How to deal with all the new measures at Butlin's 2021
UPDATED for 2021!
We visited Butlin's Bognor Regis at the beginning of September 2020 and Skegness in May 2021. Butlin's is now quite different from what it has been in the past. There are several new coronavirus measures and social distancing measures, and I wanted to share my thoughts on them as well as some quick tips on how to navigate them and have as good a Butlin's holiday as you can - even if it is the time of corona ha ha!
Last time we visited was in 2017, and we went to Butlin's Minehead for a press visit and wrote a review of the resort. It was a fantastic visit, and we loved it. We stayed in the chalets, had a premium dining plan and enjoyed just wondering about without really booking anything, and doing whatever caught our eye. I've also written a post reviewing Butlin's Bognor Regis, so if you are looking for specific information about the resort head there.
This time we visited Bognor Regis, stayed in a new style silver accommodation, and then Skegness where we stayed in a gold apartment. We were self-catering, mostly. During our visits I got a good understanding of the new style safety measures (which are similar across all three resorts), and wanted to explain them to you too. Hopefully it will help in either deciding whether to visit, or if you are already booked for a visit, on what to expect and how to navigate the measures.
There is lots of information on Butlins page on reopening, but personally, I've found it useful to read experiences from other people too. The latest resort updates on lockdowns and so on are available on their website too.
A quick summary
- You need to book shows (except for Skyline), and craft and sports activities ahead. The booking for shows and activities opens about 10 days on Plan My Day site. You will be sent an email when it opens, but it is worth to check it yourself too periodically, to get ahead.
- Swimming does not need to be booked anymore! (When we visited we had to book ahead, so there may be some references in the text for this)
- You can book paid for activities (climbing etc.) on the Butlin's app or at Leisure Centre. These do run out soon though.
- You can book one of each show, and you can't book overlapping events.
- If you can't book anything, IT IS NOT A PROBLEM. Almost all the activities and the shows you can just walk in. All the crafting we went to had plenty of space. The tables might be at the back though.
- In a way I actually prefer the booking as you don't have to come to shows silly early to get decent seat. To get up to date information - latest news on booking practices here
- You can still use B Serve app to order to your table when at shows - fantastic when you've got kids!
- There are no temperature checks, but Butlin's do ask you to use your mobile phone and the NHS Covid-19 app to scan and sign in to each venue, including arcades. This is voluntary now though.
But read below for a more in depth review and further helpful tips!
In-depth review of differences
Things are not the same
It is going to be quite different from previous years. For example, due to social distancing character meets are more like a photo opportunity, shows and all the activities need to be pre-booked well in time or you run the risk of not being able to get in, and some restaurants may be closed.
One thing I loved about Butlin's was that you could just wander about and do whatever looked interesting, so you didn't have to do much planning and just turn up. Now I had to start thinking about what shows we want and when we might want to go swimming and plan that with the other activities well ahead of arrival. I also really loved that the Redcoats were so great with kids, making them laugh and smile, and this time they were lovely as ever, but so busy with crown maintenance and checking names off a list they couldn't interact with kids as usual.
Then again, now there has been less people. Day tickets aren't being sold (Skegness and Minehead currently), and overall there is just less people in. This made the resorts feel less crowded than usually, and we got to do quite a lot of the activities and at shows we got tables which made things certainly easier with kids.
Overall, we had a really good time and enjoyed doing all kinds of activities, and saw lots of shows and went swimming twice. There was more waiting and a lot more pre-planning, but other than that it all went very well.
But let's explain the measures then!
Before your arrival you get an email with the drive-through details - you need to drive to the right entrance and then follow the signs to the right check-in spot. A staff member will give your keys in a sealed envelope. Resort opens at 1PM and you can enter the room from 4PM (unless priority access / hotel guest, who enter from 3PM).
This went really well, even if the gate information we got was a bit confusing. We got to the wrong gate at first, but were quickly directed to the right place.
Cleanliness and the new coronavirus safety measures
Lots of new safety measures were in place. There are lots of notices about social distancing, wearing a mask and hand sanitising. All entry and exit point there were big hand sanitiser stations, and reminders to use them. There are no temperature checks, which makes entering a bit faster.
