Archive for the ‘Fish and water animals’ Category

Weymouth Sea Life and the Jurassic Skyline  

22 December, 2016

During our holiday back in September we went to visit the Weymouth Sea Life centre in Dorset. The first thing that shocked me as I was researching what to do on holiday was how expensive the tickets were, especially as the price for my 3 year old was the same as for an adult! Luckily there seems to be a few offers around if you look for them, and I found one that got us in for about half the price and included tickets to go on the Jurassic skyline tower too.  Then another blow as I realised you had to pay for parking on top of the entrance fee.

Our final sucker punch of the experience we didn’t find out until the day itself.  We had booked over the phone and the person I spoke to asked what entrance time we would like as apparently you have to book in half hour slots – I guess so they can control the flow of people entering.  So we had chosen 10am thinking we wanted to make the most of the day given the price, and according to both the person on the phone and their website that was the earliest opening time.  On the day we arrived for 10am, and after a short struggle with paying the car parking fees over the phone as we didn’t have enough change, we headed for the door… to find a gathering group of rather annoyed looking people.  It turns out they weren’t opening until 11am that day! So both their own website and the person we spoke to on the phone (who had insisted we pick a time) had got the opening times wrong.  Which meant we had an hour to kill hanging around, and had paid for an hours more parking than we need to have.  Needless to say we didn’t start the day in as good a mood as we could have!

Luckily the day we went the weather was good, which meant we could make the most of the different parts of the park, and our spirits picked up.  The sea life park itself was one of the larger ones I had been to and Isaac enjoyed some of the interactive elements – such as the small waterfall which gushed over the path in the rockpools area.  The park was laid out with a number of different buildings which meant that had the weather not been great you could still have enjoyed a lot of the park, but to get your money’s worth you really need to go on a dry day.

dorset6One building housed what was known as the New Ideas Zone where they had around 4 different interactive exhibits. The purpose being to see what went down well with the public that they might adopt in other parks.  One area of this had lots of different pools and cameras on long leads attached to big TV screens so that you could explore the different pools. Isaac loved this so it was the one we voted was a good idea!

Going in September meant the area with the children’s rides had closed as it was out of season (although the price was still the same!) but luckily we caught the last day of the Splash Pools being open. Another big hit with Isaac as he spent ages running in and out of water jets and going down the slide – despite it feeling freezing to us!

dorset15After some lunch in the restaurant we headed to the Skyline Tower.  It’s about a half hour walk from the sea life centre – there is a little train, but you have to pay extra so we decided to walk there and catch the train back when we were tired.  Sadly however, the train stops running about mid afternoon so we ended up walking back too!  The ride in the tower is about 15 minutes, and it was nice to fly up and see the coastline, although I don’t know that I would be bothered to go had it not been included in our tickets.

Overall, we did have a really lovely day and I would go again, but it is a shame that a few small things could have made our experience even better.  Definitely do a search for offers and double check what is open when and what is included before you go though!

Chessington Roar ‘n’ Snore

2 January, 2012

I seem to have gotten rather behind with writing up some of my blog posts!  While I probably won’t now write up some of the things I was going to, I did want to write a little about the ‘Roar ‘n’ Snore’ mini break we had back in September last year.  It was just after the schools had gone back and so we decided it might be quiet and fun to go to Chessington World of Adventures

HotelI’d been before, but not for at least 15 years!  So I was interested to go back, especially as they had expanded the place again to make it more of a zoo again as well as just a theme park.  We found their ‘Roar ‘n’ Snore’ offer was a really good value, and included accommodation in their Safari themed hotel on site, full breakfast, and two days entry to the park, zoo and their new sea life centre.  Staying at the hotel was more relaxed and it meant we didn’t have to pay for parking, and could leave things back at the hotel – so we were able to enjoy the rides without lugging bags around or paying for lockers.

Beautiful LeopardWe spent the first morning enjoying the theme park rides – the place was pretty quiet so we didn’t have to queue for anything.  In fact, we were often allowed to stay on the rides for another go which was good.  There is quite a nice mix of rides for the young at heart and also a few more adventurous rides.  I remember a few of them from back when I came as a child – the Vampire Rollercoaster, Runaway Train and the Bubbleworks.  The Bubbleworks could do with a bit of a spruce up after all these years but they all brought back fond memories! 

