Everyone deserves a break. Not a break in the sense of ‘separate into pieces as a result of a blow, shock, or strain’ but in the meaning of ‘a pause in work or during an activity or event’. I think, somewhere along the line, Pontins in Brean Sands got their dictionary meanings very confused.
So far it has been a difficult year in the form of finances for us, which has included some unexpected – but important – legal fees. Therefore, funds were limited when it came to choosing a holiday this year. At the beginning of July I noticed that Groupon had a deal on whereby you could save £100 on a 7 night break at Pontins. We chose Brean Sands. The price with the reduction was £299 for 7 nights. It was only an hour by car and, because Ross had to come back for a gig commitment during the middle of our time away, it was perfect for our needs. Cheaper shouldn’t mean what we found on our holiday though.
Arriving at Pontins, Brean Sands on Friday 7th August 2015, we had a large amount of holiday makers and some lovely warm sunshine to greet us. As well as that, there were some very colourful personalities and a run down, tired and sad looking park. Let me expand on this.
On first sight, it isn’t immediately noticeable. The staff were friendly enough, giving us directions to our upgraded chalet (from ‘Popular’ to ‘Club’). The sunshine certainly helped and I think, had it been raining, we would have been a bit more aware of just how dilapidated this place was.
Overall, this place needs a massive big ruddy spruce up. The sign that greets you says it all. The paint work is peeling. The railings which border the park are old and rusted. There are faded signs EVERYWHERE which look like they have been up for a very long time. The crazy golf course is in bits. The snooker tables in the Leisure Zone are being used as workmates. Every where you look there are cigarette ends and rubbish. The bushes are all overgrown with huge prickles growing out of them. Lunars Showbar (advertised first on their list in their small park brochure) is used as a storage centre and looks like something out of the Walking Dead. The arcade is disgusting under foot – goodness knows what diseases you would catch if you went in there barefoot. I had to observe to the duty manager on the Sunday that the cleaners had basically swept the rubbish (fruit shoot bottles galore!) under the Minion bashing machine, amongst others (this was easily noticeable standing at reception!). The Nisa store has posters which are faded and old and the entrance needs painting. The playground is faded and one of the swings is missing – it has obviously been like this for ages. Everywhere you looked things were closed or out of order or didn’t work. I will address the pool, the Fun Factory main entertainment area and Adventureland kids club separately.
Entering the small chalet, we found ‘Elsa’ and ‘Anna’ waiting for Grace and Lucy together with a backpack and some wine, coffee and tea for us grown ups which Pontins had kindly left for us.
The girls had a bedroom with two separate beds and we had the fold-out double sofa bed in the lounge. Fine for us as we would be up long after the girls had gone to sleep. Or so we thought! (More on that later). The bathroom was small with a half-size seated bath and overhead shower. The shower was the same as the ones you get in the swimming pool changing rooms. You press the button and get a limited time before the water switches off and you have to press it again. I was pleasantly surprised to find a toilet roll and two soap dispensers – one of which contained soap and actually worked
The kitchen was tired but the appliances worked and we also had microwave and toaster. In the cupboard next to the kitchen area was the added bonus of an ironing board, iron, broom and dustpan and brush.
We were aware that there was no bed linen prior to coming as well as no towels so we came prepared.
The television was dated and heavy – and chained to the wall which Ross and I found hilarious. There were a few free digital channels on top of the 5 terrestrials. On the 4th morning it stopped working – only to come back on again in the evening. According to the manager, there had been a problem with the electricity and one of the bluecoats had ‘forgotten to put the plug back in’.
On the 2nd night, Grace’s side unit fell off the wall as she fell out of bed. She bruised her knee quite badly. Give Pontins their due though, they fixed it the day I reported it.
The third day, the shower stopped working and Ross and I gave up putting our bed away and turning it back into a sofa!
We noticed that the windows were very dirty when we arrived, one of which had a huge bird poo on it. To their credit, a window cleaner came round with a shopping trolley full of cleaning products and washed them.
Our chalet was fairly clean on the whole, although, when a couple of guests heard that I was going to be writing a review, they were quick to tell me about their ‘disgusting’ chalets where there was still food on the plate from the previous occupants.
