holiday when we were at the resort the previous year.
When lockdown 1 started and Butlin’s closed, we weren’t too worried as the end of July seemed such a long way off. Gradually the proposed Butlin’s reopening date was getting closer and closer to our holiday, when we reached mid-June and there were still so many restrictions, I started to think we wouldn’t be going after all. By this point our holiday was fully paid for, Butlin’s had introduced the Coronavirus Guarantee (giving you the option of rescheduling, cancelling and having a full refund or deciding later and getting a credit note) and we were trying to decide whether to have a refund or to just rebook. We decided to wait it out until a bit nearer the time and then decide.
Suddenly it was July and the announcement was made that Butlin’s would be reopening on 24th July, exactly one week before we were due to arrive! I couldn’t believe it; we might still be able to go!
Butlin’s were fantastic at keeping us in the loop with what was happening, the changes that had to be made for our break to go ahead and what we had to do next. As I was the ‘lead guest’ (the person who booked the break), on the 10th of July I had an email asking me to call from 9 am on 13th July to confirm my break. Due to the social distancing measures that had to be implemented, they were reducing capacity by up to 50% which meant that not everyone who had booked would be able to go. The email also gave me links to where I could read full details of all the changes we would experience.
The 13th of July arrived, and I called at 9 am on the dot to confirm, by 9:40 it was all sorted. I spoke to a lovely lady who went through the changes that had to happen with my specific booking (we had booked B-Line passes and Dine Around dining plan, neither of which were happening that year), she managed to change our dining plan to Premium and told me how much we were due to be refunded. She said this could take up to 28 days but was usually quicker than this. I found the whole experience simple and straightforward and the lady I spoke to was so kind and helpful, she even called back later that day to confirm that Premium Dining had been secured for our booking.
The countdown was on!!
Check-in and accommodation
The big day finally arrived and off we went, the first change that we saw when we arrived was check-in. Normally when you get to the gates there is a Redcoat or two waiting to greet everyone but this year there were no Redcoats to be seen at the gate, just a friendly security guard who directed us towards the check-in.
This was the next different thing, normally you park in the allocated car park and physically walk into a check-in office. This year there was drive-through check-in: there were two huts that were clearly marked depending on what letter your surname starts with. You drove up to the window, give your name and the face masked (red and Butlin’s branded of course) member of staff passes you a sealed envelope containing your key cards, important information for your break, your wristbands and a card telling you how to contact guest services.
We parked up and went off to our accommodation, we knew exactly where we were going to be staying as we had selected a specific unit when booked a year ago. We got to the door and it had been sealed with a sticker signed by the person who had cleaned and prepared our room. Nobody else would be entering during our time at the resort.
I’ve always thought of Butlin’s as a particularly clean place to be anyway, but this year was on another level. They’ve always had hand sanitiser available and cleaners in the busiest areas but I’ve never seen so many sanitising stations dotted around or cleaners working. Everywhere was spotless. Butlin’s had clearly put an awful lot of thought into how to reopen safely and had introduced a whole host of new procedures:
- One-way systems
- Removal of some arcade machines
- ‘Resting’ arcade machines
- Barriers creating walkways
- Some fairground rides closed
- Some restaurants closed or takeaway only
- Reduced opening times of shops
- Staff wearing PPE
- Outdoor stages
- Pre-recorded indoor performances
The biggest changes: Plan My Day and B-Serve.
The biggest changes that had been introduced are the B-Serve app and the Plan My Day website. As Butlin’s have done away with B-Line passes this year they wanted to make it more likely that people would get to do all the things that they want to do whilst reducing queuing and guaranteeing a space for you. To tackle this Butlin’s has introduced Plan My Day (www.butlins.com/planmyday). This is available to you 10 days before your arrival date. It allows you to book a place at the shows that you want to attend as well as your swimming slots. I found it incredibly easy to use and had booked everything we wanted to do a week before we arrived. Once you have booked a show it issues you with a named ticket and how many people are in your party, when you arrive at the show (up to 30 minutes before the start time) you just show the ticket to the Redcoat on the gate. As Wi-Fi can sometimes be an issue, I took a screenshot of these before my arrival along with a timetable of all my bookings to make sure I had no issues.
