“ Address: Pier Approach / West Beach / Bournemouth / Dorset / BH2 5AA / England „
Welcome to Bournemouth: the Happiest Place to Live!
Let me tell you a story, about a young Manchester-born lad who found love while posting on a student forum to prepare for a University course. Indeed, I met my now-fiancé on The Student Room before attending an English degree at Coventry University, and soon met her in her hometown of Bournemouth. What a place! No wonder it was voted the happiest place to live in the United Kingdom in a recent national survey. A plethora of shops wind intricately through the center of town, giving way to meandering gardens that join the shopping arcades to the golden beaches of the south coast. At the end of this tree-lined walkway lies the Bournemouth Pier, next to which you will find Bournemouth Oceanarium.
I first discovered this Oceanarium in the Summer of 2010 shortly after meeting my fiancé; both being vegetarians and animal lovers, we took a liking to the curious animals that inhabit this deceptively spacious aqua-zoo. Imagine our surprise when, in the Summer of 2011, we were the lucky winners of a Heart.fm competition for two year-long annual passes to the oceanarium - we were ecstatic!
And finally, to our delight, as our birthdays are three days apart, her family treated us to a behind-the-scenes day at the Oceanarium to feed the animals and see what the job entails. What an experience!
The building itself is actually much bigger than it appears to be, stretching far beyond the relatively small entrance that sits to the side of the Pier approach. Several enticing cocktail bars may lure you away from the pull of the Oceanarium, but resist their allure - the experience is wonderful if you give it a chance!
Upon entering the building you will be faced with several options: do you begin your visit with a delicious meal from the Offshore Café to the left? Or how about a lovely stuffed animal from the gift shop to the right? Perhaps that's best saved until you've determined which of the little critters is your favourite! In that case it's straight ahead to the reception, before beginning your visit with an ascending spiral staircase passed the most deadly animal in the aquarium (a lovely little leopard stingray), terrapins and a sunbathing chameleon and into the heart of the ocean.
What Lies Beneath --- SPOILERS! ---
PLEASE DO NOT READ THE 'WHAT LIES BENEATH' PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT ANIMALS ARE IN THE OCEANARIUM BEFORE YOUR VISIT :)
--- LAST SPOILER WARNING! ---
There are a huge amount of intriguing beasties within Bournemouth Oceanarium, and as you progress through the displays, you are introduced to them in a relatively ordered manner. The first stop on our tour is the Pirahna tank, adjacent to some of the biggest catfish I've ever seen (including one who likes to swim upside down - it's hilarious!). It's quite a contrast to see the sharp-toothed carnivores opposite such docile looking catfish who love a bit of carrot and lettuce at feeding time.
Next up: the otters! A recent addition to the Oceanarium, the two young otters are quite a sight and currently a topic of hot debate amongst staff and visitors. They've had a beautiful pen built, consisting of dry land and a large swimming area with a waterfall, plus a great deal of rockery to climb. They've even had a balcony built for them recently so that they may enjoy Bournemouth's unrivalled sunshine and an ocean view. Lucky beasts!
As you progress further into the building, you may witness some long-necked turtles and more reptiles, before branching out into a beautiful open tank. This tank is home to two large turtles, with even larger personalities, Friday and Crusoe. These friendly characters share their home with an abundance of sharks and stingrays, plus a very cheeky eel who likes to steal food from the others at feeding time.
Rounding off the tour are two final sections: the Abyss is the first of these, housing baby sharks, lobsters and other prehistoric entities. Unfortunately the resident octopus recently passed away. The final section is home to some more feisty sharks and baby stringways in a large open tank, with plenty of interactive information and games available to keep the public informed of global warming.
I also have it on good authority that the Oceanarium will be seeing some new residents soon, in the form of a penguin enclosure!
Aquarist for the Day!
