Gemma and Jacob have always enjoyed visiting aquariums and Sea Life Centres, and discovering more about the ocean and the animals that live in and around it. Despite the fact that we only live an hour away from the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, we haven’t been for several years, and had never taken Max or Eliza, and as this last week has been pretty miserable weather wise, we decided it was a great day to visit.
The aquarium is in the heart of Plymouth, but away from the main shopping centre. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the train station, or you can use the multi storey car park almost next to the aquarium. Parking is reasonably priced, and you can pay by card, cash or phone (perfect for someone like me who never has any cash).
There are 2 entry points – one for fast track passes and one for standard ticket holders. Be prepared for a small queue if you have the standard tickets, as it does get busy at times, but there is a covered area to wait in. Staff do check you in quickly and efficiently, so you can get on with your visit as soon as possible.
The aquarium is divided into sections, with the first tanks and displays based around the Plymouth estuary and British coastline. Everything is at child height, and for the youngest ones there are stools which you can carry around with you to boost them up for the best view.
Each display has a set of information cards, telling you everything you ever wanted to know about the creatures within. As you proceed through the aquarium, you venture deeper into the ocean, with large tanks containing fish and sea creatures native to the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Barrier Reef. The large tanks are just mesmerising – there is so much to see, and you really feel like you are part of the environment.
Throughout the day there are various shows and demonstrations. We were lucky enough to catch the shark tank divers. Three members of the aquarium team were diving with the sharks and Atlantic Ocean sealife, including Friday the giant sea turtle – a very popular attraction. It’s a great talk, and there are opportunities for the kids to get involved, learning about hand signals used by divers, and getting up close and personal with some traditional metal diving boots and helmets.
As you walk between zones within the aquarium, the corridors are lined with additional attractions. Each wall contains tanks and displays, including these amazing jellyfish which had Eliza transfixed for a long while. There’s an opportunity to view the laboratory too, where biologists are up to all sorts, from breeding baby jellyfish to cultivating coral and managing water quality. This is also the area where a lot of marine conservation research takes place.
At the end of the aquarium there is a final opportunity to view the largest tank from another angle, with huge glass windows, peep holes for the kids and a pirate treasure area, as well as an interactive floor display. This leads through to the gift shop (don’t worry, there is a pocket money section so you won’t need to remortgage the house 😉 ) and from here you can also access the Waves Cafe, which has beautiful panoramic views over the harbour. I love that all the food served here is ethical, local and sustainable in line with the conservation message, and all eggs are free range, milk is organic and all the fish is MSC certified.
If your children are anything like mine and tend to race around the aquarium at the speed of light, don’t panic – you can simply circle around at the end and go back around more slowly. It’s not the sort of attraction where you can only do things once – in fact it’s set our perfectly with the Cafe being fairly central, allowing you to have a pit stop before heading off to the next zone, or grab a quick drink before a show that you want to catch.
The National Marine Aquarium is a really wonderful family day out, and offers something for all ages. It is based in a lovely part of the world too, within walking distance of Plymouth Hoe, so you can really make a full day of it – there are some really good parks nearby, as well as the harbour, the lighthouse and even the outdoor swimming pool if the weather is favourable!
*We were provided with family tickets to visit and review the National Marine Aquarium, but all views and opinions are our own*