Once you are in the stage area (either the Outdoor Stage or the Circus Tent for live performances or Centre Stage for pre-recorded shows) the fun really begins. The B-Serve app! Oh, I desperately hope Butlin’s keep this on when they can return to normal as it was both a little bit of luxury and at times a godsend. Each table has a number stuck to it which means you can log into the app and order drinks and snacks to be delivered right to your table! You can also pay for them through the app, so you don’t even need to get your card out. You can save your card to the app; it keeps a record of all your orders so you can order the same again in seconds (or keep track of what you’ve spent) and it shows you the available offers.
As Dine Around had been cancelled due to most of the restaurants being either closed or takeaway only, we had transferred to Premium Dining. We were extremely impressed with the way things were run. Again, there were one-way systems, staff in PPE and hand sanitiser everywhere. Normally you arrive and hand your key card over to Lucas, the forever cheery host, who scans it to check you in. This year Lucas was still there and still as cheery as ever but you swipe your own card to limit contact, you are then asked to sanitise your hands and wait (socially distanced of course) by the door to the dining room until someone comes to seat you. You are then whisked into the spacious dining room (tables and chairs have been removed to allow for social distancing), the first time you enter the dining room, the new systems are explained to you and then you are shown to your table which bears a little sign to say it has been sanitised. The member of staff who seats you takes this away so that it can be replaced once your table has been cleaned and sanitised again after you leave.
You are then free to go and select your food and drinks. There is no more helping yourself to as much as you like which in turn means no more cereals spilt on the floor by over-eager children and noticeably fewer full plates of food being carried away when the diners have left. Instead, you go up to the counter, which is now behind a screen, and tell the member of staff who is serving what you would like. Things like cereals, salads and desserts are in plastic containers, drinks are served for you and you can still go back as many times as you like. There is still a wide selection of foods available but some options, such as porridge, soups, and hot desserts, have been taken away but it really doesn’t feel like you’re missing out.
Entertainment and activities
Needless to say, there were some major changes to the entertainment and activities on offer. The live shows have been adapted so that the performers can socially distance themselves from each other; some shows are no longer taking place such as The Shaolin Monks, The Harlem Globetrotters and NGW Wrestling; some shows were available as pre-recorded shows only such as Paddington, The Little Mermaid and Twist and Pulse; some entertainment had gone completely such as Tots Disco, Redcoat Party Dances, Mr Potato Head and the Redcoat Shows. For the first day or two, it feels very strange to watch socially distanced performances and to be chivvied out of the area once the show is over for them to clean it ready for the next show. Once you get past how different it is to what we know and love about Butlin’s it does feel quite ‘normal’ or at least it stops feeling unusual.
As for other activities again, there are a lot of changes. Some of the fairground rides were closed and those that were open were cleaned after each turn, riders were asked to sanitise their hands before and after their ride and the ride operator sanitised the equipment after each turn.
Things like the bungee trampolines, the Adventure Golf and the Driving School were no longer walk up. Instead, you have to pre-pay for them in the booking shop next to Scoop Ice Cream Parlour, you are then issued with a voucher so that you can go at any time.
Of course, the soft play wasn’t yet open with no indication from the Government (at the time we visited) when indoor play may be able to resume, the bowling wasn’t open when we went either.
Was it worth it?
Yes! We had such a great time that before we left, we booked to go back in 2021 and take my parents with us.
I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t feel any different because it did. That doesn’t mean it was worse. Given what a tough few months we had all been through at that point and the fact that we still weren’t out of the woods, I felt it was wonderful to do something vaguely ‘normal’. My children had a fantastic time, the staff had gone above and beyond my expectations and were all so happy and cheery all the time, even those in hot working environments and wearing PPE.
The only negative experiences we had were down to the behaviour of some of the other guests and there was nothing really that the staff could have done about it. It is clear when you arrive just how much thought has gone into making Butlin’s a safe place to be yet a small minority of guests were unable to follow simple instructions like following the arrows, socially distancing and worst of all, washing hands after using the toilet!
All in all, if you are having a Staycation this year (check out Chrissy’s post to explain the definition of ‘staycation’) or are due to go to Butlin’s soon, keep an open mind and make sure you understand what to expect before you get there and there will be no reason you won’t have a wonderful time too.