The first night we settled in and went up to the Queen Victoria pub for the kids quiz (which was VERY dubious as the children who won spent the whole of the question time on their iPads) to find just one member of the bar staff serving quite a few people. The drinks were fairly pricey at £7.90 for 4 soft drinks – one of which was a can of diet coke!
We also paid a visit to the Fun Factory, the main entertainment area where the cabaret, bingo and discos took place. At 7pm, it was utterly choc-a-block. What was worse was that there were single people sitting at tables with a book and 8 pints clearly saving them, some tables even had no one sitting at them. They may as well as had towels draped over them! The floor was VERY sticky under foot – and it remained that way for the rest of the week (goodness knows how long it has been that way for!). All the tables and chairs were tatty and needed repairing. We witnessed one table top collapse as a family were sitting at it.
On the Sunday evening we decided to get to the Fun Factory a bit earlier and play bingo. It went on forever. Grace and Lucy got bored of waiting for the entertainment which took a long time to get underway – to the point that, by the time it did, they had lost interest in the disco dancing competition. We gave up after that night – especially when we realised that bingo was on every single evening!
I took the girls to a few of the kids activities. They did an obstacle course which meant a prize for the top 3 spaces. This also seemed to go on forever. Most holiday parks would cut off registration for an event after it had begun but, with this, every time a child entered the hall, the bluecoat would allow them to join in – thus making it a very long wait.
There followed a show called ‘Bananarama Drama’ hosted by a very outdated Bananaman and some sort of embarrassing traipse and chant around the park. The girls left halfway through. I also took them to the ‘Frozen’ sing-a-long on the Sunday which we left after all the good songs!
On the Wednesday morning I took Grace and Lucy to Adventureland to take part in the kids karaoke – which consisted of a small karaoke machine in the corner of the room by the front entrance and only one DVD of 20 songs to choose from (all modern and some of them inappropriate).
Throughout the holiday we spent time in the arcade on the park. This enabled the girls to collect a large amount of tickets which they decided they would like to exchange for a selection of prizes at the end of the holiday. Little did we know that everyone else decided to do the same thing. On the last morning we queued for an hour – with just one or two staff serving!
We got back to the chalet with takeaway food on the first night and I couldn’t fault it. The portions were HUGE! The girls had sausage and chips and Ross and I had fish and chips and we had a pot of curry sauce and one of gravy. It came to £15.30 and we had enough chips for two further adult portions.
On the Sunday evening we opted for their version of KFC. We had a family feast of 12 portions of chicken, 4 portions of chips and 4 drinks which came to £12.99 and again we had enough for the following day.
The takeaway options were limited. There was only so many times you could eat chips in our opinion!
We didn’t bother to eat in the restaurant until the last morning when we were served a complimentary buffet breakfast. The counter itself looked very ‘school dinners’ and the seating was tired but the food was OK. We all enjoyed the cooked breakfast. The drinks left a lot to be desired. The orange squash and lemon and lime were far too sweet and it tasted like you were drinking a cup of sugar.
The prices in the shop were reasonable and it was well stocked. It didn’t feel that clean though unsurprisingly.
This was a massive bone of contention for us. One of Grace’s favourite things in the world is to go swimming.
On the first full day we attempted to go to the pool. It was closing due to an ‘incident’. We found out later that a child had been sick in the pool which was certainly not Pontins fault. The rest of the story is a different matter though.
The following morning we joined the queue of other residents to wait for the pool to open at 10am. At 10am, a member of staff (not the manager) came to the door to tell us that they wouldn’t be opening as the chlorine levels were too high and they didn’t know how long this would take. Cue me going over to the staff member to ask where the manager was. Apparently he was trying to sort out the pool and said to the girl that he had sent that it would take even longer if he came to see us! If we wanted to speak to him then we would have to go to reception later. At this point I told the member of staff that if they had put up a sign earlier that morning to inform the guests of the situation then there wouldn’t have been a long queue of disgruntled people!