In the afternoon we headed off to explore the zoo.  I remember there being a zoo when I first visited Chessington as a child, but then as a teenager much of the zoo areas disappeared.  They have done a lot of work recently to extend it though, and their safari themed hotel overlooked the reserve so you could wake up in the morning and see the animals grazing.

Food Hunt 2My absolute favourite area of the zoo was of course the big cats – they have some nice large areas for their tigers, lions and leopards.  Each day at 2pm they have a feeding and enrichment sessions for one of the different cats.  We turned up a little early and discovered from the keeper that the tigers were the lucky ones that day.  We watched as the keepers hid pieces of meat all over their enclosure – up trees, on rocks and even floating on logs in their pool!  Then they cleared out and released the tigers.  The tigers chased all over their enclosure looking for the meat, and managed to climb high into the trees and on top of the roof of the walkway in their enclosure.  It was amazing to watch.  The keepers gave a brief talk to the visitors but then were happy to stay and chat to us for quite some time afterwards.  It was a really lovely experience.

Lion rockThe hotel was nice and for a small extra charge you could book one of the rooms overlooking the reserve.  We spent the early evening making use of their swimming pool and jacuzzi.  Neither was that large, but there was only one or two other people around so we had plenty of room.  In the evening we went to the Zafari Bar and Grill for dinner.  We had a table by the window overlooking the animals so we were able to sit and watch them while the sun went down, and then see as the lion rock got lit up.  The food was nice – we had one of their special chicken skewers cooked over the open flames.  It wasn’t the cheapest of options but it tasted good and there was plenty to eat.

Yellow tangOn the Sunday we went back into the park, and went to the new Sealife centre.  The centre was not huge, but there was plenty of different things to see from the very small to the large sharks.  There was areas where you could interact with some of the fish in the rock pools, and also a tunnel where you could walk through the area with fish and sharks.  As an addition to the whole park it was nice, although if you’d come expecting a full sized Sealife centre you may be a little disappointed.

Overall, it was a lovely mini break away.  For those without children it was a great time to visit as the schools had gone back, so there was no queues for anything and I felt you could spend more time appreciating the animals and getting up close to some without being jostled out of the way.

Florida Manatee Adventure Tour

7 June, 2011

Florida Dolphin ToursSo in my last post I shared my experience of snorkelling with the manatee, but I wanted to write a bit more about the rest of the trip.  The trip was known as the Florida Manatee Adventure Tour and we first heard about it through the airlines.  However, when we tried to book they wouldn’t let us saying we could only book with them if we had booked our whole holiday not just flights.  I didn’t let that put me off though and with a little search on google found lots of hits of tours where you could swim with the manatee.  Unfortunately most of them required you to self-drive and that is all they included.  We had really liked the idea of having our whole day planned for a change and let someone else take care of the driving so I persevered and found the Florida Dolphin Tours offering the same trip (and clearly where the airlines used as the wording was identical!).

Our trip started at 7.30am when a mini-coach picked us up from a hotel just near our villa.  After a couple of other stops to pick up more guests we headed to a Sizzler restaurant for an all we could eat breakfast buffet.  My favourite chain for doing the breakfast buffet is still the Golden Corral restaurants, but the Sizzler was quite nice and had a good choice.  I always go for the pancakes with fresh melon, pineapple, strawberries and some chocolate sauce!

After breakfast we headed to Crystal River which is where we got to go snorkelling with the manatee.  The drive probably took just over an hour and wasn’t the most exciting of scenery, but they showed a film on the coach so the time flew by and it gave us time for breakfast to go down!

BobcatAfter the snorkelling we got back on the coach to go to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.  On arrival we were all given a good packed lunch of cheese roll, crisps, cookies, fruit, fruit drink and a bottle of water.  Stef and I headed into the park and found a park bench overlooking the hippo pool to eat ours.  Here we were quickly joined by two rather hungry looking squirrels who didn’t want to leave us alone!

After lunch we were free to wander around the widlife park.  The 210 acre wildlife park was set around a 45 foot deep natural spring and contained much of the wildlife that is home to America – such as the bobcat, cougar, bears, alligators and of course the manatee.  The park is nicely laid out with board walk areas around the springs.  Most of the enclosures were a reasonable size and the animals seemed well cared for.  I was of course keen to see the bobcat and the cougar.  We were lucky to catch the bobcat up and about for a while, but the cougar was fast asleep right up close to the viewing area so nowhere I could get a good photo.

