“ Address: Hemsby / Great Yarmouth / Norfolk / England „
When booking our 'Sun' holiday, we knew the area we wanted to visit, but not really which park and so looked for Holiday Camps that included a free entertainment pass in the price. We were actually very lucky and were allocated a two bedroom chalet at Hemsby Beach Holiday park, in (believe it or not), Hemsby near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. I say lucky because there were only the three of us, myself, my partner and 6 month old Freddy so we were expecting a one bedroom chalet. Before I go any further, I will point out that this review is based on our four night stay at this holiday camp in October 2010, which was off-season and so the camp was quite empty.
We arrived at Hemsby Beach a little before 2pm on the Monday and were greeted by a spotlessly clean reception area. Although officially, keys aren't handed out until 4pm, some people were lucky and their chalets had already been cleaned and their keys were available. Sadly, we weren't among those lucky ones, but the polite, friendly receptionist allowed us to leave our luggage with her so that we could explore the camp. As we wandered around the main complex, what struck us the most was how clean everything was, I didn't see any litter, the carpets were spotless, the tables wiped and we were very impressed. (Especially after watching Watchdog's piece on Pontins the Thursday before). As we had time to kill, we had a drink in one of the two bars and again were struck by the cleanliness of the bar and friendliness of the staff.
After receiving our key (only one even though there were two of us) we made our way to our chalet which was a small trek, but not really that far from the main building, maybe a five minute walk. Again the grounds were clean and free from litter, but we did have to walk across a grass 'courtyard' that had been slightly churned by the cars that were parked outside other chalets. This wasn't a huge problem most of the time, but did become muddy after a seasonal shower. As we approached the actual chalet, the thing that was really noticeable was that the door had, at some point in it's past, been kicked in. Not a problem as such, but it did look unsightly.
On entering the chalet, I was expecting basic and that is what we got. There was a small kitchen area, fitted with an electric cooker, microwave, fridge, toaster and kettle. There was also enough cutlery and crockery for six people along with basic cooking utensils such as pots and pans. The lounge area was compact, with a table and four chairs against one wall, a sofa bed and armchair. There was plenty of room for the three of us, but I would imagine it would be quite crowded with a full compliment of six. The toilet and shower were again small, but perfectly functional and there were two bedrooms.
One of the bedrooms contained two single beds, along with two bedside cabinets and a wardrobe. There was just enough room between these beds for us to put Freddy's travel cot in there, but it was a tight squeeze. The other bedroom featured a 'double' bed, wardrobe and bedside cabinets. This was obviously our room, but I must warn that it wasn't really a double bed, it was more like half-way between a single and double, my partner fell out of it twice. The bed itself, was comfortable though, the mattress was firm without being hard, with no bumps or lumps and was stain-free. All bedding was supplied including sheets, duvets and pillows, but only one pillow was supplied per single bed (two for double) and these were quite flat so if you like lots of pillows you will need to take some with you. All the bedding was, however, spotlessly clean and had a lovely freshly washed smell.
The whole chalet, while small and basic was spotlessly clean, there wasn't a sign of dust anywhere (even on top of the door frames), the cooker was free of grease and there toilet was stain-free. Although we were lucky with the weather, it did get a little chilly at night, and we used the electric heaters that were in each of the bedrooms and lounge, which worked a treat and only had to be on for about half an hour. Which was a good thing, as electricity is not included in the price of the chalet, and we had to buy cards that were available in £1 and £5 denominations. The receptionist (have I mentioned how helpful she was) had already advised to only buy £1 cards and that any we didn't use would be refunded, but we only used £4 worth over the whole 4 nights.
I'm going to start this section with the only downsides to Hemsby Beach Holiday Village, and that is that as this is a self-catering site, I would have expected there to be a shop at the very least and probably somewhere to get something to eat. Unfortunately, there isn't a shop on site, not even anywhere to buy toilet roll (which isn't supplied). There is a shop (Spar) about 20 minutes walk away, which is considerably more expensive than a supermarket, and there are supermarkets a short(ish) drive away, but we didn't have a car. As far as an eatery is concerned, there is a burger van on-site, but as we stayed out of season this wasn't open. There are, however, a large number of choices for eating out all a few minutes walk away from the main gates. Another problem we faced is that none of the bars take credit cards and the on-site cash machine charges for withdrawals. It's only £1.50, but it's the principle of paying to get our own money. There are also no free cash machines within walking distance, the only way we could get money without being charged was by using the cash-back facility at the Spar.
