Butlins or Bali with under 5s? I know which I’d choose

In November 2013 my husband and I found ourselves in a bar, watching the sun go down over a Bali beach. My then toddler Holly was making sand ice creams under the table, baby Ben was watching her intently and Dad and I were drinking all inclusive club cocktails.

We were living the expat dream in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and one of the many perks of this situation was the proximity of many beyond fabulous holiday destinations such as this resort in Bali that otherwise would not have been entertained.

Bali Afternoon tea

I took a family selfie, posted it to Facebook and awaited the reward of likes and envy. We were having a really nice time no question but as I gazed wistfully out to the ocean I realised I was confused.

Without meaning to sound ungrateful, the holiday was hard work.

We were in Bali, in a 5 star hotel with club privileges, but this wasn’t the best holiday of my life. It wasn’t even in the top 10, no offence Bali.

Without meaning to sound ungrateful, the holiday was hard work. Our beautiful room was decked with traditional Balinese dark wood furniture and fresh orchids. The downside was that we had to sit in it in darkness from 7pm.

It had cloud like mattresses and high thread count bed linen. The trouble was I had to leave it approximately seven times throughout the night to settle Ben and Holly alternately as they woke each other up, for good at 5.30am.

Bali Cocktail

It became apparent very quickly that the pool reserved for club guests that allegedly welcomed children wasn’t quite as welcoming as it made out. This also applied to the afternoon tea, where climbing under the table and throwing scones was also frowned upon.

All the swimming and playing on the beach was jolly good fun but also required perennial hypervigilance and entertaining people with very short attention spans, something I don’t pretend to be an expert at.

Cut forward to December 2014 Family Wilson found themselves in a family room in Butlin’s Bognor Regis.

An icy wind was blowing buckets of rain at the windows, casting a blurry filter on our greyish view of the English Channel. We were about to see a mutant sized Angelina Ballerina dance with some excitable red coats having spent the morning in the indoor pool complex dodging water jets, whizzing down slides, bobbing in waves and waiting for a bucket to fill and empty over Daddy’s head.

On the way to Angelina, Holly and Ben rode on ladybird cars, tiny teacups and aeroplanes.

We were having a brilliant time.

After dinner we had a choice of shows, one on the scale of at least a West End theatre, before which was a tots disco in the central pavilion. Here we learned how to dance to a song called Choco-latte, and I surprised myself by quite how much I wanted to excel at it.

Butlins family room

In those three days I saw more expressions of sheer delight and wonder on my children’s face than I ever thought possible and they were contagious.

And therein lay my epiphany.

Holidays are a different kettle of fish now we are parents. The fun barometer has changed at least for a few years. One day I will once again watch juicy blockbusters on my memory foam sun lounger with a club cocktail in hand. There will be Egyptian cotton sheets and maybe even a lie in.

Meeting Angelina

For now though, a top 10 best holiday needs to include a fairground. It would be all the better for a team of unfeasibly upbeat children’s TV presenter wannabes with a repertoire of kid distraction techniques that could outshine Mr Tumble.

The good news is that there really isn’t really any bad news. The hard bit is just that transition phase where you let go of the lounger dream and embrace the dancing mouse.

The key is to let your children remind you how to holiday like a child and go with it.

So for Family Wilson its hi-de-hi Butlin’s for now. And Bali? We’ll meet again one day and you will claim your rightful place in that top 10.

That’s a promise I am unselfishly committed to keeping.

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