“ Holiday park in Brixham, Devon. „
When I was a child, we used to visit Pontin's St Mary's Bay in Brixham, Devon as a family on a yearly basis. I have wonderful memories of these holidays, so when choosing where to stay when booking a Sun £9.50 holiday, my first choice was the very same holiday camp, now named Riviera Bay and owned by Park Holidays. This review will now concentrate on our long weekend spent at Riviera Bay from the 5th to 8th of October 2012.
Set on the cliff tops on the outskirts of Brixham, Devon, Riviera Bay is blessed with a fantastic panorama of the sea and cliff tops and even boasts a private entrance to a small bay (St Mary's Bay). Travelling to Riviera Bay via car is a fairly easy affair, there is only one road in and out of Brixham and the town itself is signposted after leaving the neighbouring town of Paignton. Travelling by public transport is a little more problematic, the nearest train station is Paignton and you will most likely need to change at least once if not two or three times. Buses do run from Paignton to Brixham (every ten minutes weekdays/twenty minutes Sunday) and then there is a bus that runs up the hill to Riviera Bay on an hourly basis (Monday-Saturday). There are plenty of taxis available, both from the taxi rank and to book. I really would recommend booking a taxi as this works out far cheaper and a booked taxi from Brixham Bus Station to Riviera Bay costs approximately £3.70, which I feel is very reasonable. National Express runs daily services into Brixham from London, which I actually find somewhat easier, as the journey takes approximately the same length of time as the train and involves fewer changes.
Riviera Bay is a fairly small and intimate holiday camp, which I vastly prefer to larger, crowded, impersonal holiday camps such as those run by Butlins. The camp is set over two levels, with the cheaper, budget accommodation being placed up a small but steep slope. There is plenty of parking on-site, much of it next to the chalets. All of the accommodation is formed of chalets rather than there being any apartments or caravans.
There is an entertainment complex on-site, which includes a restaurant, snack bar, bar, amusement arcade, snooker room, indoor swimming pool, soft play area and show venue. Reception is in this main complex and I found the staff helpful and friendly. Although standard check-in is 4pm, I knew I was arriving late and had phoned ahead to be told if reception was closed then I would be able to collect my keys from the bar. As it happens the reception was still open when I arrived just before 8pm, I found check-in quick and easy and the receptionist was extremely helpful in giving me instructions as to how to find my chalet. Having booked our break via the Sun Holidays, we were allocated a budget chalet, which meant I had to pull my suitcase (and push a stroller) up that slope, which does get slippery when the weather is damp (or downright wet). Also within the entertainment complex there are a number of toilets, including those for the disabled. The toilets were clean enough if a little tired, but one toilet within the ladies was out of order for the duration of our stay, not flushing and at one point more than a little stinky as the cubicle had not been closed off and someone had left a present that could not be flushed away. I also found the door to the disabled toilet to be a little heavy, making it difficult to negotiate with a stroller. There is also a distinct lack of baby changing facilities within the complex.
Just outside the main complex there is a small supermarket that sells basics, essentials and gifts at fairly reasonable prices. I was pleasantly surprised that the prices within this supermarket had not been ramped up to the same extent as many on-site supermarkets, meaning it did not break the bank to stock up on bread, milk, etc. Next to the supermarket there is a launderette, but I cannot comment on either the efficiency of the machines or price as I did not use these facilities. Just outside the reception there is a small crazy golf area, but from what I could see this was not in use as it seemed to be under a blanket of leaves.
One of the best facilities in this camp, is not actually exactly within the boundaries, but it's the bay that is at the bottom of a set of steps, while this beach is not private, it is very much off of the beaten path and there are rarely more than a couple of people enjoying it at any one time. The private steps accessing this beach are not suitable for everyone, they are quite steep and as the whole coastline is prone to erosion they are also crumbling in places. This makes them unsuitable for those with mobility difficulties or buggies, but the beach can also be accessed via the cliff-top walk, about a mile from the camp heading towards Berry Head (where you will find Britain's shortest, highest lighthouse). This coastal walk is well worth the effort as you will pass through an area of outstanding views and fascinating and somewhat rare wildlife.
There are a number of different classes of accommodation available at Riviera Bay, but as we stayed in a Bronze Two Bed, which is the cheapest standard of accommodation that sleeps up to six, it will be this that I will be concentrating on.
The chalet itself was on the upper level of the camp, which meant struggling up the slope with a buggy several times a day, not the most massive problem, but I wouldn't want to try it in heels. From the outside the chalet looked fairly smart, the chalets are arranged in blocks and while the chalet we were in had step-free access, due to the fact the camp is built on a hill many didn't and I am glad that I did not need to haul the buggy up and down stairs to get in and out. Outside the chalet there was a small grassed over area with a wooden picnic-style table, but as the weather was not exactly brilliant with the torrential rain on the first night, we didn't bother using this table. It was immediately apparent that the exterior of the double glazed windows and door could do with a clean as there were a number of cobwebs present, that could have been removed with a simple wipe down.