Patriotic EagleI spent a little time trying to get some good shots of some of the birds, but the sun was quite bright, and the enclosure often quite dark so it was difficult to get a shot right in the time I had.  I was very pleased with one of the shots I got of the bald eagle though – they’d put this American flag up at the back of his enclosure which made the photo look a bit different!

After our visit to the park we headed out on the coach again back in the direction of Kissimmee, but we had one more stop first.  We stopped at Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours in Inverness.  The airboat tour lasted 45 minutes and took us down the Withlacoochee River in search of alligators and other wildlife.  We chose the front of the boat and managed to get quite sprayed with water – so not too many photos from this part of the trip! 

Stef with Alligator 4After the airboat ride we had a short wait for the second half of our group to return.  During this time Stef got to hold a baby alligator and I got to take lots of photos and have a quick stroke of it’s tummy.  Finally we returned back to Kissimmee to arrive about 5.30pm.

The whole day trip cost about $118 which when you consider how much we got I think is extremely good value and I’d say was well worth every penny. More photos from the day on my Florida set on Flickr.

Snorkelling with manatee at Crystal River

1 June, 2011

Manatee 1One of the best days out on holiday this year was when we took a day trip with Florida Dolphin Tours.  One of the main parts of the day was getting the opportunity to go snorkelling with the wild manatee in their natural environment on the Crystal River.

Crystal RiverWe boarded our boat, clad in a wetsuit with snorkel and mask and headed out to look for signs of manatee life.  Our boat guide told us about the area and about the work being done to help protect the manatee.  He also warned us some of what to expect when we encountered them.  The mum’s are quite happy to let us ‘babysit’ their babies for a while!  He also warned us that the manatees would be quite likely to ‘hug’ us and come nose to nose with our masks – a cheeky few apparently also swipe them off your face.

Scratching the manateeWe got in and out of the boat a few times at first in different locations, and saw a few manatees but none that were hanging around for long.  The water at this time of year was actually quite warm, but the visibility was poor so it was easy to spot life from the surface.

After a while though we did manage to find a mother and baby manatee and got to spend a lot of time with them.  They absolutely love it if you scratch their back and sides, and they roll over to let you tickle their tummies!

I did take my underwater camera as you can see from this picture but it wasn’t easy to take shots because they were so close.  In the end I just pointed the camera in the right direction and pressed the button a few times and did end up with a few to remember my trip by.  The rest can be found on my Florida Flickr set.

It was a fabulous experience and one I would definately recommend – I believe the manatee are more plentiful earlier in the year, and the water clearer, although colder!


30 January, 2010

Red-billed ToucanThis morning we visited Birdworld just up the road in Surrey which is a bird park combined with a small aquarium – Underwater World, and a farm – Jenny Wren Farm.  We have been once before about ten years ago, and I remember thinking it was nice but quite small for the entry price so I was pleased to find a voucher for 2 for the price of 1 entry on the South East Offers website.

The birds all seemed well cared for, and the park was nicely laid out so it made for a pleasant stroll in the Winter sunshine. 

Western Grey Plantain EaterI, of course, took my camera to try and get some shots.  The wires on the bird cages varied but I was able to get some nice shots of most of the birds, although some of them were a bit tucked away out of the cold air.  The macaws were the most difficult to capture as they had very close mesh wire, and weren’t in the mood to sit still!

We wandered around the Jenny Wren farm, which mainly seemed to consist of chickens today, as many of the other animals were tucked away.  The chickens were amusing though as they pecked their way through the ice to get a drink of water.

Give us a kissFinally we headed into the grandly named Underwater World – which in reality was a very small, but nice set of aquariums and an area with some crocodiles and turtles. 

One of my favourites inside the aquarium were the Axolotl, which are a type of salamander.  They were sitting at the front of their tank and looked like they had big smiles on their faces!

Yellow and whiteI attempted to get some more photographs, but it was extremely challenging.  The light inside the building was quite dark, and not all of the tanks were very well lit – add that to the fact that fish don’t stand still and pose for you, and I was hand holding my camera, and the result was I ended up with quite a few photo’s that were a bit blurry.  However, I did get a few nice shots and it made me want to go scuba diving again!

Lots more photographs of the birds and fish can be found on my Birdworld Flickr set.

Ralph’s new suit!

14 August, 2009

Ralph the Humboldt penguin from Marwell Wildlife has got a new suit!  Ralph lost of all his feathers in one day so keepers decided to give him a special wet suit to protect him from the sun.

Photograph: Marwell Wildlife

Photograph: Marwell Wildlife

Read the full article here.

