Caravan Holidays: Bucolic Idyll or Hell on Earth?

During my childhood and teenage years, I went on more than my fair share of caravan holidays.

There was a time in the mid-90s when I probably could have named every Haven holiday park in the country.  And believe me there were a lot of them.

We had the Tiger Club mixtape (that was a thing.  Sylvester the Snake’s song was a particular favourite) and the orange baseball caps adorned with Rory the Tiger’s face.  We entered all the talent shows and spent every night in the clubhouse watching the cabaret-unless it was a comedian, in which case we would be swiftly whisked off home.  My parents rarely approved of the visiting comedians, who were mostly described in the brochure as “blue,” which was usually interpreted by my parents to be a codeword for sexist and racist.

Not that we would have known whether or not that supposition was true, since we were never allowed to watch them.

My memories of caravan parks are of days out and moaning about the weather, which never seemed to be as good as when our friends went on holiday and apparently saw nothing but blue skies.  Of peculiarly British and rainy attractions with names like Babbacombe Model Village; of cagoules and cameras which yielded blurry square shaped photographs.  Of listening to the Tiger Club mixtape long after we returned home, and memorising the lyrics to all the songs.  Of cheap plastic toys loved and lost in the brick-strewn abyss beneath the caravan.

And so it was that this year, with the advent of a new member of the family now apparently old enough to appreciate the delights of caravan holidays, we have again found ourselves in the clubhouse at 8pm of an evening, this time chasing an overexcited Piglet repeatedly around a flower bed as he tries to keep up with the older children present, and their antics.

Yes, this year I spent my actual birthday in the clubhouse of a caravan park; a venue that, far from the exotic seaside glamour of years gone by, now consisted of a large shed packed with arcade games and serving up a diet of burnt oven chips, burgers and bingo to the sort of crowd usually seen on the front page of magazines with headlines like “HE CUT ME UP WITH A KNIFE AND FORK!”

So what happened?  Did I get older, wiser and snobbier, or was it the holiday parks that got old, and a little bit faded?

The truth, as it dawned on me as I trudged wearily back to the caravan, vowing to go to Center Parcs next year, was probably far more simple.  It was never about the holiday parks at all.  To a child, any holiday is good.  As long as you’re at least twenty miles from home, there’s a swimming pool and the promise of ice cream every day, it doesn’t matter if the arcade games are a rip off and the bucket and spade splits the moment it leaves the shop.  No one even cares if it rains every day for the next forty days as though the land was stricken by some biblical weather curse.  WE ARE ON HOLIDAY, and to a child, that is everything.

From my own experience, I am a woman who as a child owned a bright yellow T-shirt with the slogan “Golden Rail Holidays” and the old British Rail logo on it, and wore it but once a year, on the 125 to Dawlish Warren, which to me was the epitome of excitement.  The same train we caught this year.  I wish I still had that T-shirt, and if the truth be told I still get a bit excited when getting on a train, all these years and countless trains later.

And although I can’t speak for Piglet’s experience first hand-he has yet to say anything other than “ball” and a narrow range of animal noises-I think it’s fair to say that he was pretty happy with the local attractions, particularly of the locomotive variety.

train going past
Where else but Dawlish Warren could you get this up close and personal with a Class 43 aka 125 (apologies for the trainspotter-esque lingo). Piglet loved it.

We may not have been in the most upmarket resort; one or two of the local “attractions” were looking a little bit past their best and the food may have left us feeling more of an affinity than we might have wished for with the scurvy-ridden sailors of the eighteenth century Navy, but what’s a holiday for if not to see the face of a toddler light up with delight at the sight of a life-size plastic Iggle Piggle in his boat?

toddler and Iggle Piggle

Would I go on another caravan holiday?  Yes I would, but maybe not next year.  We’ve got other adventures to have.  I hear they don’t do bingo at Center Parcs……

mother looks at child

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40 Comments Add yours

  1. We have tried a few Haven parks and had a good experience mostly. We always completely avoid the evening entertainment though I must say – not really our thing. The kids seem to have a blast and they make for good family holidays but not sure its something I would want to do if I didn’t have the kids with us! #triballove

    1. Min says:

      Haha, yes I agree! Actually, since having Piglet we have only used Park Holidays (which was our most recent jaunt, referred to in this post) and Hoeseasons (last year), so I can’t speak for Haven these days, but I loved it as a kid. Agreed I would probably avoid if I didn’t have Piglet!

