When LittleStuff went to the Sea Life Centre #greatdaysout
Last week we were invited to visit the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth. We haven’t been for a lo-o-ong time, but we took No.1 son on his FIRST birthday 13yrs ago (he loved to see the fssshes), and have had a few great trips there over the years so we were keen to go and catch up, and introduce 6yr old Pink to the fsssssshes.
We spent 3 or 4 hours wandering gently around the suggested route (follow the footprints, people), reading the boards and taking in as much as we could – we had a great time running pop quizzes as we left every building, each of us trying to glean at least one obscure fact to trip up the rest of the family with. I never fail to marvel at the difference in tastes in my family, too – what one child thinks is cute another thinks is dull. What third child deems cool, the fourth will curl a lip at. What I think is amazing they will unanimously and vocally point out why it’s really not all THAT. But try and drag past a seemingly lifeless tank and all four voices clamour for us to come-and-seeeee-this. We didn’t miss a thing, and read most of it too – and there is a LOT of information up on the walls and around the tanks for those who take the time to look. Such a shame that we were so often crowded by families rushing past with an “Ooh, pretty. Yellow fish. What’s next?”
Naturally we started with the rays – I never tire of how surprised the children are when they see their mouths, and watch the rays bob up and dance across the water.
The bubble viewing domes were a huge hit – they were transfixed when they managed to lean into the bubble, and feel as though they were really underwater. This is Boy, having the conversation of the two white fish translated for him by Pink. Once she stopped chattering, Boy climbed right in and sat very still, silently gazing into the water, utterly ignoring the train of people coming past behind him, totally lost in what he could see.
And no – I don’t remember what these yellow fish were called (yes I do! Yellow Clownfish! The husband just took great joy in slapping that little fact around the top of my head…). But I stood by their tank watching them be very busy, for ages. Why is watching fish being busy so very hypnotic and soothing?
This may look like a weird trip through an old shed, but it was almost our favourite part of the visit. Accidentally we heard a member of staff calling for anyone who wanted to join the free ‘behind the scenes tour’ – naturally we leaped up and followed obediently to the meeting point, where just one other family were also waiting. We donned our glamorous high vis jackets, and followed the guide into the large ‘shed’; which is actually the hospital, breeding tanks and storage facility for all of the Sea Life Centre’s in the UK. The guide called out some really interesting short teaser facts about what we were about to see, and then we followed him on the tour… only we didn’t stop, or learn anything more. I appreciate it was only a quick free tour – but I would gladly have paid for the opportunity to take our time, and for the children to be able to ask questions AND look – there wasn’t time to do both. We didn’t get to see the octopus at all (who knew they’re so intelligent they need toys and games to stop them form getting bored?!), but we did get a fab if fleeting glimpse of the Japanese Spider Crab – they grow to the size of a small car, doncha know.
We weren’t sure which creatures were in which tanks, and we zipped through at such a rate of knots that there just wasn’t time to appreciate what we were seeing and ask any of the gazillion questions we all had. A real opportunity missed, which left us feeling more frustrated than wowed.
The otters and the penguins were as cute and funny as otters and penguins always are, of course…
Pink was utterly entranced by the sea horses, of course, and read all of the information before I even got to the tank – I was waylaid by my own favourites, the sea dragons, those odd wispy little bits of yellow sea weed you can see here, gazing at their own reflections…
The jellyfish were stunningly beautiful – we stayed to watch them in their rotating tank for a long time. Lit so cleverly from below, it was easy to appreciate their grace and beauty as they moved in the current, and to see the fine detail in their body forms.
Back outside, the holding pools were very popular – everyone held a crab, touched a star fish and enjoyed getting so close. It was a shame that having been encouraged to touch the creatures in the water, Pink was then warned quite strongly NOT to touch the sea urchins, due to their sharp spines, making her nervous about putting her hands back in the water in case she got into trouble again. I understand the need not to touch the urchins – but surely they could have been left out of what is really the equivalent of an underwater petting zoo?
There was no avoiding the little log flume – thankfully there was little queue, so we didn’t have to wait too long for the youngest ones to go round – though they did have to spend the rest of the freezing cold day with wet trousers.
Obviously the underwater tunnel was one of the best parts of the experience – we were all far more impressed by the turtle than any of the other residents, I think. I blame Nemo.
Once we were done we dipped our heads into the adventure park – and I admit we retreated again as fast as we could heading next door to round off the day with a game of Crazy Golf.
We genuinely loved the actual Sea Life – but the experience wasn’t an unqualified success. We loved the animals, the fish, the science and the amazing stuff we all learned. We would have taken even longer to enjoy them more had it been a quieter day with less people rushing through.
But… when we first began to visit the Sea Life Centre, it felt like it was there to teach us – adults and children. To educate, inform, entertain and at the same time do some important and serious sciencey preservation type stuff. Which was utterly brilliant, and what we loved most; apart from the sea tanks there was one simple play area with a large adventure playground type timber structure.
Now? It feels like the important sciencey stuff is being buried underneath their need to be ‘an attraction’. Obviously they have to make money, and maybe that’s the best way they do it – but for me, they’ve lost the essence of what made them great. I can go to lots of places to ride on a log flume. I can’t take my children to lots of places to see the way a turtle swims, to be amazed at the fish with four eyes, to follow a sea horse with their finger or to learn how clever an octopus is.
I’d love to go again – but next time I’d definitely go off season (and we were only on a freezing cold Easter Holidays – not the height of summer), when we could take our time and appreciate all that is brilliant (because there is a LOT that is), and simply avoid the tourist traps like the rides and the splash pool.
In particular I’d avoid them all if it was a cold wet day – we saw this structure in the middle of the adventure playground area ruin a few children’s day in the short while we were in there – one little boy was playing in the puddle in the middle when water tipped down on his head; clearly his mother hadn’t noticed the sign beside the entrance (I didn’t either). But two further little girls were caught as they ran past the structure to get back to their parents – the water tips down the side too, as you can see on the right. It hit them square on their heads, went down their necks, soaked their jeans – I suspect the parents took them straight home, they weren’t small enough to have a change of clothes handy, and it was too cold to stay out in wet things. In such cold weather I honestly would have expected this to be switched off.
There’s also a small bridge that goes over the back of the handling pool – we all tripped across it, and only just jumped out of the way of the wave that sporadically comes over with no warning – we had wondered why the man was so cross at his soaking wet shoes ten mutes previously.
The Crazy Golf is fun – but again, I imagine it gets very busy in season, and you could be hurried along if you’re playing with young children. But the course is really good, and provided the biggest belly laugh of the whole day when the 10yr old walked in front of a pirate who loudly “ah-harrrr”-ed at him, causing him to leap around 3ft in the air…
Lastly – final tip. Book online before you go. It’s MUCH cheaper – and a visit isn’t cheap; for the six of us, it would have cost £87 in advance. On the door, that would have been £135. That’s a LOT of money to save – and still quite a lot to spend on a 3hr visit.
We visited the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth, but there are 12 centres around the country, so there’s bound to be one near you!