Ooo – a day out at the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth

We’ve just come back from a  tiring day out at the aquarium; one of our favourite places and much loved by Jacob. I wanted to blog about it because it’s just such a fab place, great for children in general but also good in terms of accessibility too. It was our place of choice when we needed to distract him when he couldn’t eat prior to his recent MRI under general anaesthetic. The icing on the cake is that Carers go free on production of a child’s DLA award letter.

Jacob loves fish. Probably for the same reason he loves birds, the movement and the way they flit about; he seeks out movement and loves fast moving or spinning things, it’s part of his sensory process disorder.  He’ll ask me if we can go to the aquarium for the day in his own unique way; by blowing down his nostrils (a sort of snort and his approximation of the sound ‘ffff’) and signing ‘boat’ in Makaton (it’s a fairly similar sign to ‘fish’, I guess!). We don’t, however, normally go in half term; too manic and too noisy. Our best trip by far has to be the one we made on the last shopping Saturday before Christmas where we shared the whole place with about 5 other families – top tip there!

Water, light, movement - Harry enjoys the anemones

Water, light, movement – Harry enjoys the anemones

Anyway,we made a trip during the school holidays because it was organised by the lovely people at Friends and Families of Special Children, Plymouth (fantastic charity, do go and check out their webpage) and so we were extra fortunate that we managed to secure one of the four disabled parking spots (these are tucked down behind the aquarium in an area marked Coaches Only,  another top tip there!). Without one of these you have to park in the nearby council car park and pay a fair bit. The walk from parking to the aquarium in a little distance (about 3-5 minutes walk) and there are some inclines along the way but it’s easily do-able for us and Jacob’s Maclaren Major.

Inside the aquarium all the areas are accessible mainly because long sloping ramps are used to take you from floor to floor. You have to go up initially but then take the lift right to the top and make your way back down – much easier! This layout makes it so easy when you’ve got to push someone around it but I’ve found that it’s also brilliant when you’ve got a small toddler as it’s safe and easy for them to walk around (and tire themselves out). They also have the normal facilities, so as usual it’s annoyingly difficult to change a nappy on anyone larger than an 18 month old (sigh).

Jacob does find it hard to see into some of the tanks that are high up or if you need to look down into them but really so many of the tanks are low level or have huge glass sides that you can go right up to that we haven’t found this a problem at all. In fact in many ways so much of it is accessible to him visually that it can get a bit overwhelming at times and we need to have regular breaks from the movement of the fish, of the water or the light on the water so that he doesn’t get too over excited.

Particularly accessible is the huge atlantic ocean tank where a huge curved glass wall allows you to be right up against the fish and watch them swim over the top of you. On quieter days Jacob likes to lie on the floor with his head on my lap and just watch the fish go almost all around him.

The Atlantic tank

The Atlantic tank

Today Jacob’s thing was lying on the floor in the science area behind the atlantic tank, where there is a glass floor and ceiling, not the most helpful thing to do on a crowded day. I don’t have a photo of this as I was too busy preventing him from licking the floor and this was the moment we decided it was time to find a nice quiet place to sit down for a while!

So if you’re down this way on holiday or live nearby and haven’t been yet, I heartily recommend a trip, you might even see us there we’ll be the ones shouting at fish, licking the tanks and having a lovely time!

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