Cheeky penguins, fear-inspiring sharks and delicate, luminescent jellyfish. Our day at SeaLife London Aquarium, on the South Bank of the city’s River Thames, introduced Austin and Gwen to some awesome creatures. And the new Rainforest Adventure section brought them up close to one or two deadly Amazonian individuals, like the tree python above, or this Cuban Crocodile, who lay so intensely still that it took me a while to convince the children he wasn’t just a statue.
Six year-old Gwen was appreciably nervous when we entered the dark, atmospheric Rainforest Adventure. Once inside, though, she warmed up after trying out a gimmick where you put your finger inside a toy piranha’s mouth – and the fish ‘munched’ your finger, with a loud crunching sound. The sound turned out to just be a big puff of air. Gwen lingered by the piranha, coaxing other children to come and try it out. Both Austin and Gwen decided against putting their heads inside a plastic dome in the middle of a nest of giant cockroaches.
Shark tunnels and starfish pools
SEALife London is about as interactive as aquariums can get. Black tip reef and sand tiger sharks live in a huge tank, behind a dense, inches-thick barrier. So it’s difficult to take decent images of them and their colossal neighbours, the bowmouth guitarfish. But a walk-through transparent tunnel brings you right underneath their swim path, so you can watch them sail overhead. And there are plenty of handy viewing points, to see the creatures from different perspectives.
A vigilant monitor at the petting pool let children gently touch a starfish. Austin and Gwen told me it felt like one of those squidgy rubber men, whose legs and arms stretch out when you pull them.
Penguin Point was the children’s favourite area. Markedly more chilly than the rest of the aquarium, it was where a colony of around twenty gentoo penguins lived. Each one had a unique identifying bracelet, so you could find out from a notice on the wall the name of your favourite, and whether they were male or female.
Captive penguins are something that make me feel a little uneasy, and there were a couple of things that made me sad in Penguin Point, like the group of schoolchildren who jangled their keys against the glass of the enclosure, to make the penguin inside think it was a fish. The poor penguin pecked and flapped at the glass in vain. But other than that, the penguins seemed perky and very well cared-for. SEALife London is aware of the potential criticism, and judging by their website, seems to take great pains to make sure the captive penguins’ lives are as comfortable as they can be.
Austin and Gwen were thrilled when, after patiently waiting their turn to crawl inside the viewing dome, one of the gentoo penguins hopped over, to say hello.
My own favourite was the Ocean Invaders section, where the jellyfish lived. Lit up in neon colours, the delicate creatures danced and pulsed, like vapour trails on a flat-screen TV.
Sometimes it was difficult to believe that the moon jellyfish, upside down jellyfish and Japanese sea nettles were real, living creatures. With Austin and Gwen captivated by a large-screen jellyfish game at the end of Ocean Invaders, I was able to wander around, taking in the tranquil beauty of these animals.
There were many other animals to see at SEALife London, like the friendly octopus that galumphed around its tank, the endearing seahorses, snub-nosed sea turtles and brilliant, bright clownfish. It’s one of those places where you could easily spend a good two or three hours. Unlike some aquariums we’ve visited, it has a walk-through system, so you can’t wander from one section to another, and then back again. There’s also no cloakroom, so it’s best if you take as few possessions as possible. I managed to lose my phone, when fumbling around with all my bags, and the children’s coats. Luckily, someone handed it to a member of staff, and the woman I spoke to in Rainforest Adventure was brilliant at quickly radioing her colleagues, and returned the phone to me within a few minutes.
Like its neighbour Shrek’s Adventure, SEALife London has no café or restaurant, but there are countless eateries nearby, all along the South Bank.
SEALife London does get very busy, so it’s best to arrive as early in the day as possible. We booked a 9.30am entry slot, which meant we were among the first to enter the aquarium, and there was no queue. We made the booking through Attraction Tickets Direct, who invited us to visit London attractions on their Big London cluster tickets. At £54 for adults and £44 for children between three and 15, the tickets save around 50% of the cost of walk-up entry to the attractions. As well as SEALife London, the cluster tickets give you entry to The Coca-Cola London Eye, Madame Tussauds and Shrek’s Adventure at any time over 90 days. You need to visit Madame Tussauds first to activate your ticket.
SEALife London is easy to get to. It’s on the South Bank, inside the County Hall building, right next to the London Eye and just over Westminster Bridge from Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament.The nearest station is Waterloo, and Chring Cross is also nearby.
This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.
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