Membership has its Rewards
For nearly 20 years we've taken our family to wonderful and exotic vacation spots at least once a month! We spend so much time at these vacation spots that we no longer need maps to find our way around. In fact, they become a home away from home. On one recent visit, we were even greeted by "Welcome Home!" In addition to building relationships by spending quality time together, having a lot of fun and getting exercise, we also learn a lot!
No, we don't work for the airlines and we can't afford to take far away trips every month! I'm talking about annual memberships to places like Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, the Aquarium of the Pacific, and Sea World. Yes, we live in California so these places are a short drive away, but you probably have similar destinations in your area. If you don't live near a theme park, you probably have science museums and zoos within a couple hours drive. Memberships can also be valuable for real vacationers!
Theme parks can be educational as well as fun, and with annual memberships, you have time to spend on details that you usually don't want to spend if just visiting for a day. If you live in Southern California, the cost of annual membership to Disneyland can be less than the price of two visits, depending on the pass you purchase. And if you have only visited the Disneyland Resort in the summertime, you may not realize how uncrowded it can be in the off season. We get the cheapest annual passes which aren't good in the summer and we are happy about it because we never want to go in the summer anyway. There are also programs that are offered at other times of the year when attendance is down.
Visits to various attractions can be the spark to set off a new unit study or to wrap one up. Some ideas for Disneyland units include: Mark Twain, caves, pirates, art, Switzerland, Germany, New Orleans, trains, puppets, robots, space travel, marketing, and more. You could also include the reading of classic books such as Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, and Alice in Wonderland. Most of these unit studies would also work for visitors to Disney World in Florida.
For Disney's California Adventure park, also located at the Disneyland Resort in California, unit study ideas might include: national parks, bridges, California history, animation, flight, physics of roller coasters, the arts and crafts period of architectural design, and so on.
Museums, zoos and theme parks often have special programs and incentives only available to members. For instance, when the movie, "Finding Nemo" came out, we had annual membership to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. They had a special members-only showing of the movie and a lecture by a man who worked as an advisor on the movie. He talked about what's true and what isn't in the movie and why. It was very interesting and informative. Another time we got a behind the scenes tour where we got to see how they feed the fish in the big tanks and got to see how they perform surgery on little fish, including a close up look at the surgery equipment. It was fascinating and something that you don't see as a regular visitor to the Aquarium. In fact, we had never even thought about fish surgery before that! Several times a year they have special members only exhibits, luncheons, overnight campouts and other activities.
You can get ideas about your local theme parks, zoos and museums by reading their websites, but sometimes members are only notified about special benefits by mail or email. For instance, a nature museum we are members of recently sent us an invitation to a members-only dinner party celebrating the opening of a new exhibit. The Disneyland Resort opens new attractions and parades to annual passholders first. Sea World holds overnight campouts for members only.
It's even more fun if you can convince your friends to get annual memberships with you. This past year we have had memberships to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park with some of our friends. Unbelievably, the annual membership rate for children is actually less than the price to visit for one day. For adults it's more, but still an excellent bargain. Sea World San Diego costs $50 per person to attend one day, but only $56 to attend the rest of the calendar year. Six Flags and Universal Studios have similar deals. Lagoon park in Utah gives quantity discounts on season passes. Even if you only make it a few times, it's an excellent way to spend your money. And I like that we always have somewhere to go that will only cost the price of gas (and sometimes parking) to get there. It really is like a day of vacation in the middle of the month!
Many science museum memberships include membership in the ASTC (Association of Science-Technology Centers). That means that you can also attend over 200 other museums across the country in addition to the one you join. So if you have plans to travel in the next year, you can use your museum membership card to get your family in to museums along your route, too! We've saved a lot of money by getting museum passes before taking our vacations. Most have family rates that include two parents and all the children in the household under 18. Some have limits on the number of children included.
If you would like to know which museums are reciprocal, here's the list of museums included in the ASTC, organized by state. It lists all member museums and the rules. Museums within 90 miles of each other are excluded, but some museums have special discounts for museums within the 90 miles. It's up to the local museum to decide whether they will join ASTC or any other larger organization, so if this is important to you, be sure to check before joining.
Zoos may also have reciprocal programs with zoos across the country. The San Diego Zoo isn't part of any reciprocal group, but the Los Angeles Zoo is and it lists the reciprocal zoos on its website. Most local zoos or museums aren't included in the reciprocal membership but sometimes they give half off to other local zoos. You can check with your local zoo to find out what is included, usually by visiting their website.
Some people have asked me if we get tired of going to one museum or park many times for an entire year. I can honestly say I appreciate these museums and theme parks more by visiting them more often. They become like good friends. We see things we never noticed before and read things we never took the time to read before. We don't feel rushed or get in a panic if we miss something because we know we will be back. We learn the names of the animals and when feeding time is and we develop favorites. Although we almost never renew when the year is up, we know we will miss going to last year's museums or theme parks. Luckily, by then, a new vacation is about to begin!
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