We had a birthday in the house on Saturday, our lovely Shannon celebrated her eighth birthday with a trip to the Sea Life Centre in London.
We hadn’t visited an aquarium in years – and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do with the kids for ages and, London is one that we have never been to before.
The Sea Life Centre is in the historic old GLC building (now County Hall) on Westminster Bridge Road – right beside the London Eye. We got off at Westminster station which, in itself, is impressive as you come out directly opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The Sea Life Centre is just a short walk across Westminster Bridge.
We arrived at 1pm on a Saturday, probably not the best time as it was very busy, but we went to the priority desk to pick up our tickets. I would suggest booking online first if you can, you will save a fair bit of money and also less time in the queue, do check out Kelloggs cereal packets as they tend to have ‘kids go free’ vouchers on them and, if you’re lucky enough to have a Merlin Pass, then Sea Life Centres are included – I believe you can also use Tesco Clubcard vouchers.
Entering the aquarium, you walk over a glass bridge with sharks swimming below you, it’s amazing – but, as we were walking in a queue of moving people, it was impossible to take a photograph – the kids thought this was very cool indeed.
There is then a green screen where each family group has their photograph taken (these can be purchased at the end in the shop).
Although it was busy inside, we managed to get a good look at all of the exhibits. The first tanks include starfish, sea anemones and flounders – then you’ll see a beautiful tank containing jellyfish which changes colours. There is no flash photography allowed inside the aquarium so it was quite difficult to get a good picture of the jellyfish.
Next we stopped to look at the Rays and Skates in the lagoon – this is a large tank with plenty of space to get a good view above as well as from the side of the tank where you get to see their lovely little smiley faces! Check the website first - if we’d of got there earlier in the day we could have helped with their feeding time.
In the rock pools - children (and adults) are encouraged to touch the starfish and anemones, there are also mermaids purses (shark egg cases) to feel and look at. There was a small crowd, but the children only had to wait a few minutes before getting to touch a starfish, a member of staff was supervising the area ready to answer questions – there are hand washing facilities next to the rock pool.
In the same area is the beautiful huge Pacific Shipwreck tank, it spans across a couple of floors, my son was totally mesmerised by this. Inside is a replica whale skeleton with lots of sharks, including a Hammerhead; Sand Tiger Sharks; Nurse Sharks and beautiful Black Tip Reef Sharks – there are majestic Rays (or Sea Flapflaps as we like to call them) and a giant Green Sea Turtle.
Next is the glass tunnel where you get to walk underneath the exhibit with fish and sharks swimming all around. On busy days they have a fast lane and a slow lane through the tunnel to avoid jams!
The coral reef is the next area, where you will see Clown Fish, Puffer Fish and Lion Fish and many other beautiful colourful species. We used to have a marine tank before we had children, so we both loved looking at the fish.
In the next area are the Seahorses, Sea Dragons and Pipe Fish – they are amazing delicate looking creatures.
The Tropical Rainforest area is home to the Red Bellied Piranhas, Cat Fish and the Terrapins. The children really enjoyed watching the terrapins, who were busily laying eggs in the water, then eating them!
Towards the end there is an area with small tables and chairs where the children can do some colouring in, and it’s right next to a viewing area overlooking the huge tank, we got a great view of the sea turtle and sharks here.
As you reach the end there is a screen presentation all about the River Thames which our children sat and watched. All three had a fantastic time, they are aged 4, 8 and 9 and they would all recommend it as a fabulous day out.
Things to remember: It’s quite warm inside so I did end up carrying everybody’s coats, it is also dark and can get very busy, so bare that in mind if you are planning on bringing a buggy – there is no cloakroom, so travel light if you can. There is wheelchair access throughout and lifts which is also helpful for families with toddlers and pushchairs. The toilets are dotted around with baby changing facilities available.
Before you get to the aquarium shop, there is an area selling slushies and other refreshments. The shop sells mementoes like plush teddies, key rings and cups. Lastly is the area where you pick up your group photographs, I didn’t see how much they were charging for these but they come in a little booklet with different backgrounds.
The aquarium is open daily from 10am-7pm. If you book online you can save up to 20% on tickets adults are usually £24.95 (over 16) and children £19.95, under 3’s go free. So it’s definitely worth booking in advance you can get a family ticket from £67 (remember collect those vouchers from Kelloggs and you’ll save a lot more).
There is often a lot going on by the South Bank and of course there’s the London Eye right outside, so there is plenty to keep your little ones occupied nearby. We spent around an hour and a half in the Sea Life Centre and then strolled back to Westminster station and hopped on a tube to Leicester Square – from there we walked to Regents Street and took the children to have a look in Hamley’s then strolled around Bond Street before getting the no 38 bus back to Victoria.
Remember if you get yourself a Family and Friends Railcard you’ll save a huge amount on your fares, our travel cards cost £8 each and the children’s were only £2.80, under 5’s travel for free.
Happy birthday Shan - we hope you enjoyed your birthday treat!