Newest Review: ... between Sea World, a water park and a tiny fairground. We'd brought along our swimming costumes and towels so our first priority was to l... more
What Do Dolphins, A Ferris Wheel And A Very Soggy Granny Have In Common?
Zoomarine (Guia, Albufeira, Portugal)
Member Name: Rhiana
Zoomarine (Guia, Albufeira, Portugal)
Advantages: A great family friendly theme park, something for everyone, compact, clean, thoughtful.
Disadvantages: I imagine it to be horrendously busy in high season
I'd seen Zoomarine advertised from the moment I stepped off the plane at Faro airport, it's clearly one of the area's biggest attractions. I hadn't paid that much attention at first, as I hadn't really planned on doing any trips other than maybe a water park, but after browsing the leaflets at the hotel (and dismissing some awesome sounding historical tours with regret) we decided this sounded like a good one to go for. We booked through our hotel and paid 75 Euro for two adults and one child plus transfer pick-ups right on the doorstep. We could have booked it at numerous tourist information/car hire points dotted around the resort we stayed in, Alvor, and probably in hindsight could have got a better deal. Similarly, if you're more organised than me, you can book online with a little discount.
Getting There/ First Impressions
The big ZooMarine double-decker picked us almost exactly to the second of its due time. My daughter insisted we sat upstairs which at first caused a little worry. It was a pretty old, tatty looking vehicle and I couldn't swear by the safety of the driving around some pretty narrow roads. However one plus point was we got fantastic views of the beautiful scenery. ZooMarine is situated in Guia, just west of Albufiero and took around an hour to get there from Alvor due to the windy journey picking up fellow passengers. Coming home took half as much time, mostly due to the fact that there wasn't THAT many other passengers, the first indication that the park wasn't going to be particularly busy. This was also apparent by the lack of queues to enter the park once we arrived, and we sailed right in. One thing that did concern us was our return journey of 4pm. As it was almost 11 am then, we wondered how we would fit everything in.
Once through the park gates and after bypassing the obligatory photo opportunity (which I think was CGI dolphins as no bored parrots were in sight-just a blank blue screen) we were faced with a beautiful fountain and an impression that this was a very clean and well-kept park, an impression that continued throughout our visit. You're handed a map and a list of animal show times as you enter, so the first thing we did was plan what we wanted to see and when. At this point we weren't all that sure what exactly ZooMarine was, although it soon became apparent it's a mixture between Sea World, a water park and a tiny fairground. We'd brought along our swimming costumes and towels so our first priority was to locate the lockers and get rid of them until later but despite following the map and after walking in circles for 10 minutes and still not locating them, we opted instead for staking a tree near the pool, removing our valuables and leaving our belongings there. This seemed to be what most people decided to do. During our search we did notice there were toilets everywhere, drinks and food stands in abundance, a place to hire kiddie carts for smaller children and a lovely shop.
Zoomarine has several shows on offer and at the time of our visit there was a Dolphin, Sea lion, Parrot, Birds Of Prey and an intriguing sounding 4d cinema experience. With our list of times we planned our day, deciding to miss out Birds Of Prey to make sure we fit it all in. The Dolphin show was due to start shortly after arriving so after ditching our bags that's where we headed.
Now, I'm thirty-four years old and have never seen dolphins before, and to be honest I was a little worried about how I would feel about seeing them perform. The arena was pretty huge but as the park was very quiet there was plenty of good seats left. We were treated to a warm up by a surprisingly impressive man dressed up as a pirate before the show opened with a synchronised swimming team. They were really very good, elegant and beautiful but what everyone wanted were the dolphins and by the time they arrived my daughter was beside herself with excitement. We were all blown away by these stunning animals. I'm no expert but they seemed very happy and loved, it was touching to see the relationship between them and the trainers and it brought tears to my eyes. The dolphins made brief appearances throughout and I got the feeling this was to ensure they weren't overwhelmed or overworked. In all the show lasted around half an hour and featured more of the gorgeous synchronised swimmers. ZooMarine do offer the opportunity to swim with the dolphins away from the public (romantically named Dolphin Emotions) and while I would've loved to do this, the 150 Euro per person cost was beyond me (bizarrely there's currently an offer for over 50's to get half price on this experience right now, so it's worth checking).
The next show we decided on was the Parrot show and to be honest we wished we hadn't. The best thing was the same warm up guy as before, this time masquerading as a magician. The actual show had a story that while in Portuguese was clearly along the lines of how to behave in the countryside but the two actors were irritating beyond belief. The parrots mainly sat at the back and mostly refused to do anything they were bidden. This was the one let down of the day.