As mentioned previously, my fiancé and I recently enjoyed a behind-the-scenes experience day at the Oceanarium. This involved feeding the animals and learning more about the species. It was an incredible experience that I would love to do again, though I won't disclose too much more information on this as I would hate to ruin the surprises that await anyone who decides to book it for themselves. Anybody who does will also receive:
* £10 worth of credit to spend in The Cove Shop (gift shop)
* 50% discount in the lovely Offshore Café
* 1 free guest pass
* A t-shirt to keep, emblazoned with "Aquarist for the Day"
* A certificate
This experience costs £85 for an adult, or £115 for a child with an accompanying adult or guardian present for the day.
The prices at Bournemouth Oceanarium are quite good, especially if you are a resident of Bournemouth or frequent visitor and wish to take advantage of an annual pass. Pricing is as follows:
Adult: £9.95 on the door // £8.45 online
Child: £6.50 on the door // £5.50 online
There are lots of other discounts for seniors, carers, families and so on, which can be found in more detail on the Oceanarium's website: http://www.oceanarium.co.uk/admission.cfm
An annual pass is also available for unlimited entry until the 31st December of the year in which it was purchased. If planning frequent visits, this pass can offer a huge saving to repeated visitors.
I recently went to Dorset on holiday this summer so decided to check out Oceanarium. At £8.95 a ticket for an adult, it is relatively cheap, especially compared to the £17.50 that Birmingham sealife centre charge.
Queues were short and we got in pretty quickly. Everything is enclosed so until you actually get in, you won't be able to see any of the creatures.
There is a guide book available to purchase for a small price at entry.
There are a variety of animals there including giant stingrays and giant turtles, which the sealife centre don't have. Before going to Oceanarium, I did not even realise that such big forms of stingrays and turtles even existed.
Oceanarium is quite interactive, with touch screens places at various points showing information on certain species, or short videos about them. Although I didn't really see many people using them, just the odd kid suddenly discovering the joys of touch screen.
There is a new Global Meltdown experience where you can go in and explore what would happen if our entire world was flooded with water, using state of the art technology. There is also the opportunity to measure your own carbon footprint, and make any donations.
The creature that you must see when you get there is the Guitarfish, located at Key West (the final display). This is simply a shark but with the head of a stingray.
For £8.95, this isn't a bad price. But don't go here thinking that it will be a day out. Plan some other things too because the chances are, you will be in and out of there in no time. It's a pretty small place. Although having said that, I thought it was pretty spectacular. But then I went to the sealife centre the other week which I much prefer and it made me realise that Oceanarium isn't that great compared to it.
Oceanarium also do an annual pass which I believe is around £18 for an adult. I can't quite remember the prices for children and seniors. But although they are annual passes, they expire on the 31st of December each year, regardless of when you purchased them.
Typical bank holiday weather had us running for the shelter of indoor activities this weekend so we visited the Oceanarium in Bournemouth. Situated just opposite the pier we only had a very short (but soggy) run from the sea front car park to reach it.
The cost was just over 25 pounds for a family of 4 but we could have saved a bit more if we had booked online first.
The interior of the aquarium was really nicely set out with different zones to represent different areas of the ocean, each zone was themed differently and my 2 young boys found this really exciting as they were pretending to explore the ocean. There was a good mix of information and fish to look at in each section and lots of low level viewing for little ones. The underwater tunnel was a big hit and we spent a few minutes sitting there watching the small sharks, sting ray and turtles swim overhead.
As an adult I felt this attraction didn't have much of a 'wow' factor but that view wasn't shared by my 3 and 5 year olds who loved it. We spent around an hour and a half in the aquarium but could have spent longer if we had stayed for feeding times. One good aspect is the ticket is valid all day so if you are in Bournemouth for the day you can re visit later to watch feeding times you may have missed.
