We went to The Blue Planet Aquarium whilst we were staying in Chester along with several of our friends all with babies. We thought it would be a good place to spend a rainy day in northern England and although it was rather pricey we did have a good time
This Aquarium is situated of the M53 in Ellesmere Port, near Chester. It is a mile from Cheshire Oaks shopping outlet so an ideal place to go before hitting the shops! The website for the aquarium has directions on it which are quite easy to follow although there is sufficient signage on both the M56 and the M53 so finding this place wasn't difficult at all.
There was ample parking with places for coaches too. There was no problem at all with finding a space at all.
Outside of the aquarium there is a tent-like structure which covers an area which appears to be a queuing area. This, because it wasn't high season and was early on in the day, was empty but judging from the ropes which create a queuing area it does look like it gets busy. The only problem with this is that once you get near to the front of the queue and about to go inside, this section isn't covered by the tent. When we arrived the queue was quite short so we went straight inside to queue at the desk, part way through our waiting other people arrived and they were waiting just outside the door getting very wet in the rain!
The queue seemed to take a very long time to go down, there were only 3 families in front of us but the man on the desk was so slow it took 10 minutes until we were served! Pushchairs have to go through a different door to the side of the counter as there is a turnstyle by the counter. This can be a bit awkward as it means having to cut up a few people in the queues to get to it.
Once inside there is quite a large foyer with various things within it including face painting, arcade games and a big painting of the sea before which you can stand in front of and have your photo taken. You can view your photo at the end of your trip and buy it should you wish.
To begin the tour around the aquarium you make your way through into the centre and walk around at your own pace. You can go backwards too if you want to look at something again although when it's busy you may not be favoured for doing this by people who are going in the opposite direction! You go through all at once, there are no staff members only sending through a set amount at a time. This means that it can get quite busy whilst you're going round. When we went through there was a large party of Brownies who had just set off too so it was rather hectic and meant we had to wait quite a while to get next to the tanks.All of the tanks were well cleaned so you had no trouble seeing the fish inside. There was a huge variety of fish and several reptiles too. There were placards next to the tanks with information about the fish inside and how endangered they were. My favourite was a carp called Alan! Genuis name!
Probably the highlight of the trip was the tunnel. This is a huge tank that you walk through and the fish are on either side of you and above your head. There are huge sharks, puffer fish, rays, all sorts in this tank. They are fascinating to see from below and to get this different view of them. Whilst going through the tunnel there is a section of the floor that moves so yo don't even need to waste time walking and can just stand and appreciate the fish! If you don't want to go to on the 'travelator' you can just walk along which is probably more appropriate for those of you with wide pushchairs! If you wish to go through the tunnel again you can do and it is worth it!
Throughout the day there are various events that you can attend including a diving show in which professional divers dive into the pool with the sharks whilst a man communicates with them in front of the audience. It's really quite something to see and I imagine quite an inspiring experience for budding divers!
Something that I did notice though was that there weren't many benches to sit on as you went round. I think maybe the odd bit of seating would be useful for elderly or pregnant or just tired people in general seeing as it is quite a long time to be on your feet.
There are some 'viewing areas' which are basically areas that are raised up on platforms so you can view the fish from a different angle. This is great for kids to go up and explore, not so great if you have a pushchair!
As well as fish there were some reptiles as well which seemed to fascinate the children.
There was a bit of building work occuring throughout various parts of the trip but this didn't seem to affect our time at all, it was all done very discreetly which was good.
The aquarium is on two levels; upstairs and downstairs. This is fine but it means that those with pushchairs and wheelchairs again get the bum deal as there is only one lift. The lift fits 3 pushchairs at a time. I can't help but think this is a bit pathetic considering the amount of people who visit and that many people with young children do visit. It would be more beneficial to have a second lift really.
Downstairs when you leave the tunnel there is the 'canteen'. I say canteen but I wouldn't even go as far as calling it that. It is shocking! I cannot believe that a place like this is actually allowed to exist! There are two options; fried food or manky potatoes! There fried food counter seemed to be THE place to go as everyone was gravitating towards it. The options were very limited; pizza slice and fries, fish and fries, veggie burger and fries, chicken burger and fries... basically just fried up badness! The pizza was awful, it was extremely deep pan and very very dry as though it was stale. The potato stand offered about 4 fillings of jacket all of which were waiting under a warm light to be served. The jackets were only just cooked, they were still slightly hard, almost crunchy. It was not a nice experience.The seating area was also rather depressing. Just rows of tables and chairs set out. Nothing exciting in the room, no highchairs, or if there were any they were all taken. It wasn't a nice dining experience.
I was really disappointed by the lack of choice. I was suprised that there wasn't even a choice of sandwiches which would have given more variety. This is an area of this aquarium which really needs to be dragged into modern times and stop serving just fried up mush.
Once you emerge from the aquarium the gift shop is waiting you but on your way towards it you get to see the photograph that was taken on your way in. This photo is put in a cardboard frame and you are given a disc so you can print off as many copies of this as you want... sounds good but for £12 it's a rip off! We certainly weren't prepared to spend that much money on one flimsy photo! The shop had many gifts in it from soft toys, keyrings, necklaces, posters, pens... all sorts of things. The items were all very expensive but there was something for all budgets.
I didn't come face to face with any staff except for those on the desk on the way in who were polite enough but just so very very slow. There didn't seem to be any staff around throughout the day which suprises me!
I can't really say this place was spotless but there wasn't anything glaringly wrong with it either. There was building work going on but it didn't affect the day and we didn't really notice it. The tanks that the fish were in all looked to be well maintained and in all I would say it was a fairly clean place.
This is a pricy day out at £15 for adults and £10 for children. Babies are free although I'm not sure up to what age as the man on the desk demanded I showed him Hope who was all tucked up in the pushchair, he had to assess her size before letting us in! He wasn't actually all that friendly about it either.
If you go online you may find that there is an offer on. If you book in advance you can get £2 off per person which may be useful to do. Also there are sometimes discount codes so keep your eyes peeled.
This aquarium was a good day out for us, because there was a group of us we were here a good while but I imagine if it was just the three of us we would only have been about an hour which wouldn't have made it very good value for money. I think we did get our money's worth as we enjoyed our time here and Hope was fascinated by the fish.
There was certainly a good variety of fish and reptiles and although it was quite busy so a lot of waiting around to get near to tanks occured it was still an enjoyable experience.
I don't think we will be going out of our way to visit again but we certainly wouldn't mind going back, especially if we win the lottery so can stretch to it a bit more! I think the prices are very steep, for just two adults alone £30 for what could be just an hour walking around isn't very reasonable. It is worth looking out for offers that's for sure.
All in all good for a family day out, although it's more of a few hours than an entire day.
- below a picture of Hope looking rather guilty for trying to steal all the soft toys in the gift shop!