Thursday, May 27, 2010

Saving $ on Pricier Attractions

This week with grandparents in town, we decided to venture out to a few of the pricier attractions (their idea, not mine), but I'm grateful for the opportunity for all of us to experience some of the best family outings East TN has to offer. Never wanting to pay full-price, however, I searched for ways to save money.

Today we headed to Chattanooga to the Creative Discovery Museum (what we've always called "the Chattanooga children's museum"). I'm ashamed to admit we've lived in Knoxville five years and have never gone (using the excuse that it's too far). In reality, it only took us 1:45 each way, and the drive was cruise control most of the time. As for the museum, IT'S SO AWESOME! I'd go as far to say it's the best children's museum I've visited. From splashing in the water play to the special toddler area, from digging for dinosaur bones to the musical instruments, all three kids had a blast. And I was glad to see their new exhibit, Grossology (which travels the country) was already open. My boys talk incessantly about body functions, and this at least teaches some science behind them.

To save on tickets, the only discount I could find online was $1 off per ticket. All tickets for those two and up are $10.95 each. At the end of our stay, we decided to trade up for a yearly family membership. The money we had spent today was applied towards the $85 fee. We had to name the two adults (IDs will be required) but I can bring up to any four kids with me in the future. Since I can also get $2 off for guests, I could save one of my friends $13 when they come with us. Road Trip!

The other place I've resisted buying a membership up until now was the Knoxville Zoo. We've gone 3-4 times a year but have never paid enough to warrant a membership. Between the annual free zoo day, winter discounts, free child admission coupons in the school and library summer reading coupon books, and being free guests of members, we've never paid full-price. But now that I have three kids and no summer school, I decided it was time.

For our family to go to the zoo once, it would cost $64.80 plus tax (by February when Brooke turns 2, it will cost $77.75). I researched all the zoo membership options online and decided on the two-family membership for $95. By purchasing it at Kroger (any check-out line can do it), I saved $5 and earned $90 towards gas savings (if I ever go back to Shell again). The membership also saved money on the grandparents' tickets, ice cream, a carousel ride, and toys in the gift shop. My membership could also save me $20 at Dollywood or Splash Country, $2 per ticket at the Tennessee Aquarium, and 50% off to free admission at many zoos around the country. The best part about a zoo membership is that it takes the pressure off visits. We can stay for an hour or two and leave if someone is fussy without the guilt of having paid so much money. I'm really looking forward to that.

Since I brought up Dollywood and Splash Country, those are not venues we'll be getting memberships for this year but we have in the past. My husband's company used to have the annual company picnic at Dollywood (totally free for the family) and we could upgrade those tickets to seasonal passes for less than one other visit. We only went two additional times but it was worth it. If you can get any discount through your work, go for it. The earlier you buy one in the season, the cheaper it is. Season passes currently start at $76 for kids for Dollywood OR Splash Country and go up to $171 for the gold pass for both. Since this is PER PERSON, that's too much for us right now.

If you're looking for smaller and cheaper alternatives to zoos and museums, I'd suggest Little Ponderosa Zoo in Clinton and the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge. Single tickets for Little Ponderosa are $8 for everyone (kids under 2 are free). They often give coupons for one small bucket of feed (really a small dixie cup) in their ads in the Knoxville Kid's Directory or the Knoxmoms magazine. You can use that to upgrade to a reusable large cup that you can bring back each time for $3 (or maybe free if you have another coupon). I've also gotten free pony ride passes at festivals. They might distribute them at the Secret City Festival June 18 and 19.

The Children's Museum of Oak Ridge is also great to visit. Single tickets for adults are $7, kids 3 and up are $5, and under 3 are free. Between the giant dollhouse, the space shuttle, water works, and the model train display, we could go here several times a year. You could also buy a $90 family membership here, but that will take awhile to pay for itself.

Update since initial posting: I recently returned from our weekly playgroup with another great tip for those of you trying to decide on memberships. I should have known my friend Tina would have her pulse on the best deals. Through the East Tennessee Discovery Center (a smaller museum next to Knoxville Zoo), if you buy the "Supporter Membership" for $100, you can get free entry for your entire family to every children's AND science museum around the country. That includes of course the children's museums in Oak Ridge and Chattanooga as well as the ETDC and AMSE. Tina frequently travels to the Philadelphia area to visit family and can get entry to the Please Touch Museum and many other favorites.

I encourage you to check out these great venues and save money where you can. It's important to support places helping to enlighten, entertain, and educate our children in creative ways.


  1. Thanks so much for visiting the Creative Discovery Museum! We are delighted your boys had a great time. The membership is a great way to get a bargain since you can come as many times as you like. It only takes a family a few visits to make up for the membership fee.

    We hope you will visit again soon.

    Lynda LeVan
    Dir. of External Affairs

  2. Buying a family membership to AMSE ($35) will also get you free or discounted admission to all member associations in the ASTC (current list is here Not to knock ETDC, just adding another money-saving option!