As we take most of our holidays in the UK, on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, we know you take a risk with the weather. We had better weather than forecast at the beginning of August, but still had some foggy and rainy days to occupy the children. The first of these I took the children to Oceanarium, the aquarium in Bournemouth.
I have mixed views on whether the aquarium is child friendly, although a lot of my issues were connected to having a toddler in a pushchair. If you have older children you’ll probably have a much more enjoyable time.
The bournemouth.co.uk website describes Oceanarium as
The award-winning Oceanarium is the perfect all weather attraction – discover the mysterious beauty of our watery world in a spectacular underwater journey.
From stunning sharks, curious rare green sea turtles and brightly coloured clownfish, to menacing piranhas, venomous lionfish and the weirdly wonderful octopus – they are all waiting to be discovered!
Be enchanted by the latest additions to the Oceanarium, a very cute Oriental small clawed otter family! Set in a lush bamboo forest with rocky pools and flowing streams, watch them swim, splash, feed and play in their exotic, naturally themed oasis.
And the Oceanarium website includes
ACCESSIBLE FOR ALL
The Oceanarium displays are situated on two floors with lift access, as well as stairs. Wide passageways are throughout the displays for ease of access…
PUSHCHAIRS & BUGGIES
Please note: In wet, rainy conditions when the Oceanarium is likely to be busier than normal, we advise visitors to leave pushchairs at home. However if this is not possible, you will be asked to fold down your pushchair and leave in the pushchair park (unsupervised area) or alternatively, take pushchairs around the aquarium with you.
The two highlights are otters and the large water tank, or to use the official name the Great Barrier Reef. The otters have a large area where you can see them in water, on land and even in bed. They are delightful playful creatures and both children were engrossed by them.
The Barrier Reef is designed so you look down on it, walk through it and look through the side. B liked all views, but M’s favourite was the side view, probably because it had the best view from the push chair.
Fortunately the Oceanarium ticket gives you access for the whole day and you can go in as many times as you want. It took just under an hour for our first visit and I felt so stressed at the end that I took the kids into Bournemouth for lunch. Once I felt calm again we returned to the aquarium and had a more enjoyable time as it was quieter.
Queuing - It was a damp, overcast day so it is not a surprise it was busy, however the queue was poorly organised. Firstly people leaving the aquarium shop had to come through the queue and secondly because of the till arrangement the staff didn’t know who was already being served and who to serve next (although all the staff we talked to were friendly and helpful).
Pushchair - I used the pushchair to get M from the car park and didn’t know whether to use it around the aquarium, but the staff told me they were encouraging people to take the pushchairs because there was no where to leave them. The website may describe the passageways as wide, but I think that must be when there is no one else there because I always felt stuck, as if I was blocking someone or was being taken along with the crowd. We hit a problem straight way, trying to get to the lift and toilet and area; several people were crouched down looking in the first tank meaning there was not enough room for us to get past. Also when we got to the underwater tunnel I was told to stand to the right and keep walking so I didn’t block the tunnel.
Toilets – the toilets are in a very busy area where people are walking in opposite directions to go to the lift and exiting the aquarium, and from the entrance you need to cross this traffic. There were so many people there on our first visit that I did not see the disabled / baby changing toilet and as I was desperate for the toilet ended up leaving B outside with M in the pushchair. I found it on the second visit and it was large enough to fit all of us, including the push chair.
Lift – there are only two floors in the Ocenarium, but you have to wait so long for the lift it seems there are many more. It is a double entry lift with the doors opening on the front and back, but in a defined sequence to ensure you go the correct way around the aquarium. It sounds practical, but not when you are in a hurry to get the children downstairs for the toilet or to return to a car park. Once I think it took over 5 minutes to arrive and was starting to consider carrying the pushchair downstairs and as I assume the lift must not be working.
The ticket prices are shown on the Oceanarium’s site and the page includes their offers; over the summer they were offering 15% off with tickets bought online in advance, and offered further advance discounts for the summer holidays. However, I found an offer in a free brochure I picked up from the Tourist Information Office for a free child with one adult, meaning I paid £9.95 for the three of us (I did not have to pay for M as he is under three).
Would I take the children again? Yes I would, but probably not for several years until they are old enough to walk around without the pushchair, me holding their hand or chasing after them. I think the day ticket is a great idea and would recommend doing a quick visit to identify the areas you want to spend more time and then returning later in the day when you can hopefully take more time.