DOWN BY THE SEA
My wife's grandfather recently celebrated his 91st birthday, so the whole family went down to Bournemouth to see him. We were expected for a late afternoon tea, but as we were making the 90 mile trip down in any case, we decided to head down a little early and take advantage of some of the attractions Bournemouth has to offer. Although we have been to see him many times before, we have never properly explored Bournemouth, mainly because we let him choose what he wants to do when we visit.
That usually means a trip to the Blue Pool near Swanage and/or nice plate of fish and chips at a seaside restaurant. I suppose when you get to his age, you know what you like and your sense of adventure and appetite for new things is already sated. However, this time, we were free to decide on where we wanted to go. Our daughter really enjoyed the London Aquarium when we visited last year, so we settled on Bournemouth's equivalent - the Oceanarium.
LOCATION & PARKING
The Oceanarium is located on the Bournemouth seafront, very close to Bournemouth Pier and the Bournemouth International Centre. If travelling in by car, the attraction is clearly signposted with white on brown signage from each direction of Wessex Way - the main Bournemouth bypass road (A35/A338). The immediate area around the site is pedestrianised, so you will have to park in one of the nearby Pay & Display car parks and walk down.
The closest is the Bath Road South Car Park, your first left after you pass the grand Royal Bath Hotel. Parking fees are quite reasonable (we paid £3 for three hours) and you can pay by mobile phone if you are stuck for change. If arriving by train, the Oceanarium is about a mile from Bournemouth Station. If you don't fancy the walk, there are a several bus routes which leave from outside the station that serve Bournemouth Pier.
Prices are quite reasonable at £8.95 for adults and £6.40 for children (between three and fifteen). There are concessions for seniors, students, carers and the disabled (check the web site below for further details). Family tickets, catering for 2 adults and 2 children, or 2 adults and 3 children are available and offer a substantial saving on individual tickets. Tickets allow you unlimited visits on the day of entry, so you can easily break up a visit around lunch or a trip to the beach.
You can save a full twenty percent (20%) off the advertised ticket prices if you book on-line through their intuitive booking service at www.oceanarium.co.uk. We did this, without any hassles, the night before our trip. Each ticket has to be printed off separately (it has a bar code which is read at the entrance) in black and white or colour. The tickets are not tied to a particular day, but they must be used within a year of purchase. Most major credit cards are accepted (except Amex).
There was no queue when we arrived, so we presented our internet tickets to the friendly staff, who scanned them in without a problem. Guide books are available at the till for £2 apiece, providing a map of the facility and more detail on the exhibits, but after having a quick leaf through, I decided to leave it. Once past the admission desk, you go through a set of double doors and up a set of spiral steps into the first viewing area. If you are taking the buggy (as we were), there is a set of double doors immediately to the right of the stairs that leads to the lift (which opens out into the same space upstairs).
The exhibits are arranged by geographical and ecological area - such as the Mediterranean Sea, the Amazon and Ganges Rivers, the Everglades and "The Abyss". There are several large tanks, where the bigger specimens - at least those that peacefully co-exist together - are given a fair bit of freedom to roam around, as well as smaller, stand-alone exhibits which house the crankier and decidedly more aggressive specimens - like the vicious looking piranha.
The tanks are clean and well kept, with each environment realistically and attractively re-created. There are various additions to the tanks - like concave and convex viewing ports, which give the viewer a different and interesting perspective on the tank's inhabitants. Each of these tanks has an illuminated light board which sets out the vital statistics of each fish, along with interesting little factoids. At the entrance to each area, there is a large, colourful display that introduces the region displayed and provides a wealth of information which helps place the exhibits in context.
Apart from the fish themselves, there are a number of areas that really add to the experience. Turtle Cove is a large, airy, almost open area (the roof of the building is glass) where you can view - from above - giant sea turtles, sharks and various other creatures swimming around. On the floor of Turtle Cove is an underwater clear tunnel - accessed from a lower floor, which allows you to "walk" across the ocean floor, with the fish swimming to the side and overhead.