Around an hour later, I went to reception and the duty manager still wasn’t there. We then went to lunch and I went back again. This time he came out to see me. By this point they had put up signs all over the park (which, bear in mind, were dated 9th August and were still there at the end of our holiday) to inform guests that the activities planned for the pool that day would not be operating but that the pool would stay open over lunch to make up for the missed time that morning. To his credit, the manager also gave the girls two free activities each (which we never used!).
The girls and Ross finally got to the pool that afternoon. The flume wasn’t working but the girls enjoyed it. Then Ross came out and told me about the state of the changing rooms and lockers which I saw for myself the following day when I joined them in the pool.
The changing room toilets are SO tight that I basically fell in the loo when I tried to open the door. The lockers are a disgrace. The shelves are broken in half of them and fallen down to the bottom one. If the shelves aren’t broken, then the doors are hanging off and, as for the ones which were intact, the key was rusty and all they had was a piece of string to put round your wrist!
The flume/slide did not work for the whole week we were there. They told us that they were waiting for someone to come and fix it and when I asked the life guard about the jacuzzi I was told ‘it doesn’t work’.
On three separate occasions I complained to reception about the noise coming from the playground each night we were there. On the first night there were children using the park and the ‘f’ word at 11.15pm at night which Grace and Lucy both overheard. On the Tuesday evening, when Ross was away, I went over to inform one of the fathers about the sign on the fence which stated that the park was not to be used after dusk. This was unsurprising as the sign was not in an obvious place. His children – aged anywhere from 4 to 6 years old – were out there at gone 10pm. He was very apologetic.
On the last night, I had had enough. Grace and Lucy had probably not got to sleep on any night during our holiday before 10.30pm and they were exhausted. I went over to the playground once again to inform the parents there of the sign. One mother – who had children in the playground at 10.20pm aged 2 to 4 years – told me that she was doing it to ‘wear them out’. I politely explained that I believed that was what the daytime was for!
I then marched over to the security hut at the front entrance of the park. Despite being told that security were patrolling every evening each time that I complained, it still seemed that nothing was being done. I told the guard on the gate that I was sick of doing their job and not getting paid for it!
I went back to the chalet to find that more kids were in the playground. At that point security showed up. I tried to explain my situation to the man in charge but all he did was interrupt in a bid to defend his position. After Ross intervened, it transpired that there were just 4 security guards looking after a park of 3,000 people. When you consider the fact that they were mainly concentrating on the entertainment centre, and dealing with drunken fights and domestics, then it was no wonder that the playground was low on their priority list. Why on earth they didn’t have locking gates on the park together with dimmed lights for night-time is beyond me.
The other security system we had an issue with is of people coming onto the park. In order to re-enter, you had to show your chalet key. We went in and out of that park on a regular basis daily and only once did we get asked to show our key. Any one could have gotten in.
To me, just because you are on holiday, it does not mean that you stop parenting your children. That is, if you parent them in the first place.
The amount of disgusting language and rudeness emanating from the families on that park was abysmal. I appreciate that this is not Pontins problem but I was concerned about exposing our children to this and, it is my belief, that Pontins should be too.
This was probably the only part of the park that appeared to be in good condition. The soft play was fabulous and it looked really exciting. The staff monitored it well with CCTV cameras. The seating area for older children was really nicely set out and the toddler and baby area had some great toys. It looked clean and tidy. The lady I spoke to – who was on her own running the centre – was lovely. She has worked for Pontins for 14 years and for 7 of those she has been in the kids area. She couldn’t have children of her own so she takes great care of the ones that she oversees in the kids club. Thank goodness I could find something positive to say.
I have to say that on reflection, I now understand why Center Parcs charge the prices they do to some extent. This in no way excuses Pontins and the utter disarray that they have let their park get into and the manner in which they treat it. Disrespect is the name of the game here and I would dread to see the state of the houses of the people who manage this place.
I did address all of this with the manager, Mick Forster. I told him of my disappointment and pointed out all of the shortcomings and issued that need resolving. All I received was excuse after excuse.
Overall, we did have a good ‘break’ (in the holiday sense of the word!) but this is mainly down to the lovely nearby beaches and local activities offered by Brean Leisure, Brean Splash and Brean Play (reviews to come!) and our determination to have a great time irrespective of the dated, dirty and disappointing venue that is offered by (the apparently) “New” Pontins.