Affordable family outings

Zoo and Botanical Park Memberships

by Lee Doppelt

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According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), approximately 175 million people visit a zoo each year. You and your family may be part of that growing statistic that enjoys spending a day at the zoo. Year round, zoos have much to offer both outdoors and in. Younger children may be delighted by some of the smaller community zoos or the children's petting zoo located within many large metropolitan zoos. Depending upon the size of the zoo and its geographic location, a family of four, which includes two adults and two children, can expect to pay about $20 per zoo visit, $6 for each adult and $4 per child. If your family enjoys frequent visits to your nearby zoo or trips to a zoo while on vacation, you may enjoy the many benefits of a zoo membership, including saving money on admission fees.

Lions and tigers and bears are only a small part of enjoying a visit to the zoo.

Photographing animals that you can only see at a zoo is just one thing that makes zoos fun. You might also enjoy picnicking on zoo grounds in warmer weather, or hosting your child's next birthday party at your city zoo. And like most museums, there are also many special events at zoos, even the smaller ones. Search the calendar of the website of your favorite zoo and see what is offered on a day that you might like to visit. Many of the events are educational and are targeted for people of all ages.

Cold wintery weather should not deter your family from a fun zoo visit. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, located in St. Paul Minnesota, one of America's coldest cities, is open daily all year with plenty to see and do whatever the season. Consider a zoo visit the next time your children have a day of no school.

Joining a zoo or botanical garden can offer big savings as well as other perks.

Scovill Zoo located in Decatur, Illinois, a city in the central part of the state with a population of about 75,000 people, has its own zoo as part of the city's park district, housing approximately 400 animals, according to its website. A yearly membership at Scovill Zoo for a family of four is $75 (at the time of this writing). Less than four family visits to Scovill Zoo in a year will pay for itself.

But there is an even more enticing reason to join your local zoo. Zoos accredited by the AZA such as Scovill Zoo are part of a reciprocal zoo program. The AZA's website lists zoos all over the United States that are part of this program. Your zoo membership gives you free or discounted admission fees, reduced prices on meals at the zoo's food establishments, gift shop bargains, and much more.

Join the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the "Friend Category" and save money on zoo visits.

It appears that there is an even cheaper way to reap the many benefits of a zoo visit. The AZA offers professional memberships to zoo employees, but if you are not a zoo employee, there is now a new category for joining called "friend." This membership is only $30 per individual each year and offers you the same benefits as a membership in one of its many accredited zoos around the country. This may be an even more affordable way to cover the cost of frequent trips to one or many zoos.

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Aquariums and botanical gardens have memberships, too.

Botanical gardens offer similar membership programs to zoos. The Chicago Botanic Garden, located north of the city in suburban Glencoe, has many plants and growing things to experience. Though admission is free, parking is $25 per car per visit. A membership to the gardens is $85 annually and offers free parking to its members. Additionally, it too is part of a reciprocal program, offering free admission to about 270 other botanical gardens and arboreta nationwide.

Aquariums, too, offer memberships and have reciprocal programs.

Join the Shedd Aquarium in downtown Chicago and you will not only enjoy the benefits of that particular aquarium, but you can receive discounts at other aquariums in other locations, as part of its reciprocal program. Next time you are about to visit a zoo, aquarium or botanical garden park, you should assess whether the membership might pay for itself in the long run. You only need to commit to the membership for one year, and if you find that it is not worthwhile for your family after the year, simply opt not to renew.

Reviewed June 2017

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