  2. I love a caravan holiday, although the ones we go on tend to be more of the mobile home sort of vehicle. In fact we’re about to go to one in the middle of the Scottish woods. Can’t wait. Definitely prefer it to Center Parcs, where the food is terrible and they lose no opportunity to fleece you in every direction. #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      That sounds amazing. I’d love to have a mobile home and be able to just go anywhere in relative comfort. However, at the moment I can’t drive so it’s one of those things that remains a bit of dream for now! Have a lovely time in Scotland.

  3. Emma says:

    Sounds like my holidays when I was a kid. Back then Center Parcs was considered dead posh and I remember telling my Mum I wouldn’t be going on a family holiday ever again, as I was now 17, unless they went to Center Parcs. They never went – RUDE! So for my Hen Party we went to Center Parcs where we had to pretend that we were not a Hen Party. This was a big relief as it meant that no one could cover me in willies! I think you are right, as a child any holiday is amazing! #bigpinklink

    1. Min says:

      Are you not allowed to be a hen party at Center Parcs? Wow, it is posh! I still consider it pretty posh to be honest.

  4. I’ve never done a caravan holiday, but I agree that any holiday is good when you’re a kid. My parents never had much money so we didn’t take fancy vacations, but once a year we’d meet up with our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and rent a house on the Jersey Shore for a week. It was great – going to the beach every day, spending time with family, staying up late. I never even asked to go to Disney instead.

    1. Min says:

      That sounds better than an overpriced Disney holiday in my book! Thanks for commenting.

  5. Emma Jones says:

    We love caravan holidays. I prefer All inclusive abroad but the kids love a Haven holiday site. School price hikes mean caravan holidays are more achievable too & we usually go with aunties/uncles/friends so its more the merrier. Centre parcs is sadly just too expensive in term time although I’m desperate to try the new Woburn site. #big pink link lifeinthemumslane

    1. Min says:

      Yes I think those sort of holidays are always best with a big extended family group. I am desperate to go to Center Parcs too!

  6. it is good to hear a positive experience of caravan holidays with kids. on my the tiger mix tape brings it all back to me, hehe X #kcacols

    1. Min says:

      Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one who had it!

  7. I think there is something very exciting about staying in a caravan. It’s like a little adventure. Now don’t get me wrong, I am pretty much a Center Parcs groupie and would work there if I could (I have actually registered for their job notifications – I can dream can’t I?) but there is something very special about snuggling up in a caravan of an evening with fish and chips and a can of pop in front of a teeny weeny tv before collapsing into an even teenier bed. Love it!
    Thanks so much for linking up with #fartglitter x

  8. We’ve just got back from a caravan holiday with my dad and his wife and had a fab time. Mid you, it was s post caravan with a dishwasher and a jacuzzi outside. My childhood was spent at caravan parks too and I agree with you. It wasn’t where we went it was the fact tags we where in hols living it up! The same goes for my kids. The eldest keeps asking when we are going back, and even though we stayed inside the resort absolutely loved it! #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Wow that is some posh caravan-I want to stay in that one!

  9. I have never been on a caravan holiday but I hear you – as long as there is a pool and ice cream, kids will have fun and make memories. And for me, I always love the extra TV time. It’s the nostalgia of those days that I think give us slight amnesia and we forget about the negative bits. When I bring my older children to places which I have enjoyed as a child, there have been quite a bit of eye rolling and “Really, Mom?” #bigpinklink

    1. Min says:

      Oh dear-sounds as though I may have that to look forward to!

