It was Karl’s birthday on Saturday (I won’t tell you how old he is because he might throw something at me) and because he is the most awkward person in the world to buy for, I didn’t buy him anything; instead we went for a day out in Birmingham. Considering I have always lived within an hour’s drive of Birmingham (2nd biggest city in the UK, according to Wikipedia), you’d imagine I’d visit quite often but this was only the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve ever actually been! I’ve lived a sheltered life ;)
Our destination for the trip was The National SEA LIFE Centre in Birmingham, who had kindly offered us (free) VIP access to the centre to preview the new Penguin Ice Adventure attraction which opens to the public today (7th April).
We had to be there for 11am and so decided to take the train from Telford Central station to Birmingham New Street to avoid traffic. Not being a frequent train user (by which I mean I’ve been on about 4 trains in my whole life) I reserved the tickets online in the week prior through thetrainline.com & I’m glad I did because the train to Brum was absolutely packed. We had to turf a couple out of our seats, although it turned out that we shifted the wrong people (oops). The kids loved being on the train and Izz chatted the whole way there about everything she could see out of the window.
Although the SEA LIFE Centre is a short walk from Birmingham New Street, we took a taxi; I didn’t fancy dragging the kids along an unfamiliar and very busy road/route and with Karl’s dodgy knee it seemed like the most sensible solution. For some reason, the taxi journey was the highlight of Oliver’s day and he won’t stop going on about it, I have no idea why. It was £4.60 to get from the station to the SEA LIFE Centre.
Once at the Centre we were greeted by a friendly chap who didn’t have a clue who I was because for some reason I introduced myself with my full name, rather than just Jem. Brief moment of confusion sorted out, we were shown to the Penguin exhibit. It was nearly 11am and there was a short queue at the main desk. The staff at the centre were very welcoming and we got stuck straight into checking out the penguins. I have never seen a penguin up close before, and for some reason had this idea in my head that they would be quite large. However, these penguins were all fairly small, probably around 1-2ft high. Oliver was fascinated, and took great delight in teasing two young penguins through the glass with his VIP pass.
The penguin enclosure has a sprinkler-style system installed which, at regular intervals, delivered a brief simulated rain shower which caused the penguins to get quite animated — even the fat looking ‘boss penguin’ managed to stir himself on his rock for his half-hourly shower.
When we’d finished checking out the penguins (and the kids had stopped helping themselves to the free VIP pastries & orange juice ;)) we set off round the Centre. Oliver loved peering into each tank to watch the fish moving around, and particularly liked trying to spot which fish was the biggest in each tank. Isabel was getting a little over-stimulated by the sights and noises and started to get stroppy as we walked around, but was won over by the seahorses and enthralled by the jellyfish in their colourful lit-up tanks (I thought the jellyfish were particularly well done). She spent quite a long time taking pictures of each tank and asking questions about what was in each one.
One of the things that worries me about any attraction containing animals is that their welfare needs are met, and the SEA LIFE Centre is no exception. I don’t know a lot about fish and their requirements but I know from fish loving friends that, like many other pets, they are frequently housed in tanks that are far too small for their needs. However, I was reassured that the Centre is helping to to tackle this problem — they have a prominent sign at the beginning of the ‘tour’ which talks about some of the “tank buster” fish they’ve taken in because their old owners could no longer accomodate the fish — and it encourages potential owners to do their research before buying. Welfare of their own fish aside, I was pleased to see lots of information dotted about the place talking about over-fishing, the use of shark fin etc.
The Centre has a 4D cinema playing a Spongebob Squarepants film, but we didn’t go in because they warn against it for easily startled children (I was grateful for that) and we weren’t sure how Izzy would react… Spongebob really isn’t my thing anyway! Instead we went down into the shark tunnel and watched as the sharks and giant turtle swam around above our heads. At the end there was a soft play facility, although I shoo-ed the kids out of the door before they spotted it!
All in we spent around an hour and a half to two hours walking around, not including the time spent looking at the penguins. That could easily have been more time if we’d stopped to read every sign or had taken part in the kid’s side activities (neither of mine were particularly interested on the day). We bought a couple of souvenirs from the shop because they were reasonably priced (compared to other touristy places where you feel like you’re being ripped off)
After we’d finished at the SEA LIFE Centre, we spotted a burger place — ‘Handmade Burger Co‘ — and had a great lunch at less than £40 for the 4 of us. Not quite as cheap as your average McDonalds but considering the burgers were the sized of a good steak, and that included 4 lots of meals and drinks I didn’t think it was a bad price for a treat day out. The customer service was stellar, food arrived quickly despite the place being absolutely packed and a queue out the door, and they were happy to accomodate requests for a highchair, leftovers being bagged up etc. Looking at their website now I can see they have a large variety of menu options to cater for those with allergies which I know some of my dairy free readers will appreciate :)
Post-burger, we walked back towards the SEA LIFE Centre to try and find a taxi and I spotted the queue, which was by that point spilling out of the front entrance and halfway up the street.
If you were planning on go to Birmingham, I’d say you’d want to dedicate a whole morning or afternoon to the SEA LIFE Centre and definitely take the train, because having seen the traffic around there I wouldn’t want to drive in it. Tickets to the SEA LIFE Centre are £20.95 for a full paying adult or child over 3 although you can save up to £8.50 by booking online … and given the size of the queue on Saturday I would definitely recommend booking online so that you can use the fast track entry thingy.