Image Credit Renovation Bay-Bee
Coral Reef Waterworld was our favourite place for swimming when Jake was younger. I would happily drive the 40 minutes from Basingstoke to Bracknell to enjoy the fun of the pools, jacuzzi, rapids, pirate ship, slide and so much more. I loved it because it was the warmest pool I had ever visited which is always important when you have babies or small children, they provided armbands, the entire pool was open (unlike our local Aquadrome which doesn’t seem to think that opening every area is required for some reason?) It was always very clean and it had a lovely restaurant to grab some lunch in after our swim. It was well worth the drive up there, so you can imagine my disappointment when they announced they were closing for a year for refurbishment.
We waited quite impatiently for it to re-open but a year passed and they still hadn’t completed the proposed £11 million refurb. A few months later and I finally saw the Facebook post I’d been waiting for but it has taken us around 9 months longer to actually make it there due to the popularity. With a new online booking system, we were seeing people booking 2 weeks in advance!! We had even heard that turning up on the day could result in a 2-hour wait and we certainly weren’t prepared to do that with a baby and an impatient 4-year-old.
So, we finally made it back during the Christmas holidays and this is what we thought of the new Coral Reef Waterworld:
We booked online a few days before and were glad to finally see that things had died down enough to grab a slot for all four of us. However, the price has become quite steep. One adult ticket is £13.70, Jake is now 5 so he cost us £9.65 but thankfully William was free being just a year old. Now, I understand that they probably need to make their money back, after all, the BBC reported that the refurb ended up costing £13 million in the end but with these peak prices I wouldn’t be able to make this a regular thing. Off-peak prices are cheaper and under 4’s are free but with Jake now at school, we are tied to the school holiday prices which is a real shame.
Anyway, back to the booking. It was easy to book all four of us in, I received an email confirmation with a barcode and useful details about the premises, car park, lockers and charges which was very helpful.
On arrival, I was surprised to see so much looking the same. I guess I assumed that the £13 million would have extended a bit further but the car park and main building itself looked identical. You still have to pay the £3 car park fee and then get it refunded inside but this is understandable with the surrounding business parks and activity centres.
As we had already booked we followed the sign at the entrance which told us to go in via the exit. Now this felt a little odd. I guess if you are a returning customer it becomes the norm but as this was our first visit back I kinda wanted to see the entrance in all of its new glory but we bypassed this bit and then ended up in a cafe area not knowing where to go next. The desk was in front of us but we couldn’t get to it at first due to people going to the seats, others trying to actually use the exit as an exit(!) and others standing about trying to attach bands to their wrists; then there were people like us who didn’t know which part of the desk they needed to go to. One side said tickets and the other said enquiries. I think this could have easily been better signposted or perhaps had a dedicated member of staff to keep the flow and to direct everyone. Anyway, I worked my way through and managed to quickly ask if I was in the right place. So, for future reference, enquiries includes booking online and they will also refund your car park here too.
The changing rooms were always amazing. Coral Reef had the largest family changing rooms I had ever seen, they were always clean and I loved the fact that they had seats for babies to sit in so they didn’t crawl around on a wet floor. When you take a baby swimming on your own it can be extremely tricky to work out how to get both of you changed without making clothing wet, without worrying about what your little one is up to and you obviously just want to get it all done as quickly as you possibly can. Well, you can imagine my face when I discovered that these large rooms had to removed to make way for more changing rooms. Honestly, I completely get that they want to accommodate for the increasing visitors, that they want everyone to get a cubicle but I was faced with a smaller area, with less seating for our stuff, soaking wet floors, mess on the floor, a baby changing table with no strap and no essential baby seat!
Getting changed into our swimming gear wasn’t the problem. I quickly changed William and placed him standing on the floor (he has just mastered walking so is still very wobbly) and it didn’t matter when he sat because we were about to get wet anyway. I then changed myself but was a bit annoyed that some of my clothes fell onto the wet floor because there were just too many of us trying to pile everything up on the one small bench (if any of you used to use Coral Reef before you’ll remember how the bench went around the entire large changing rooms which meant there was plenty of space to sit, place items and keep everything dry). But we managed and they still have their huge lockers for all of our belongings. Although the play pens next to these have also been removed so you have to have your wits about you if you have a crawling baby or a toddler!
