G and I have been trying to make the most out of our Merlin Passes during the school holidays, we went to The London Dungeons last weekend and we decided to take a trip to the SEA LIFE London Aquarium on Wednesday.
Being half term the Southbank was bustling with people, The London Eye, The London Dungeons and The SEA LIFE London Aquarium are all within spitting distance of each other and being some of the capital’s biggest attractions AND half term, you can imagine the scene. BEDLAM.
The SEA LIFE London Aquarium seems to have three queues – marked ‘Priority A/B/C’ – No one really seems to know where they should be queuing, there aren’t any signs, and everyone seemed to be partaking in the British mentality of ‘Oooooh a queue – we’ll join it’ only to be advised they were in the wrong place. There were a few staff milling about, but there was a definite air of panic and confusion.
Once inside you pass over an impressive glass walkway, directly above the shark tank, it’s a pretty cool, if a bit of a mind bending experience. Past that – there was more queuing – this time to have the traditional ‘Merlin Green Screen’ Photo – the staff were able to whizz through the line quickly though. There was an immediate problem though, G, as children do decided she needed the toilet. As did a fair few other people, the issue is THERE IS ONE TOILET. Not one toilet per gender – just ONE. There are toilets 20 minutes into the Aquarium tour, but at the start, where most people WOULD go, there is just ONE. So we had to wait 15 minutes for the toilet – I genuinely was amazed that a family attraction was so badly thought out.
After G was dealt with, our tour into the Aquarium could begin, you either take a lift down to Level -2 or there are stairs.
Now – this is where it all started to go wrong.
It was bloody rammed in there, each tank was swarmed with people, and really, unless you wanted to stand and wait to peer into the tank, you just got to see a lot of people’s heads. Georgia was frustrated as she couldn’t really see anything, and I was frustrated and I was being jostled in every direction by swathes of sexcrement bumping into me, or being barged by buggies. It was just TOO busy.
I’m certain that there weren’t enough people to breach any Health and Safety laws, but there were just too many to make it a comfortable and enjoyable experience, and I think because so many people were waiting to look in each tank, it just created a bottleneck.
Georgia DID manage to stroke a starfish, and there were a few tanks that seemed to be less busy, but generally, it was a depressing experience with very little seen, and even less learnt. Because of the slow-moving flow of people the toilets that were ‘only twenty minutes away’ were at least forty minutes away – I’m glad I look G at the start!
The crowding was so bad that they tried to run a ‘two lane’ system through the ‘underwater tunnel’ – left for those who wanted to stop and take photos, right for those who just wanted to get through it. It didn’t really work, people just did as they pleased. There were even several families who decided to set up camp on the floor of the aquarium and have picnics, it might have been okay if it was quiet in there, but it wasn’t.
As the tour was thankfully coming to an end we made our way to the Penguins! Again, being a popular part, we were faced with a sea of people and Georgia moaning for the nth time ‘I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!!’ I am SO glad I didn’t take James with me, it would have been so much worse, G can at least squeeze through gaps and see stuff, but James would be too little to not get shoved aside.
Again we were forced to to exit through the gift shop, which was actually designed to have several bottlenecks to force people through the merchandise, it was downright dangerous. I know they need to upsell the merchandise to people, but making the shop have such deliberate bottlenecks is utterly irresponsible, and made a stressful trip to the SEA LIFE London Aquarium even worse. I was thankful to get out.
I know that attractions are busy in the holidays, and it’s hard to avoid, but the SEA LIFE London Aquarium really need to consider letting fewer people in at once, or having a time slot based system like The London Dungeons have. It might lead to people being turned away at the entrance, but the guest experience as it is dire.
Thankfully G and I didn’t really ‘pay’ for our day out as we had our passes, but if I was paying nearly £50 for the ‘pleasure’ of taking us there on the day I’d be demanding our money back.
It’s not ALL bad, the general theming of the attraction is BRILLIANT, and Merlin have done wonders since acquiring it, it really does look the part, but if you’re unable to actually LOOK at the sea life or learn anything, it’s a bit pointless. I’m going to take James one day during school time as I think he’d have a half decent experience. I know I’ll never set foot in there during the school holidays again, and I’d certainly recommend unless you somehow get a heavy discount or even free tickets don’t bother unless it’s out of the school holidays. It’s a miserable experience.