Do the math: Save on summer fun with family memberships

    Claire Kelley (7) takes a closer look at one of the thousands of butterflies at Butterfly Wonderland. Photo by Rick D'Elia.
    Claire Kelley (7) watches the butterflies fluttering by at Butterfly Wonderland. Kelley’s family has a lifetime membership to the venue. Photo by Rick D’Elia.

    Summer is here… and I’m ready for it. Theoretically, at least. I’ve been preparing for these long, hot, school-less days for months. No joke. (Although it was a laughing matter to my husband when I gave him a list of “summer must-haves” for our family budget back in February.)

    Early spring is when I really start watching for deals on season passes and memberships to some of our favorite, most-frequented summer spots. There are three things I consider before purchasing a family membership to any park, museum, or attraction:

    1. Do the math. I know, I know. It’s summer, and I’m making you think about math. But my math is simple: The membership has to pay for itself in about two visits.

    2. Know your time. Will we have the time to visit this location more than twice in the summer? I work from home, which means I have to balance work and play every day.

    3. Know your audience. Will my kiddos enjoy this location? Is it age appropriate? My 8-year-old son, Jack, and 6-year-old daughter, Lucy, walk the fine line of growing out of memberships to places that cater to younger kids.

    Add all three factors (I know, I know, more math) and see what you get. Here are some of the membership cards  I’ll have tucked in my wallet this summer:

    Summer Movie Fun

    Harkins Theatres offers this wildly popular annual kids-movie program, which includes 10 movies for $7. The shows run at 9:45 a.m. every weekday.

    Math: Each movie ends up costing less than $2.
    Time: One movie per week for 10 weeks during summer.
    Audience: Most of the time, my kids are seeing these movies for the first time!
    Tip: These movies are for kids. It’s a great, inexpensive way to introduce the movie experience to younger kids who are still learning to sit still and act appropriately. The theater is filled with children of all ages and their parents, who understand what it’s like to bring a child to the movies. (We take a lot of bathroom breaks.)

    Kids Bowl Free

    This national program is designed by bowling centers to give children a safe, secure and fun way to spend time in the summer. Each child who registers receives two free games of bowling every day. Let It Roll Bowl in north-central Phoenix participates; visit to find other centers.

    Math: This free membership is valued at $500 per child. Bowlers still have to rent shoes for about $3.50.
    Time: Bowling alleys are open daily.
    Audience: This offer is available to children 15 or younger. Adults and children 15 or older can participate at discounted rates, making this a great family outing.
    Tips: Other bowling lanes offer summer discounts for families, including AMF’s Summer Game Pass, which is $36.95 for adults and $31.95 for kids 15 or  younger. The pass gets you three free games of bowling (including shoes) every day, all summer long.

    Arizona Science Center

    A membership to the center for a family of four is $130 to $145 and includes general admission all year plus discounts on IMAX movies, planetarium shows and featured exhibits.

    Math: It takes three visits to the museum to pay for itself.
    Time: This large, interactive museum is open 363 days a year.
    Audience: Children younger than 2 are admitted free. Exhibits are geared toward children of all ages but are especially good for school-age kids.
    Tip: Before the summer months, the Arizona Science Center often offers discounted memberships on Groupon. This is a great way to test-drive a membership. We bought our family membership for just $65.

    Wet ‘n’ Wild

    The waterpark, which is among the state’s largest theme parks, charges about $50 to $90 per person for memberships that include unlimited admission (plus admission to sister parks in such cities as Palm Springs, Calif., and Denver), discounts on rentals and—for some memberships—free parking.

    Math: It takes one or two visits to the waterpark to pay for itself.
    Time: Wet ‘n’ Wild is open daily during June and July, plus weekends in April, May, August, September and October. That’s six months!
    Audience: Wet ‘n’ Wild offers thrill rides for experienced swimmers, a huge water playground and an entire area geared toward junior swimmers.
    Tip (for next year): Wet ‘n’ Wild offers discounted membership prices in early February. This is where you can really maximize your dollar, because you end up spending less than one day’s regular admission for each person.

    Lifetime memberships

    The new OdySea Aquarium is offering a once-in-a lifetime opportunity with its lifetime memberships, which are available only while the aquarium is under construction. With the grand opening scheduled for later this summer, this $1,650 lifetime membership for a family of four is something to consider. Annual passes for two adults and two children sell for $399. Neighboring Butterfly Wonderland, which is part of the OdySea in the Desert entertainment complex on the Salt-River Pima Maricopa Indian Reservation east of  Scottsdale, offered a similar lifetime membership option when it first opened in 2013.

    Amanda Kelley, a home-schooling mom with three children, took advantage of this value and bought the lifetime membership for $250. “It was the limited time being offered that made me check out the lifetime membership,” Kelley says, adding, “It was a bit of an investment for our budget.” She considered it because her daughters, Claire, 7, and Camille, 5, like science. Was the investment worth it? “A no-brainer,” Kelley says.

    Take a test drive

    If you’re still not sure about purchasing a membership to a museum or theme park, there are other options. One is the Pogo Pass, which offers a variety of venues for a discounted price of $40 per person. Pogo Pass includes admission to two Arizona Diamondbacks games, two visits to the Phoenix Zoo, and one or two visits to a list of other kid-themed attractions.

    The Act One Culture Pass is a great resource if you’re considering visiting a museum. Available at area libraries, the Culture Pass gives free admission for two people to participating arts and cultural institutions. Passes are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

    That’s our summer in a nutshell. Maybe my children and I will see you at the movies or zipping down a water slide!