Mask wearing is encouraged, although I did note that as the weekend wore on, less and less people wore masks. Overall, the capacity seemed reduced, so it was possible to socially distance in most situations, although there were a few times when I felt the seating arrangements in shows were a bit close to other tables.
Resort was very clean. Between each show the areas get cleaned, and at the fairground the equipment presumably gets cleaned fairly often. During the height of the restrictions the equipment was sprayed and wiped between each ride and there was a reduced capacity for rides, so empty seats and rows between people and long queues. With less restrictions the cleaning schedule was relaxed and more people let in per ride, so almost back to normal I'd say.
When you get to your accommodation you will note it has been sealed with a red sticker. This shows that after the cleaners have been, no one has entered the accommodation. I found the cleaning was very thorough, absolutely no complaints, but I did for my own peace of mind spray all touch points and handles with an antibacterial spray. Our apartment had a few other issues though, but maintenance came to deal with them quickly.
One difference is that in accommodation where you have housekeeping - now there isn't any. This is to avoid anyone coming into the room while guests are staying there, and cross-contaminating rooms. Also, again, not all accommodation includes towels, but if yours does and you need more, you will have to request new ones from guest services.
You need to pre-book activities
You need to pre-plan and book activities before going if you want to ensure you get to do everything you want. There are two main ways of doing this.
1) Plan my day website for swimming, shows and crafts. You will get an email with this link when the booking for your holiday opens, about a week before the day of arrival. This will allow you to book one slot for each show (craft slots are updated a day or two before arrival).
Book as soon as you receive the email, as if you leave it until the last days you may find all the slots are taken. In fact, check the website about 8-9 days before your holiday in case it has been updated ahead of the emails. For example I checked the site on Thursday evening, and booked all my swimming (no need to book swimming anymore though) and show slots then, and already some puppet shows and Animal FX show were "sold out". I got the email with the link the following day.
2) Butlin's app for a variety of paid activities - these are things like climbing, go karting, rope activities, pottery and such. I had to book additional activities at Leisure hub, as my app didn't work on our first trip. By the second trip my email address was registered with Butlin's, and the app connected with our booking, so it finally worked.
3) On arrival go to Leisure Hub (or another booking point, check with staff where it is) and book shows and activities. There should hopefully be some reserved places available for people that don't have internet or haven't been able to book anything. You can book all the paid activities through the Leisure hub too.
When you arrive to your pre-booked activity, either show a screen shot of your booking, or give your name to the Redcoats who will check you are on the list. If you are late for shows your reservation may be given away. In fact, you are told you should arrive 15 min before the show to guarantee your space won't be give away, although we arrived just a few minutes to spare to our booked activities and they hadn't started giving slots away yet.
What if you haven't managed to book anything?
Yes, so you may have left it too late, or forgot, or want to do something else instead. That's OK. It happens. Turn up at the allotted time and join the stand-in queue, which should be clearly signposted. Permitting capacity restrictions, they will start letting other people in right before the show starts.
We didn't queue for anything, but I am pretty sure that for nearly all of the shows we went to, those people that queued would have got in, although the seats they would have got weren't necessarily ideal. At the time I went, people were limited to two slots for swimming and I saw people queueing for swimming too - not always successfully though because of capacity restrictions.
Lots of people book the free activities and then don't turn up, so it is worth trying for them regardless! Obviously don't big them up for your kids in case they are full, but it is well worth trying. For example, for the 5-8 years old crafting there were 12 tables set up, and only five families turned up.
Also worth it to check the app and the Plan my day site during your stay as people may release slots they have decided not to take afterall.
Socially distanced shows and table service
After queueing, there is hand sanitiser to use, and you have to use your mask when walking to your table and if you need to go to the bathroom. While sitting you can take the mask off. Tables are set apart, and each table has five to six chairs. Kids can get up and dance, but should stay in front of or next to the table. There were some in-show jokes about social distancing, and characters would socially distance - good reminders for audience!
