It’s a summer the like of which we’ve never known.

And while lockdown meant families spent more time together than perhaps ever before, some of the places they would go for days out were just not available.

That’s slowly changing with restrictions gradually lifting.

So we thought it would be a good idea to visit these popular attractions and report back on just what the ‘new normal’ is like there…

West Midlands Safari and Leisure Park

Where: Spring Grove Road, Bewdley, Worcs, DY12 1LF

When: Opening times vary – check for details.

So, what’s new?: Booking. And signs! Lots of signs!

The signs are super cute too, waddling penguins demonstrating the sort of social distancing we all need to be practising.

Booking is super-important – the park has a limit on numbers so if you turn up unannounced, particularly on weekends (we went on a Sunday, which was pretty busy), you might be disappointed.

Otherwise, it’s the things you would expect – lots of hand sanitisers and wash stations, additional portable toilet blocks have been added, contactless payments preferred to cash.

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At the leisure park, the amusements have reopened but are cleaned after each ride – this does not necessarily mean too much of a longer wait than usual as there are fewer parkgoers than normal.

Some attractions – such as the Twilight Cave – remain closed but most everything is open.

The shows are on – we saw the excellent Sea Lion show – although the crowds are much smaller with seats, including entire rows, needing to be left empty to ensure social distancing. But there are several shows a day so as long as you queue a few minutes early, you will probably get in.

You only really need facemasks for the gift shops and Lemur Walk – when I asked why, apparently it is for the safety of those particular animals. They are cute too – so make sure you take masks and don’t miss out on that!

And what’s the same?: The safari park itself is pretty much unaffected, obviously – after all, you’re in your own family bubble in your car as you drive around!

You can still feed some of the animals, with the giraffes particularly peckish – indeed, take note of the instruction to keep your window half-shut, else you might end up with a greedy giraffe’s head in your lap… not that that happened to me of course…

Overall verdict: This was a really enjoyable day out.

Like most places, it’s not cheap – between £100-130 for a family of four depending on whether you buy amusement wristbands – but parents will be used to that!

You know how to cut down the costs, take your own food and drink, etc. I had never been before and really enjoyed it, and so did the kids.

We felt safe throughout with all the measures that had been put in place.

National Sea Life Centre, Birmingham

Where: The Water’s Edge, Brindley Place, Birmingham, B1 2HL.

When: Mon-Fri 9:45am-4pm; Sat 9.30am-6pm; Sun 9.30am-5pm

So, what’s new?: I had a little more trepidation over this visit because of the fact it is wholly indoors  but the Sea Life Centre is much less busy than people who have previously visited will remember.

That’s because – much like at the Safari Park – they have implemented a booking system that limits the number of people in the centre, and actually makes the experience more enjoyable than it was.

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There’s far more space to move around and you actually have more time to view the exhibits rather than feeling you need to rush about because you have loads of people waiting behind you.

We visited before temperature checks and face masks were made compulsory but those measures will apparently be introduced shortly.

There were social distancing 2m markings on the floor and walls throughout, as well as instructions that benches are only to be used by family members in the same bubble.

Understandably, the kids’ play area at the end of the trail is closed but the fact that the 4D cinema remains shut was a slight disappointment – hopefully they can work out how to reopen that safely.

And what’s the same?: The exhibits remain just as wonderful as ever – from the peerless penguins to the scary sharks, from the over-excitable otters to the tremendous turtles.

There’s the always-impressive ocean tunnel that rounds off your visit and I was pleased to see the rockpool – where you can touch small sea creatures like starfish – is still open.

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Overall verdict: The Sea Life Centre is always a fun place to go and the kids will never tire of seeing the penguins, sharks and turtles in particular.

The compulsory booking system ensured there were not too many centregoers present during our visit and there were plenty of facilities and instructions to help everyone feel safe.

The only downside was the fact that the cinema and play area were closed meant your time there was probably 30 minutes to an hour less than it would usually be.

At £21.95 a ticket – so almost £90 for a family of four – it’s a bit steep for a morning out so get checking those cereal boxes for the entry discounts all we parents know and love!


Alton Towers

Where: Alton, Staffordshire ST10 4DB

When: 10am-7pm daily – opening times may vary so check before visiting.

So, what’s new: A fair bit, from the moment you arrive in fact – there’s no monorail now, which means a walk from the car park to the theme park rather than the lazier option.

Pre-booking is essential as the number of guests allowed in the park at any time is capped – and there are temperature checks for all. Don’t go if you think you have a fever – as you won’t get in!

You need face masks for some rides (and shops) – my wife forgot hers in one queue but a helpful member of staff was able to provide one. There’s a lot for staff to get their heads around with the new rules but they were as cheerful as ever.

Because of the regulations – fewer people per ride on some rides, etc – the queues (always an issue at themes park anyway) seemed slightly longer than normal.

And what’s the same: The rides, pretty much! There’s no mixing of bubbles (families) in the same rows, which means a few gaps, but other than that the rides, big and small, are as they were.

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Toilets, shops, restaurants, refreshment kiosks are all open – and the kiddies’ shows in CBeebies Land are on too, complete with socially-distanced seating. Sadly there are no photos and hugs with the characters now, but that’s understandable.

Overall verdict: There’s nothing like a theme park visit to get you feeling something approaching back to normal.

The kids absolutely looooooved it – Wicker Man and Nemesis being out 8-year-old’s favourite while our 4-year-old adored Go Jetters in CBeebies Land plus the Driving School in the main park – and we adults had great fun too.

There’s the odd frustration, of course, with the queues but, hey, we handled being stuck at home for three months so a half-hour wait for a rollercoaster isn’t the end of the world.


We'll be adding more reviews throughout the summer so keep checking back!