Reviewed by Catherine Brown
We visited the National SEA LIFE Centre in Birmingham with our two sons aged 8 and 5 during the last weekend of the Easter holidays. We travelled by car and parked in a nearby multi-storey car park although there are bus stops and a train station within walking distance.
The staff were very welcoming and told us about the layout of the centre and gave us a programme of the daily activities. These happen every 30-45 minutes and are an opportunity to hear the staff talk about some of the creatures on show. Our boys were also given a ‘Dive log book’ to record their experiences as they went around using embossed stamps.
The journey began with a view of the penguins both above and below water. They were very playful and our boys were mesmerised. As we continued around the centre we discovered that each tank or display area gave information not only on the species inside but also what the company do to help protect them. Those who are nervous about animals in captivity should be reassured by the message of Breed Rescue Protect which is described in detail as you walk round.
We enjoyed listening to the ‘Jawsome Shark’ talk and learning about shark breeding tips. There was also an area where visitors are allowed to touch the starfish and sea anemones. The rooms and tanks are arranged well, with enough space for excited children to move around and explore from different angles. Some areas are dimly lit, such as the section with jellyfish which uses UV light to show them off.
Zones around the SEA LIFE centre include the mangrove swamp and Amazon River. This means that you are not just looking at glass tanks but also get to appreciate the plant life in the surrounding areas. The route zigzags through the building and involves some change in level using stairs or a lift. Despite being during the school holidays it never felt too crowded and it was easy to revisit an area if we wanted to. The staff explained that if we wanted to leave the building we could have our hand stamped to allow re-entry the same day.
My favourite part of the centre was the Otter sanctuary. There were lots of different areas where the otters sleep, feed, play and swim. Again, they looked really happy in their environment. We then joined the queue for the 4D cinema. This did involve a 25 minute wait but the show was 12 minutes long and was a big hit for our children. We also had a small queue for the toilets but they did appear clean and well maintained.
Our day ended on a high with a walk through the Ocean Tunnel with a chance to watch shark and turtles swimming with many other unusual looking fish. It was possible to buy souvenir photos but I felt the price was a little steep ranging from £12 for a keyring up to £30 for a package of photographs. The items in the shop were more suited to children’s pocket money and included cuddly toys, stationary and clothing.
Overall, I was impressed with how much there was to see and do in the SEA LIFE centre and also the lengths the company go to to protect the different species. One improvement I would suggest is the opportunity to buy fresh food and drinks – there were only vending machines selling sweets, chocolates, hot and cold drinks. I would still rate the venue 5/5 and look forward to exploring other SEA LIFE centres around the country.
Single tickets cost £12.50 per person, children under 3 go FREE.
Want to visit more than once or other SEA LIFE centres? Take advantage of the SEA LIFE Annual Pass with prices from £35 per person or the Merlin Annual Pass to visit all Merlin attractions throughout the UK with prices starting from £129 per person.
For more information or to book tickets visit www.visitsealife.com/birmingham.
National SEA LIFE Centre, The Waters Edge, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HL