Snorkelling with the sharks at SEA LIFE London Aquarium with a prescription diving mask from Boots Opticians.-review

Let me start by saying I was very nervous about the idea of swimming with sharks at the SEA LIFE London Aquarium. Not because I am frightened of sharks more that I am so afraid of water I even try to avoid getting my face wet in the shower!

But this was such a great opportunity to not only join one of my favourite sea creatures in their environment but to also be actually able to see them using a diving mask made to my prescription by Boots Optician.

Now my sight isn't terrible, mostly strained by hours of staring at a computer screen, but it would be a terrible shame to be eaten by a shark just because you mistook it for a floating lump of driftwood wouldn't it?

The process of getting the mask was simple - just like going for glasses. I had the pre-test check of my eye health, then a thorough set of tests from a lovely optician who was highly amused at the idea of me heading into the water when I was more scared of the water than the creatures in it.

prescription diving mask made by Boots Opticians We had a giggle together when she asked how close I was expecting the sharks to get so she could work out the best prescription for the mask -we settled on arm's length as I figured that was as close as I'd like them to be!

Tests done I sat down with a friendly consultant who showed me the range of diving masks and swimming goggles available- I was not expecting to have a choice and went for a crystal mask with an attractive accent colour.

When he went off to order my mask I flicked through the catalogue - before this opportunity I didn't even know about the goggles and masks let alone the wide range of cycling, sport and skiing goggles and glasses you can have made to your prescription.

A couple of days after visiting my local Boots store for the eye tests I received a call telling my goggles were already ready to collect.

Popping in I was blown away with the quality of my mask which fit beautifully and I thought looked rather good. Certainly it was much nicer and more comfortable than the slightly leaky and rubbery-smelling standard mask I usually take to Cyprus where I snorkel off Ladies Mile beach.

All that remained to do was test it out at SEA LIFE London Aquarium- session booked I headed into London with swimming kit, towel, mask and butterflies in my stomach.

I had time for a quick look round some of the aquarium before my appointment. It's in a great location within County Hall on the south bank area of the River Thames, close to the London Eye and Westminster Bridge, over the river from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

It's such a fabulous place for a day out with or without the family with a huge range of things to look at and friendly well-informed staff who chat to visitors at displays.

There's lots of information about conserving coastal regions and rivers and the creatures living there and  a hands-on "touch a starfish" experience tank.

(In case you are worried star fish have no nerves on their topside, no brain and show no signs of stress when touched on the top. To be sure the aquarium regularly changes the starfish on display so they can have a rest.)

I was entranced by the jellyfish and the rays but sadly never got as far as seeing the penguins as it was time for my pre-snorkel "behind the scenes" tour led by a lovely chatty student called Beth who educated and entertained us with a steady stream of interesting facts and anecdotes as she showed us round the quarantine and feeding areas.

Then it was time to wriggle into my wetsuit and special shoes, loaned as part of the experience, along with mask and snorkel normally, all of which are disinfected after every dive.

Then all I had to do was don my new mask and a snorkel for my 20-minute session in the very deep shark tank! Luckily you don't free swim - there's a perspex-bottomed "cage" which is lowered into the tank so you can feel totally safe but still see the sharks and other tank-dwellers clearly.

shark cage at SEA LIFE London Aquarium

I was joined by two handsome American lads, Grant and Eric, who seemed as nervous as me and before we entered the tank we listened carefully as aquarist Pete Williams, explained about the sharks we would see in the tank, how the dive cage worked and finally some safety tips on snorkelling, the cage and the sharks.

I was not reassured when he advised not to try and touch the nurse sharks as they might bite. Oh, and they hadn't fed any of the beady-eyed predators yet either, he said. Great.

Now I do snorkel in Cyprus but due to my fear of water I always stay on top of the water with snorkel poking out. At the aquarium however I quickly realised I would see much more if I was brave and went completely underneath, holding my breath then blowing the water sharply out as I surfaced.

It turned out to be really easy, even for an amateur like me so if you are thinking about booking this experience it really is suitable for people with no diving or even snorkelling experience. There are some age and other restrictions - check the website before you book.

And the mask? Well after a quick spray with anti-fog spray it didn't mist, it didn't leak, it was easy to adjust, was incredibly comfortable and I COULD SEE!

snorkelling with sharks at SEA LIFE London Aquarium
It was crystal clear and my vision was sharp so I could really admire even the texture of the creatures swimming past. I was fascinated by the shark's eyes and particularly loved the beautiful patterns on the guitar shark which looks part ray, part shark.

I would imagine the mask would be incredibly useful for anyone from people who scuba dive and need to see clearly to look at a dive watch, or for amateur snorkellers who usually wear glasses.

The range of swimming goggles are a must-have for anyone who normally wears glasses even if it's only for a weekly trip to the local pool!

My mask came in its own useful plastic box making it easy to pack for a holiday and was not as expensive as I expected considering the fantastic quality. The guy who led my shark snorkel experience has been diving professionally all over the world for years and looked a bit doubtful when I told him about my mask but after studying it carefully proclaimed he was off to Boots to buy himself one - high praise indeed!

It was a fabulous day - I conquered my fear of water, improved my snorkelling technique and proved that even glasses wearers can brave the deep and see where they are swimming and who or what is swimming alongside them.

I'd love to go back to the London Aquarium with the children, it looked like a fabulous family day out and I  could point out where mummy swam with the sharks.
SEA LIFE London Aquarium

You can visit the website to book the Snorkelling with Sharks experience  or if you prefer to stay dry you can feed the sharks or the turtles, head behind the scenes or even arrange and underwater proposal for your loved one!

Ordering a prescription diving mask, swimming goggles, sunglasses or other specialist sports eyewear made to your prescription couldn't be easier - just head to your local Boots Optician - you can find your nearest store using the online store finder.

prescription diving mask from Boots Optician

Disclaimer: I received a prescription mask from Boots Opticians and enjoyed the Snorkelling with Sharks encounter at SEA LIFE London Aquarium free for the purposes of this review. Views and opinions remain honest and my own.

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