We were only supplied with the one key to the chalet, which worked perfectly well. There is a trick to locking and unlocking these types of doors involving lifting the handle up, which may confuse those not used to them, but I had no such trouble. The door itself does not automatically lock when closed, so I did need to remember to lock it when going out, I also needed to lock the door at night to prevent an escapee in the form of my two year old son. The key is not required for this and the knob that needed to be turned is just stiff enough to defeat most toddlers.
On opening the door, we were faced with what I could only consider a very tired looking chalet. There was laminate flooring throughout, but this laminate was damaged in several places, with there actually being a piece missing in the kitchen area. The chalet also felt quite damp, but this was because every window had been left open during a torrential rainstorm. Within the chalet there were two bedrooms, one with a double bed and one with two singles, a large lounge area, small kitchen area and bathroom. The two bedrooms were compact, with just enough room to walk between the single beds or alongside the double, but there was plenty of storage in the form of a wardrobe and chest of drawers in each room. Surprisingly there were also coat hangers in each of the wardrobes and yet another wardrobe in the living area. Also within the living area there was a large desk unit which housed a small portable CRT television that could only pick up the five terrestrial channels, a table and chairs and settee that converts into a double bed.
The larger pieces of furniture were made of pine and were actually in good condition, but some of the pieces of furniture were in quite poor condition. The table looked as if a child had tried decorating it with permanent marker and was in dire need of a good scrub, while there was actually a hole in the side of one of the single beds. One thing that really annoyed me was that none of the beds were made up when we arrived, I know that this was budget accommodation, but when we have spent time at other similarly priced holiday camps the beds have always been made up for us. The bathroom was small but serviceable, featuring an actual bath with an over-bath shower, that was powerful enough for our needs. One thing that we did find a little strange about the toilet arrangements, was where the toilet roll holder was placed, let's just say you needed to sit sideways on the toilet to reach it, either that or have an arm coming out of your back. What was appreciated was that a toilet roll was supplied on that holder, which is quite unusual with this type of venue.
The kitchen area was fairly well stocked with cooking implements, crockery and cutlery along with an electric cooker, fridge, toaster and kettle, but everything was a little grubby and worn. This really did seem to be a theme throughout the chalet, everything was serviceable, but in dire need of replacement. The toaster worked well enough but had a large crack in the side and the fridge kept my milk cold but wobbled alarmingly. The hole chalet was all a little grubby, the laminate floor was sticky on the feet and there was mould around the bath and this was nothing that a bit of soap and water wouldn't clean up, as proved when I did so. Unlike with many holiday camps, electricity is included in the price, so I took advantage of the heaters in each of the main rooms to drive the damp out, but I must admit that the chalet was relatively draft free and we only really felt the chill first thing in the morning. Although we did need to make the beds up, they were reasonably comfortable and I got as good a night's sleep as can be expected when you've got a two year old who thinks 4am is a good time to get up. There were also plenty of pillows, which while a little flat, were not completely flattened.
I do fully realise that the chalet we were in was the most basic of accommodation, but what could have been a very nice little holiday home was spoilt by a lack of repair, cleanliness and attention to detail. Had everything been clean, the beds been in good repair (and made up), the toaster replaced, fridge not wobbly and flooring in good repair, then I would have been more than impressed, as at first glance it did look to be of a higher grade than advertised. But the all the small problems added up and while the chalet was still acceptable base, it was not somewhere where I would want to spend a great amount of the day.
Although there are cooking facilities within each chalet, there is also a restaurant on-site if you don't wish to cook. It is possible to pay in advance for breakfast and dinner, turning your holiday from self-catering to half-board (at a discount), but we didn't want to be tied to being back at a certain time and so paid for the meals as and when we wanted them. It turned out that we had two breakfasts and one dinner within the restaurant, with the meals reasonably priced.
Breakfast was a very reasonable £5 for an adult and £3 for a child, for which you have a choice of either cereal or fruit juice. (apple/orange), a cooked breakfast (five items for adult, three for a child), unlimited toast and unlimited tea and coffee. The breakfast needs to be ordered at a cash desk and then you move over to a serving area to choose what you want in your cooked breakfast. Although there wasn't an extensive range of elements available (there was no black pudding) there was a reasonable choice of fried egg, sausage, bacon, hash browns, fried slice, baked beans and tinned tomatoes and you were allowed to double up on elements. My son had two sausages and hash browns for his breakfast on both occasions, while I had sausage, egg, two bacon and fried slice. While not top quality, the ingredients weren't too cheap and nasty, the sausages could have been meatier, but they weren't mush.