I will jump ahead to us getting changed back as this comes under this heading for you. I left the pool before my husband and Jake as William needed a feed (breastfed) and he was getting very tired. I went into one changing room which was in the family changing area, I put everything inside and then looked up to discover it had no changing table… sigh. I picked everything back up and went to the next changing room, placed everything down, turned to shut the door and discovered the lock was broken… double sigh. I then struggled for the third time and wandered around with a crying baby until I found one that had what we needed. After calming him with some breastmilk, I went to get him changed but I realised I couldn’t. You see, if I had changed him first (which is preferable as he is the one who is colder!) I wouldn’t have had anywhere safe to place him except on a wet floor! With no baby seat, no strap on the changing table, no playpen etc. I had no choice but to get changed myself before him. I hate this and even worse he had to sit on the dirty, cold, wet floor as I rushed to get dressed.
Once I had sorted myself the best I could I then got on and changed him which was a task when you are alone, when you are reaching for things and the changing table is bouncing as he is struggling. I honestly thought they would have thought this side through more considering the fact that most parents in the week would be on their own with a young baby or child. Improvements are definitely needed here (please remember that I am comparing this to how it was before and I know this is standard in most swimming pools which is why I loved Coral Reef so much, they catered to all of our needs and provided facilities which no other pool near us does).
So, after 18/19 months of closure, I could not wait to see the brand new pool… Oh, wait, no, they didn’t actually change the pool! Nope, the entire pool is actually identical, not even new tiles can you believe?! So, if you are going thinking that the entire thing will be brand spanking new, you’ll be mistaken as I was.
The money went on the 5 new water flumes, a new roof, a makeover for the restaurant, changing rooms and entrance and it seems some fancy new lights.
Well, I can’t really complain too much here because we loved it the way it was before and it was so nice to be back. It was a place which me and Jake visited every single Wednesday and it held such great memories for us. It has so much for every age group to enjoy and his face lit up when we got in. The pools are all still incredibly warm and William managed well over an hour without getting cold– in our local pool (Aquadrome) a couple of weeks ago we only managed 20 minutes due to how cold it was, even I couldn’t stand being in there any longer!
The rapids are still a very popular area of the pool and we had loads of fun going around and being swept along. William enjoyed splashing in from the side, Jake had fun on the pirate ship, squirting water from the pistols and going down the slide and we all loved the bubbles in the jacuzzi. It was also nice that it wasn’t overly busy and we could still move.
Also, loving that the poolside photographer is still here as it is one place that you rarely get photos from and he is very, very good at what he does. Here are a couple from when Jake was much smaller during one of our previous visits to Coral Reef (same photographer too):
There are 5 new flumes to choose from– Aqua Splash, which is perfect for younger children and families, the Cannon, Storm Chaser, Poseidons Peril and Maelstrom. Aqua Splash is purely a body flume which is perfect for all ages, the cannon is a fast body flume and the other three require the use of an inflatable.
The minimum height to ride the flumes is 1.2 metres. Children below the minimum height of 1.2 metres can ride Aqua Splash, Storm Chaser and Maelstrom as long as they are accompanied by an adult. Under 8s are not able to ride The Cannon or Poseidon’s Peril.