Riding the Manta at Sea World

21 May, 2009

Last Tuesday we went back to Sea World.  I won’t write much about the park as I’ve already written about it in my blog previously.  From year to year the parks don’t change too much but, as with any park with animals in, you get a different experience every time you go.  This year however, sees the opening of the new Manta rollercoaster and at Universal, the new Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket.

Manta signSadly the Universal coaster has had its opening delayed until the summer, but we were extremely lucky to discover that Sea World had decided to do some soft openings before it’s official opening of Manta and so we were one of the first people to try it out. 

The first time we joined the queue it got shut again after a few minutes – unfortunately the down side to a soft opening!  However, we went back again later.  The queue length said 45 minutes, but I really wanted to go on it, and as we’d not had to queue more than about 5 minutes all holiday I felt it was worth the wait.

Once inside the queue area you are kept entertained as the line walks through tunnels of aquariums where you can watch fish and rays.  After queueing for only about 10 minutes we discovered we were at the front of the queue – so much for a 45 minute wait time! 

In the station you board the rollercoaster much like any other seated rollercoaster, with one exception – there are bars which close over your calves.  Then as the coaster is about to leave you are tipped face down to the ground!  You set off up the incline, and if like us, you are near the front, you get to dangle head first to the ground whilst the back of the coaster makes it up the slope.  From there the coaster rushes you through twists and turns head first and face downwards.  There is one part where you hurtle towards the ground head first and then swoop upwards again and the g-force is amazing.

Ride the manta

We rode it 3 times and didn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes to get on.  The back of the coaster is definately more intense, but it was fun at the front hanging head first waiting on the initial incline.  The only other thing worth noting is that the lockers outside Manta are 75 cents instead of 50 cents like the rest of the park, so it’s maybe worth putting your bags in one of the lockers by the Kraken or Journey to Atlantis, and doing Manta at the same time.

To summarise and use a proper American phrase – Manta is AWESOME!


28 April, 2008

AquaticaOn Monday 28 April we went to try out Aquatica, Sea World’s new water park.  The first thing we noticed was that you had to pay for parking, unlike the Disney’s water parks.  As we entered the park it seemed nicely laid out with plenty of different things to see and do. 

We found the changing rooms and lockers quite easily and set about trying out some of the slides and attractions.  Although the attractions were named, and there were signposts around the park, we felt that the park could have done with some maps around.  Although we’d picked up a paper map on arrival and had a quick read we had of course left it in the locker while we went to get wet.

Dolphin PlungeWe headed first for the Dolphin Plunge – a transparent waterslide which took you right through the pool of Commerson’s dolphins.  The queue was already fairly long, but moved fairly quickly and gave us a chance to have a look around to see what was where once we were higher up.  The slide itself was fun, but you’d be lucky to catch more than a very fleeting glimpse of black and white as you shot through the dolphin pool!

Next we went onto Tassie’s Twisters – a waterslide where you rode an inflatable tube down a chute into and around a giant bowl before falling down a hole to the pool at the bottom.  The ride was a lot of fun, but again we had to queue some time.  The chute led out into Loggerhead Lane which was a lazy river that floated us around, providing glimpses into the dolphin pool and a tank of fish.

Loggerhead LaneThe Whanau Way chute’s were fun, as was the Walhalla Wave – both tube rides which you could go on with double riders.  Roa’s Rapids then sped us around a not so lazy river ride!

Overall we enjoyed the day but we didn’t stay as long as might have because the queue’s picked up.  Normally, Monday’s are a good day to go to the water parks, but obviously being new this park is more popular at the moment.

Day 10 – Thursday: Discovery Cove

10 May, 2007

We booked to go to Discovery Cove about 9 weeks ago. We knew you needed to book as they limit numbers but also discovered that they have a promotion at the moment for a 10% discount if you book 60 days in advance so we were just in time.

With a dolphin
On arrival you check in and get your dolphin swim time, and then are free to spend the rest of the day as you please. You are given a bag containing mask, snorkel (which you can keep), and suncream and either a wetsuit or a swim vest and then its off to choose where you’d like to make your base for the day. We then headed over to the restaurant where breakfast is served. Absolutely everything including meals and snacks are included all day at Discovery Cove which makes it really relaxing. For breakfast we had a selection of pastries, yoghurt and fresh fruit.

