One of my favourite times with my toddler is when she is discovering something new. She flaps her arms up and down in excitement and points and says “oh!” while looking back and forth to see my reaction.
We had her grandparents visiting over from the UK at the weekend. The last time they saw her at her first birthday she wasn’t walking, and didn’t have as much curiosity to explore. Therefore I was keen to take them and her to visit somewhere new so they could see her looks of wonder.
We couldn’t decide between a farm, the zoo or the aquarium but as the dark clouds started to loom on the horizon we decided to try the Sea Life Centre at Bray. It certainly didn’t disappoint on the toddler wonderment front for a 16 month old.
There’s not much parking outside, but we got lucky and got a spot on the esplanade just a short walk away, but if you’re planning a visit you might need to be prepared for a walk.
As an adult I’ve been to much bigger, more impressive aquariums with huge multistory tanks and fully enclosed tunnels of fish to walk through. In comparison this aquarium is a bit simple, and on my own I’d have been a bit underwhelmed. However for a toddler it was pretty amazing, and seeing her explore it was great.
There were several floor length tanks so she could walk right up to them and peer at the fish. The first big tank with rays and shark her face was pressed up the glass and she was waving her arms like she wanted to get in.
There were a couple of convex and concave tanks and she really liked those, as she could get even closer, so it’s a shame there weren’t a few more like that.
Some of the tanks she needed lifting to see, and she really liked looking down into them, but I had to have a firm grip so she didn’t try to wriggle in. She especially liked the turtle tank as they were basking on the rocks right at the top.
On the hour they have a demonstration of the tropical fish being fed, but that was a bit of an anticlimax. I’d expected to see a flurry of activity at the surface but instead it was a side view of a tank that we had to stand back from to give everyone a clear view, and that meant you couldn’t really see much. There was a man talking about the fish, but that didn’t hold the attention of a toddler, so we moved on.
A hands on session touching a star fish was much more appealing and a great chance to see a new creature up close.
Even aside from the fish she enjoyed the sensory experience of the different coloured lights, brightly painted walls and other children. It was also good for her to practice walking on a slightly uneven surface,as the path slopes down in places, and she liked climbing onto the little ledges. Towards the end she was losing interest in the fish and preferred just running off, but luckily it wasn’t too busy so we could keep up with her without her banging into people.
She had a lot of fun, but after about 45 minutes she was starting to get tired, and bored, and so was I from all the bending and lifting and chasing.
We went outside and she had some fun collecting stones on the beach and arranging them on the esplanade wall, until the rain clouds loomed too close.
Tickets were €13.50 per adult, with no concession for senior citizens. Children under 3 were free, which is good, but it still meant our small family trip was over €40, for just under an hours time, which is pretty expensive. You can get cheaper tickets by booking in advance online, which I hadn’t done because I was waiting to see what the weather was like, but I would next time. I imagine aquariums are costly to run, so I don’t mind paying, but the online prices seem more reasonable.
Overall I would recommend it as a great activity for a toddler on a rainy day. However at that price I don’t think we will be back for at least a few years until she is old enough to listen to the talks and read the information boards to get a bit more out of it. As a purely sensory and discovery experience it is great. She would probably be just as happy with one fish tank, but it achieved my aim of giving her soneowher new to explore with her grandparents and there were plenty looks of wonder.