Finola Colvin and family enjoy a half term treat at one of Bristol’s family-friendly attractions

On a wet winter’s weekend what better to do than bundle the kids into the car and venture to the vibrant world of Bristol Aquarium nestled amongst other exciting attractions at Bristol harbour side. The Aquarium was very easily accessible with the Millennium Car Park right on its doorstep, along with plenty of eateries and cafes.

On entering the reception we were greeted by friendly staff in an open area with shops, cafe and photo exhibits, under a large model shark hanging from the ceiling, all of which one can enjoy even before buying tickets! Tickets are just under forty pounds for a family of four if purchased online – and children under three go in for free!

The start of the exhibition draws you into a new world under the sea, where immediately you are in the ocean bed surrounded by fish of all shapes and sizes amongst scenes of a ship wreck. My three year old was quick to spot the baby shark, whilst the electric coloured jellyfish and giant lobsters caught the attention of the older children, with their foot long antennae and enormous pincers! Certainly not something you’d like to cuddle up with at bedtime…

As we came out into the daylight diplays we were met by a ‘real’ mermaid relaxing on the rocks by another pool laden with fish. The little girls of our party lost their initial shyness and were soon having photos taken with her. I overheard my six-year-old asking, “Are you a real mermaid?”…to which the response came, “Are you a real little girl?!”

If you want to see the mermaids, be quick as they only visit the aquarium during the holidays. Check out the website for details…

We followed the exhibition round enjoying the changing environments – one minute deep under the ocean and the next, back out again into a large tropical greenhouse with fern and flora, dripping with waterfalls and rocks for the kids to clamber on.

Then we were drawn back into the dark interiors with more exhibits with weird and wonderful creatures, the giant spider-like crab, and seahorses which were housed in what I can only describe as a giant snow globe which had a tunnel through its base to access a smaller dome within so that children could pop up into their marine world. There are over 35 different species around the world, even around the coast of the UK which was news to me, as was the fact the males carry the babies! We returned to the seahorses later in the day to watch them feed, a phenomenon where they suck in their food (tiny shrimps) at a speed so fast it immediately liquidises them!

Following this was the Learning Lab, which offers opportunity for talks, demonstrations and crafts. As part of the Mermaid experience, the four kids in our party loved making ‘pearl’ bracelets of curly pastas and rainbow coloured beads, a nice little extra for them to bring home with them.

What the kids found really fascinating was being able to get up close and personal to the turtles and sting rays which roamed the outer pools, rising up inquisitively to say hello to all their visitors. Meanwhile there’s plenty of interesting facts dotted around the walkways for the adults to read, such as the most expensive rare orchid ever sold (over £100,000!) which only flowers every four-five years.

Towards the end we walked through a glass tunnel ‘under the ocean’ where you could see the fish swimming above you and then onto a popular part of the experience – seeing the real life ‘Nemo and Dory’, the lovable Clown fish and Blue Tang. Next to these was a collection of beautiful bright orange striped ‘pipe fish’ camouflaged amongst the colourful displays of coral which were among the last of the displays before meandering towards the exit for lunch!

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we returned to the Aquarium in the afternoon, with the tickets we bought in the morning allowing re-entry.

www.bristolaquarium.co.uk