No, I can’t quite believe it either. With a little coercion by my very thrifty friend Sarah, we booked a weekend away at (sssshhhhh, don’t say it too loud) Pontins at Camber Sands. It was a KGB Deal for only £39 for 3 nights, which considering we’d paid £40 for 2 nights of camping the weekend before, was what I’d call a bloody bargain.
In the lead up to our trip, Sarah got all ‘Hi de hi’ about it all, but being the Aussie immigrant that I am, her suggestions that I get myself ready for the ‘lovely legs’ competition were a bit missed on me.
In the end, my husband Doug couldn’t make it, as he was too busy at work, so Gammon, Chips and I headed off on our own little adventure.
I wasn’t surprised at all to read that the first Pontins was opened in 1946 on the site of a former US World War 2 army base at Brean Sands in Somerset. This is exactly what the accommodation feels like – army barracks. You stay in small ‘chalets’ that include a kitchen, bathroom, living room with pull out sofa bed and small bedroom with two single beds. Chalets – ha ha – pull the other one! Next they’ll be calling for the Bluecoats to perform at the Old Vic.
OK, so it was a bit rough around the edges, and actually if I’m honest, a little depressing. Secret Cinema could take the Pontins branding down and sell tickets to it as a ‘Council Estate’, culminating in a screening of a Ken Loach film. Apart from the bubblegum blue reception building, it’s all pretty much sepia toned already.
General condition aside, I’m of the firm belief that you can have a brilliant time pretty much anywhere if you’re with a great bunch of people. We embraced the chaviness and went with the flow.
Despite the new company slogan ‘Pontins – born February 2011’, the place still seems stuck in the 1960s, but thankfully, so too are the bar prices. Pints are £1.90 at Happy Hour, which lasts from 5-7pm, and thank god the carpet throughout the complex looks like an oil painting of Rainbow Bright with a migraine, because that way you have no way of knowing what’s been disgorged onto it as a result of the megacheap booze.
In reality it’s probably likely to be the hundreds of hyperactive children pepped-up on Fruit Shoots, hot dogs and Slush Puppies, watching the evening Bluecoat act, that add to the general carpet stickiness. Never have I seen so many eyes popping out of the heads of pre-pubescent boys, as they gawked at a stage full of ladies in frilly knickers and suspender belts doing a dance to a Lady Gaga medley that makes John Sergeant’s sack of potatoes look positively delicate. God knows what the 5-year old girls make of it all – I dread to think.
Gammon and Chips will both be too young to remember any of it, and I’m kind of glad they are the age they are, because if they were just that little bit older, Pontins would have been a totally different experience for us. Although a whole weekend’s stay is only about the same price as a family excursion to the cinema, Pontins’ business model is obviously based around the old ‘keep entry prices low and they can $pend $pend $pend while there’ adage. Parents everywhere were batting away herds of excitable kids with five pound notes in exchange for a few minutes of peace and quiet, before said progeny returns to show off their new (inevitably broken) epilepsy-inducing glow-in-the-dark flashing laser wand and ask for another fiver for a bag of Toothfairy-welcoming bright pink candy floss.
Instead, my two enjoyed the various outdoor play parks, the indoor swimming pool, and gave Captain Croc’s Adventureland indoor play centre a good dust down (it was quite clear that no one else had). Thankfully they didn’t get too attached to Captain Croc and his Crew, as otherwise I would have had to fork out £5 each for a Character Breakfast in order for them to meet their bulbous-headed idols.
So…taking all of the above into consideration, you want to know whether we had fun? Well, the answer is: ‘yes’! Did the kids have fun? Bloody hell yes! Would I recommend it? As an alternative to camping, yes – it’s a good location, close to Hastings and 1066 country, and it’s a great beach.
I would suggest going there with a big bunch of similar-minded friends, all up for a laugh and all with realistic expectations of what it’s going to be like (checking out the ginger-haired dragon lady on Watchdog should help you out here… and no, I’m not talking about Anne Robinson).
Pack buckets, spades, kites and windbreaks for the (sandy) beach. For your room, pack toilet paper, linen, enough cutlery and crockery to form a set (minus the two bowls, one plate, one cup, two glasses and 2.5 sets of cutlery that will already be there) and a saucepan (unless you need more iron in your diet anyway). Clotheswise, pack wetsuits for the beach (and pool), and slippers for the floor. Oh yes, and don’t forget to pack the most important thing of all – a suitcase full of irony.