Location: Noboribetsu, Hokkaido, Japan
Highlights: Penguin parade, Sardine galaxy tank
Children Friendly (7): One of the first things you notice driving into the parking lot is that the place is mostly geared towards children. There’s a carnival area right outside with lots of bright colours and rides. There are touch tanks and shows which will definitely please the children. Overall the park is fairly small, small children would be able to walk throughout and it would not take the whole day. That being said there are some areas where they could improve, the carnival area looked like it was in need of an update. I don’t think I’d feel completely safe putting small children on those rides. Also the touch tanks did not have any staff at them which could also be dangerous if the young children (or even adults) were not being careful.
Animal Diversity (6): While this location is mainly an aquarium they did also have reptiles and amphibians on display. In terms of the aquarium itself they also had a decent selection of species, some of which I had never seen before. They had some larger animals including dolphins, seals, sea lions, and penguins which helped them to expand their diversity as well.
Animal Viewing (5): The viewing at the aquarium was fairly mediocre. In the larger tunnel tanks the lighting was not very good which hindered the viewing of the animals. The dolphins and sea lions were only able to be seen during the shows which limits visitors, especially on busy days when the shows could become quite crowded. Many exhibits did not allow the greatest views of the animals due to many hiding spots provided or the shape of the viewing glass (domed). One thing that did have an effect on my viewing enjoyment was the fact that they had recipes/meal signs posted by a number of the exhibits, it was a very weird feeling observing an animal in a zoo/aquarium setting that way.
Animals Happiness (2): In this regard the zoo was really lacking. Many tanks in the castle seemed too small for the animals they housed, most notably the sawfish. Outdoors and in the pavilions the most obvious offending exhibits were the dolphin, sea lion, and seal exhibits. The tanks were much too small and barren. Some tanks inside the castle were quite barren as well and I do realize certain aquatic species prefer empty or minimal tanks.
Photography (4): The lighting at many exhibits caused either bad glare on the glass or very poor lighting to shoot in. As big and vibrant as the castle is outside, it is quite dingy indoors. The glass was not exceptionally clean, especially in the reptile/amphibian areas. Angles looking into some exhibits, not notably the penguins, made some awkward shots as well. Their animal shows were the only opportunity to photograph the dolphins and sea lions, so ‘natural’ or non-performing shots were not an option.
Layout/Map (8): The map was very accurate to the grounds of the park, as well as a map of the castle interior is available on their website. The layout itself is ok, inside the castle it is a one was path. There are not too many exhibits outside the main castle however they are scattered somewhat randomly.
Hours (10): The hours are okay, open from 9-5 everyday. They are open year round as well. Not the longest hours daily but the daylight is shorter in Hokkaido so it’s understandable.
Price (3): The price of the zoo was not worth the number of animals/attractions in my opinion. At about $25 for adults, plus having to pay for parking this was quite expensive. This may not seem like that high of a cost especially considering many zoo prices in North America, but this is more than double what I’ve paid at other, larger zoos in Japan. They do have yearly memberships but you do not start saving money until your third visit.
Food (7): There were plenty of food options available at the aquarium. The food looked fairly good at the sit down restaurants; however it was very mediocre coming from the food stalls. Prices were about average.
Website (10): The website is quite good. That Japanese main site has quite a bit of information and has good graphics and layout. They do have an English brochure online, a pdf of the version you would get at the zoo or information booth.
Gift Shop (8): There were multiple gift shops, all of a pretty good size. I was pleased with the selection available. Plenty of children’s toys and gifts. I did appreciate that almost all the animals represented in the gift shop were in fact seen at the aquarium, or at least marine animals. They did not have a big selection of higher quality gifts for a more adult audience or many clothing options.
Quiet Areas (7): There were benches and tables throughout the park but they were not necessarily away from the ‘action’. There were areas to take your time and sit and look at exhibits but on busy days it could be crowded and not very calming.
Safety/Cleanliness (7): The grounds were fairly clean, and I saw a couple employees cleaning while going through the castle. As mentioned before there were no employees present at the touch tables which could be a potential safety issue. Guest involvement in the dolphin and sea lion shows, although minimal always brings a risk. The safety of the carnival area was not overly convincing when I walked through it to the exit.
Extras (5): Having live animal shows does add to the feeling of ticket value, and there were multiple show times throughout the day. Having a carnival within the park is also great to extend time spent on the grounds.
Overall (6.4): All in all I wouldn’t recommend this zoo. It has some neat aspects to it but it really isn’t worth the money. I feel this aquarium is pretty amazing to guests who have maybe never been to one but there are much better aquarium options out there.