This year we were seriously thrilled to be chosen by Merlin as an Annual Pass Ambassador.
Sadly, this totally excellent news signalled the start of a catalogue of disastrous months – 2016 has not been kind to the LittleStuff house. Whooping Cough actually stole the first three months of the year; it was as much as I could do to drag through each day with the bare essentials, days out and fun stuff were simply off the agenda.
Of course that then meant I spent a couple of months catching up financially on all the work I hadn’t been able to achieve whilst I was irritating the family with my pathetic cough.
Then exams season took over for No.1, then summer got in the way (when you’re married to a wedding photographer, summer takes on a whole new level of scheduled franticness).
Anyway, then September came. Everyone else went back to school (definitely my favourite home ed month!) and we finally found the time for some serious fun stuff – and we started to make use of our amazing passes.
First stop had to be the Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park – our local Merlin attraction, it’s the obvious place for us to nominate as our ‘home’ attraction.
Even though it was the middle of a school week, when we arrived there was a long queue for entry; no problem for us, we whizzed straight in with our passes! It’s good to note that if you don’t have every member of your family with you when you make your initial trip to collect your pass cards, they can be made using a photograph; we hadn’t thought about it, and had gone without the 6th-form-going 17yr old. No problem – we had him instantly message us a selfie, and that was used to create his card. Totally straightforward!
And so, into the Sea Life Centre we went.
We’ve visited a few times over the years (actually, it was the destination of said 17yr olds very first birthday – you rather get the place to yourself on a rainy Thursday in January!), and there’s always something new to learn and watch.
We sort-of followed the suggested route through – we did actually try not to obediently follow the footsteps tracking around the park, but it’s laid out so well it’s hard not too!
We started the visit in the Nursery, transfixed by the Weedy Seadragons. Mad creatures with the grace of a sea horse in a totally brilliant dressing-up outfit to look like weed. I loved them, and got left behind at their tank once the others had wandered further on.
And of course I stayed WAY too long by the mesmerising jellyfish. There is something impossibly beautiful about these weird creatures; growing up I simply knew them as annoying blobs that interfered with my day at the beach, but here at Sea Life they’re displayed so that you can really appreciate their special elegance and beauty.
Back outside at the rock pool the member of staff was really interesting, telling us about starfish, and their ability with zero brain cells to crush a mussel into opening when; yet a big ole crab with its powerful pincers can’t manage it. Starfish were a bit of a star turn actually – we all got to gently touch one, and it was fascinating to learn about their hugely sensitive tentacles from the clearly passionate staff.
9yr old Bear made sure her passport was stamped – it’s funny how such a simple thing can keep a child engaged as you walk the park. She’s at the upper age limit to want to ‘do’ the kids pack now, but she couldn’t resist the lure of catching them all!
The shipwreck zone was a favourite too (actually that’s going to get old a little quick, there was something to love in every zone) – not just because of the clownfish (all bred here in Weymouth, and we had a brilliant chat with the younger children about symbiotic relationships as we watched the clownfish within the Nemine tentacles). We loved the tiny little darting neons, and the secretive funny-looking fish hiding in the cavern. It was lovely to see the rays from the underwater window by the tank, too; last time we visited we walked around their pool on a bridge and only saw them from above.
The stars of the rainforest zone for me were the archerfish – sadly I didn’t see them hunting prey (most inconsiderate of them not to perform for me) but seriously these are tiny tiny fish. And they shoot their prey out of the sky above the surface of the lake with a jet of water! Cool little fish.
We were busy being engrossed in all the tanks, and managed to miss most of the feeding times so didn’t really see the penguins and the seals doing their thing (though there’s a lot to be said for just standing and watching the seals zooming about), but we did manage to time our visit to the tunnel with the end of a talk.
This was a highlight of the visit – the guide was so informative, and so deeply passionate about the creatures he was telling everyone about. And we loved that he hung about after the talk to answer all the questions, and just keep chatting about the creatures swooshing about over head, making the kids laugh and really engaging them with his enthusiasm as the creatures became individuals with personality rather than just creatures swimming by.
The turtle with the mis-shaped shell (damaged when he was hit by a speedboat in Florida) was an obvious star, but the lazy shark who sleeps for most of the day was also popular!
One of the things we love most about Sea Life is that you never fail to learn stuff as you explore. Bear was dismayed as she read about the damage plastics do to our oceans, and the wildlife within them. From the risk of turtles eating plastic bags (they look like delicious jellyfish, of course), the Great Pacific Garbage Patch down to Microplastic waste – all are laid out with simple, clear and mildly alarming information. As a direct result of our visit we have a new family resolve to reduce our plastic consumption as much as possible.
This was one of the changes I personally noticed about Sea Life, actually. Sixteen years ago the boards of information were about saving the rare species – now there’s a lot more emphasis on man’s damage to the environments these protected creatures live in, and what we must do to rectify it.
The last area we visited was the New Ideas Zone, where suggestions for future exhibits were being tried out. The rock pool area didn’t feel so interesting to me, rather similar to what we’d already seen – though the kids spent a lot of time trying out the underwater cameras. We all liked the electricity zon, but seemed to move on quite quickly. However, we stayed a long time in Glow – fascinating and soothing and utterly absorbing!
A Merlin Annual Pass means 12 incredible months exploring 32 Magical Worlds bursting with astonishing sights, sensational rides and extraordinary adventures to thrill you, excite you and delight you, and fill your year with laughter, magic and FUN!