Loch Lomond Sea Life Centre has been one of Travis’s favourite places to go since he was a wee baby. As we live nearby, it’s been a handy attraction to explore regularly. Smaller than some of the bigger Merlin aquariums, the experience makes up for whatever the venue lacks in size.
The Sea Life Centre in Loch Lomond has been around for about 15 years now, housed in Drumkinnon Tower in Balloch, built at the turn of the century as part of the wider investment in Loch Lomond Shores. The tower itself has some fantastic viewpoints, so if you’re visiting the Sea Life Centre, I would highly recommend going up to the cafe or further up to the outdoor viewing deck for some breathtaking views of Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond.
It’s one of the few attractions on Loch Lomond that’s an (almost) entirely indoor experience. Whilst it’s great to get outdoors, it’s also great to have a backup of something fun to do when it’s raining (which is more often than we’d like!). Suitable for all ages, it’s definitely an ideal baby and toddler activity, developing understanding and interest in sea creatures and conservation as they grow.
Loch Lomond Sea Life Centre is a Merlin attraction, so you can expect costs to be in line with other Merlin-owned spaces. There are a variety of pricing options which I’ve outlined in the how much does it cost section.
In terms of accessibility, the areas are wide enough for push chairs or wheelchairs, and there are lifts to every floor. There’s also a buggy park and lockers, should you need to store anything rather than carry it. Using the buggy park is recommended if possible – although it’s family friendly and accessible enough, if your child is able to walk they should manage round the aquarium space easily and without getting tired.
Within the Sea Life Centre, there are 27 tanks housing hundreds (probably tens of thousands but I didn’t count them) of sea creatures from great guitar sharks to little cleaner shrimps you can hold on your hand. All of the tanks are located on the ground floor, with a cinema and cafe housed upstairs. The time it takes to enjoy the attraction depends on the age and stage of your child. As a baby, my little one could look at most exhibits for a while, whereas for toddlers or older children, there will be time to sit in the cinema, experience the interactive elements, listen to a talk and possibly do some worksheets. I’d say about an hour is reasonable if you’ve never been before – add on half an hour or so if you intend to visit the cafe too.
What to expect
When you enter, you’ll be asked if you want a guidebook. I’ve never gotten one of these so can’t comment on their usefulness! But even without, it’s still pretty easy to navigate the aquarium. Often there will be quiz sheets handed out at the entrance for kids to find specific animals or things lurking in the tanks. This usually changes seasonally, with themed Easter, Halloween and Christmas activities as well as things like mermaids and pirates on occasion. If you can, I’d recommend going when one of these exhibits is on for a bit of extra entertainment.
The aquarium is divided into different zones, most of which are self explanatory, such as the Rockpools and the Bay of Rays. Each zone will normally see someone host a talk at least once a day. However, at the time of writing this post, all talks are temporarily suspended due to the Coronavirus/lockdown rules on gathering. If you time it correctly (and there are no Coronavirus restrictions) you could enter in time to hear one or two talks, plus witness a feed.
There are lots of interactive experiences, so it’s more than just walking around and looking inside the tanks. The quiz sheets handed to children will be relevant to some of the tanks available, and there are plenty of Sea Life information screens to let you know about the creatures in tanks in the absence of talks.
As well as this, there are educational boards containing facts and information as you go around – many of these are also interactive. For instance there’s a board where you sniff and guess smells, to find out the one related to an otter, and another where you slide a board to find out how you can be more environmentally friendly to protect sea creatures.
One of Travis’s favourite things to do is touch all the boards that let you experience what certain sea creatures feel like. There’s an opportunity to feel an octopus, seahorse, shark and turtle. And if your child is a bit hands-on like that then they will surely love the rockpools. Hosted by a member of the Sea Life team, they contain things like starfish, shark eggs and cleaner shrimp for children to touch and hold.
If your child is old enough or has a long enough attention span, there’s an IMAX cinema which loops a short 15 minute video about the different animals and creatures that Sea Life helps throughout the world. The cinema is on the 2nd floor, with access available by lift or stairs.
How much does it cost?
Kids under 3 go free in the Loch Lomond Sea Life Centre, another reason why we visit so frequently.
If you are local to Loch Lomond, I recommend getting a local’s pass which costs £35 – they are usually discounted through the local newspaper or available online at certain times of the year, making them even cheaper. If you’re not local, I’d recommend getting the Merlin Annual Pass (£99) if you plan to visit a few times, or if you visit other Merlin attractions like Legoland, Edinburgh Dungeon etc. The passes also offer discounts in the cafe and gift shop so can work out good value for money if you plan to visit regularly.
Alternatively, if you’re planning a one-off trip, book your tickets online in advance (this must be done during lockdown restrictions anyway) to save 20% on the walk-in ticket price. That makes it £11.95 for adults and £8.75 for kids aged 3+.
Unlikely Mum Verdict
It’s hands down the best value attraction we’ve visited, turning up around once a week in the cold, winter months. Our passes have more than paid for themselves each time we’ve renewed them, and the experiences – and sometimes sea creatures – change seasonally enough that it doesn’t become boring or stale.
I appreciate that it might not seem as much value for a one-off experience for a family if you aren’t local, which is why the Merlin passes are so great. However, to me it’s such an ideal attraction for younger children, with lots of opportunities to learn and explore – plus there’s Costa coffee in the cafe for any tired parents which is a win!
Perceived value aside, I think it’s a great place to keep children entertained especially on a wet day where outdoor attractions aren’t ideal. The people who work there are all so lovely and friendly, and they always remember us too. You can tell they enjoy sharing their knowledge and caring for the sea creatures, which makes it much more enjoyable than visiting other places where employees couldn’t be less interested.
From somewhere to spend maternity leave while your child is mesmerised by the movement of fish, to a real family-friendly place that you can visit week in-week out while your child discovers more starfish or seahorses that they didn’t see before, or get the chance to play with some pirates, it’s an attraction I’m really grateful to have on my doorstep.