When it comes to days out with a little one, it can be tricky finding something that will appeal. Places like the zoo are very tempting but with the animals often at a distance in their enclosures, they don’t always catch the toddlers eye. Unlike fish… he loves them. That’s why, to celebrate his first birthday last month, we chose to head to Weymouth SEA LIFE Centre.
Now to start with, I should clarify that the SEA LIFE Centres aren’t aquariums in the traditional sense. Yes, there are plenty of fish and some great ways to get up close with them but if you’re expecting a full aquarium experience then this isn’t the place for you. We didn’t realise this so spent a good proportion of the time feeling a bit confused and mis-sold, which was a shame because the SEA LIFE Centre was actually a better suited day out for a young family in my opinion.
Weymouth SEA LIFE Centre is set up in different zones, each numbered to allow you to follow a path around the park. En route to our first ‘zone’ we had to make a brief stop in the water park outside – a playground of water sprayers and splash zones. With glorious weather for our trip, it made sense to have a quick splash around, even if someone preferred to view it from a safe distance…
With our splash zone adventure done, it was time to go visit some fish. There are a few aquarium style zones dependent on the type of inhabitants that you find there; harbourside (for creatures native to the UK), ray lagoon, rainforest (including some wonderfully colourful frogs!), the nursery (filled with sea horses), the ocean tunnel and the shipwreck zone if you wish to find Nemo. Each of these is filled with tanks and plenty of underwater action.
The SEA LIFE Centre has plenty of ways for you to get up close and personal with them; curved bubble-like windows, tunnels that allow you to pop your head up in the middle of a tank and areas that you can walk around in order to fully immerse yourself in tank life. This went down particularly well with the toddler. There were no worried about him not being able to pick out the fish as they swam within centimetres of his face!
The only down side to these aquarium areas was the fact that they had to be dark in order for you to see in the tanks. It sounds ridiculous but we spent a fair amount of time trying to stop him racing for the glorious sunshine outside of the doors! With that in mind, we headed out from the harbourside zone and into the sensory garden. Weymouth’s sensory garden was relatively basic but nonetheless a hit with the little one. He loved being able to ring the large bell, play on the wooden xylophone and pull faces at himself in the mirrors. I’ll be completely honest and tell you that we spent far too long letting him run around in there wearing off some energy.
Our next stop after the tanks was to visit the rockpool zone – under a canopy, you can visit a huge ‘real-life’ rock pool; complete with a flooding every couple of minutes to simulate a wave crashing in to the pools and refreshing the water. We stumbled across this area when there was a talk going on which allowed us to learn a little more about the rock pools inhabitants. It’s an activity more aimed at older children but there’s opportunities to really explore the rock pool using the large orange underwater viewers – a great idea! With a pushchair it was a little trickier to navigate so I sat this area out and let the boys explore alone. Well, a little rest break never hurt now, did it?!
A little fished out, we set off to find some of the larger inhabitants of Weymouth SEA LIFE Centre, making our way over to penguin beach, the turtle sanctuary and the otters. Our favourites though had to be seal harbour; watching the seals above the water swimming around and being fed some treats by one of their handlers. A short walk down the slope and we were alonside the underwater tank, allowing us to watch the seals as they swam past us, displaying their sheer size and gracefulness under the water.
At each stage in the park there’s something for kids to get involved in. Whether that’s stamping their passport in each zone, learn about the animals they’re seeing or, as in the seal zone, get involved in providing enrichment for the creatures. In this zone, you were able to press a button which released a stream of air bubbles into the tank for the seals. With a set timer to ensure that the button wasn’t pressed too frequently, it was certainly a hit with the kids we saw – they couldn’t stop giggling at being able to release the bubbles!
Finally it was time to hit up the main attraction; a huge play area designed around a nautical theme. Frankly we should have just gone there for the entire time. It attracted the biggest grins going! With various pieces of equipment to use designed to suit all ages, it was a sure fire hit and the perfect place for us to enjoy a quick snack before heading off to find something to eat.
Weymouth SEA LIFE Centre – The Facts
Tickets to the SEA LIFE Centre aren’t cheap. With those under 2 going free, online tickets for both adults and children are a substantial £16.50 if bought in advance and £23.50 if bought on the day. These can be enhanced to include priority entrance and other benefits at additional cost. Honestly, if I’d had to pay that for us to go, I’d have been disappointed. However, we bought our tickets for £5 worth of Tesco Clubcard vouchers per adult. It meant planning our trip a little further in advance but the saving was substantial. At this price, it’s a great day out.
Weymouth SEA LIFE Centre is really well set up for picnics and I would recommend taking one with you. We were expecting more of a restaurant style set up and were a little disappointed to find that there was a small Costa on site which offered a limited (and expensive) offering of food and drink. If you don’t, like us, then I’d recommend either walking or making a short car journey in to Weymouth and picking up fish and chips on the beach. Well, I mean, it’s only fitting to keep it fish themed after all…
You can find further details about Weymouth SEA LIFE Centre here.