I don’t take advantage of living on the outskirts of Birmingham half as much as I should. Every time I venture into the city, I’m amazed at what it has to offer and try to remind myself to take the short train ride more often. The city centre has so much for families, and this weekend we braved the school-holiday crowds and ventured down to the National Sea Life Centre.
I’ve been meaning to take Pickle to the Sea Life Centre for ages, and as I’d offered to take my foster brothers out for the day, it seemed the perfect place to entertain adults, two older children (not yet teenagers!) and a toddler. That feels like no mean feat – I can’t think of many places that would be appropriate for such a wide age range. I had quite high hopes for this day out and I think the reality managed to even exceed my expectations. Despite a few stressy moments where I thought I’d completely lost LPD and Pickle, we had a really brilliant day.
We managed to time our visit perfectly so that Pickle fell asleep on the train, and had a much needed nap in his carrier on the walk from New Street station to Brindley Place – waking up just in time to take in the full Sea Life Centre experience. It was a little confusing outside to know which queue to get into, but the staff were really helpful and pointed us in the right direction, despite my British instincts to just get in the queue and hope for the best.
Before we knew it, our adventure had begun. Starting with a real favourite: the penguins.
I particularly enjoyed the different angles we could watch the penguins from – with a viewing window showing them above ground, one window allowing a split view of above and under water, and a totally under water window too. You can see on the last penguin photo that the penguin has a coloured tag on its flipper. Each penguin’s tag is coloured differently to help identify each penguin. This one, I think, is called Monty!
I was really impressed that there were some hands-on sections of the Sea Life Centre, Pickle was even allowed to touch a starfish! Although, I almost had a mini heart attack when he tried to pick it up out of the water. I had visions of him chucking it onto the floor (which is what he usually does with everything!). Luckily, the staff were quick to react and no starfish were harmed during our visit. Phew.
There were so many of these little tunnels that were perfectly sized for exploring toddlers. Pickle loved getting so close to the fish, and hearing how often he would gasp or say ‘Wow’ as a fish swam past him was just brilliant – I really didn’t expect to get that kind of reaction from him. It was more than I could have hoped for! He was absolutely mesmerised.
I mean, look at those colours. So beautiful! The whole coral section was particularly vibrant and exciting. I almost didn’t spot the starfish in these tanks as I was so distracted by the purples, blues and pinks.
Whilst some of the tanks required holding Pickle up to see the fish, he really loved the ones where he could stand and look in. One of my foster brothers was particularly good at pointing things out to Pickle, showing him where to look and kneeling down with him.
Although it’s the first time Pickle has seen fish like this before, his first cinema experience was watching Finding Dory. I like to think maybe that has sparked a love for sea life creatures (!!!), although that might be a bit of a stretch. It did mean I was super excited when we spotted the clown fish and some blue tang fish too.
I thought it was particularly good that there was a tunnel for the children to see all the clown fish close up – some good planning from the Sea Life team! I’m glad both LPD and I were there though so that one of us could be at either end of this particular tunnel – it’s quite a dark section of the Centre, and as it was quite busy, it would have been very easy for Pickle to have run out the other side and made it difficult for me to find him again. It was my first real experience of having multiple children to keep track off on a day out, and the only parts of the day I felt a little stressed during were the moments I didn’t have eyes on all three of them at the same time.
Being able to see the sea life from a multitude of different angles and perspectives definitely helped keep the interest of all three children. Not only does it mean there’s a greater scope for observing creatures in different ways and noting different behaviours from an educational viewpoint, it also ensures lots of variety to help keep children engaged when attention spans are waning.
It’s difficult to judge how much Pickle comprehends as his language isn’t very well developed yet, but I hope he made the connection that we were able to see the same fish from above, and below the water.
We were warned ahead of our trip that it would be very busy during the holidays, and they weren’t wrong! We tried to time our visit nearer the end of the day in the hope of missing ‘the rush’, but it was still fairly congested. For the most part, this didn’t bother me and we were still able to take in as much of the Centre as we wanted at our own pace without it impacting on us too much.
The only real negative about the business came around the 4D cinema experience section. We’d stopped just before in one of the classrooms for a bit of a refreshment break and I was hoping we could all enjoy the 4D cinema experience afterwards. However, the queue for the next showing was already full, and we were advised the next possible screening we could see would be in twenty minutes’ time. That’s a LONG time for an energetic toddler to stand waiting in a queue, so we decided it was best to give it a miss on this occasion, and so we bypassed it and headed straight for the new exhibit: Jelly Invaders.
I found the jelly fish section really interesting – I had no idea there was so many types of jelly fish! And I didn’t know jellyfish out-date dinosaurs. Every day is a school day. Sadly, I couldn’t take in as much as I’d have liked in this section as just as we entered, out came a whole screening full of other visitors from the 4D Experience and it was really busy! With Pickle starting to get a bit frustrated and a few little tantrums, we quickly decided to move on… only to be met with a lot of congestion heading into the big viewing tunnel.
This was the only section where we really felt the squeeze of how busy it was. I think up until the cinema bit, the crowds had been well managed and the free-flow ensured everyone was nicely spaced out… but having large numbers of guests streaming out of the cinema at the same time disrupted that flow but I can’t see any other way around that. If I’d have known, it would have perhaps made more sense to backtrack our steps a little bit, and continue to the Jelly Invaders section mid-way through a cinema showing, as I’m sure it would have been much quieter then.
For me, the large viewing tunnel at the end was one of the big highlights. Although Pickle had enjoyed lots of tunnels as part of his visit, this was the first and only one for us adults. It was incredible to see the fish swimming above (and below – there’s a section where the floor is see-through too!), and it was particularly exciting when the huge ray swam overhead. I didn’t get many photos of this bit as, to be honest, I just wanted to live in the moment a little bit. I enjoyed pointing, wow-ing and gasping at the sights all around us and it was during this section that I first heard Pickle say ‘fish’. Which is a pretty big deal!
Overall, we had an absolutely brilliant time – and I’d definitely recommend a visit whether your little ones are babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, primary age or beyond. There really is something for everyone. I’ve just spotted on their website that you can even have a sleepover there – and get cosy in your sleeping bag in the Ocean tunnel! HOW COOL IS THAT?! Definitely an experience to remember. Forget sleeping under the stars, I want to sleep under the rays! If you’re planning a visit, it’s best to book your tickets in advance to guarantee entry.
Disclaimer: we were invited to visit the Sea Life Centre to celebrate the launch of the new Jelly Invaders exhibit. All opinions and views remain my own, and as always, are 100% honest.