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There are four Blue Reef Aquariums located in the UK: ~ Newquay ~ Porstmouth ~ Hastings ~ Tynemouth
The latter one is approx 10 minutes drive from where I live. Formerly known as the Sea Life Centre, I've visited a few times on very wet days to amuse the nieces and nephews.
- Admission Prices -
This isn't cheap! Adult - £7.75 Child (aged 3-14) - £5.75 Senior & Students - £6.75 Family of 4 - £24 Family of 5 - £27.50
There's also an option of becoming an annual member, which I really should contemplate as since it's so nearby, I would probably save quite a bit and use it more often: Adult - £22 Child (age 3 - 14) - £18 Senior & Students - £20 Family of 4 - £65
Additional benefits include: Free Admission for a full year to all Blue Reef Aquariums. £1 off the full admission price for accompanying friends and family £1 off the full price for children's birthday parties.
- Opening Times -
Daily from 10am Last admission is 5pm (4pm November - February) Closed on Christmas Day only.
- Location -
This is easily spotted, just outside of Tynemouth, right on the sea front. The nearest Metro stations are Cullercoats and Tynemouth but allow approx 15 - 20 mins walk. There's quite a bit of parking along the sea front, priced at 80p for 2 hours.
- Inside -
Depending on whether or not they are having a busy day, the entrance is usually at the front but on busier days is at the side of the building as they use the 'official' entrance
as an exit.
In the entrance area there is a small gift shop, a café, the tills at which to pay for your entrance, the toilets and a small tank of fish and turtles. Once you have paid you each get a stamp of something that resembles a very basic fish head. On entering the double doors in to the main section of the aquarium, there are little stools, much what we used at home for the youngsters to stand on to reach the sink. It really is a good idea to take one of these with you if you have children under about 7 or 8 as many of the displays aren't at their eye level and your arms will ache by the end from lifting them up to see all of the things! My niece is 8 and of average height and this is the first time we haven't needed to lift her up more than twice.
The corridors through which you walk are quite narrow and on a busy day, prepare yourself to be shoulder to shoulder in some places with complete strangers! It is quite dark in most of the corridors which emphasises the tanks. Quite a lot of the tanks are set in corridors but there are other areas which are large rooms such as the stingrays, lobsters, otters and seals. There are pictures of most of the fish in the tanks with information about them. Since becoming a little older my niece showed a lot more interest in the information about them but the problem was that because of the positioning of many of the posters and the darkness of some of the areas, the writing was quite difficult to make out. The information is extremely detailed and appropriate for adults and I found myself having to scan some of it and translate it in to child friendly information. I can understand that they are catering for adults who are interested in sea life but I do think that there is a case for them to then create little bits of information for children and positioned at a level that is appropriate to them. After all, in each of my visits the only adults I have ever seen are those accompanied by children!
There are little quiz questions intermittently placed on walls near different tanks, that children can turn with different options on but the answers are nowhere to be seen. There also areas to take rubbings of fish but no paper or crayons were given out or clearly available on our entry to the displays. The range of sea life on show is very good, for example: -Fascinating Frogs - a few deadly frogs and toads are shown in this area.
-Otters - this is a large room in which about 4 - 6 'toddler' otters are in full view. You can see them playing above the water and also see how they swim by bending down and watching them through the glass walls. This was a very busy area and it's quite hard to find a good spot. Be prepared for a foul stench.... You know when you are near them as you can smell them through the preceding corridors.
-Tropical fish area which is really very beautiful to look at, given the colours of the fish.
-A large octopus - we found this fascinating as got to it just at the right time as it came moving over to the front glass. We could clearly see it's suckers and how it changed colour in order to become more camouflaged. This is the only area where you are requested not to take photos as apparantly it is very sensitive to flash lights.
-Nursery - This houses some baby fish and fascinating Dogfish in pouches that you can see moving and breathing. It also houses a few rock pools and skeletons of shark and fish jaws.
-There is a large tank with small black tipped sharks and other fish. These creatures can be seen from different areas. Finally through a short walk through tunnel at the end of the aquarium where you can see them swimming above and to the sides of you. There are also a couple of shark talk and feed sessions throughout the day which is announced with approx 5 minutes warning.
-The seal cove - This is an outdoor area situated towards the end of the building. On entering the area you are faced with a very large glass wall, you are then able to walk outside in either direction to the surface of the pool. You are therefore able to see the seals above and below the water. There are a few talk and feeding times with the seals which can be checked out on the website. We missed it this visit but my niece had already seen it on her school trip so it wasn't too much of a travesty!
~ The Gift shop ~ The small size of this is very apparent on a busy day. It sells a wide range of toys relating to seal life, along with many things that bear no relation to the sea, for example pens, rubbers, jewellery.
Disadvantages ~ Information isn't always child-friendly. ~ It's quite expensive for one to two hours entertainment. ~ Since when have children become adults at 15? 14+ and you are charged as an adult, not very fair. ~ Not all of the signs match the creatures that are in the tanks.
Advantages ~ Something to kill an hour or so on a miserable weather day. ~ Educational.