  10. I went to a lot of caravan parks when I was a kid too, mainly with our own touring caravan. I think you’re right that kids will enjoy any holiday. They just love being somewhere different and getting a bit more of your time. I also think that a lot of holiday parks are dragging themselves into the 21st Century. The ones that are still a bit crusty round the edges give the rest a bad rep #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      I think it’s better to have your own caravan as you can just go anywhere, although I wouldn’t want to be the one driving and towing it! My dream is to have a camper van and go around in one of those.

  11. We have been to a few Havens and are back there this weekend for ten days. With four children we can’t really afford luxury holidays and so a caravan is the best option for us as even though we have done Butlins the last couple of years, and Centerparcs last year, they cost an absolute fortune for us with needing two lots of accommodation! #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Oh my goodness, two lots of accommodation! Yes, I think they are great value for larger families, or extended family groups. This year it was just me, my mum and Piglet so we don’t really even need a whole caravan.

    2. Min says:

      Oh, and have a good holiday! x

  12. Nearly wet myself at the burnt oven chips and clientele straight from Chat magazine ….“HE CUT ME UP WITH A KNIFE AND FORK!” made me guffaw!!

    1. Min says:

      Haha, that was a real headline as well. Spotted it years ago over someone’s shoulder on a National Express coach and it was one of those things I just couldn’t unsee. There was a photo and everything. Why are the stories in those magazines always so violent and awful?

  13. Geraldine says:

    Ah i forgot about the talent shows in the caravan parks! They were always great fun! #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      They were-although I cringe to think of my many (losing) entries into said competitions now!

  14. I have never been on a caravan holiday but they do sound like great fun! When we were small my parents were farmers so we never used to have holidays. The odd occasional day trip to the beach would be it. But living on a farm was amazing when I was a kid. Totally made up and more for the lack of holidays!
    #triballove xx

    1. Min says:

      I’ve always wanted to live on a farm, but I think to be honest I would find it difficult not being able to get away at all and having that responsibility. It must be a fantastic place to grow up though.

  15. This is lovely – we had loads of holidays at Center Parks when I was younger…until my Dad came down with the flu and insisted we never go back. The logic of that one still mistifies me! I went a couple of years back on a caravan holiday along the coast of Queensland and was pretty amazed at some of the caravan parks there, so maybe they are starting to modernise them. #bigpinklink #triballove

    1. Min says:

      Haha, that’s a Center Parcs horror story-it gives you the flu! Maybe I’d better not go. Thanks for commenting.

  16. I am going on my first ever caravan holiday this year eeek! I am super nervous i have no idea what to expect. My kids are super excited about it all though 🙂 Thanks for linking up to #puddinglove

    1. Min says:

      It will be great-you’ll love it, and the kids will love it more!

  17. I could have written this right down to the Tiger Club mixtape in the car on the way home! We’ve been going every year since I was five, and as soon as my younger sister was too old to really enjoy the entertainment, SB is now old enough! We did a park in Lincolnshire this year (Thorpe Park) and had a fantastic time; the evening entertainment was… hit and miss at times 😉 but they’re great holidays and create awesome memories. I’ve spent a fair few birthdays (including 18th and 21st!) at Haven parks haha! Great post! #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Glad I’m not the only one! I’ll probably see you in a Haven park sometime soon!

  18. Helena says:

    I don’t recall ever spending time in a caravan but have done camping and Center Parks. #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Ah caravans are great!

  19. We stayed in a caravan in the South of France every summer when I was growing up, and I have such fond memories of it, I even dreamt about the place last night actually! We’re yet to do a ‘proper’ holiday with our 2 yet, but I think they would be happy wherever we went, like you said it’s simply the excitement of being on holiday that they enjoy! x #KCACOLS

    1. Min says:

      Ooh lovely. I love the South of France. Thanks for commenting.

  20. Ah we had the same kind of holidays when I was growing up. Used to love the clubhouse and it does make me nostalgic to take my chlidren. But I do know my other half would never agree 🙁 I think you are right as kids its just the sheer act of being on holiday and being altogether that makes it special for them #puddinglove

    1. Min says:

      I don’t think you’re necessarily missing out-it is good for the kids but as an adult the clubhouse definitely doesn’t have the sophisticated charm it did when I was 15!

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