There was a huge choice of evening meals available, from steaks to burgers to pizzas to fish and chips. I chose a Surf and Turf, which was rump steak with scampi, chips, onion rings and tomatoes costing around the £15 mark. The steak was cooked as I ordered, which was medium rare and fairly tasty, the scampi was crisp yet juicy, the onion rings were crispy and chips very much like you would get from a chip shop. The little man ate from the children's menu, where a main course and dessert came in at £3.50. The choice on the children's menu was a lot smaller than the adult's, but it was nice to see more choice than the standard sausage or burger and chips. There were vegetarian options on both the adult's and children's menu, but as both the Little Man and myself are confirmed meat eaters, we didn't take much notice of these. The Little Man actually had a bucket of sea trash for his main meal, which was a mix of scampi. Prawns in filo and cod, with chips. He seemed to enjoy this meal, but I did think the cod was a little over-cooked. For dessert the little man had Belgium waffle with ice-cream and chocolate sauce, which again he enjoyed.
While obviously not Michelin Star quality, the food was plentiful, tasty and reasonably priced. We enjoyed the breakfasts and dinner we ate in here and if we had been staying for longer we would have been quite happy to have had more meals here.
A big part of holiday camps is the entertainment provided for both adults and children in the evenings, there is usually some sort of "Kid's Club" and party dances for the children and bingo, comedians and floor shows for the adults (or all the family). From the Park website, I can see that there is usually all of this entertainment on offer at Riviera Bay, but our break coincided with their "Finals Week", where they held all the grand finals for the competitions they hold throughout the year. Now, every other holiday camp we have been to has still managed to provide all of the other entertainment on top of these finals, but at Riviera Bay the Kid's club was cancelled, there was no party dancing, no floor shows, just the finals of the various talent competitions. While these talent competitions were entertaining enough, my little man was sorely disappointed that his age group was not in the least catered for. Added to this was the fact that the show venue is not exactly the most accessible for those in wheelchairs or with strollers. Although there is seating at the top of the venue that you do not need to go down steps to get to, this seating does not give a very good view of the stage area, and would not allow you to keep an eye on a child on the dance floor. To get better views of the stage you need to go down steps to get to one of the lower to levels, not easy when pushing a stroller.
The bar area in the venue was very reasonably priced, being on a par with a local pub rather than a holiday camp. A vodka,lime and soda, fruit shoot and refill on a Slush Puppy came in at under £5, which was far better than I expected. Next to the bar is a small gift shop, that sells toys and gifts themed on their Kid's club characters (who we never actually got to see), along with various flashing novelty toys. What was great about this little shop is that it accepted the tickets won from the machines in the amusement arcade as part payment at the rate of 1p per ticket. We bought a couple of soft toys and a tee shirt from here paying £4 for the tee shirt, £5 for a small toy and £15 for a large. The amusement arcade was your standard affair with a mix of fruit machines, twopenny pushers, and games where you can win tickets. As we had activities and day trips planned for each day we didn't make use of the swimming pool, which was indoors and from looking through the windows is very small.
All in all, as far as the entertainment side goes, we were very disappointed. If we hadn't had so much planned for each day, we would probably have had a very boring weekend. But remember this was because it was Finals Week, on any other weekend there would have been entertainment, it's just we didn't experience it.
==The Local Area==
Riviera Bay is set about 15 minutes walk from the harbour town of Brixham and from there there are buses available that run throughout Devon. Brixham itself is well worth spending the day exploring, with a replica of The Golden Hind sitting in the harbour and well as all the fishing boats. There are also fishing trips that sail from the harbour as well as ferries to Torbay. Unlike most seaside towns there are no garish amusements, but there are plenty of souvenir shops, including my favourite, The Shell Shop, that sells a wide variety of gifts made from shells along with the shells themselves at reasonable prices.
Slightly further out, there are the seaside towns of Torbay and Paignton, where there are the beautiful beaches that Devon is quite rightly famous for along with a far more touristy feel. In the Paignton area there are more than enough tourist attractions to keep anyone happy. There is Paignton Zoo, which can be accessed via a bus (that runs from Brixham), Kent's Caverns (a wonderfully exciting cave system), Babbacombe Model Village and the Dartmouth Steam Train and River Boat Round Robin starts at Paignton train station. If you have access to a car then there are even more delights open to you including Dartmoor, Buckfastleigh or even Cornwall.
While I was somewhat disappointed at the lack of maintenance in the chalet and very disappointed by the lack of children's entertainment, I have to admit that Riviera Bay makes an excellent base for visiting the various attractions in the area. The restaurant was a pleasant surprise, serving reasonable food at reasonable prices and the bar prices are very much at the lower end of the price scale for this type of venue. Should the parent company invest is repairing all my minor niggles as to the repairs and provide a full entertainment package throughout the season then I would have no hesitation in giving Riviera Bay a full five stars out of five. But as things stand, I can only give three out of five, even though we will be returning next year (during the summer this time).
*Prices vary according to both accommodation type and date, so it's best to check the website for up-to-date pricing.