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..And Bob's your uncle! With stay-at-home holidays all the rage KAREN STRETCH takes her tots to Bognor.. where they meet their hard-hatted hero.

Byline: KAREN STRETCH

FACED with a pair of overtired boys too excited to sleep, bribery is a useful tool.

"You can have breakfast with Bob the Builder tomorrow," we promised and, like magic, our three-year-old and his 18month-old brother drifted into unconsciousness dreaming of multi-coloured diggers.

That is the magic of Butlins in Bognor Regis, West Sussex. For children, especially the very young, dreams become reality.

So when at breakfast in the (literally) ship-shape Shoreline Hotel both Spud the Scarecrow and Bob came to say hello, the hysteria levels were set for the rest of the day.

Issued with our 'infunmation' guide to daily activities and entertainment, we went exploring.

We found energetic shows featuring Angelina Ballerina, Bob the Builder and Pingu among others in the Skyline Pavilion from 10am to 4.30pm every day, handily colourcoded depending on the age of your offspring.

Outside is a shopping arcade, cinema, a sports area with activities for older kids, a supermarket, restaurants, the fabulous indoor Splash Waterworld pool and a funfair and go-kart track, with a mixture of free activities and those for which you need a stash of pound coins.

And there's a nasty little catch. Every time we tried to go anywhere in the complex, especially the pool, we had to pass through the central Pavilion, which was crammed with slot machines, paid-for rides and gambling machines, ensuring a tug-of-war before any hope of getting out. The free rides and play areas hidden within are great, but when you are already forking out substantial sums for food plus your accommodation (or paying the day entry of pounds 16.50 adult, pounds 9 child aged 2 to 17, or pounds 44 for a family of four), having to find more cash each day seems a little unfair.

We soon worked out that the only way forward was to get three-year-old Rory to race through on his scooter and strap Conor into his pushchair.

Once at Splash Waterworld we had a fantastic time.

There's a special parent and toddler session from 9 to 10am before the big kids get in to jump around and, with flumes, slides and shallow areas, our two simply didn't want to leave.

In fact, visitors staying within the gated boundaries of the complex is something Butlins is counting on.

Despite being at the edge of Bognor town, and right on the coast, it's quite possible to forget that you are even at the seaside and wander around in a groundhog-day loop of shows and Papa John's pizzas.

From our fourth-floor hotel room we had a wonderful view of the beach and boats bobbing along, and by Day Two it seemed criminal not to follow the cries of the seagulls and head for the Day Visitor Entrance (intriguingly, the complex map does not show any 'Exit' at all!).

Blessed with fantastic weather we happily made our own entertainment wandering along the prom into Bognor, buying an ice cream and sitting on the beach.

Walking back the other way took us into the pretty village of Felpham, where brave souls were taking a dip in the sea and the cafe and ice cream hut were doing a roaring trade.

Heading back into Butlins a touch of cabin fever set in, but the promise of dinner soon cheered us along.

It's certainly worth making the most of the dinner, bed and breakfast food option (see below) when booking your room. We learned to our cost on the first day that tea-time slots disappear quickly at the hotel's South Coast Family Bar & Grill, and a bit of advance organisation pays off.

With healthy eating options picked out on the menu, our boys' pasta and meatballs and steamed fish with veggies hit the spot.

We chose tasty fajitas from a wellbalanced menu that included steaks, pasta and salads. And when tiredness began to set in while waiting for the food to be served, the trusty Redcoats were on hand with crayons and paper and big smiles, which kept our boys entertained.

Of course, with weary toddlers, there's not much chance to head out and sample the evening's entertainment, although this summer's stars include Britain's Got Talent winners Diversity and runners-up Shaheen and Stavros Flatley.

For youngsters with real stamina, the children's evening shows go on until 9pm (and there is an on-site OFSTED-registered nursery which offers late-night sessions on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7pm to 10pm for children up to age 7).

Then the Centre Stage offers allsinging, all-dancing spectaculars with late-night music at Hotshots nightclub into the early hours.

Back in our comfortable Columbus Quarters room, there was a chance to get the boys ready for bed, grab the wine out of the fridge, watch the sun dip into the sea, and be amazed again as gentle snoring came from the bunk bed end of the room almost as soon as tousled heads hit pillows.

With the resort's new, luxury Ocean Hotel due to open on August 14, it will be interesting to compare experiences. But the Shoreline undoubtedly wins on location, with the chance to literally watch the sea ebb in and out from your window.

And that's the way to make Butlins work. Have fun and make the most of the dizzying array of shows, the endlessly energetic Redcoats, the rides, the merry-go-round and the pool, but make sure you check out what's just over the boundary fence.

That way, it can become a bit of an adventure too, with the chance to discover something for yourselves and breathe in a bit of that wonderful sea air.

GETTING THERE

Prices at the Shoreline Hotel start from pounds 37 per person for a two-night break based on a family of four (2 adults and 2 children aged 2-14 years) sharing Columbus Quarters accommodation on a room-only basis.

Manage your budget better by selecting the dinner, bed and breakfast option at pounds 15.95 per day per adult and pounds 7.95 per day per child (aged between 2-14 years).

To book a Butlins break call 0845 070 4730 or visit www.theshorelinehotel.com (The maximum call charge is 2p per minute from a BT landline. Calls from other networks may vary).

CAPTION(S):

HODDEN GEM: Conor and Bob WELL STACKED: Exterior of Shoreline hotel HOME COMFORTS: One of the Columbus rooms SLIP SLIDIN' AWAY: Wet and wild at Waterworld RACE FOR FUN: Conor and Rory CRAZY DAYS: The adventure golf course SCALING NEW HEIGHTS: Climbing wall BOING BOING: Fun on the trampoline
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 8, 2009
Words:1083
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