The Sea Life Centre in Birmingham has long been a family favourite of ours. My youngest first visited the attraction on her 2nd birthday and we've enjoyed days out there many times since. It seemed fitting, therefore, that she chose to visit again on her 11th birthday. On a wet August day where better could we be?
With our children being that much older now, we wondered if the Sea Life Centre would still hold the same appeal.
This morning, my 13 year old son has, unprompted, just said to me - "Mom, I really enjoyed the Sea Life Centre yesterday" - which was lovely to hear! (Makes a change from catching Pokemon, I suppose).
We noticed that the entrance area has changed since our last visit. Instead of heading off to the left, new signage guides you towards the brand new Penguin Ice Adventure attraction. I'd heard a lot about this new feature so was keen to take a look. Armed with our maps, information about feeding times etc and our log books, we headed off to the chilly looking penguin enclosure.
The Gentoo penguins were delightful. It seemed they were being fed by a guest, enjoying a VIP Feeding Experience. What a wonderful opportunity that looked like! He was knelt down in the enclosure, shovelling fish down the eager penguin's throat!
The pathway through the Centre is clearly marked. On a busy, summer holiday Tuesday, you can just follow the masses, rather than the signage.
Along the route, children have the opportunity to stamp their 'log books' at clearly marked stamping stations. A nice touch, which ensures that youngsters don't just race around, missing exhibitions along the way. As a parent, you want children to take their time, learning as they go - and also to ensure that you get your money's worth out of the tickets too! The log books form a nice souvenir to take home and a record of the day.
Perfectly timed for the new 'Finding Dory' summer film, there is also a Dory Trail where children can learn all about blue tangs and clown fish, like Dory and Nemo. There's a little prize for them if they complete the trail too.
Having returned from a recent diving holiday in Egypt, our family had a whole new approach to Sea Life Centre, this time. We loved spotting the familiar fish, eels and rays that we'd also seen in the Red Sea. We felt nostalgic about our holiday, and keen to go snorkelling again.
My son's favourite section was the Shark Lagoon, a large tank full of rays and sharks. One of the staff was feeding the fish as we arrive - my son's phone was out straight away so he could film it! At the Rockpool adjacent to it, my daughter's hand was right in there as she as she heard the member of staff on the microphone, inviting children to touch the jelly fish and stroke the anemone. At 11 she's far more confident than that shy 2 year old that we first brought here.
My daughter's favourite spot has always been the HUGE tank of rays, and she delighted in seeing the baby rays and sharks, fenced off in their own mini tank. Many parents had used this area as a stop off point for a rest and to eat their packed lunches, so we had to dodge the pushchairs to find a good viewing point. I remembered how once upon a time, we'd have to stop and eat half way round too - and it is nice to know that you are allowed to bring your own food into the centre to give a boost to tired little legs.
For little ones, we spotted a new Activity Centre, where children can colour in and enjoy craft - another way to break up the walking, and more 'added value' to the Sea Life experience.
We ploughed on into the Seahorse section and learned that Sea Life Centres actively play a part in breeding programmes for seahorses. Sea Life Centres have recently joined forces with the UK-based The Seahorse Trust to extend a successful long-standing British Seahorse Survey across the globe. They want divers and fishermen to report sightings of seahorses, to increase awareness of how critical the population is. It was shocking to discover that Chinese Medicine uses 150 million seahorses a year and that the species could be wiped out in 20 years unless conservation efforts are stepped up.
I think that this was what came across abundantly in our trip to Sea Life Centre - how much emphasis there is on conservation and protection. Prior to visiting this time, my son had expressed concern about keeping species in tanks (having enjoyed them in their natural environment in Egypt). However, we all agreed that educating visitors about marine life and the hundreds of thousands of species that reply on the sea, is a very worthwhile cause. We were impressed at how many conservation projects the centre is involved in, such as 'Stop Whaling' campaigns and Seal Rescue.
Despite a grumble at the prospect of an Octonauts 4D film ("We're too old") the kids enjoyed a sit-down and marvelled at the special effects like being sprayed with water!
The 360 degree tunnel on the way out never disappoints. Packed with fish of all shapes and sizes, they swim around you at all angles so it does feel like you're in the ocean with them (almost as good as our snorkelling trip!) and it was lovely to see the trusty giant turtle swim overhead again, for yet another photo opportunity.
We enjoyed our day and as a family, it was great to see our older children now looking at the attraction from a different perspective. As we left, my son was even musing about possibly doing his work experience at Sea Life Centre one day!
For the next generation of marine biologists, I spotted a Parent and Toddler offer of Sea Life Entry during term time, for just £13.40 when booked online (parent and a child under 5) during term time. The nearby Slug and Lettuce was even running a 'Kids Eat for a £1' promotion, when you present your Sea Life Centre ticket. What a lovely way to spend the day!
It's worth booking in advance online, to save a whopping 40% off your entrance price. https://www.visitsealife.com/birmingham/
Written in 2016
Editor of Raring2go! Kidderminster & Stourbridge since 2008. Local font of knowledge. Mother of two and wife of one.