Oscar’s first trip to The National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth

On a recent trip to our childhood home town of Plymouth, we decided to try and have some family days out. We knew we wanted to spend some time on the Moors (and who wouldn’t) but we felt it was time for Oscar to try an ‘attraction’ again and so thought we’d give the National Marine Aquarium a go.

Oscar’s history with ‘attractions’ has been rather limited to be fair. We’ve stuck to large outdoor spaces, such as Zoos and parks and even then at potentially quiet times and with mixed results. His Autism means he doesn’t always access the attraction in the way other children might. And that’s fine, but it sometimes begs the question why pay out for him to just run around, when he can do that at the local park for free? Anyway, his speech and understanding are changing so much at the moment, that we thought it would be a good time to give him the opportunity to try an indoor attraction for a change. And as his current favourite book is ‘Barry the Fish with Fingers’, we thought the aquarium would be a good one to get him on board with.

The morning of the visit, we drew him a very basic visual timetable explaining that we were going in Daddy’s car, to see the fish at the ‘Aquarium’ and then we’d have some sweets and a juice box. Not sure why I added the bit on the end but a motivator felt like a good idea and I assumed the cafe in the aquarium would have something we could grab.

We knew the aquarium was likely to be busy; on a Saturday, the Saturday of Easter Weekend, a rainy Saturday of Easter Weekend!!! We planned to get there first thing, but getting ready took longer than anticipated and we arrived within 50 minutes of it opening. While Ben parked the car, I walked Oscar over the bridge to the entrance. We looked at the fish artwork and sculpture together and he was having great fun pointing things out. Then we got to the entrance. While I knew the place would be busy it didn’t even occur to me how big the queues would be. Why we hadn’t thought to book fast track tickets online (which you can do and which save you from queuing at all!) I don’t know, but I took one look at that queue and knew it wasn’t for my guy. We headed back to the car, having seen the ‘fish’ (artwork) and hoped that was enough.

Oscar insisted this sculptre outside the aquairum was a 'Dragon Fish' and that it was breathing fire! Photo by Patricia Richards-Skensved

Oscar insisted this sculpture outside the aquarium was a ‘Dragon Fish’ and that it was breathing fire! Photo by Patricia Richards-Skensved

He was fine with this change, and he had great fun playing with his cousin at my mum’s instead. Only then, over lunch, he started to ask: ‘Quarium?’ I was blown away to be honest. You never can tell how much is going in and yet it would seem the answer is ‘a whole lot’. We knew then we were going to have to go back. So we decided to head up there towards the end of the day. We got there around 3.45pm to find no queue to speak of and headed in. As Ben was paying they locked the entrance behind us. Phew, we timed that just right then!

And then we set off following the signs. Oscar held our hands, he walked, he waited when he needed to, he shocked us both! Then he came to the tanks and instead of running past, giving them a cursory glance he really stopped and looked. The tanks in the NMA are all so accessible to little ones and Oscar loved that he could get right up close and personal with the fish. He even commented on their colour and size and several times swore he saw ‘Barry’ (of the ‘fish with fingers’ fame 😉 ) . He went back and forth between a couple of his favourite areas, but for the most part he progressed between the zones when we asked without any fuss.

Walking with Daddy

Walking with Daddy

All the high tanks have steps up to them or are accessible from the floor.

All the high tanks have steps up to them or are accessible from the floor.

Look there's Barry!

Look there’s Barry!

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He loved the overhead/undefoot tanks. He was entranced!

Awright Ray!

Awright Ray!

Shark!

Shark!

He even interacted with other children visitors and when we came to the main tank viewing room, Ben and I sat down and Oscar quickly found another little boy to chase, and be chased by. It was quiet enough that nobody minded and it left him red faced, but happy.

Photo From Expedia

The National Marine Aquarium’s 2 million litre water tank. And a space to run around! Photo from Expedia

Would we go back? Absolutely, and I would absolutely go at the end of the day again, something I’d never considered before. It was quieter sure, but it was also just enough to time for him to enjoy it and not get bored. It also gave him a natural cut off point, i.e. we had to leave at 5 because they were closing. That worked really well and he was able to have a quick look round the gift shop at the end (he got a book by a local author) and head back to the car, happy as a sand boy. The only issue we had was parking. The aquarium doesn’t have its own car park and the nearest ones are a short walk away. This might be fine for some children, but Oscar often struggles to walk safely along busy roads and this was a deep concern. As it was Ben dropped us off by the Mayflower steps and was then able to (luckily) park on the seafront a minute away. But had this not been the case this could have derailed the visit before we’d started!

If you’re in the area we would highly recommend it. And if you have a child with Autism, I learnt that the aquarium will be holding a ‘quiet session‘ on 2nd April to mark World Autism Day. This might be a great way to introduce your child to the attraction. The aquarium have produced a great visual support document for those attending (available on the website), something that might be useful for any visit to be honest! My only advice would be to check out the parking situation prior to attending.

At the end of the day thought, we couldn’t get over how good the experience had been. I was so proud of my little guy and so pleased that the prep we did paid off. It can take quite a lot of gumption to throw yourself headlong into a situation that could be incredibly stressful. As it was the National Marine Aquarium made it easy for us and we’d like to thank them.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, we stopped in at Tesco on the way home and bought him sweets and a juice box.