The best thing about the socially distanced shows was table service! Using the B-serve app you can order drinks to your table, which was a real treat with young kids. And slightly dangerous as we drank a lot of cappucinos and beers during our visit! You can use cash too, but then you have to go get your own drinks from the bar. Using the B-serve app is easy, you just need to book the right resort and restaurant, and the table number, and pay by using card. You can save your card details for ease.
What and where to eat
Due to social distancing measures and capacity limits, I've heard some people's dining plans have either been cancelled or downgraded. I tried to book us a dining plan, but was told it was sold-out.
Thus - I have no personal information of the dining plan eating. However, I have read reviews and comments from others. There are different dining plan levels and restaurants, so it is difficult to draw a conclusive summary, but overall it seems that food court dining tends to get more negative comments on food quality, and premium dining is described as nice or good, but perhaps not as nice as pre-pandemic. The major differences are that now you request a staff member to plate up food for you, and you get salad, pastries, and so on in pre-packaged boxes. Cereal for example would be boxed per recommended portion, and would be quite small. It is a buffet, so you can ask for seconds, or thirds of course! It just gets plated and/or packaged up for you.
If you have been booked onto dining and the quality does not meet your expectations, contact guest services and they should be able to convert your dining to vouchers to use on the resort - so instead of the dining you get to use the restaurants.
All the resorts have restaurants and fast food (like Burger King) on-site, but due to capacity some may be closed or takeaway only. We ate in at Beachcomber Inn (pub grub) and The Diner (American style) - both decent options with plentiful portions, although I can't say either was anything special. We didn't have to wait for a table in either, and they were pretty empty when we ate in them, but Ive heard some people have had to queue at busy times.
There is also a DineAround dining plan, with which you can eat in the a la carte restaurants. With this plan you will have to book your restaurants ahead of time. This has caused no end of hassle for people self-catering though, as now most restaurants are fully booked for DineAround folk, so you may find it difficult to find anywhere to eat out unless you pre-book with the DineAround. We for example couldn't get a table to eat an evening meal out in any restaurants on site, which was disappointing. I've seen on social media sites lots of people have complained about similar experiences.
If you are self-catering, you will be pleased to know the kitchen was perfectly adequate, with a toaster, an oven fridge-freezer, utensils, cups, glasses, plates, chopping board, knives, pots and pans and an oven pan. You also got a small dishwasher soap, sponge, a reusable wipe, and a small tea towel.
I recommend bringing an oven glove, cling film, some additional tea towels, kitchen spray, and also a pan and an oven pan. Our oven pan was fine, but the frying pan was very worn down.
There is a small shop onsite, but I've found it is a bit more expensive than bigger shops, and if you are self-catering I'd recommend popping by any of the close-by big supermarkets for a proper shop with a better selection - they tend to be about 5 min drive away.
My top tips are:
- Remember your masks, you are requested to wear them when entering Skyline, and arriving to any shows and the changing rooms for swimming. I don't believe masks are compulsory anymore though.
- Check Plan my day website 8-9 days before arrival, or wait until you get the email with the link. Book all the shows and activities you want to do as soon as possible. Butlin's app gets updated a day or two earlier with craft and other sports sessions.
- If you haven't managed to book via the Plan my day site or Butlin's app, pop by Leisure Hub when you arrive to try book slots. Also, check during your stay for released slots.
- If you decide to not go to a pre-booked activity, please release your slots so others can take them!
- You can also queue for swimming, shows and other free activities by joining the left hand side queue. Most shows have some space leftover, and lots of people book the free activities but then don't turn up.
- Download B-serve app for table service at the shows - it is so good with kids!
- If you are self-catering, I recommend bringing an oven glove, cling film, some additional tea towels, kitchen spray, and also a pan and an oven pan. You get a dishwashing pack in apartments.
- If you are self-catering or need snacks, there is a small shop onsite, but I'de recommend doing a big shop in one of the nearby big supermarkets.
All in all, it is a fun holiday, and overall I felt like the safety measures were well thought through and dealt with. You need to be quite organised with pre-booking things and turning up on time, but other than that it is great fun. Don't forget to also check out my reviews of the Bognor Regis resort and Minehead resort!
Is there anything else you would like to know?
You might also like: Need a full and honest review of Butlin's Bognor Regis? and What did we honestly think of Butlin's Minehead?