Blue Reef Aquarium, Smuggler’s Adventure and Hastings Castle
For my son’s second birthday my husband an I took him to the Blue Reef Aquarium in Hastings, East Sussex. He loves animals and was really into fish at the time so it was perfect. When we looked at prices we decided to get annual passes because they were very good value for money and our son would get another whole year of free entry.
The annual tickets entitle you to use the Aquarium as well as visit the Smuggler’s Cove and Hastings Castle. We used the Aquarium tickets a few times over the year and a few days before his 3rd birthday we decided to hit all three attractions in one day along with three more adult family members.
Using our passes we were able to get a further 10% discount on the price of the already discounted “triple” tickets so we were quite pleased with the price of entry to the attractions.
Blue Reef Aquarium
As aquariums go, this one is actually quite small but I feel like it is fairly reflected in the price of a ticket when compared to others like Sea Life. If you want to go somewhere that is a whole day out then this is not for you, but if you’re looking for an enriching morning or afternoon then it’s perfect!
There are several scheduled talks and feedings throughout the day and we were lucky enough to watch a few of them. There is also a reptile section that my son absolutely loves, we got to hold a boa constrictor which was pretty cool. The staff are all friendly and helpful and seem to really care about the animals and the work they are doing which makes a really lovely atmosphere.
The aquarium has a small gift shop, a cafe and accessible toilets with baby changing facilities.
The food and drink in the cafe are pleasant enough and are inline with seaside prices. Sadly, they weren’t able to cater for my son’s allergies but they were apologetic and able to provide allergen information easily at my request. They had no issue with my son eating his packed lunch whilst we all had a coffee.
One thing that I do find quite disappointing about both the cafe and the gift shop is the lack of environmental sustainability. The cafe readily uses plastic cutlery, straws and single use cups and the gift shop sports a whole host of “cheap and cheerful” toys and souvenirs. I would have thought that a place that values marine conservation would have made these changes a long time ago – before mainstream attention.
Overall, we do really enjoy the aquarium and the negatives I have found are easily negated with a bit of preparation. We take food for our son and we take our own cutlery or eat elsewhere and we don’t spend long in the gift shop.
Now, I really liked this. It was informative with a touch of humour and a little bit of “creepy” thrown in there. My three year old? Not so much. When we went in, the first thing we did was track down a dark, narrow corridor and into a dark cavern where they projected a ghost onto the wall that was to narrate our entire trip around the caves. Luckily, I had taken our toddler sized sling because he needed to be carried the whole way round after (unsurprisingly) refusing to walk down the first corridor because he couldn’t see.
There were a couple of things in there to make you jump but not badly. Because of the nature of this attraction, I wouldn’t recommend visiting with a wheelchair or pushchair – being a cave there are some narrow spaces, rough ground and low ceilings to navigate. I imagine it could be done with a lot of coordination and help from the staff and a few sections would get missed, so if you are considering a visit with a wheelchair then make sure you call ahead and arrange it all with the staff and pick a time when it will be quiet.
There were toilet facilities on site but a little tricky to find in the middle of a tour in a dark cave, if you pass a loo it’s best to use it! The gift shop was fairly similar to the one at the aquarium but less ocean themes and more pirate themed, some of the gifts were slightly better quality. There was no cafe there but there was one a short walk away across the top of the cliff.
I had no idea what to expect with Hastings castle and I have to say, I was a bit disappointed. I knew it was a ruin but I didn’t think that’s all it would be – especially with a normal ticket price of £5! Luckily, it worked out with the triple ticket the price of entry for us was £1 each. When I have visited other ruins they have been well kept and neat. the hedges trimmed and the grass cut. There are usually plaques with information for every part of the ruin and pictures of what it would have looked like. Hastings Castle seemed to be lacking these, even in the height of peak season. Admittedly, it probably would have been pleasant enough if it hadn’t been raining at the time, but we all felt quite bitter at having trudged, soaking wet, up a hill for… not very much. Even the view across the coast was obscured but overgrown bushes.
There are absolutely no facilities on site, just the ticket office and a small unsightly temporary structure with a screen showing a battle reenactment on loop, large enough perhaps to seat a class of school children.
Getting there and parking
There are no motorways in East Sussex at all, so you will use a lot of A roads and not all of them give a pleasant ride, leave with plenty of extra time to get there if you’re planning to drive!
There is limited street parking available near(ish) the Smugglers’ cove and Hastings Castle, but being on the top of a cliff, they understandably don’t have their own car parks! Alternatively, you can park on the seafront and use the funicular railway to get up the cliff side. The aquarium is on the seafront surrounded by parking but it is a 10-15 minute walk to the funicular railway from there, there are closer car parks further along the seafront as well.
Hastings is well serviced by public transport, there are a couple of bus routes that will drop you right outside the aquarium and all along the seafront.
Have you been to either of these amazing places in Hastings?