19 July 2011
I have visited the Sealife Centre in Birmingham before, but it was several years ago and there have been quite a few changes since I last visited. We visited during a wet weekend looking for a day out that was out of the rain.
Parking at the National Indoor Arena (NIA) car park
Parking at the Sealife Centre is at the NIA NCP car park located a short walk from the centre. This is quite expensive costing over £6 for a days parking. The first thing was that we had to join a queue outside the sealife centre to buy our tickets. The queue has been moved further inside than previously, but there was still a few minutes wait. Fortunately it was not raining when we arrived. The sealife centre is not too far from the City Centre if travelling by public transport.
Entry fee and discount vouchers
The normal price for tickets to the sealife centre is quite expensive, but few will pay the full price. A small discount is available by ordering online, but everyone we saw in the queue had some kind of discount, such as 2-4-1, 50% off or Tesco Clubcard Days Out vouchers. The two-for-one vouchers are available from supermarkets, service stations and breakfast cereals and other places, but we instead had a 50% off voucher (which worked out better as there was an odd number) was from Raring2Go!.
Finding somewhere to eat
After buying the tickets the first thing we noticed was a sign saying that they no longer had a cafe, which we had eaten at on a previous visit. This was disappointing as we had planned to eat at the cafe, and it's a shame they couldn't at least have sold some pre-made sandwiches in the shop. When buying the tickets were were given a discount voucher for the Handmade Burger Co. nearby, but there were also a number of restaurants just a little further along. We ate in the Mash House, which was good food, but expensive for a lunchtime. Since visiting I looked at their website and they should have been a lunchtime menu, but we were only given the evening menu. There is also some other restaurants, pubs and a Pizza Express nearby. There are also some picnic tables within the Sealife centre if you bring your own food.
Visiting the SeaLife Centre
Being located near Birmingham City Centre space is at a premium and so the route through the exhibits follows an upwards path. This is a ramp which is suitable for pushchairs. There are numerous tanks including edible fish, exotic fish, rays and sharks. There is also an interactive rock-pool where you can touch a crab and a starfish.
After this there are a number of tanks showing seahorses as part of the Sealife centre's seahorse breeding programme. After a walk through the Amazon Rainforest there are some Sea Otters (that are usually sleeping) and then the 4D cinema.
4D Cinema - showing Happy Feet
I'd already seen the Happy Feet 4D Cinema film at Drayton Manor Theme Park, but it is quite good and it was the first time my daughter had seen it. It's only about 15 minutes long so much shorter than the proper Happy Feet film, but the 4D effects are good. Just about right for young children (although some very young children sounded a little upset by the end).
Turtles, Hammerhead Sharks and underwater tunnel
After the 4D cinema there is a turtle area before entering a lift down to the undersea tunnel. There are plenty to see in the tunnel including hammerhead sharks and the Giant Turtle. Then the final feature is a mirror maze (good fun and simple maze) before exiting to the obligatory gift shop.
As we went around there were a number of signs regarding sustainable fishing. These had a similar logo to Hugh's Fish Fight, but not identical. This is something that I'm quite passionate about after watching The End of the Line on DVD. You are also given a takeaway card with tips on ways to reduce our impact on fish in general (including tips on eating sustainable fish).
The sustainable fishing signs are not as comprehensive or well integrated as we saw atIlfracombe Aquarium, but it's good to see that they are raising awareness. The SeaLife Centres are also very active in other conversvation projects.
There is a children's quiz as you go around. Each child is given a scratch card and if they successfully answer all the questions they get a medal at the end. The answer was usually located somewhere near to the question as it's unlikely you know the answer to all of them without looking them up. Some of the answers were quite easy to find the answers, but some were quite difficult. My daughter loved doing the quiz as she's always enjoyed those kind of activities; it was here favourite part of the day.
Soft play area and end of visit
There is also a children's soft play area which came in handy as there was heavy rain when we had finished looking around and so spent some time there until there was a break in the clouds. In total we spent about 3 hours or so at the SeaLife Centre. This is less than if visiting some of the other SeaLife Centres, such as the very large Weymouth SeaLife centre, but was enough to occupy us for a day out.