As my regular readers might know, I’ve actually worked professionally with reptiles and exotics for over twenty years, so I’m super keen on visiting animal attractions and giving them the once over. Even though William has been brought up around snakes and lizards, he loves to see them in larger enclosures, different species, and other animals as well. Here in Cardiff there’s not a lot of days out with exotics, so we’ve all wanted to go to Plantasia and check them out for a while.
Plantasia is a large greenhouse style setup in Swansea, a tropical indoor attraction where you can walk through a rainforest and see some exotic mammals, reptiles and fish. If you’ve been to Roath Park Conservatory, think that style, but on a much bigger scale. It’s very easy to find, set within a large retail shopping park in Swansea. It takes about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes from Cardiff and we made the journey very easily.
It being COVID times, we pre-booked our tickets online, but there was no need to as we were traveling on a weekday in term time, so it was very quiet and you could buy tickets on the door. If you’re going in the school holidays or on busy weekends then I think it’s always worth booking attractions in advance. You avoid disappointment as attractions have to stick to smaller entry numbers these days, and it actually saves you money as well.
We paid the online price of £7 each for adults and £5 for our 4 year old. Children under three are free.
The woman serving at the till which also serves the shop and the cafe was extremely friendly and helpful. We checked in using the NHS app for Test and Trace and she explained that due to COVID it’s a one way system now and as it’s all indoors, adults do have to wear a mask all the way around. Already familiar with the annoyance of going into hot places with a mask and glasses, I’d come prepared with contact lenses – highly recommended if you don’t want your glasses steaming up!
The one way system was very efficient and there was only one section blocked off – the high up waterfall walkway – as there’s a narrow walkway and only one entrance/exit. We walked around looking at some small reptile enclosures, including lizards, snakes, tarantulas, scorpions and other invertebrates, saw a very large koi fish pond with turtles, and there are a couple of larger animal enclosures, including meerkats, tortoises, marmoset monkeys and birds, and an Asian Leopard Cat, which is a treat, as I have a Bengal myself at home and an Asian Leopard Cat is probably her great-great-great-great-great-great grandparent.
As a herpetologist myself I did feel like the reptile side of things was done very minimalistically. It’s a shame to see plastic plants and very fake-looking setups inside a tropical rainforest, and the tanks were all very small. In fact, at least two of the tanks I would consider below the bare basic minimum size to keep that species. For example, the large adult male crested gecko being kept in a 45cm cube with a single plastic plant when mine at home live in fully bioactive forest 60 x 45 x 60cm enclosures and use every cm of their space. The second was seeing the young Fiji Iguana – an endangered and expensive species to source – cowering in the top of a narrow Exo Terra enclosure, but I assume they have plans for this little one as it grows bigger.
It was a little disappointing just from my professional point of view – because they’ve got tons and tons of space and clearly have knowledge about plants and were using top notch lighting and heating equipment so have also invested a lot of money into those setups – but fall flat on making the reptile enclosures (except for the Burmese Python who has a lovely setup) spacious and natural. And bear in mind I’m not saying these setups are terrible, the basics were all covered, it just seems a shame not to make them the best they can be for the animals, and also to educate the public on their needs.
So whilst I wasn’t that impressed with the reptiles, the main attraction which is the rainforest itself, was extremely impressive. It’s something you won’t find anywhere else in Wales, a lush tropical greenhouse that has had decades of work into crafting and sustaining it. You really do feel immersed in the environment, and it was amazing to see the size and growth of the plants. You walk around ponds, and over bridges, eventually working your way up into a high walkway with a great view. Four year old William loved every second of it.
It is a fairly small attraction. It takes about 30 minutes to go around once. You can go around as many times as you want, but after twice, William was ready to move on. Some people may consider the entry fee quite expensive for an hours entertainment, but I think you have to bear in mind the cost of maintaining these plants and animals and the uniqueness of the attraction. I felt it was good value for money when you consider this an experience you can’t get elsewhere, with a huge opportunity for education for children.
For an extra £1 you can do the activity hunt which is a sheet of paper with questions aimed at older children, but it also comes with a medal and there’s a photo opportunity at the end, which William loved.
There are toilets at the start and end of the one way system and they were very clean and accessible. The gift shop is small, but well stocked, and really quite well priced. I told William he could buy any one thing in the entire shop and then winced, waiting for the price tag (he’s chosen a stuffed toy that costs £20 before!) but he chose a small wiggly centipede for £2.99 and even the teddies seemed reasonably well priced. There’s also a cafe with seating area, plenty of seats and very bright and airy. COVID protocols seemed good, and all the staff were encountered were very friendly and looked like they were enjoying their jobs.
Despite my personal reservations about some of the reptile enclosures, I definitely recommend Plantasia as a day out. It’s a unique and immersive experience and they’re doing important work, both education wise and for worldwide conservation as they are breeding a critically endangered species (the Egyptian Tortoise).
We will be back!
Visit Plantasia’s Website for more information or to book tickets.