Yesterday, we took Rosemary for a day out to the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham. Birmingham’s about an hour and a half on the train, so not too long journey. We left the house at a very civilised 9.45am, leaving my mother to dog sit, and were back by 4.30pm.
As some of you will know, we don’t drive, so trips like this have to be in public transport reach. But, even if we did drive, I’d be inclined to use the train as often as possible, because it’s a lot easier to keep a small child amused on one, than strapped into a tiny seat in a car. In a lot of cars, small children can’t see out of the windows, whereas there’s lots to sea from the train windows – trees, fields, cows, sheep, building… You can walk up and down as much as you like (though I do recall it getting a bit tedious walking Rosemary up and down and up and down and up and down… for the whole journey to Wales when she was only just on her feet). You can get food and drink from the buffet or unpack your own packed lunch. Children can draw, read, play games, even meet and befriend other children. But it does mean we can’t easily go somewhere like Longleat or Bowood or Alton Towers.
So, the train journey was pretty good, even though we didn’t get a table seat. On arriving in Birmingham, the signposts for how to get out of Birmingham New Street station weren’t brilliant and we ended up traipsing through a mall for a fair way before finding the fresh (and rather wet) air. Then we had the fun of trying to find the right way to the Sealife Centre. We didn’t print a map out, because the website had said just follow signs to the ICC and NIA. The first sign we found actually pointed to the Sealife Centre itself and the rest to the International Convention Centre. And they weren’t always terribly clear. Personally, if I were editing the website, I would also have put the number of a bus going from the station to the centre, or close, and an actual map.
We got there in the end, to see huge queues stretching all the way round the building. There were staff going up and down the line selling Sea Life branded rain coats and offering immediate entrance to anyone willing to purchase a year’s membership. Fortunately for us, Chris had had the sense to buy tickets online in advance, so were able to go straight inside. I would definitely recommend doing so, especially if you’re visiting in the school holidays – it’s cheaper to buy them online, as well.
We saw a number of pools and tanks with fish and eels in them, as we followed the one-way trail round. There was then a larger pool, with (quite small) sharks and rays in. Rosemary was fascinated in everything so far. She then got an opportunity to touch a crab, which she seemed to enjoy. We then saw some otters swimming around. And then, one of the highlights of the trip (as is so often the case with these kinds of outings); we had an ice cream.
After that, we moved into darkened areas and saw lots of different sea creatures. Chris would probably be able to tell you in proper detail, but I was flagging a bit by now, as was Rosemary. We think she was a little bit scared in the darker bits, but also the dark was making her sleepy. After a quick glance at the sea horses (would have liked to have spent a bit more time looking at them) and a loo break, we went in the lift to the tunnel.
I think the tunnel was probably the most stunning bit, though it was all pretty amazing. There were lots of fish swimming around, but the highlight were two large turtles which looked like they were flying over our heads. I did feel a bit odd in the tunnel, though, a bit like going in a very fast lift, or taking off in a plane.
After that there was a rather bizarre mirror maze that led directly into the shop. Very manipulative planning there. We had to fight our way through trying to escape. I noticed a family with young twins – the mother pushing the twin buggy and the father desperately trying to keep hold of both children’s hands. Made me think of MTJAM and how it might not be the easiest place for her to navigate!
We came out into quite heavy rain, though it was a bit of a relief after the crowded and very warm centre. We had had the foresight to pack Rosemary’s raincoat, but neither of us even had coats. It wasn’t very cold though. We went and found a cafe and sat down and a drink and bite to eat, then braved the downpour to catch the 14:40 home. My SPD started playing up on the walk to the station and I was very glad to sit down when we reached the train, just in time.
I would definitely recommend the Sea Life Centre, particularly for slightly older children. If you can go during school terms, it’s probably a bit quieter, but that’s the case with most things. And, if you’re going by train, print out a map of how to get there from the station!
I think Chris enjoyed it a lot more than I did and, if he reads this, will wonder why I haven’t mentioned this and that the other – feel free to comment, honey!
Have you been going on any trips over the Easter holidays? Do you prefer to travel by train or car, or hot air balloon? Have you been anywhere recently that you would particularly recommend?