Monday, January 12, 2009

Under the sea

We're back from the city and our big adventure to the Sydney Aquarium did not disappoint. I can't believe that in all my years of city living I had never been. Although I didn't have children then and I think visiting with the kids was what made it really great. We entered through the jaws of a shark and saw hundreds of under-water creatures doing their thing — from the playful platypus darting about to the smiling dugong coming up for a kiss, it really was a delightful day.
Oh, except for one small hiccup. The dugong are their "special feature" at the moment and all the promotional material shows a dugong with a mermaid with the tagline, "Dugongs at Mermaid Lagoon". Everything was going swimmingly (couldn't resist saying that) until we exited the tunnel where the dugong were lolling about. Our three-year-old daughter stopped and folded her arms and refused to go back up the ramp to the next section. She wasn't leaving this part of the aquarium until the dugong turned into a "real" mermaid. I attempted to explain the story of the dugong being mistaken for mermaids by pirates but she wasn't having it. The tears started, the body went stiff when I attempted to pick her up and then a full-blown tantrum followed. We even had an elderly lady stop and explain that she had been searching for a mermaid all her life and still hadn't seen one — that's how rare they are. Finally we got her up to the reef tanks and she came around and even got to see "Marlin" and "Nemo" playing in their anemone.
As we dragged ourselves up the last ramp three-and-a-half hours after entering there was a guy dressed as a pirate spruiking that a special show was about to start. Our son wanted to watch so we all sat and the pirate played a little tune on his keyboard and then announced he had a special guest. Out came a 20-something tanned blonde in a bra decorated with green sequins and... a taffeta fish-tail skirt! The pirate introduced her as Mermaid Ruby and our daughter almost burst at the seams. A real live mermaid! Wonders will never cease. I have never been so grateful to see a semi-naked girl in my life (my husband seemed pretty grateful too). Needless to say we watched the entire show, did every dance move and had our photo taken with Mermaid Ruby.
The Stats:
Cost: Family pass (2 adults, 2 kids). $76 at the door; $68.40 online through the Aquarium; $61.20 online through NRMA if you are a member. I really recommend getting your tickets online before you go. Not only is it cheaper but you get to enter via a special queue. The line for tickets when we got there was huge and we heard a staff member telling people the wait would be over an hour. We only had to wait about five minutes to get in.
Parking: You can get your parking ticket for two parking stations (Entertainment Carpark; Harbourside Carpark) validated at the Aquarium and it will cost you $12 to park all day.
What to take: Drinks (pack extra, it's warm in there) and snacks. There is a food station about half way but it's not great and is quite pricey. A stroller for under-threes or kids who tire easily would be handy, we were there for almost four hours. Wear comfortable shoes. And of course, don't forget the camera.
Best bits: The reef tanks with their colourful coral and fish displays — they save the best till last. And the "touching" station where the kids got to pat starfish and sea cucumbers. The boys loved the sharks.


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