My eldest son has pestered to visit an aquarium for months. Although I have wanted to encourage his interest in sea life, I postponed our visit to the winter, when outside attractions are a less viable option. When searching for things to do over the October holidays, for a forecasted rainy day, the National Sealife Centre Birmingham was the obvious choice, especially as they were hosting a special Octonauts themed event, perfect for my little Octonaut fans! Unfortunately, it turns out that every parent living near the West Midlands had the same thought and the attraction was incredible busy. This article aims to help you avoid making the same mistakes we did.
Tips for visiting National Sealife Centre Birmingham
Avoid visiting during peak times – As the website warns, the attraction gets incredibly busy during school holidays, particularly as it turns out, on wet miserable days! I would suggest visiting during term time if possible or on a school inset day. Alternatively, if you have to visit during school holidays, visit on a sunny day when other potential visitors may instead visit local outdoor attractions such as Warwick Castle and arrive as the attraction opens, or after 2.30pm to avoid large crowds.
Visit without a pushchair if possible – If you do visit during peak time be aware that it is difficult to navigate with a pushchair. If your child is either light enough to carry or old enough to walk, do yourself a favour and leave your pushchair in your car. (The Barclaycard Arena car park is located a couple of minutes walk from the National Sealife). There is not a buggy park at the attraction and although I enquired with a couple of members of staff there was no option other than to push through the crowds with our pushchair. To be honest, I gave up after arriving at the penguin tank and ditched the pushchair as it was impossible to get anywhere near any of the exhibitions so that my youngest son could see the sealife. (Upon retrieving our pushchair a couple of hours later, it was obvious that other parents had given up the battle too as our pushchair had been joined by many others!)
Carry a minimal amount of belongings – I would also recommend leaving your coats and layers in your car, as we were uncomfortably hot walking around the exhibitions. It also would have been much easier to chase around after our boys and avoid losing them in the crowds if we had not had our hands full of coats!
Save money on your entrance tickets – I booked our tickets online in advance using a 50% discount voucher I had acquired however, there are always lots of discount codes and vouchers available for booking popular attractions such as Sealife (cereal box vouchers, money-saving expert, etc). You can currently save 40% by booking through the attraction website. You will need to book a time slot for your entry into the attraction however, you can stay for as long as you wish and you are also free to leave the attraction and return later (showing your stamped hand) as many times as you wish too.
Be aware there is no coffee shop or quick exit! The attraction has vending machines selling hot drinks, cold drinks (out-of-order on the day we were there), chocolate, ice creams and crisps however, this is clearly not sufficient when kids get hungry. When our kids started to have a meltdown, (to be honest I was getting pretty close to it too as I was feeling claustrophobic!) we had to continue onwards through the crowds towards the only exit.
We had our hands stamped and left the attraction to go for lunch at Taylor Walker (reasonable enough food with a standard kids menu, located a couple of minutes walk from the attraction). We had planned to go back inside after lunch to continue viewing the exhibitions we had missed but I could not face the thought of rejoining the crowds and so instead my husband took our eldest inside to the 4D cinema and meet his hero Captain Barnacles! (I stayed at the restaurant and enjoyed a wine, it was the best part of my day!)
If you require refreshments before entering the Sealife Centre, just outside the front entrance is Brindleyplace, with many coffee shops and restaurants. Also note, although there are plenty of benches throughout the attraction to sit and enjoy either refreshments brought from home or bought from the vending machines, there are no picnic areas.
Take note of the talk times – Before you book your time slot online, take a look at the times of the talks taking place during your visit and book accordingly. We did not manage to see any talks during our visit, as they were never taking place as we walked by and because it was so busy we did not wish to push our way back through the crowds.
Would we recommend the National Sealife Centre Birmingham?
Without crowds of people this could be a great family day out with over 1000 exhibitions and hands on activities such as touch tanks, 4D cinema and creature talks. My two boys (ages 4.5 and 17 months) had been excited all week about visiting the attraction and did enjoy watching the penguins and walking through the 360 degree ocean tunnel however having to queue to get close to the touch tanks etc did inhibit their fun.
Unfortunately, as we did not see any of the talks and feeding demonstrations I sadly do not feel that we experienced value for money from our visit. I would only visit the National Sealife Centre again if we could do so during the school term and with a discount code otherwise we will avoiding the crowds and returning to our local outdoor attractions such as Cattle Country and Cotswolds Wildlife Park for future family days out!
Need to know
Address – National Sealife Centre, The Waters Edge, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HL
Ticket prices – On the day tickets: £20.95 for an individual or £17.95 for two people or more. Book online in advance to save 40%, with tickets costing from £12.50 per person. Under 3’s free.
Car Parks – There are two recommended by Sealife. We parked at the Barclaycard Arena South car park formerly The NIA (Sat Nav B16 8ET) which is a pay and display and just a short walk from the attraction. Car parking here was available for either 3 hours or 8 hours (yes very iriating!) but quite good value at £6.80 for 8 hours. Alternatively, Brindleyplace car park (Sat Nav B1 2JF) a pay on foot car park and apparently the better option for those with buggies.
Have you visited the National Sealife Centre Birmingham? Can you add additional tips to ensure a memorable family day out?