We have always have always enjoyed visiting aquariums and Sea Life Centres, and the children absolutely love discovering more about the ocean and the animals that live in and around it. We are lucky enough to only live an hour away from the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, but we hadn’t actually made a trip there since last summer, and I knew from friends that there were some new things to see this year. Sunday was quite a wet and cold day here, so we decided to take a trip to the aquarium and let the children explore.
The aquarium is pretty central in the city of Plymouth, but away from the hustle and bustle of the shopping area. 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. It is well thought out for children, with tanks at a low level and with large, wide glass fronts down to the floor, so everyone can get a good view. There are a few areas which are a little higher, such as the simulated rock pool, so there are stools by the entrance which you can carry around with you so the children can access every display.
The aquarium is divided into sections, so you can discover different parts of the ocean as you move around the zones. The Atlantic Ocean section proved very popular – this is where the shark tank is, and we were lucky enough to hear a talk from the staff about the animals in the tank, what they like to eat, and how they feed them here at the aquarium. They also showed us some hand signals that divers use when in the ocean – Gemma and Jacob loved this bit and spent a good deal of the afternoon chasing each other around pretending to be sharks.
The large ocean tanks are mesmerising. There is so much to see, you could stand there for hours and never see it all. Friday the sea turtle is always a popular attraction, and he can be quite elusive, so the children were especially excited to spot him swimming around. I am a fan of the huge rays, which float right up against the surface of the tanks, giving you a great view!
The Atlantic Ocean area leads down into the Blue Planet section – think deep ocean and unusual animals. 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. Along the corridor, you walk right through one of the tanks, so the fish are swimming above your head, and you can see them through the glass floor too!
We were especially impressed with the National Marine Aquarium staff on our visit. They were present in all areas, and they were keen to show the children new and exciting things. One of them showed us a sea turtle shell, and chatted to us about how long they live, and what they like to eat. In the Blue Planet area, a staff member had a ‘lucky dip’ game fur the kids to play. They had to choose a fish from the bag, then go and find that fish in the aquarium. Once they had found the tank it lived in, the staff member told them all about it – everything from what it eats and where it lives to how it protects itself and who it’s enemies are. The children all absolutely loved this opportunity to learn and discover, and we eventually had to drag them away so someone else could have a turn!
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. This finally 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. There is also the new Loola Land soft play area, suitable for children up to 10 years old. We didn’t actually visit this ourselves, as we had the older children with us, but we had a quick look inside and thought it looked clean and inviting, with plenty of soft play areas as well as climbing and slides for older children. In school holidays, the cost for this is £2.75 per hour for the main soft play area, with the toddler area free. This is an additional cost on top of theaquarium entry fee, so do bear that in mind if you are visiting.
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*