 

 

Thank you to the National Marine Aquarium for a great day out. This was not a paid review, rather it’s just an account of our day out as a family and we paid for our tickets ourselves. Although had I remembered Oscar’s DLA letter, I could have got in for free as his carer. Next time!

 

 

 

 

 

KidRated’s Top 10 for Half Term

It’s half term. Another week in which to find things to do and hope your kids don’t massacre one another with boredom have a great time. If you’re in or near enough to London for day trips, this is always an option for boredom busting. I’ve never been brave enough to take Oscar up to the big smoke yet, but I can’t wait until I am. We went to our local science museum in Winchester recently and he loved it, so I can only imagine how much he’d enjoy the National Science Museum when we’re both ready.

But if you are there already, taking the children up to London for the day can make amazing memories. And you don’t have to just visit the usual suspects. My buddy Simon over at KidRated, has been doing some research and has come up with this amazing list of things to do with children, in and around London, this half term.

 

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast is a ship, permanently moored on the Thames and run by the Imperial War Museum. It’s a firm favourite with kids and over half-term week, they’ll be teaching children how ‘dazzle’ camouflage was used to keep the ship safe during WW2!

Kids Will Love: The nine decks to explore

Adults Will Love: Kids go free and there’s a great cafe.

 

Thorpe Park Fright Nights

Teenagers should visit Thorpe Park this half term if they want to be seriously scared because Fright Nights are back. The horrors include riding Colossus in the dark and, exploring the new circus themed Big Top scare maze.

Kids Will Love: Anything that scares them witless.

Adults Will Love: Dropping them off.

13+ and over.

 

Brick or Treat at Legoland Windsor

The fantastic plastic park promises a whole host of ‘spook-tacular’ activities, plus their usual 55 rides, live shows and attractions. It all kicks of on the 17th October and runs until 2nd November.

Kids Will Love: The New Heartlake City attraction

Parents Will Love: The fireworks.

 

The Shard

A half-term visit to London’s highest landmark is well worth the trip as kids go free. Timed access to the Viewing Gallery means it never really feels busy and overcrowded, and kids rate it highly!

Kids Will Love: The express lifts, the friendly guides and the digital time travelling telescopes.

Adults Will Love: The view and the bar!

26th October – 1st November

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Bletchley Park

Packed with exhibits, both historical and interactive, you can easily spend the day here and many people do. The huts in which the code-breakers worked have been lovingly recreated and other highlights include authentic Enigma devices, a restored Bombe machine and a dedicated exhibit to the great Alan Turing.

Kids Will Love: The snazzy iPod guides.

Adults will love: The costumes and props from The Imitation Game still infused with essence of Cumberbatch.

Under-12s go free,

 

London RIB

We doubt there’s a kid in NW10 who doesn’t love the London RIB Voyages. With their distinctive red ‘Rocket’ boats, it’s one of our best-reviewed attractions. Warm coats are provided and don’t forget to take your camera because the sights look amazing from the Thames.

Kids Will Love: The funny guides and super speeds.

Adults will love: The 80s/90s soundtrack on the boats.

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Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge Exhibition was always great, but since it installed the glass walkway it’s become a must-see. There are maps, films, interactive exhibits and of course the best views in London – both up and down the Thames. Don’t forget the bridge opens, so time your visit right and you’ll catch that as well.

Kids Will Love: The glass walkway of course!

Adults Will Love: The Victorian engine rooms at the foot of the bridge. Two experiences for the price of one!

 

RATATOUILLE and FROZEN at The Royal Albert Hall

Visit the Royal Albert Hall for a winning combination of animation and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This half term they’re screening Frozen & Ratatouille. The former is the musical that has driven parent insane and the latter is the animated classic about a cooking rat. Both are true stories apparently…

Kids Will Love: That song

Adults Will Love: That song ending and seeing films in such sumptuous surroundings.

Booking required

 

Dark Arts at Warner Bros Studio Tour (The Making of Harry Potter)

Halloween is the perfect time to make the Potterhead pilgrimage to Watford. Kids will be able to test their duelling skills against Death Eaters and explore a carriage on The Hogwarts Express

Kids Will Love: The Great Hall, which will be decorated with apples, pumpkins and cauldrons of lollipops.

Adults Will Love: The incredible animatronics and handy transport links!

Booking required

WhatsOn_DarkArts

 

And of course there’s always the CINEMA

Handy if it rains and even better if you’re hungover, you can’t beat the cinema.

Younger kids and first-timers, check out Maya The Bee. An animated adventure about a cute bee and her friend, Willy.

For more experienced cinema goers check out Bill, a Shakespeare biopic by the Horrible Histories team. Paper Planes – a heartwarming film about a young Australian competing in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan. And Pan, a new take on the J.M. Barrie classic.

Kids Will Love: All of them but especially Bill.

Parents Will Love: Bill.

 

KidRated is a website where all the reviews have been done by kids.

You can sign up for their Newsletter, follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook or even K-Rate something yourself by uploading a review.

 

This is not a sponsored post, I just wanted to share some great ideas with you all.

Hope you have a great half term!

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