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Benefits of Museum and Zoo Membership Programs

Updated on August 8, 2012

Top Four Benefits of Zoo and Museum Memberships

  • Reduced rates for education programs
  • Members only events and newsletter
  • Discounts on gift shop purchases, food and parking
  • Reciprocal admission program

Living in Columbus, Ohio, we have always had a pass to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium as well as COSI, the Center of Science and Industry. We are a family of eight so visits anywhere add up quickly. Our membership passes allow us to pay one up front membership fee and then enjoy free visits to the museum/zoo for the following twelve months.

After our COSI pass expired, I bought a museum pass using a Living social deal for $30. Last weekend, we were able to visit a Natural History museum on a day trip and received free admission for two adults and six children.

Our whole family was free.

We have not even visited ‘our museum’ yet, and our membership has paid for itself.

Depending on the size of your family, joining a museum or zoo can pay for itself in its first visit. A few factors to consider before purchasing a membership are:

  • How many times will you have to visit before the membership pays for itself?
  • How many times do you honestly think you will go to the museum or zoo each year?
  • Do you have any trips coming up to other cities?
  • Besides free admission, what are the other benefits of museum/zoo membership programs?

Reduced Rates for Zoo and Museum Programs

Zoo and Museum members receive priority enrollment and discounted rates for programs. Programs can range from education classes, after hours fundraisers as well as overnight family experiences. Programs are popular year round, but especially during the school breaks.

Are you looking for summer or winter break programs for your children?

Check your program benefits to see how much you can save on hands on educational experiences for your children using your membership program.

Children Love the Zoo

We visit the zoo for free using our zoo membership pass.
We visit the zoo for free using our zoo membership pass. | Source

Are you a member to a zoo or museum?

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Members Only Events and Newsletter

When new exhibits are revealed, many museums and zoos offer members only previews. Our zoo has members only night for the first evening of the Zoo Lights. Special encounters with Santa and the elves as well as free carousel rides are offered to zoo members on the first night of the Zoo Light season.

Being a paying member of a zoo or museum, you are privy to newsletters/email correspondence revealing upcoming events, new exhibits scheduled to arrive as well as behind the scenes information about the location or even staff members. When I am done looking at the information that pertains to me as an adult, I let the kids read the articles and enjoy the pictures. Our children look forward to the zoo magazine.

Understanding the Cost of One Family Visit to the Zoo Versus Purchasing a Membership

Total Cost
2 and Under
Ages 2 to 9
Ages 10-59
Total Cost:
Our Family includes two adults, one nineteen year old, two seven year olds, two six year olds and a two year old. It is less expensive for our family to buy a family membership for $85. Based on rates for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Discounts on Gift Shop Purchases, Food and Parking

Who doesn’t like a discount?

When you join your zoo or museum, many offer a percentage off their gift shop and/or food purchases. Check your membership benefits to understand the discounts specific to your location.

Our zoo offers 10% off purchases at the gift shops. Additionally, some locations offer free parking to members. On a recent visit to the National Zoo in Washington D.C., admission was free to the public but parking was $22. Parking was free for members of the zoo.

It is important to understand the complete savings available by purchasing a membership. When you start including gift shops and parking, the savings can add up quickly!

Enjoying Reciprocal Zoo and Museum Locations

Enjoying the beekeeping suit at the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum in Canton, OH
Enjoying the beekeeping suit at the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum in Canton, OH | Source

Reciprocal Admission Program

My favorite benefit of the zoo and museum membership is the reciprocal admission program. A few years ago, we took a trip to Pittsburgh as family. We visited the Pittsburgh Zoo, the Carnegie Museum and an Aviary for no cost using this program.

Reciprocal zoos and aquariums offer 50% off or free admission for two adults and four (or six) children. The reciprocal admission policy varies by location so make sure you check the list of reciprocating locations as well as calling prior to your visit.

Zoo and Museum Membership Quiz

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Memberships Quickly Pay for Themselves

We love the flexibility being members to our zoo and museum offers. When your admission is free, it doesn’t matter if you stay one hour or the whole day. We just enjoy the quality time with our children.

If you have not yet purchased a membership yourself, look at the membership benefits for your local zoo and/or museum. You might be surprised at how affordable and even cost saving these educational activities can be.


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    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      My children love the zoo, walks in nature and playing outside. Just the other day we went looking for acorns and buckeyes for our hike. I enjoy nature, too, and glad my children are sharing this love as well. thanks for reading, TeachableMoments.

    • TeachableMoments profile image


      6 years ago from California

      My family loves going to the zoo. We've had a membership to our local zoo since my daughter was an infant. We go to the zoo at least three times a month and often other family members tag along for free. I strongly believe our visits to the zoo helped my daughter become the caring, curious, empathetic and nurturing little naturalist she is today.

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      You are right, Debi. I mentioned this in my Raising Twins on a budget. I was reminded again when we went to Boonshoft for free. Zoo lights are pretty cool. I am sure your kids would enjoy them. Thanks for reading, Debi!

    • Debi Gnau profile image

      Debi Gnau 

      6 years ago from Kettering, Ohio

      You mentioned this briefly in another blog and we ended up getting a membership to the Columbus Zoo. It was only $20 more for our family. We have since gotten into the Boonshoft Museum at 50% off 2x, so it has already payed for itself. We will have to look into going during the Zoo Lights. That sounds like fun! Thanks for the info.

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      We tend to go less during the high peak times because our locations are not far from our house to avoid crowds.You are correct Good Lady, they are all great educational opportunities. My kids always have fun there! Thanks for reading.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Glad that parking is paid for too! What an amazing deal and so educational. Really full of helpful information for parents with families who like to learn during time off - educational and fun!

    • twinstimes2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Laura- we use the reciprocal program more than we use our normal museum membership. We use our local zoo quite a bit though. Thanks for taking the time to read.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image


      6 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Good ideas on saving money on family outings! I have never heard of the Reciprocal Admission Program--what a great idea!


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