Save Money through Reciprocal Zoo and Museum Memberships

Save Money through Reciprocal Zoo and Museum Memberships

- in Finance, Things to do

Does your family like to visit zoos? How about museums or science centers? Our family loves going to the zoo, but for a family of 6, the costs add up quickly. That’s why we have had a membership at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo for years. When our kids were younger, we had a membership at the Great Lakes Science Center. If you are looking for a great way to maximize the money you spend on family entertainment, you should be considering yearly memberships for both facilities. While there are lists of benefits associated with each membership, there is one perk they both have that is a must for your family:

Reciprocal Admission

What is reciprocal admission? Many zoos, museums and science centers belong to associations so when you buy a membership to one member of the association, many times you can get free or discounted admission to other association facilities. This is the case with the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Great Lakes Science Center, and The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Our family has been able to visit many regional attractions like COSI and zoos in Columbus, Akron and Indianapolis. We also have visited the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island on our way to the Outer Banks.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

things to do with kids in Cleveland, OhioWe are spoiled in Northeast Ohio with such a great zoo. While the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has always been one of our favorite local family adventures, the Metroparks has upped their game with the additions of new animal habitats like the African Elephant Crossing, the Rosebrough Tiger Passage (my personal favorite), and the new Asian Highlands. We also have the Rainforest, which is great to visit year-round, but especially when there is little to do in the winter.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), which is a collection of zoos and aquariums located across the country. Per their website, “One of the benefits of becoming a member of your local AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium is free or discounted admission to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums that participate in the AZA Reciprocal Admissions Program.”

Looking at the AZA website, it looks as if most zoos either offer 100% or 50% discount off admission to members of reciprocal zoos. That’s an amazing deal considering how many facilities are listed in the program. For Northeast Ohio families looking for inexpensive day trips, check out the list of zoos within driving distance that offer discounts.

Akron Zoological Park (50%)

Columbus Zoo & Aquarium (50%)

Detroit Zoo (50%)

The Wilds, Cumberland, OH (50%)

The Toledo Zoo (50%)

African Safari Wildlife Park, Port Clinton (50%)

Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Dayton (100% and 50%)

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (50%)

National Aviary, Pittsburgh (50%)

Erie Zoological Society (100% and 50%)

Make sure you check the AZA website for a complete list of participating zoos as well as specific guidelines regarding how the reciprocal program works. Always call the zoo you are visiting before going to verify reciprocal admission and learn what you need to do to take advantage of the discount.

Great Lakes Science Center & Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The Great Lakes Science Center and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History are also part of a fantastic reciprocal program as part of their memberships. Both facilities are part of the Association of Science & Technology Centers (ASTC) Passport Program. Through the program, you will receive free admission to Science & Technology Centers all over the country. There are a couple restrictions to the program. They do not allow free admission to science centers and museums located within 90 miles of the center at which you have a membership, or science centers and museums located within 90 miles of your residence. Take note of these rules because you cannot have a membership at GLSC or the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and visit the other for free. Both facilities are excellent and offer tons of value for families. Each is worth visiting whether you buy a membership or not. The good news is there are plenty of other science centers and museums within driving distance to save your family tons of money.

COSI, Columbus

Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Dayton

Cincinnati Museum Center

Imagination Station, Toledo

McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, Canton

SPI (Where Science and Play Intersect), Mount Vernon, Ohio

The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art and Technology, Newark, Ohio

Impression 5 Science Center, Lansing, Mich.I

Michigan Science Center, Detroit

Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, Indianapolis

Like the zoo reciprocal program, make sure to double check the Passport Program website for all the details and restrictions. Also, see the website for a complete list of participating science centers and museums.

If your family loves to explore new places and loves to learn, I urge you to consider memberships to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Great Lakes Science Center, and the Cleveland Natural History Museum. All three facilities provide fun, hands-on learning environments for families. The reciprocal programs allow you to maximize your entertainment budget to explore other facilities across the country.

About the author

Kevin Payne is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and travel. His work has been featured in Forbes and Credit Karma. He is a regular contributor to Student Loan Planner, FinanceBuzz, and Club Thrifty. Kevin is the budget and family travel expert behind Kevin lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife and four kids. His spare time is spent exploring Northeast Ohio and planning family vacations.

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