Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Last-Minute Gifts: Museum memberships

Posted December 18, 2016

Rhea, a hamadryas baboon at the North Carolina Zoo, holds her newborn Zanzibar. The baby, whose sex has not yet been determined, was born May 29.

Editor's Note: This is a post I update each year about museum memberships, one of my favorite gifts for my kids to get for Christmas or birthdays!

Christmas is nearly here and maybe a few of us are scrambling for one or two final gifts to stick in the stocking or pop under the tree.

As I've said before, I always prefer giving and receiving experiences rather than things - museum memberships, tickets to sports games, promises of a day trip to a North Carolina destination, dinner out. I don't know about your house, but mine already is cluttered with too many toys, books and various collections.

I'd rather focus my time and money on new experiences instead of filling the house with more stuff.

This week, I'll share some gift ideas that you can get now, from your computer or smart phone, without even leaving the house. I'm starting with museum memberships.

Thanks to grandparents, we typically hold two or three memberships to local museums. Annual museum memberships offer a load of benefits and last all year. Another great benefit: The cost of the membership is usually tax deductible.

Here's what you get with your memberships at some local and state destinations:

Marbles Kids Museum: Family memberships start at $100 a year and get you free admission for a year; discounts at the store, restaurant, IMAX theater and for birthday parties; early registration for summer camps and invitations to members-only events. For $125, you can get all that plus discounted or free admission to museums around the world. And for $150, you get all of that plus free admission for one additional guest, which is great when you're bringing a friend or grandparent with you. Daily admission to the museum is $5 per person. Marbles also sells a $50 Marbles Movie Membership at its IMAX theater. Pass holders get 50 percent off all movies, including Hollywood features. Tickets to documentaries are just $2. They also get invitations to special screenings and exclusive events and discounts to the restaurant and on concessions. This could be a fantastic gift for a film-loving tween or teen.

N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences: It's always free to go to the downtown Raleigh museum, which leads some to wonder why you'd need a membership here. Here's why my family has loved ours: For $70 a year, family memberships include free or discounted admission to special exhibits such as Secret World Inside You; free or discounted admission to more than 300 science museums around the world; invitations to members-only events; a discount at the museum store; behind-the-scenes tours led by museum staff; hospitality areas at some of the museum's massive events such as BugFest; and priority registration for the museum's fantastic camps. We typically go to the museum's special exhibits multiple times for free. The members-only events that we've attended have been a lot of fun. And the early camp registration makes it possible for my older daughter (and now my younger one!) to attend camps here before they fill up.

Museum of Life and Science: The Durham museum offers an annual membership for four people for $155, less than the cost for a family of four with two kids ages 3 to 12 to visit three times in one year. It goes up to $175 for an annual membership for six people. Annual memberships get you free admission for a year up to the number on your membership. That can be anybody, including friends and family not in your immediate family. You can go early, a great benefit for those of us with early risers. The museum opens at 9 a.m. for members except on Sundays. Benefits also include early registration for popular events like the Santa Train and summer camp; members-only tours; discounts on birthday parties, camps and classes; and more. Members also get free or discounted admission to science centers around the world. The museum opened its amazing Hideaway Woods exhibit last year.

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center: Morehead's family membership is $70 a year and includes a host of deals. Members get free admission for two adults and all children to regularly scheduled planetarium shows; priority registration and a discount on the very popular summer science camps; discounts at the gift shop and on classes, birthday parties and special programs; two guest passes for free admission and four one-hour parking vouchers; admission to more than 300 science museums around the world; and a 50 percent discount on admission to the N.C. Zoo and the Greensboro Science Center. It costs almost $57 for a family of four to see two planetarium shows on separate days so you could recoup the cost of membership pretty quickly. Bonus: Throughout December, Morehead will offer 15-month memberships for the price of an annual one. When you purchase or renew a membership at any level, you will receive a three-month bonus.

N.C. Museum of Art: Admission is free to the Raleigh museum, but tickets are required for some of the museum's special exhibits, including the current Rolling Sculpture exhibit, children's programs, concerts and outdoor movies. For $75 a year, families can get one free admission for two adults and all children living at the same address for ticketed exhibitions, plus free or discounted admission to various events at the museum and advanced registration and discounts for the museum's very popular summer camps. We have held a membership to the museum and have really enjoyed going to the special exhibits for free and getting discounts to concerts and family programs, including the "What's in the Box" series for preschoolers. My tween loves their summer camps.

N.C. Museum of History: Admission is free to most of the Raleigh museum, but there are still advantages to getting a membership here. The family membership runs $102.16 (exactly, according to the website) and includes free or reduced admission price for ticketed exhibitions; discounts at the store and Pharoah's restaurant; members-only events; and preview parties.

Kidzu Children's Museum: It's been a big couple of years for this Chapel Hill museum, which was on the move for a few years. It's spot at University Place features a big treehouse, climbing wall, preschool play and The Makery where kids can get creative and crafty. Membership is $150 for families of four and $175 for families of six. Benefits include unlimited free admission; discounts on birthday parties, facility rentals and workshops; invitations to members-only events and more.

N.C. Zoo: For $84, a family can get in free to the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro for a year. The membership also gets you admission to 150 other zoos and aquariums around the country for free. That deal includes the N.C. aquariums at the beach. This is a great deal if your family's travel plans include stops at any of those locations. A trip to the zoo costs $52 for a family of four with two kids between the ages of 2 to 12. Admission would be $48 for the same group of people to visit one of the state's aquariums. So, if you plan to go to both once in 2016, you'd save $16 just by getting a zoo membership.

N.C. Aquariums: Families also can buy a membership to the state's three aquariums at the beach for $75 a year. The membership gets you free admission to the aquariums and other zoos and aquariums around the country. That includes the N.C. Zoo.


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  • gurganussa Dec 21, 2014

    Thank you!

  • Sarah Hall Dec 20, 2014
    user avatar

    Ack! @Gurganussa! I knew I was missing something. I just added it. And I actually have a membership there myself!!


  • gurganussa Dec 19, 2014

    Don't forget the NC Museum of Art! Many programs for children and families. Membership at the patron level provides reciprocity at hundreds of other museums. Discounts in the store, IRIS restaurant, and classes and other special events. Not to mention free parking!