Saturday, 27 October 2018

Visiting SEALIFE London With Children This Half Term


This half term we headed to the London’s Southbank and SEALIFE London, the aquarium that you never really expect to be there. Whether you want to visit the Ascarium in the run up to Halloween or you just want to know a bit more about visiting the London attraction with young children this post will tell you what you need to know.

two children looking into a large glass fish tank


What is the SEALIFE London Ascarium about?


The Ascarium is SEALIFE’s Halloween activity. It is described as the “Sea Witch needs your help to unlock her treasure chest… be on the lookout for the magic ingredients that will help our Sea Witch cast a magic spell around her cauldron, to unlock the treasure chest.” In practice each child is handed a piece of paper and pencil as they enter and they need to look for 5 Halloween props in the various tanks before they reach the Sea Witch near the sharks. The Sea Witch then casts a spell with the help of the children and a little further on through the aquarium they receive a reusable plastic cup. We only managed to spot 3 of the 5 ingredients because the crowds some times made it hard to get near the tanks, but fortunately they weren’t that strict.

Shortly after children receive their reward you will find a concession stand selling snacks and slushes. They can have a slushy in their new cup for only £1, but they don’t have lids or straws so it will depend on your child’s age if you want to risk it.

Meeting the Sea Witch
Meeting the Sea Witch

What is There To See At The SEALIFE London Aquarium?


Unsurprisingly there are lots of tanks, filled primarily with fish. From the glass floor as you enter to large tanks that span both floors and much smaller tanks, there is lots to see. My favourite areas are the penguins at Penguin Point, the jellyfish in The Ocean Invaders zone and the Sea Turtles, but you can also see seahorses, sharks, anemones, Lobsters, beetles, spiders and lots and lots of fish.

A deep blue tank with fishes

Turtles on a log

A small shark swimming in a big tank

Sipping slushies in front of jellyfish

Is SEALIFE London Aquarium good for Children?


I first took my children to an aquarium at just a few months old. The movement of the larger fish in the tanks mesmerised them. My eldest is now 7 and she hasn’t lost an interest in staring into the large tanks yet. That aside there is a limit to how many fish children will want to look into so SEALIFE London breaks things up with a number of interactive activities. During the visit there is the opportunity to touch something in a rock pool (it was the star fish while we were there), you can design and look after your own Jellyfish on a large screen, explore the rainforest and see what a piranha feels like.

The tanks are a variety of sizes and heights, some of which toddlers will need assistance to see into. Fortunately there are a good number of floor to ceiling glass windows into tanks as well as low level tanks so if you aren’t up to lifting little ones they will still have plenty to see.

There are a number of talks and feeding sessions throughout the day where children can find out more about the creatures living at the aquarium.

You can also buy a special Mission Pack for £4 which contains ranger accessories, pencil, height chart, magnifying glass, activity book and ranger cards which will help keep children engaged as they go round the aquarium.

3 children's hands reaching out to touch a star fish

Peeking up out of a hole in penguin point

holding a Mission Pack

Looking at a computer screen to look after jellyfish

What you need to know about visiting SEALIFE London Aquarium


Buy your tickets in Advance

Positioned just across the river from Big Ben and next to the London Eye and Shrek's Adventure it is a prime tourist spot and it get’s VERY busy. If you are visiting with children I strongly recommend you book tickets in advance including a timed entry to reduce queuing when you arrive, this includes Merlin pass holders. It warns on the website that you may need to queue for an hour for a ticket then wait a couple more hours before your timed entry slot at peak times if you don't prebook. 

Choose Off Peak Times to Visit

We visited in the school holidays during the middle of the day. It was busy. We often had to wait to look at the creatures, particularly near the beginning and the most popular tanks. This was fine and my children didn’t mind, but it was difficult with a pushchair at times. If you have to queue to get in, then queue to get across the glass walkway, then queue for the photo (which you can use walk straight past if you want) you might be a little fed up before you’ve even really started. 

The SEALIFE London website suggests visiting before 11am or after 4pm if you want a quieter experience. It opens at 9.30 and closes at 7 and as you will probably spend a couple of hours there it does give you flexibility to avoid the crowds.

Looking into a tank with clown fish in
We found Nemo (clown fish)

A Blue Tang swimming in front of corals
And Dory (Blue Tang)

Eat Before You Go In

There is no restaurant in SEALIFE London and I believe they don't allow you to leave then go back in. There is a concession stand after the penguins, but if you are visiting with children you will need to eat before you go in to avoid having to buy sweets or leave before you are really done. Fortunately there are lots of options for food near by, including a MacDonalds just by the entrance. Other options include cafe’s on York Street, the food market at Southbank Centre, a range of chain restaurants around the Southbank centre and County Hall or more individual ones on Lower Marsh (go through the Graffiti Tunnel on Leake Street) and plenty of food shops in Waterloo Station, Lower Marsh and there is a restaurant and M&S in St Thomas’ hospital. Basically there are probably over 100 food options within a 5 minute walk (adult speed).

Watch your step

Most of the aquarium is dimly lit so that you can see into the tanks well (and probably to protect the creatures who will be used to the under sea darkness). As well as making it harder to take photographs (flash scares the fishes) it can make it hard to see little feet, pushchairs and crutches. 

Toilets

There are toilets throughout out the aquarium so you shouldn’t ever be too far away, but some do have queues in peak times. We found a big queue for the toilets just inside the entrance, but the disabled toilet with nappy change and child size toilet was fortunately free. 

Pushchair Accessible

SEALIFE London is across 2 floors accessed by stairs, but there are lifts for those that need them. As mentioned above pushchairs can be a challenge to get around the crowds in peak times, but it is doable. 

A large open pool with a boat in and ray swimming around


What Did We Think of SEALIFE London?


Like most of the SEALIFE Centres it isn't a full day out in itself. Fortunately you can get combined tickets with other attractions (if you can afford it) or enjoy wandering around the rest of London for free before and afterwards. I have been twice and I am impressed that they continue to improve it, with the Rainforest exhibit the latest addition for 2018 having a lot to keep children interested.

Neither my toddler or my 7 year old were bothered by the crowds and they both had a great time. My eldest really loved the Ray feed and talk, convinced that some of the Rays were saying "hello" to her. She also enjoyed looking for the Ascarium ingredients for the sea witch so I would consider buying the Mission pack for her next time. She also watched the entire presentation about the London sewage network!

Both children enjoyed the interactive experiences especially the Jellyfish and in the Rainforest Adventures and they loved looking into the larger tanks.

SEALIFE London is well worth visiting if you have a couple of hours spare in London. 

***Disclosure: We received entry to SEALIFE London in exchange for an honest review***

Children watching a sting ray

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2 comments

  1. We love the sea life centres as a family and have been to loads since summer as we bought Merlin passes . We haven’t been to the London one but it looks brilliant!

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  2. Looks like a great family day out and good to know a pushchair is doable. Dex mainly walks but sometimes it’s easier to get him in his buggy when he gets a bit tired.

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