A highlight for me and my wife (but which scared the pants off my daughter) was the interactive dive cage. This is small open-ended room, covered on three sides with LCD screens, which takes you on a simulated journey into the belly of a blue whale, swimming with dolphins and a face to face encounter with a hungry Great White shark. The effect is quite realistic and was all too much for our daughter - so parents with young kids take note. The good news is that you can step in and out as you please, watching as little or as much as you like.
There are various other interactive elements - a joystick that gives you control over a 360 degree camera in the main tank, an exhibit on global warming that helps you visualise the consequences of rising sea levels, and a terminal where you can make a recorded voice or video pledge to save energy (ex. by washing at lower temperatures, checking car tyre pressures, taking a shower instead of a bath and unplugging phone chargers).
The attraction is both disabled and pushchair friendly, with lifts placed at strategic points to allow both types of users to access the whole facility. Buggy parks are provided for those who prefer to walk (or carry) their toddlers around. The Offshore Café is based on the ground floor and has a view over the seafront. It serves a selection of snacks, drinks and Starbucks coffee at slightly inflated (but not extortionate) prices. Having arrived just before lunch, after our visit, we indulged in two jackets with baked beans and salad, a tuna sandwich for our pre-schooler, two drinks, crisps and a vat of coffee for just under £20. High chairs and bottle-warming facilities are available on request.
There is a unisex (and disabled friendly) loo located on the ground floor in the café which is password protected to prevent passers-by from availing themselves of the facilities - the code is printed on the till receipt from your café purchase - something you don't realise until you need to use it and you've chucked it away. There are further toilets and baby-changing facilities in the main complex after the admission desk.
The foyer of the venue also has a well appointed gift shop called The Cove, which sells the usual selection of cheap ticky tack, as well as more upmarket souvenirs, ornaments, toys, books, and other gifts. They also sell ice cream and pick-n-mix, strategically and very visibly placed exactly where excited sweet-munchers will see them as soon as you come in, so be warned.
IS IT WORTH THE TRIP?
Having recently visited the London Aquarium at County Hall, we found the Oceanarium compared very favourably. Whilst it does not have the size and grandeur of its much bigger rival, everything seemed more intimate, more accessible and more interactive. As my daughter is currently home-schooled we had the advantage of visiting on a Wednesday lunchtime when we practically had the place to ourselves.
This ensured we could take our time with the exhibits, take full advantage of the interactive elements and even speak to the very knowledgeable, approachable and friendly staff about their aquatic charges. Even at the full ticket price, the visit proved exceptional value for money. The layout is thoughtful and child friendly, with lots of built-in activities designed to keep and hold those with even the shortest attention span.
Our visit took only about an hour, but we rushed through toward the end because our six month old was getting restless in his buggy and needed a feed (as did we all). However, you could quite easily spend two or three hours in there without getting bored, especially if you work in one or two of the animal feeding sessions scattered throughout the day. Our visit was ill-timed in the sense that we arrived just after a session and left just before another, so I can't comment on how good they are.
Given the reasonable price and the depth and breadth of the information and exhibits, the Oceanarium lends itself to repeat visits - an aspect clearly recognised by the management, who offer an annual pass (which also gives reduced admission to sister attractions at Blackpool Zoo and the Lakes Aquarium as well as a wealth of other discounts and membership perks) which at around £25, pays for itself after three visits - a reasonable proposition if you are relatively local.
Our trip to the Oceanarium was a great success. The venue is a colourful, engaging and educational experience which we all thoroughly enjoyed. It's probably not enough of a draw on its own to justify a long trip to Bournemouth, but if you are in the area for other reasons (as we were) or are down in Dorset on holiday, it is well worth a side trip.
Oceanarium: The Bournemouth Aquarium
Pier Approach (next to Bournemouth Pier)
Bournemouth BH22 5AA
Tel: 01202 311 993
Open 10am to 5pm (last admission at 4pm) every day except Christmas Day
Managed by the Parques Reunidos Group
© Hishyeness 2010