Here in Denver, we are fortunate to have many cultural institutions, a lot of which cater to kids at least in part. It’s not all that cheap to run a zoo, or an art museum, and frankly they get plenty of business one way or another, so tickets to these places aren’t very cheap. If you look hard enough, you can find a zoo coupon or discounted art museum admission here or there. In Denver, several organizations have Free Days as part of their association with the Denver Scientific Cultural and Facilities District, known as SCFD.
Another option for a more reasonably priced way to enjoy local attractions is a membership. At first glance, a membership often just seems like a different way to donate money to an organization, and in some ways that is true. However, if you look closer, the benefits of a membership are often greater than the price.
This was especially true when my kids were younger. Before they started going to school and preschool, we would often go to the Denver Zoo at least once a week. We’d go to the art museum regularly as well. One of the most recent favorites, especially for the youngest is the Colorado History Museum. Being members and getting free admission then was a no brainer. As they got older, however, we started to wonder if it was worth it. I mean, we only go to the zoo a few times each year now.
Membership Cost and Benefits
As it turns out, most places have a family membership. Generally, a family membership gives free admission to both parents and all the kids of the family. Sometimes, the kids may be limited to 4 or something. The more kids you have, the better that admission deal is obviously. But for a family with just two kids like ours, the math still really works out.
Consider the Denver Zoo Family Membership which costs $130. In addition to free admission you also get 20 percent off the gift shop (they have some good T-shirts, and we also ended up buying some Christmas gifts there as well.) We also get 10 percent off of food and rides on the train and carousel. But, getting $130 out of those discounts would be tough.
On the other hand, regular admission tickets cost $13 each for adults and $9 each for children. That works out to $44 per visit. If we go just three times during the year, we break even on our membership. Considering we go at least once for Denver Zoo Lights, and once for trick-or-treating at Halloween, odds are pretty good we’ll make it there once or twice just because. The end result? We’d be dumb to not be members.
And, it’s not just non-profit organizations either.
The local amusement park Elitch Gardens offers season passes as well. On the one hand this sounds really dumb for my family. It’s only open during the summer, and we only go a few times. However, the passes are $65 per person. That adds up to a hefty $260, way more than the zoo. But, tickets to get into Elitch’s are $35 for adults and $31 for kids (if you buy them online in advance. They cost even more at the ticket window.) Do some math there, and you’ve got $132 per visit. We break even on just TWO visits. Throw in the fact that you get free parking (normally $15) and we are way ahead with Elitch’s memberships even if we only go three or four times.
When it comes to local attractions, always be sure to check out the cost of memberships, especially family memberships. The pricing will always seem high at first, but if you add it up, chances are that it is a good deal, especially if you do take advantage of parking or concessions.
For things that you only visit once per year because of distance, then the math probably won’t add up as well. Just get your single admission tickets and try and bring in your food to keep costs down.
Otherwise, never pass up a chance for an in-depth day of fun with your family at your local cultural attractions.