About a year and a half ago we did a family trip to the aquarium in Birmingham (where we used to live) and it was a complete nightmare. I swore we would never set foot in an aquarium ever again. Well, that didn’t exactly pan out because guess where we ended up last weekend…
The justification for going to the S.E.A. Aquarium was mainly based around it being an indoors activity therefore keeping my fair headed mini people out of the sun and the assumption that it would be comfortably air conditioned. Those fairly compelling arguments to go clouded my rational judgement and I completely forgot that:
a) Tourist attractions at the weekend = a special kind of torture reserved only for the most desperate of parents, aka people like us, and actual tourists. If the ticket queue doesn’t put you off, or the small fortune you’ll pay for the tickets, the inability to see anything may well seal your fate. When it comes to having any chance of spying an interesting looking aquatic species you either need to be little and cute (not me), little and ballsy (also not me), extremely tall (almost me) or just ready to use the elbows first method of pushing your way in. One thing I will say for the weekend tourist crowds of Singapore is that they absolutely do respect that attractions such as the aquarium are super exciting for little ones, and as such the adults always seemed to take a step back and let the kids press their noses up against the glass and generally terrorise the exhibits without passing any judgement. This is the extreme opposite from our Birmingham experience where kids were almost actively blocked from seeing anything by pushy, rude adults. So that’s 1-0 to Singapore.
b) Aquariums are very dimly lit, I don’t know why, but they are. If you’re in the market for a child swap this is the ideal place as no one can really see their kids anyway, we’re all just hoping that some primal instinct to recognise your offspring’s high pitched squawks of “FISHHHH” kicks in. Given that it is so dark I would recommend dressing your child in something very bright/glow in the dark/adorned with fairy lights. Well, maybe not the last one, but something that will glow under UV lights will be a hit when you come to the jelly fish area. It might also be a good idea to crack out the sharpies and tattoo your child’s lower arm with a “if lost please call (phone number)” or, if you’re a little less diy about things, invest in a tracker device such as the My Buddy Tag which handily alerts you if the child has wandered too far, is scared or is in water. As my children get a little older and a little less happy about hand holding all the time I’m pretty sure a buddy tag for each of them will be a worthwhile purchase.
c) The fish all look the same, apart from the fish the kids know about from their books, which then terrify them in real life. This is not strictly true, and marine biologists/aquatic fanatics would probably be appalled that I even said that. But to a young child and a parent whose priority is not to lose the child, everything ends up fitting into one of the following categories- Nemo, shark, not a shark but big, small and too quick to see properly, starfish, octopus, jellyfish, crab, lobster, rainbow fish, puffed up puffa fish, not puffed up but potentially still a puffa fish, and some sort of ray (ability to sting unknown). For the average pre-schooler a fish either comes in edible finger form, has been the subject of a recent octonauts episode, or has been gazed at in the tanks of the local pet shop (a not to be underestimated FREE rainy day activity). Seeing all these underwater creatures up close is just surreal for them, and they’re either mesmerised, terrified or underwhelmed. Anything other than the first reaction can be tough to take when you’ve just forked out for premium priced family entry. Being a parent is a damn risky business.
d) The one type of fish the kids reaaally want to see are impossible to find even in the tank they’re supposed to be in. In our case the challenge was to find a seahorse. Tricky little buggers those seahorses. We found the tank after much searching but could we find a damn seahorse in it? Not even a trace. The search was not aided by the fact that young children have a wait and watch timescale spanning about a nanosecond, and seahorses are approximately the size of an atom (not a scientific fact, they are actually somewhere between 1.5cm and 30cm, but we would have noticed one of those jumbo’s swimming around so you know….these elusive ones were obviously atom sized). And once you promise a kid a seahorse you have to deliver or face the wrath (in public) of demon child. Well someone knew we were coming because the gift shop, which is of course unavoidable on your way out, had several seahorse options on display. Thanks for that S.E.A. Aquarium, thanks a bunch for reminding the kid of the ONE THING we didn’t see right as we’re aiming for a quick and painless escape from the pits of parenting failure. I am now the caretaker of two seahorse bath toys that squirt water in your face. Really, really all I ever wanted.
So next time I think about a family day out can someone force me to really think it through? It’s not that I don’t enjoy family time because I absolutely love it, but there’s a way to do it without finishing up minus a whole load of dosh, all glaring at each other and with a handbag full of gift shop tat. Ways to do family time like….
- Not going at peak time if possible, but if a weekend trip is unavoidable arrive at opening time before the crowds descend
- Buying tickets online in advance or even better buying tickets online farrrr in advance when they’re on offer
- Making a list of must-see places and planning out the day with some sort of efficient walking plan rather than wandering aimlessly
- Checking in advance what activities there are for kiddies rather than just winging it upon arrival
- Ensuring everyone is wearing comfy clothes and shoes before you leave the house
- Making a plan of coffee stops (this is super important for keeping up the adults morale)
- Putting gift shop spending money to one side for the kids and not giving into pressure from them to spend more
- Strategic packing of the handbag to include things like endless snacks and water, a camera, baby wipes, spare t-shirts for the kids, sunhats and sun cream (if you don’t have them you can guarantee you’ll need them, same as the spare t-shirts), paracetamol and cash
- Not making promises you can’t keep (seahorses being a case in point)
- Accepting that the kids will get overwhelmed, tired and ratty at some point but that an unscheduled ice cream stop often helps resolve this, regardless of the proximity to a mealtime