Spooky Sea Fun at Sea Life’s Ascarium
We visited Sea Life to see what they’re getting up to this half term, and there’s an underwater world of the seriously strange (and amazing!)
With the Autumn half term now here we’re all keen to find things to do while lockdown restrictions allow.
Halloween’s never really been our thing but three year olds are curious souls, so when we were invited along to Sea Life‘s halloween themed “Ascarium” in Scarborough, I thought it could still be a good day out.
The last time I saw inside Sea Life’s iconic pyramids was back when it was built in the early 90s when my childhood holidays were spent at Scarborough. I only have vague memories of visiting but I do recall the big stingrays which in those days you could touch when they swam up to the surface. I guess with health and safety and now covid, things change!
Reuben was super excited about going to Sea Life – he’s obsessed with seeing Pets at Home fish, so I had a feeling the aquarium would go down well.
After a two hour drive, we arrived at Scarborough’s North Bay where Sea Life is conveniently situated beside the rocky sea front. On arrival to the centre we were swiftly checked in and had our temperatures taken (for covid precautions) by a very nice lady who gave Reuben a pop badge and handed us some quiz sheets to get going: the ‘Ascarium’ hunt seeking hidden halloween items and letters to complete a riddle, and an additional quiz leading you through the various areas of the centre, posing multiple choice questions on locations such as Penguin Island and the Ocean Tunnel. So we had plenty to be getting on with!
Before we began our tour of the deep, we had our photo taken as a fun memento that would superimpose us beside penguins, at sea and in “I’m a Celebrity.. Get Me Out of Here!” style scenarios. Anything completely silly like pretending pirahna are biting at your feet gets the giggles going so it was a great way to get hyped for the fun ahead.
The centre is laid out in a one way system, leading you through one theme to the next, starting with rock pool exploration. With main tanks home to larger shoals of fish and bigger creatures, there’s plenty smaller tanks showing off the smaller sea critters. Though some tanks were high up and I needed to lift Reuben so he could see, most are situated at accessible heights so anyone in a chair or smaller in stature can easily view the marine life.
While most of Sea Life is, unsurprisingly, fishy focussed, it also has outdoor environments for penguins, seals and otters (the latter we sadly didn’t see any of.) Though it was lovely to see the conservation work with these mammals, and to learn how the centre actively rescue from the very coastline the centre is sited on.
The halloween theme isn’t hugely conspicuous, which I think suits the environment. There were some spookily decorated areas, such as through the interactive area which was out of service due to covid so it was turned to spiders and cobwebs and strange looking characters, but it wasn’t over done so to take your attention away from the aquarium.
While Reuben disliked some freaky laughing pumpkins on a screen and all the cobwebs (he really hates cobwebs), he loved the skeleton that you could stand behind and pretend your skeleton’s on the outside like a crab. He was definitely more responsive to this style of lighthearted family fun and the naturally creepy facts. Besides, some of the sea creatures were sinister enough! The Japanese Spider Crab was too freaky for our little man – “he’s too scary” – though I found it fascinating. It was a monster!
The jellyfish were contained in spaceship like bubble tanks, with vivid coloured lights detailing their intricate anatomy. These were beautiful, and had my child not been so excitedly hopping from one area to the next, I’d have been quite happy watching the jellyfish all day.
This was perhaps the only problem we had initially: Reuben being an energetic preschooler kept taking off, so it felt like we spent the first part of our visit rushing through. Thankfully we were told we could go back round the tour again, because apparently this kind of thing is common is with us parents of (fast) little ones.
The second time round was much more enjoyable; Reuben knew what to expect now so he didn’t feel the need to hurry. He certainly knew which bits he liked and wanted to see again – the little interactive stations that were still in operation – and which parts he definitely didn’t, such as the loud speaker systems, which was a shame since he loved watching the seals diving beneath the water.
I was just relieved we could wander through at a more leisurely pace this time around. We could investigate the tanks, talk about the mammals and what the fish looked like. We’d somehow missed (well, we know how) the big turtle, so a second journey through the ocean tunnel and we finally discovered the beautiful Antiopi, gliding gracefully through the water.
And something I’m glad we got back to was the quiz, because there were prizes to be gained!
Reuben was keen to take the leading role, searching for the Ascarium clues and adding the letters to the quiz sheet. I was really impressed to see how his writing skills have come along, so it was good for his current nursery work learning letters and phonics. Then we had the more general quiz that invited you to look closer at the information and learn more about what’s in the tanks. There was so much to learn and keep your eyes peeled for.
Our day at Sea Life proved the centre has come a long way since the early days. The format with the one way system leading you through the different categories of mammals and type of water habitats made it all so easy to take in your stride and better understand the complexity of the ocean.
Despite the initial stresses of a certain hyper child and the odd closures due to covid, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The staff were accommodating and friendly. The gift shop was plentiful and reasonably priced (Reuben chose a plastic ‘Nemo’ clownfish and a shark grabber) And I loved the layout – the jellyfish tanks were so cool and remain a stand out favourite memory, as did the Ocean Tunnel, that was immersive and every sense of the word ‘awesome’, especially when the turtle is swimming.
The halloween element is just right for the venue – if you’ve got little ones around my son’s age (3 1/2), they’ll really enjoy it without being too spooked. So if you’re looking for something different, educational and engaging to do this half term, Sea Life’s Ascarium will be a worthwhile trip.
What plans do you have lined up for the kids this week?