With the heavy rain and high wind forecast for Easter Sunday hubby and I stared at each other in trepidation. It is not acceptable to stay in all day unless J is poorly. He is so active that he simply must go out. There are no exceptions to this rule; even if it means braving awful weather. Thankfully, we discovered with great relief that the Bournemouth Oceanarium was one of the few things open on Easter Day and since we have a season ticket we planned a trip there for the afternoon.
Since J was little he has loved fish. At only a couple of months old, he was sent to sleep by a combination of watching the fish swim around and the noise of a fish tank at my friend’s house and we often took him to a local aquatic shop just to have a peek. His first visit to the Oceanarium was at only 4 months old for my niece’s birthday. J was scared of the big fish and then fell asleep most of the way around, so not the most successful visit. A couple of months later we had taken him again and he loved it so much that we bought a season ticket.
There was no queue as we entered, probably because the forecast weather had yet to arrive and the sun was shining, so there were lots of people walking along the beach. Once we entered and carried J upstairs he was off! He treated the Oceanarium like an adventure play park. Dashing along with great enthusiasm, babbling away to anyone who would listen and pointing out his favourites. Thankfully, it wasn’t too busy as he wasn’t interested in following the path round on the planned route. Instead he enjoyed weaving around people’s legs and darting back to see something he wanted to look at once more. Luckily, the other visitors found him entertaining and smiled at him as he stuck his nose against the glass of the otters or clung to a man’s leg for balance when he was so excited he almost toppled over.
J loved the tropical fish, the turtles, the otters and the penguins best. I loved the otters, turtles and bizarrely the piranha’s – they are so pretty and sparkly! There are feeding times published for a range of the animals, so if you time your visit right you can watch and listen to a talk. The otters were about to be fed when we were there, but this led to a crowd and J didn’t have the patience to wait and watch.
The newest attraction are the penguins, who are located through the door on the left just as you enter the reef section. You can view them from above where they waddle along and hide in their shelter when it is windy, or you can walk down the stairs on the terrace just outside this section (you can also come across this if you continue upstairs and then go downstairs at the main staircase) and view them swimming underwater too, which I loved. The reef section is similar. You can view the turtles, sharks and fish from above, or looking up from the walk through tunnel.
If you have an older child, there are some good opportunities to educate them about conservation and the environment as well as the creatures they see, but we were too busy running after J to be able to read them too closely. I did, however, learn that Green turtles are so called because of the colour of their body fat and that they are vegetarians. I also noted that there was one shark who had a disability, which could raise some beneficial and interesting conversations with children too. There was some information about this shark, but I didn’t get to read it all.
Once J had run round most of the Oceanarium once he was hungry so we left the last section and went to the cafe to give him something to eat and had a drink ourselves. Afterwards we went back to the start and walked around the whole Oceanarium again. It was late in the afternoon now and much quieter. J was calmer now that the initial excitement had started to wear off and he took longer to watch the creatures, especially the otters and the turtles. He also spent awhile watching the crocodiles be fed. Going round at this time was more relaxing and enjoyable. The Oceanarium isn’t large and it only took us half an hour to walk around the second time.
Location and Facilities
Located on the seafront, just near the Pier, the Oceanarium is in a great location to combine a visit with some free play on the sand. Although it doesn’t have a car park because of it’s location, there are several car parks within a 15 minute walk, including at the BIC and the Pavilion.
Your ticket gives all day entry which is great for a toddler as you can pop out to the café or for a play on the beach and go back again for a second visit later.
The toilets are located just inside the pay desks on the right and there is a baby change in the disabled toilet, which was clean.
There is a lift which allows you to take a pushchair upstairs. If it is busy there is a buggy park as you exit the lift, otherwise you can take your buggy with you.
There is a café downstairs by the entrance which serves a range of food including hot meals and snacks. You can go into this café without paying for entrance. We just had a drink, which was an average price for these attractions. There is seating inside and out and a kiosk outside that serves ice-creams. There were highchairs available and toilets which require a code to enter that is found on your receipt. There are fish tanks on one side of the café, which we sat by, and J enjoyed watching them. On the other side you can have a window seat with views of the sea. There are two further refreshment points in the Oceanarium, one on the terrace outside the penguins and the other downstairs by the underwater penguin viewing window. Neither were open when we visited.
By the downstairs cafe is a small play area, ideal for preschool age. A climb on turtle, a rocking animal and a little climbing frame and tunnel. There is also a nappy changing facility here. A great place to stop for a snack.
There is a gift shop on the way out of the venue, which can also be entered without having to buy a ticket if you wanted a themed gift for someone. I would have like to have seen a wider range of quality gifts (like I saw at Marwell Zoo). There were a lot of cuddly toys and plastic toys and sweets. Not the best range.
I have previously seen a discounted ticket to enter the Oceanarium if you purchase a ticket at the Tourist Information kiosk on the seafront (near the water feature), so it would be worth checking this first. There is also a discount if you purchase something in the café before entering and likewise a discount in the café if you purchase something with a valid Oceanarium ticket, so check out the offers on the day you visit.
We think that the season ticket is very reasonable and great value for money. We tend to visit about once a month, sometimes more, so we get great value from it.
J loved his visit and I would highly recommend it for toddlers, especially if your child likes sea creatures. I would hasten to add though that this shouldn’t be compared to the size or range of activities on offer at the Sealife Centre. It is much smaller and even with stopping for a drink and a snack I can’t imagine you would spend more than an hour and a half there. Having said that, I enjoyed the smaller size as I felt that we weren’t fighting with crowds and it was the ideal size for J to walk all around himself without the need for lugging a pushchair or a heavy bag with us. Combined with a play on the sand this makes an ideal pre or post nap time visit.
Note: Because J was rushing around so quickly I didn’t get a chance to stop to take many photos. Some of these photos have been taken during a previous visit.
As featured in Days Out Now.