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A Great British vacation? No thanks

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN anchor Adrian Finighan spends his vacation at an English caravan park
  • Staff were rude on arrival, caravan smelled of fried food, cigarette smoke
  • Company says caravan park offers a "traditionally British seaside holiday"
  • Finighan fears poor British attitude to service bodes ill for 2012 Olympics
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By CNN's Adrian Finighan
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- As the northern hemisphere slides inexorably towards autumn, Europeans, with their fading sun tans, are getting back to work or school suffering the "post holiday blues."

At least Charlie enjoyed himself...

This year, for the first time since I was a teenager, I vacationed in the UK. I was not alone. Faced with tighter household budgets, soaring travel costs and a strong euro thousands of my cash-strapped fellow Brits decided to stay at home too. Decaying British resorts like Blackpool, Bournemouth and Torquay have enjoyed a bumper summer as a result.

I'm lucky. My "staycation" wasn't forced upon me entirely by economic factors. A new addition to the Finighan family, Charlie the 12-week-old cocker spaniel puppy is just too young to be left in kennels. And so we decided to take a vacation that we could all enjoy, puppy and all.

We booked a seven-night stay in a caravan with Haven Holidays, part of the Bourne Leisure Group which also owns the uniquely British Butlins holiday camps. We chose the "flagship" Hopton Holiday Park near the resort town of Great Yarmouth on the East Coast.

The Haven Web site talks of "beautifully landscaped parkland... a gorgeous outdoor pool... a superb range of activities for all the family..." It all looked very attractive and while I freely admit it wasn't my idea of the perfect vacation I was quite looking forward to it.

However, the reality didn't quite match the glossy brochure description. Things went wrong from the moment we arrived, late, a few minutes before the site office was due to close at 6 p.m. "We're closed!" a fierce receptionist barked through locked doors. Oh, the British do service so well.

Eventually we got to our accommodation. Because we were vacationing with our pet we could only hire a "Standard" caravan. At more than $1,000 for seven nights it was no bargain but it felt distinctly sub-standard.

It smelled of fried food and stale cigarette smoke. It was situated in a cramped part of the park that felt rundown and was closer to a busy main road than the sea. And an "open all hours" fish and chip shop, complete with blaring music and cooking smells was just yards away.

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The center of the holiday park consists of the "Funworks" complex, containing the "Splashzone" swimming pools and the "Showbar" family entertainment centre -- a vast room with a bar at one end, a stage at the other and hundreds of tables in between. To get to the complex happy campers have to walk through a room full of gambling and video arcade machines! The whole place had a dispiriting feel.

Whenever the miserable British weather allowed we escaped for walks along the fine, sandy beach and for day trips to local attractions. In late August, Great Yarmouth was enjoying the kind of bustle it used to experience in the days before cheap flights to the continent. The place was packed and was festooned with discarded fish and chip wrappers and plastic beer glasses.

A couple of hours at the "PleasureBeach" theme park (though it hardly merits that description by American standards) cost an eye watering $100 -- and only the kids went on the rides!

I stuck it out for six days. While the kids and the dog were having a great vacation my wife and I could take it no longer. In the dead of night we packed everything and everyone into the car and headed for home.

As I look back on our "adventure" I'm left wondering why I hated it when so many of my fellow countrymen were obviously enjoying themselves. What do you think of Adrian's vacation? Send us your comments below

In a statement to CNN, a spokeswoman for Haven Holidays said: "I am very sorry and disappointed Adrian and his family found their vacation less than memorable.

"It is undoubtedly true that first impressions are important, and in Adrian's case, his greeting on arrival was truly bizarre and totally out of keeping with the usual high standards set by our reception team. Judging by the rest of his comments, these first few minutes colored his views of this highly popular resort.

"It's a shame that he did not report the smells in the van from the previous guests as this is something we could have helped with.

"We imagine that as a journalist Adrian is likely to have visited many of the world's most glamorous and exotic locations.Hopton Holiday Village is proud of what it offers -- a traditionally British seaside holiday for all the family in safe and secure surroundings and offering traditional good value for money."

I'm no snob; but I do expect to get good value for money and acceptable standards of service. But most of my fellow countrymen seemed happy to settle for mediocrity. Why is that? Why do Brits put up with their second rate roads, railways, and public-services? Why do we accept shoddy service and rip-off prices with nothing more than a shrug?

Even Britain's tourism minister, Margaret Hodge, in an interview published this week by Holiday Which? Magazine, admitted that she preferred vacationing in Italy and said hotels in the UK were often expensive and of a "worrying" standard.

We're due to host the Olympics in 2012. Our elected leaders like to talk of Britain as a world leader and a major player when we're obviously not. We are very second division.

I worry that unless we raise our game, our standards and our expectations -- and fast -- then the 2012 Olympics will be remembered as the "downmarket games," the time when the rest of the world discovered that the words Great and Britain should not be together and when we became the laughing stock of the world.

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