Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Gift Idea: Museum memberships offer free admission, more for families

Posted December 11, 2011

Marbles Kids Museum uses hands-on exhibits to attract families.

I'm not crazy about filling my house up with stuff at Christmas. My kids rarely play with many of their toys anyway.

While there will be some toys under the tree, I prefer to give experiences. So this week, I'll offer some alternatives to giving all that stuff.

Today, we're talking museum memberships. My family has memberships to Marbles Kids Museum. the N.C. Museum of Art and, my kids will find out Christmas morning thanks to Grandpa, the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

I like museum memberships because they don't clutter my house, but they can offer a year's worth of free entertainment for my family and perks for mom, including special admission times, discounts on parties and priority camp registration.

Annual museum memberships at popular Triangle destinations range from $70 to several hundred dollars a year for families. They typically get you in to the museum or its special exhibits for free. You'll also get first pick at camps and special events, like the Museum of Life and Science's very popular Santa Train. You'll probably get discounts on birthday parties. And there are often special member events and members-only admission hours too.

If you're a frequent visitor to the museum, you'll definitely get your money back by not having to pay admission fees.

Here are the details about member benefits at local museums. I'm listing the least expensive membership option for families. Follow the links for more information about all of the membership levels.

Marbles Kids Museum: Memberships start at $100 for a Marbles Family membership, which is equal to five visits by a family of four. Admission is $5 per person. Members get free general admission, discounts on parties and camps; early registration for camps; member-only events and admission hours; buy one get one free tickets to IMAX documentary films and more. As a member, I've found that advanced registration for camps; the 8:30 a.m. early play for members on Wednesdays; and the buy one, get one free IMAX tickets have been great benefits.

Museum of Life and Science: Membership is $130 for four people, which is equal to about three visits for two adults and two children. Admission is $14 for an adult and $10 for a child. Annual membership gets you free admission; discounts and advanced registration on camps and other programs; invitations to members-only events; discounts in the gift shop and for birthday parties; members-only early admission at 9 a.m.; and more. I'm especially looking forward to the early entry for members, which will give us more time to visit the museum before my toddler crashes for her nap.

N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences: An annual family membership is $70. Admission to the museum is free, but membership does give you free admission to special exhibits; invitations to museum and members events; discounts on birthday parties and most classes, workshops, trips and special museum events; discount and priority on summer camps; and more. The $70 also is tax deductible.

N.C. Museum of Art: An annual family membership is $75. Admission to the museum is free for everybody, but membership does give you a free ticket and discounts to special exhibitions; discounts to concerts, the museum store and restaurants; invitations to special preview parties; free or discounted admission to children's programs, activities and events; and more. As members, I found the free and discounted admission to special exhibits (such as the current Rembrandt in America) and the children's programming great benefits.

N.C. Museum of History: An annual family, or Patriot, membership is $100. Admission to the museum is normally free. Membership gets you discounts and special sale days at the museum's shop; special invitations to exhibit openings and events; and early sign up and discounts on summer camps for kids.

Kidzu Children's Museum: An annual family membership is $75, which is equal to about four visits for two adults and two kids. Admission is $5. It's $2 for kids 12 to 23 months. (Admission is free for everybody on Sundays). This membership level gives you free admission; a discount on birthday parties; invitations to members-only events and exhibits; and more.

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center: A household membership is $70 (and all of it is tax deductible). A family of four will spend $79.50 to watch three planetarium shows together. Tickets are $7.25 for adults and $6 for kids. Membership gets you free admission to the shows; priority registration and discount for camps; discounts at the gift shop and for birthday parties; discount to the N.C. Zoo; and more.

Memberships to most of these museums - Marbles, the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Museum of Life and Science, Kidzu Children's Museum and Morehead Planetarium - also could get you free or discounted admission to a network of museums around the country.

In some cases, you'll need to pay for a higher membership level. But if you know you'll be in another city this year with a museum's that's part of that network, it may be worth the added cost.


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  • shall6 Dec 12, 2011

    Thank you moo ... several of the sites mentioned membership was tax deductible, but not all. Definitely worth asking if you get a membership.

    And you know grassroots ... I was going to include the N.C. Zoo, got caught up in something else and forgot. I'll include it too ... thank you!


  • grassroots Dec 12, 2011

    I realize it isn't immediately local but the zoo membership pays for itself in less than two visits for a family of 4 ($59/yr). It also provides free admission to the NC Aquariums and discounts across the country at partnering zoos. Fabulous for those of us who frequently travel out of state to visit relatives.

  • moo Dec 12, 2011

    I'm pretty sure that most or all of the membership fees for each of these places is tax deductible. The organizations will denote that on the receipt and/or welcome letter (I find that to be a great bonus).