Every now and then we like to spend a proper family day together – we go out to somewhere special in the morning and enjoy a lunch together before heading home. Today we chose the Sea Life Centre in Brighton for that special family time together.
We had one of the pay for one and the other goes free vouchers from a Frosties box so armed with our cut out bit of cardboard we headed down to Brighton. Now Emma hates being in the car seat but we are onto her trick and have discovered that the Frozen soundtrack makes her stop protesting. This lead to two adults walking along Brighton seafront on a hot sunny day humming ‘do you want to build a snowman’ which amused us no end.
The amusement pretty much ended there though. We arrived at the Sea Life Centre to find an enormous queue of people waiting to go in and their matching shirts identified them as a tour group. We were feeling dead sneaky when we found the pushchair friendly entrance that allowed us to skip one group but soon got stuck behind two others. This is the point we should have walked away as going in was clearly a mad idea.
We thought to ourselves “surely an experienced company like Sea Life wouldn’t let all these people in at once though….surely though wouldn’t” but the answer is yes, yes they will.
Having paid £17.50 to get in – which seems an equally bad idea – we walked into a photobooth type thing to have our photo taken in a couple of amusing different green screen. Problem was we’d been queuing for a while by this point and Emma was furious. If your toddler won’t stay still when they can see fish behind the photographer as well I don’t recommend you try the photo idea!
Emma is two years old and the size of an average two year old and the Sea Life Centre have thoughtfully provided little steps for small people to stand on…. Which is all very well until you are three people back and can’t see anything because of the people in front of her and there are lots of people in behind her waiting to see.
There were simply too many people there. Too many people in one place makes for a noisy, rushed, hot and overcrowded experience. Too many people who don’t care about other people around them because they are also feeling hot, cramped and annoyed by too many people around them. Too many people who shoved and pushed each other round because there is no space to do anything else.
Pretty soon we were caught up in a wave (please note deliberate nautical reference) of people all moving from exhibit to exhibit. This is where Sea Life Brighton becomes bad.
The place has a terrible layout that means unless you operate on a grid pattern you are going to miss something and if you’ve paid £17.50 per person you don’t want to miss anything at all.
The main attraction if we are all honest is the underwater tunnel which should have been a magical experience. It wasn’t. Imagine you are on a conveyor belt unable to stop and look at the wonders around you but craning your neck to look behind you at what you can’t see / just missed. It’s annoying – especially when you know that your little girl who loves fish would have loved to see it but can’t.
We wanted to take a break and stop for some lunch but there are about 10 small tables in the middle of the main room that seat 4 each. That’s about half the amount of tables that are actually needed and we only found two high chairs – both filthy and covered in food. We did not eat, drink or sit at the Sea Life Centre.
But out of everything – the stupid queuing, the totally overcrowded facilities, the ridiculous café, the extraordinary entrance fee and the entire disappointing experience the bit that bothered me the most were the fish.
All over the place are signs saying no flash photography, do not bang the glass and do not touch the animals as it hurts them and yet we saw all of these things happening repeatedly. I asked a couple of people to stop but that shouldn’t have to happen.
Where are the staff? Where are the people making sure that the rules are followed and the entire ethos of Sea Life Centre is followed?
My husband and I are keen marine conservationists and feel it is important for Emma to learn how important our oceans are. Now until she is old enough to take on a boat or snorkelling (both of which are a while off) the best ways for her to learn are books, DVD’s, movies and the internet but sometimes you need to ignite that passion by showing them. We chose the Sea Life Centre specifically because of their track record in rescue, rehabilitation and (where possible) release.
I wanted Emma to see the sharks, turtles and rays swimming over her head and around her – I wanted to hear her say WOW as she does when she sees something she thinks is magic. I just felt sad. Sad for the creatures in Sea Life care aren’t being looked after as well as I hoped they would be. Sad for the missed education opportunities and sad for wasting one of our very few and precious family days out on what turned into a wasted, over crowded and expensive waste of time.
So no. I don’t think this is a good place to be. No I wouldn’t recommend you spend your hard earned pennies going there. I really wish I could as I wanted to like it – I really did but Sea Life need to take a long hard look at the whole experience and do some major re-evaluating on the whole experience.