The Sea Lion show wasn't particularly one I was excited about, but proved to be as good as, if not better than the dolphins. After warm up guys Oscar winning comedy routine as a cowboy we were treated to a musical theatre style show revolving around the campest ship wrecked sailor ever and a feisty explorer. Again, the sea lions participation was minimal and thoughtful. The whole thing was absolutely hilarious, I loved it as did my mother and daughter and not once did I feel uncomfortable with the sea lions involvement. I'm fairly sure they enjoyed it too.
The final show was the 4d cinema and I can't recommend this enough. I've never seen such stunning 3d cinema (the 4d coming from a small squirt of water at the audience). Themed around climate change and its effect on animals, it was extremely hard-hitting and powerful without saying anything at all or being patronising and preachy.
Other Attractions and Facilities
As well as numerous animal shows Zoomarine also has a small amount of animals dotted around in enclosures such as alligators and turtles, although they seem to blend in so seamlessly to their surroundings it s easy to miss them. An indoor aquarium is home to some impressive sea life and we really enjoyed this, although it could have done with wider walkways as despite the park being quiet it was still a little squashed.
There's a small fairground that is specifically aimed at younger children and consists of a small mini roller coaster, a pirate ship, a train ride, an impressive carousel and a Ferris wheel. Because the park was so quiet my daughter was able to run on and off the rides without queuing at all, although I imagine in peak season the waiting time would be ridiculous. We all went on the Ferris wheel, which is one of the safest looking I've seen despite its enormous size and we were treated to some breathtaking views.
The final element of ZooMarine is a sort of Water Park. There are two 'wet' rides, the crazy rapids ride that sees you float through sprays and fountains in a barrel shaped vessel and a large water slide on which you ride a dinghy. While you don't need to change into swimwear for these (we didn't) you will get very wet! The rapid river ride was funny, especially with my mum on board who had to be coerced on but enjoyed herself despite getting the worst soaking and the slide is awesome. Again, during our visit we were straight on these rides without queuing but signposts declaring hour long waits at the entrances indicates peak season will be a very different story.
Sadly we didn't get time to make use of the pool which had a lovely children's play area because of our early return journey and ideally we could have spent another couple of hours here. We stopped twice for drinks and ice cream at very reasonable prices and my daughter got a huge slush in a plastic keepsake container for 4 Euro, which seemed good value. We didn't eat, but had we wanted to there was the usual theme park fare to choose from. There are also plenty of picnic areas and unlike in Britain they don't have issues with you taking your own food. One thing I did notice was the incredible amount of toilets! I can't see huge queue's occurring even in high season. The whole layout of the park is very friendly towards children and the disabled and being pretty small, everything is easily accessible. Our final stop was the airy and beautifully air-conditioned shop, which had an assortment of souvenirs at very reasonable prices. My daughter managed to pick up a cuddly dolphin and furry purse for six Euros.
We ended up having a brilliant day at ZooMarine. Even my mother, who generally hates theme parks due to the fact she doesn't go on rides, thoroughly enjoyed it here. In fact I think this is ZooMarines great appeal, it really is a place the whole family can enjoy. The shows are genuinely entertaining and well thought out and the animals appear happy and loved. Warm up guy stole the show though...he really earned his pay the day we were there and there wasn't a single person in the audiences who wasn't laughing. He made everyone feel at ease and happy. The 4d cinema experience is something I'll remember for a long time and has set a very high bar for future 3D cinema visits, which pale beside it.
The grounds themselves were a pleasure to be in and I liked that everything was in close proximity. This makes ZooMarine particularly suited to families with very young children, or those who struggle with mobility. It was immaculately clean and well kept with an amazing amount of facilities. Some people may find the smaller number of attractions a negative, but we definitely found there was enough to spend the full day here and in fact we enjoyed the relaxed approach we were able to take rather than feeling overwhelmed and rushed. We would have loved an extra couple of hours to relax at the pool, and perhaps ZooMarine need to consider this when they make their transfer schedules.
While we had a fantastic day, I can see this was largely due to the timing of our visit and I can see it being pretty much a different experience during July and August. I Imagine ZooMarine will be packed then and the smaller number of attractions may be an issue then along with waiting times. I'm also undecided at how much teenagers would enjoy ZooMarine and feel it's aimed more at families with younger children. The only other slight negative I noticed was a lack of shaded areas. We visited in early October, and even then the heat was unforgiving. Sunscreen is a MUST as it's easy to not notice yourself burning as you travel around the park and some nice shady seating might have been nice.
Overall we enjoyed Zoomarine far more than we anticipated and were impressed with everything, apart from the dire parrot show. My daughter claims it was her favourite day in Portugal and even my hard to please Mum enjoyed herself immensely. If you're visiting the Algarve out of school holiday time with young children, then I highly recommend ZooMarine, although advise you to shop around for discounts and to check return transfer times, possibly making your own way there! At around £70 for our party, it wasn't a cheap day out but worth every penny and once there we hardly spent a thing. A Five Star day out and well worth a visit.
Summary: A must do for families, but avoid school holidays.