So that's the bad points out of the way, and onto the available facilities, starting with the bars. There are two bars on-site, the Rio that is open from 12pm and serves alcoholic drinks along with soft drinks and hot beverages. This bar has an outside seating area that gives a good view of the children's play area, with picnic tables to sit at. There is also an inside area where food that had been bought outside the camp could be eaten with tables and chairs. Also within this bar (which was more like a pub and used by locals) there was a pool table along with air hockey, large screen TV and even darts. The barman was extremely friendly, chatty and helpful, even going as far as to suggest which were the best places to eat.
The second bar is in the much larger Copacabana Club, where all the nightly entertainment takes place. The Club room features far more tables and chairs, all of which looked new and were plush and comfortable to sit on (the chairs not the tables). The bar in the club room sold the same range of drinks as the Rio bar, but along with crisps also sold popcorn (in a bucket, we just need a spade now). One thing I will say is that the drinks were a little pricey (just as I expected) a Smirnoff Ice and pint of lager didn't leave us much change from £6. The range of lagers was also rather limited, I believe there was a choice of 3, with notable exceptions including Stella (no bad thing) and Carling.
Of course children don't want to sit in the bar all day (and night) and there are a few facilities especially for them. There is a small playground with a climbing frame and two slides. The bigger of the two slides was a twirly-whirly one, which I'm sure Freddy would have loved, but there just wasn't any way we could safely get him to the top. But he did love the smaller, straight slide and Daddy had to take him on it several times. The whole play area is located on that special soft, bouncy surface, but as the signs state children should still have been supervised. In the same area as the playground, there are some coin operated cars, both Mummy and Daddy took Freddy on these and he loved it. At £1 for about five minutes it wasn't that bad value for money especially with the grin it put on Freddy's face. Inside the main building, there is a soft play area, which was fairly compact, but looked great fun. Freddy was too young, and we were too old, to sample this area, but I'm sure he's going to love it next year.
One facility Freddy absolutely loved and we used every day, was the swimming pool. This is open from 9am-1pm and 2pm-6pm every day, with a life guard in attendance the whole time. There are changing booths available, that look a lot like the ones in clothing shops with a 'shower' curtain being the only thing protecting your modesty. There is also a changing table, that made it far easier to get Freddy into his swimming trunks. The pool itself isn't huge, (I'd say that a length was about the size of a standard width and it's only 6 ft at the deep end), but it was clean and the water was just the right temperature, warm but not so warm that I felt cold when I got out. There were also armbands and swim seats available, but we didn't use these as we'd brought Freddy's swim seat with us. The entire area surrounding the pool was carpeted with a non-slip surface, which I thought was a great idea. Normal rules such as no running, bombing, etc were strictly enforced and I felt it was a wonderful place to introduce Freddy to swimming. After getting out of the pool, there were showers available, which were fairly powerful and got quite hot, I didn't risk putting Freddy under one, but enjoyed my showers. There is also a toilet in the swimming pool complex so there's no excuse for peeing in the pool.
I must admit, I'm a sucker for arcade machines, especially two penny pushers, and there is an amusement arcade on site that took quite a bit of my money. There are the 'adult' machines with high payouts and 10p machines with lower payouts. There is also a 'bowling' game, which is sort of mini ten pin bowling which at £1 a pop wasn't really worth the hassle. But the great thing about the arcade is that lots of the machines pay out in tickets that can be redeemed in the arcade next door for gifts. The gifts range from sweets for a couple of tickets to a Wii for thousands of tickets and many of the machines that give out these tickets only cost 2p a go.
So are there any other facilities? Well there is a launderette, but as I didn't use it I can't comment on the price or how well the machines work. And there are the public toilets, of which there are two sets, ladies of which were always clean and well stocked with toilet paper. There is also a gift shop, that opens in the evening and sells souvenirs, such as mugs, T-shirts and key rings. We paid 99p each for key rings, £2.50 for a mug and £3.99 for a T-shirt so the prices weren't too bad.
While the 'Hi-de-hi' days have well and truly gone, there was still plenty of entertainment on-site, some during the day, but mostly at night, some of which we enjoyed and some of which we most definitely didn't. I'm sure that some (if not all) will change next season but I'll fill you in on some of the highlights (for us) this year.