Our dolphin swim was booked for just after 10am, so after breakfast we decided to just have a wander around and see where everything was, and save the activities for afterwards. When it comes to your turn to swim with the dolphins you first have a welcome talk and they tell you about what is going to happen, then you get put into groups of 8 people and are taken off to meet the dolphins.
Me swimming with a dolphin
We first got to meet a new baby dolphin. She was really soft and rubbery to touch. We got a chance to stroke her and feed her, and she did a few tricks for us. Then we were introduced to a much older and larger female dolphin and it was surprising how different her skin felt. We then got to kiss the dolphin!

Next we swam out into deeper water, and took it in turns to swim with the dolphin. It was amazing! You held onto her fins and she pulled you through the water with ease. Finally, they did some tricks for us before waving their tales and heading off for a rest.

Feeding Time
After our dolphin swim we decided to float gently around the tropical river. It took us through caverns, under waterfalls and even through the aviary. At one part you could dive under the water to watch the fish and rays in the coral reef area. In the aviary you got to feed the birds and they were quite happy to come land on our arms and even heads!

For lunch we got a choice of food, and opted for the burger! There was also some lovely desserts but we didn’t have room to finish them.

RayWe then headed over to the Coral Reef area and Ray Lagoon. The water by comparison was rather chilly! It was full of beautiful fish and graceful rays. My favourite were the Spotted Eagle Rays which have an unusual shaped face. There was also an area where you could swim beside some rather large sharks but they were behind a pane of glass.

Our day as Discovery Cove was amazing. It was done very beatifully and everything thought of. Even the bathrooms had small individual hand towels to dry your hands on instead of paper ones! All the animals seemed very well cared for and the dolphin staff were very good at helping us to learn about the animals as well as ensuring we were having a great time.

More of my photographs from Discovery Cove can be found on my Florida Flickr set.

Day 9 – Wednesday: Busch Gardens

9 May, 2007

We drove down to Tampa today to visit Busch Gardens. We got the tickets as part of our Discovery Cove booking and I was looking forward to going to see the white tigers.

We thought we’d get some of the big rollercoasters done first before the queues built up so we first headed for Gwazi which is a double wooden rollercoaster. It’s named after a fabled Lion with a Tiger’s head and the two rollercoasters are a Tiger and a Lion. The old wooden style rollercoaster certain rattled us right through!

SheikraNext up was Sheikra which is a a dive coaster with a 90 degree 200 foot drop which scares the hell out of you! The slow chug up the slope is almost as scary as the drop itself…although the worst moment has to be the second or so that the rollercoaster teeters you looking down over the drop. As there was no queues we got on the front row of this ride just for that extra bit of scariness.

Walking clockwise we then came to the Kumba rollercoaster. After Skeikra it almost seemed tame with its 135 foot drop and series of turns and loops! It has one of world’s largest vertical loops and even gives you 3 seconds of absolute weightlessness.

Thinking it was time to settle our stomachs we headed next to Rhino Rally to see some animals. Once aboard your jeep you head off around an off-road adventure track past some rhino’s, zebra’s and other African animals. We then went on the Serengeti Railway which loops most of the park. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the train for the best views.

Deciding it was time to get wet so we had time to dry off, we decided to head next for the water rides. First we headed to Stanley Falls which is where we met our longest queue of the holiday. We had to wait about 25 minutes for the log flume which was quite surprising as some of the better rides here had no queue at all. Next we headed to Tanganyika Tidal Wave which starts off as a really pleasant float through a jungle waterway, and then ends with a 55 foot plunge that gets you, and anyone silly enough to stand on the bridge you go under, absolutely soaked. Finally, we headed to the Montu rollercoaster which is one of the tallest and longest inverted rollercoasters in the world.

What on earth are you doingFinally we headed to the Serengeti Plain and Edge of Africa to see some more of the animals including the lions, giraffes and hyenas. The lions were fast asleep right up close to the glass which gave us a fantastic view of them, but wasn’t so good for photographs!

We could have easily spent a second day at Busch Gardens if it had been closer to Kissimmee like the other parks. I was very disappointed that the white tigers were currently off show – although pleased to hear that they were getting a nice new enclosure built for them. There were a few rides we didn’t have time to go on, including the Skyride which closed early morning due to the wind picking up, and some animals we didn’t get to see. I’ll definately visit again if we’d ever in Florida again as this was probably my favourite of the parks with a good combination or rides and animals – without comprimising on either.

More of my photographs from Busch Gardens can be found on my Florida Flickr set.

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