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Deep sea diving with the sharks without getting wet!
Blue Planet Aquarium (Cheshire)
Member Name: rosaliecullen
Blue Planet Aquarium (Cheshire)
Advantages: Shark tank
The Blue Planet Aquarium is an Aquarium situated in Cheshire, more accurately in Ellesmere Port. If you have ever visited Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet village, it is literally around the corner from there. It is the largest aquarium in the North West and was once the largest in the UK. It has been open since 1998. I have visited the aquarium twice, most recently this week. I tried to visit several years ago but the queues were so horrendous we decided to give it a swerve. That is one thing I would say, it can take ages to queue up in busy periods such as the children's school holidays and the majority of the queuing is outside, albeit under a canopy, it can be freezing cold.
==Things to see and do==
The aquarium is like a bit of a maze, it is easy to get around and you don't get lost, but it does feel like Ikea in that it is hard to know where you've come from and not that easy to find your bearings (maybe that is just me). There are lots of great exhibits and you move through the displays which are "themed" so you would have a Scottish Glen to start with, then you move through to the Amazon then on to Lakes and Ponds, then down to "The Coast" (the largest area) before ending in "Venom". Venom is definitely a new attraction for me, but I don't think I'd been since 2006. There are complimentary animals along with the fish and sealife such as posionous frogs, spiders, snakes etc. They do warn you before you go into "venom" that there are spiders and snakes in glass displays so don't worry about going around and having to look out for them if you are phobic of them.
Largely as you would expect in an aquarium, the focus is on fish. We found ourselves comparing it to Vancouver Aquarium which we went to last year which had seals, penguins and beluga whales and Blue Planet had none of these animals (we weren't really expecting it to, I think Vancouver aquarium was just at the top of its game) and a lot of the fish and sealife were quite small. There were some tanks full of massive fish though which were quite exciting to see, catfish which were over a metre in length!
I liked that there were posters up explaining about how Blue Planet helps with conservation and breeding programmes for particular species. The information boards for each species were also quite good and informative without being boring. Hard to read them in "Amazon" due to the dim light and I've got very good eyesight. Also, some good large print summary boards around the place for kids who can't be bothered reading the detailed stuff.
There was a touching pool which the kids were loving where you can touch the stingrays - I thought that was pretty good and lots of people enjoyed that (not so sure how the rays felt about it!).
The piece de resistance is the Shark tank walkway and this is probably the thing that makes the attraction a bit special. There are 2 walk ways where the tanks are above your head - they were OK this week as it was quiet but last time it was busy they got very packed and hot and stuffy. Definitely try and pick a quiet day! In the massive tank are various sharks, massive sting rays and other enormous fish. It is quite magical to see them swimming over you, particularly the sting rays as their "face" is on the underside of their belly so it was cool to see them up close. Some of the sharks were huge too, not small little things that you might expect, some were over 2m in length with mean looking teeth! You can book special diving days to dive with the sharks for around £200 if you aren't diver qualified or £130 if you already can dive. I'm not sure I'd fancy it but think my husband would love it. Also junior shark dives are now on offer but I didn't see a price for those. These have to be booked in advance I think.
Kids birthday parties were also on offer as were "pictures of your day" which included a photo taken of you at the beginning of the day super imposed onto loads of different backgrounds. At £12 for a few dodgy photos, we decided to leave it! That sort of thing was probably quite impressive but now with photoshop it is so commonplace I'm surprised they even offer that sort of service, anything to make a few quid I imagine!
Although I'm not disabled, the disabled access looked pretty good to me, lots of space to move around and a lift to take you from one level to another. There was lots of room in the cafe too but probably because it was quite quiet - I imagine it would be packed out on a busy day. You can't eat your own food in there but there are picnic benches outside which might be OK if it isn't raining. Parking was fine too as the car park is huge and free.
There is also an annual pass available for unlimited visits but again I didn't see the price of that. There was a shop with kids toys and pick n mix in as I mentioned and a small games arcade thing with mini rides and video games. We didn't visit either so can't comment on prices.
==Value for Money?==
Firstly, BOOK YOUR TICKETS ONLINE IN ADVANCE. It saves around £2.50 per person (despite the £1.50 "booking admin fee" which feels like a total rip off. You can do this up to an hour before your visit. Also if you book online then change your mind, the ticket is valid for 6 months. Adult prices online are £13 (£15.50 pay on the door), a family of 4 (2 adults, 2 children) can expect to pay £52 on the door (£43.50 if bought online). I personally think that whilst the attraction is good and I did enjoy it, it is a very expensive attraction when it doesn't cover a full day out. We took our time looking around the exhibits and were in there just over an hour. Of course there is a show which you can see which would probably extend the visit by half an hour and if you have small children I imagine you would take a bit longer around the exhibits. You could also have lunch there (I didn't see the prices but I imagine they would be quite expensive) and there is a shop with toys for the kids to buy. I would imagine if you pushed it and eeked out the visit, you could spend a maximum of 3 hours there. When you consider that somewhere like Chester Zoo is £17 and has a full day out, I think £13 for the aquarium is quite expensive.
As we don't visit very often and we went as 2 adults, I think £27.50 was fine for the time we spent there. Something like £16-£18 (for 2) is probably more of a realistic price to get me to visit more regularly. We will go again in the future I'm sure but it isn't a place to visit on an annual basis as there just isn't enough to do and see for that kind of level of visiting - particularly once you take the price into account. It is a decent aquarium, I do feel it is slightly overpriced but it is a nice half a day attraction. The fish/sharks were great, the "additional" animals lacked a wow factor, the spiders and snakes were very small.
Summary: Nice attraction but pricey.
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