Monday 14 January 2013

REVIEW: The Deep, Hull

Rays at The Deep
Octonauts, to your stations!

If this phrase prompts dramatic music to chime in your ears, and conjures images of Captain Barnacles and his crew in their fleet of aquatic vehicles, then you're probably the parent of a young child who would love to visit The Deep.

With one such four-year-old, I was delighted to be offered the chance to visit and review the award-winning aquarium in Hull by's vouchers site for family days out and days out discounts.

Checking out the lagoon

Home to over 3,500 fish, including spectacular sharks and rays, It's designed like a ship, but in a stylish, not gimmicky way. No fake portholes framing posters of tropical beaches here. From the moment you're handed your entrance ticket, the same shape, size and feel to a rail ticket, there is a sense of subtle authenticity, as though you really could be on a large ferry. And nothing supports this more than the building's fabulous location. Right on the edge of the Humber Estuary, the building juts out over the sea so that from its observatory cafe, where your tour begins and ends, you can look out over panoramic views of the sea at the point where two rivers meet it.

But, as the name suggests, it's as you travel downwards underground that the journey to the deep really begins.

Our young charge was keen to skip through the first series of exhibits - well laid out along gently declining walkways. They focused on the history of the planet, suggesting it would be more appropriately named Sea rather than Earth.

Trying to splat jellyfish!
Why are the oceans the shape they are? Why is the sea salty and where did the water come from? I would have loved to hang around to find out, but, as with any museum which appeals to a broad age range, parents of young children should probably accept that it will be a few years, in reality, before these questions can be answered.

At the bottom of the walkway our son was happy to stop and explore. Here was a huge lagoon teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes. There was also a projected image of a rock pool on the floor, where jellyfish ran off-screen unless you were quick enough to jump on them and splat them.

Garden eels - the meerkats of the sea world!
Deeper down we went, and a huge glass wall was the window onto a coral reef, which we could also see through a glass bubble you could pop your head up into, or a rotating periscope.

Next it was a hall of slime, with tanks of snails, frogs and eels, before we reached another giant tank where we saw a live demonstration of a diver feeding the inhabitants.

All around us, throughout the tour there were clever and easy-to-use interactive tools for learning more about science and nature. Because the exhibition is underground, natural daylight is barred in place of a blue, underwater feel, and sound is used a lot to create atmosphere and add to the experience.

At the helm of the ship - looking out from the observatory to sea
Through an ice tunnel with walls actually made of the stuff, we came to another tank full of sharks, rays and swordfish, which circled above our heads as we walked through a glass underwater tunnel. A soft play area gave the boy another chance to let off steam before we exited the deep upwards via a spectacular glass elevator through the aquarium.

My little boy said he particularly liked the 'flat ones' (rays) and that there was nothing bad about our trip, he liked all of it. My husband contrasted it with the Scarborough Sea Life Centre, which we've been to a couple of times, which has an outdoor area with penguins, otters and seals. This makes it a different experience - more that of a zoo, getting up close and personal with the creatures, with all the mess and smell that goes with it. At The Deep, because everything is behind glass, there is more of a clean, museum-like feel. His favourite aspect was the sense of being on a ship, and on the misty day we visited he said that looking down at the sea below he had the sense of being on a becalmed vessel, waiting for the foghorn to sound.

A swordfish having a snooze!
For me, one observation is that a circuit of The Deep does not actually take much time. Unlike a big zoo or museum you could see everything within an hour-and-a-half. Although we didn't do this, It may be as well to do one tour and break for lunch in the cafe before going round again - like notoriously forgetful fish in a tank, it's easy to rediscover what you've just seen!

If you fancy a trip to The Deep or a
family day out anywhere, try

For more information on The Deep, visit

Outside The Deep


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