We didn't actually partake in any of the entertainment during the day, but there was kids club in the mornings and dart and pool competitions during the afternoon. For us, the entertainment started at about 6.30pm, when we bought our bingo tickets and took part in the nightly quiz. There wasn't a prize for the quiz (well there was a medal) but it was a fun and challenging way of starting the evening. Bingo books were £1 each plus £1 administration and the callers did a good job while injecting a little humour. Whilst the Bingo was being played, a kids club was run in the area next to reception, again Freddy was too young for this, so I can't comment on how good it was.
After Bingo (I won twice), it was time for the children's entertainment and dance time. Freddy loved this, and was bopping away on my knee, or in the buggy while I helped him do the actions to such songs as Agadoo and Music Man. It was during this time that the 'characters' made an appearance, there were two Ellie the Elephant and Richie the Monkey. I was actually relieved that there were only two, after my last trip to Pontins where there were about six characters and six lots of merchandise it was like a breath of fresh there only being the two. There were plenty of photo opportunities with the characters, along with the chance to get a professional photo. We got a really good photo of Ritchie holding Freddy that's currently gracing my computer as a wallpaper.
Once the children's entertainment had finished there was a short period of 'disco' music, with a range of tracks, some up-to-date and some from way back in the 80s. And then the main entertainment started, some good, some just weird. On the first night there was a 'glow-in-dark' puppet show, which I personally thought was pretty naff, and we weren't even allowed to video. The second night was better, with a quiz show (Play Your Cards Right) that I entered and a comedy musician. As far as I'm concerned the last night (Thursday) was the best, with a comedy magician and brilliant tribute show (by the entertainment staff). Along with the entertainers there were also various competitions throughout the week, including glamorous Gran and talent contests where the winner won a free holiday. All in all the entertainment was pretty good, with there being more worth watching than not and a few moments of absolute genius.
===The Local Area (and Beyond)===
While Hemsby itself, isn't huge, there's still plenty to do. The beach itself is a short walk from the camp and features a beautiful stretch of sand and first aid post. The sand is perfect for making sandcastles, there are very few stones and the water's edge is perfect for shell hunting. On the way down to the beach there are a plethora of amusement arcades, cafes and gift shops. The gift shops sell some really nice mementos, (I don't think it's a souvenir unless it has the name of the place you're visiting on it), at very reasonable prices. Although there isn't a restaurant or café on site, we were spoilt for choice when it came to eating out. There was a fish and chip shop, that did lovely cod and chips, Chinese takeaway, burger joint, sit down restaurant and many more. On average we spent £5 a head on food each day and enjoyed everything we had. There is also a small crazy golf course next to the camp, that was reasonable priced (£4 each for nine holes) that took us about half hour (and far, far more strokes than permitted) to complete.
Further out from Hemsby there is Great Yarmouth in one direction and Lowestoft in the other with buses running from the Spar. There is also a bus that runs directly from the camp to Great Yarmouth, but we found enough to occupy ourselves in the immediate area, although we will be travelling further out next year.
Hemsby Beach Holiday Village is run by Richardson's, a company that has been running for a long time (I remember taking boating holidays with them when I was a child 20+ years ago). While Hemsby Beach is a family camp, there is another camp (across the road) that is adult only, along with other camps in the area. Unlike many camps, dogs are permitted on the site in certain chalets at an extra cost, but for those of you scared of dogs (like me) they do need to be kept on a lead at all times and I never any sign of dog mess. As well as paid for car parks, cars can be parked outside (or near) most chalets. There are security personnel visible onsite, most noticeably during the evening and night. The majority of the many complex is disabled friendly, with ramps and disabled toilets and there are two wheelchair accessible chalets available. Cots can be hired for £10 a week, although bedding is not supplied. Getting to Hemsby without a car is a little awkward, there are trains running from London Liverpool Street to Norwich every half hour and then an hourly service to Great Yarmouth. But this hourly service featured the grand total of two carriages, making the journey rather cramped. And then the taxi from Great Yarmouth to Hemsby cost £16. There are clear directions on the Richardson's website for car users, and it does seem to be quite an easy journey.
We loved our time at Hemsby Holiday Village so much that we've booked to go again next year. I think that says it all really, yes the accommodation is basic, but it's spotlessly clean, that staff are wonderfully friendly and helpful. The entertainment was mostly worth while, and sometimes brilliant, Freddy enjoyed himself and so did Mummy and Daddy. Hemsby itself is a lovely sea-side town, not completely deserted but no where nearly as garish as somewhere like Southend. But as with all things, a holiday like this is what you make it, we spent time chatting to the staff and locals and were really made to feel welcome. All in all a great time was had by all.