Myself and Jake queued up but as it was our first time here we didn’t actually know any of this above information. It would have been nice to have the information on the wall prior to queuing for an inflatable. Once we got to the area where the staff member was handing them out, there were 5 information points to inform you but at that point there were people waiting and pushing through and separate queues forming. I did my normal thing of if I want to know the answers I am just going to ask the staff. He advised that Jake would be perfectly fine on the storm chaser flume so we were given a blue inflatable (double seated) and headed up the stairs. The area is well thought out as it goes up and around, the stairs were not slippery which was good considering the size of the bloody inflatable I was carrying up! And it was warm enough being stood in a queue. Now, we didn’t go on a manic day and thank goodness we didn’t because there were queue points telling you the wait times and when I saw 30 minutes I couldn’t believe it! We passed this point and ended up stopping at the 20-minute wait point. I did think this was far too much for Jake to manage at 5 but the queue actually moved much faster than this so don’t get disheartened when you see these times. Once at the top, I did my usual Mum questioning to the staff member ‘now will he be ok, he’s not too small, is he? He won’t fall through? He won’t be scared?’ The guy reassured me but he came over to help us both onto the inflatable and to check we were safely sat on it. As Jake was so small I sat in the seat behind and placed my feet into his seat so that once he sat back I stopped him from going anywhere. I’m not gonna lie, I was terrified I was going to let him drop through and have an awful accident. The member of staff was very friendly and helpful and I am glad he had the appropriate knowledge to guide us.
We had a choice of theme selections for the flume itself which basically meant what music and light show you got as you rode down. I had no clue what each did and as I was holding up the queue I just quickly selected disco and off we went! It was pretty cool gliding down with strobe lights and sound, I’ve never seen a water slide like it. Jake seemed very happy going down until we hit a corner which felt like it was going to send us flying but I think it was just the sensation of it. I think it took his breath away a little but he still told me he was fine. It went faster than I expected at times and I screamed, like full on, embarrassingly screamed when we hit the wave at the end!
Unfortunately, due to the queues then getting bigger, Jake decided he didn’t want to try the other flumes so I can’t comment on how these are but judging by the people rushing to go again I’d say they were pretty good too! I overheard some teenagers say how fast the cannon was so if you love water flumes I’d say this would be one to try. If it’s down with the kids it’s gotta be good, right?!
On arrival, you are given a coloured plastic wristband which indicates which session you are swimming in. You get a minimum of 2 hours in the pool which is plenty long enough for most people. When your time is up it is announced over the tannoy and the new lights around the pool change to the wristband colour.
Now, the wristbands… urgh more plastic waste. Sorry, Coral Reef but why can these not be reusable?! I wonder how many plastic bands end up in landfill just from their establishment each year? Also, when you remove these, the small round plastic component which joins it up breaks off and guess which little baby found one on the floor of one of the changing rooms and almost put it in his mouth?! Parents, please be vigilant when putting your babies on the floor for this reason. A few seconds later and I could well have been dealing with a choking baby. I am pretty sure these could easily be changed not only for environmental purposes but also for safety.
The new cafe is located in the reception area downstairs but if you want a meal or to overlook the pool, the restaurant is still located upstairs (there is a lift for access if needed). Unfortunately, we had quite a bad accident as soon as we entered the restaurant because the door is on a very strong spring which doesn’t stay open long enough for a parent with their hands full to pull it open, then hold it with their foot/body etc. as we all do. Instead, as I went to do this typical ‘Mum manoeuvre’ the door immediately came back at me, hitting William in the head and leaving a huge mark and him screaming. I felt so awful for having done this to him and was almost in tears myself so I don’t need any Mum shaming here but really? What doors do this?! I did bring this up with Coral Reef and I was assured that it would be passed on to the manager so I am hoping to see improvements on my next visit. However, if you are going soon, please do be very wary of this as I wouldn’t want another baby or child to get hurt.
The restaurant itself has had a makeover but the layout is the same and it still has a lovely view of the pool. There is a variety of food and their standards are just as high as they previously were.
We still love Coral Reef Waterworld and I am so glad it is open again. We have tried other pools in the time it was closed but none live up to this one. As a parent I want a warm, safe, fun pool for my children to enjoy and they provide all of this. It just needs to work on the few pointers I have made in this article to get it spot on but those are just niggles and they didn’t affect the overall swimming experience which was just as fun and enjoyable as it always has been.
To find out more about Coral Reef Waterworld and what they have to offer check out their website.
Featured Image Credit Renovation Bay-Bee. To read her brilliant post on Coral Reef and to view her vlog please visit Steph’s post here.
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