Paradise or Hell?

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The unmistakeable Pontins building in all its technicolour glory.

One of the main attractions in Camber, apart from the amazing sandy beaches, is Pontins Holiday Camp which is in a fantastic location within easy access of the beach and shops,  offers cheap but basic accommodation to families on a limited budget, and in theory has plenty available to keep the kids occupied and entertained – on site. And it is part of the Britannia Hotels Group with sites in various locations.

Looking at the Pontins website and the attractive rates on offer you can see why many are tempted to book up and have a great family holiday. But, when you look behind the glossy images, the picture isn’t always so rosy and, to give an unbiased view, I thought the fairest thing to do was to pick two reviews from TripAdvisor and print them verbatim and let you be the judge as to what Pontins is really offering, or not, as the case maybe.

Both reviews were posted in the last few days and are poles apart, but have a look on TripAdvisor yourself as, of those reviews, the traveller ratings are confirmed as Excellent 279, Very Good 568, Average 670, Poor 545 and Terrible 2,530.

Love it

“Family love the place. Plenty to do, been going for 8 years, and in this year not a lot to look forward to. It’s not 5 star, but it’s cheap family fun and you make the most of what you got. Too many people complain about silly things that are not important”

Date of stay: August 2020

This way to paradise!

I’m as loyal as it comes to this place but it’s getting hard to defend it

“I’ve come to Pontins, Camber Sands once or twice every year for the past decade. We know it’s rough and ready, cheap and cheerful, you get what you pay for etc etc, but this time round, it was the worst visit we have had.

The Pontins Facebook page made a thing about the pools being open from 31 July, and our paperwork said we could arrive from 12 noon and use all the facilities, so we got there bang on midday, and headed straight to the pool, only to find it closed. “We’re cleaning it today, it opens tomorrow”.

We thought we’d go to the games room, but that was locked up and closed. The pedal cars you can hire were not available because it was arrivals day and it wouldn’t be safe with the traffic driving around the park. All the bouncy castles were deflated, snooker room shut, you get the idea.

All that was open was the amusement arcade (no surprise there) and it was packed – little social distancing (although the 2p’s in the machines were sparkling!), and the crazy golf, so we did that, and we had a look at the entertainment schedule.

Luckily we brought sandwiches with us for our lunch because the Whistle Stop takeaway counter was shut.

A long, hot queue

We got in the long queue outdoors at half past three, to wait for our check in at 4, it was 90 degree heat! At 5 minutes to four they announced that the check in wouldn’t be until 5pm. Nobody moved from the queue, and it was already huge, so we stayed put in the heat until check in actually opened at 10 past 5. They used excuses about cleaning the chalets to a really high standard, and said to compensate, we’d get free electric, just press button B on the meter three times.

When we got the keys, they came with those instructions already printed anyway, so they were claiming to give us something extra as special that we were entitled to get anyway! The chalet was no cleaner that it usually is here, sand in the bath, toilet not flushed from the previous visitor. Just a ‘sanitised’ sticker across the door to make it appear ‘sealed’!

We had almost no time to cook dinner in the chalet because we wanted to make the beds up and unpack in time to get to the bingo in the Fun Factory, ticket sales due to start at 6.15

We rushed some hot dogs in the microwave and legged it to the fun factory to find it near deserted and the blue coats kept saying tickets would go on sale soon (they were presumably waiting for enough people to arrive). They passed the time with a quiz but the kids were charging around the dance floor bored stiff. The Bluecoat apologised that there were no food places open apart from the restaurant downstairs but said people were welcome to bring in their own food, takeaways etc!

“No delivery until Wednesday”

There was no draught beers in the bar, ‘no delivery until Wednesday’ apparently – bottled beer worked out much more expensive, so the next night we just brought our own beers in – there was no security to stop you. At 8pm the Bluecoats said there wasn’t enough people to do the bingo and called it off, and put on a children’s film. Everyone left! Back to the chalet to watch the telly for the evening!

Saturday, and we started off with a swim in the pool (we pre-booked our places from an ice cream hut by the Queen Vic the night before). Only 30 people at a time, pre-booked only and very well managed – you had to arrive all ready changed as the changing rooms weren’t open, but all good. Water was freezing, but you only got 45 minutes anyway so about right.

The rest of the day, we went to Camber Beach (packed out, so we didn’t even sit down there), mini golf again, cooked in our chalet, and watched the afternoon entertainment on the outdoor stage – a juggler, and female singer. Both were excellent, just a shame the law stopped them doing their shows indoors in the Fun Factory in the evenings to make it a night out.

In the evening we went to the Fun Factory, and it was well attended (with the tables distanced) and the bluecoats did a film quiz, a proper session of bingo, including kids bingo, then they put on The Lion King on the big screens. A much better evening.

On the Sunday morning, we had a game of mini golf once more (!) then we packed up and went to Hastings for the day (a great place to visit, lots to do there) and then from there, on to home.

Staff are doing their best

I think Pontins staff are doing their best – cleaners were still working at 10pm on check in night (probably re-doing substandard chalets), maintenance were working all hours, security do have a very challenging job as some of the clientele are challenging customers to put it politely, and there is a never ending amount of work for all of them as people are routinely unhappy with the quality of accommodation, things not working etc.

There were apparently 2,300 on the park this weekend, it must be close to capacity as getting a space to park you car was difficult, cars on verges etc.

I think people going or considering going have to be realistic as to how little there is to do here – all the kids playgrounds were fenced off for example (the law allows playgrounds, so I can only assume they can’t dedicate the staff to keep them sanitised ?) and the usual fantastic evening of ‘party times’ in the Fun Factory/Lunars just wasn’t close to what people are used to with discos, game shows and loads of guest and Bluecoat interaction.

I really think they could get more things open – snooker, darts, pool in the games room for example, but I don’t think Pontins can justify the staff resources. If you come here for the beach and a place to sleep, then it’s as cheap as you will find anywhere”.

Date of stay: August 2020

A queue, but for what ? 

As you can see, two very differing views and for those thinking of planning a visit, the question remains ” to stay or not to stay” ?

As I was driving into Camber at around 3pm on Monday, August 3, I was stuck in a traffic jam which started just after Rye Golf Club. I assumed there had been an accident (as by now, the weekend visitors had all gone home) but, after an hour of inching forward, it was obvious that we were all queuing behind guests trying to get into Pontins.

The whole village became paralysed due to the traffic waiting to book in. I can’t help wondering how long it took them to receive the keys to their chalets and for their kids to be let loose on the facilities which they expected to be open….

The chalets at Pontins – and nothing seems to have changed in many years!

Image Credits: Nick Forman .

1 COMMENT

  1. I think Pontins is an absolute eyesore, the queues to get in mean the road comes to a standstill and from the reviews you have posted, it appears that it really doesn’t care too much about its customers. Just because it is a lower price than many options, does not mean it should be shoddy. I would prefer if it was not there.

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