I personally recommend that local families consider purchasing memberships to the attractions in our area. It’s beneficial on a number of levels. Being a member has perks such as providing year-round educational experiences for your kids, investing in local non-profits and access to special parties and discounts. But, another less tapped into benefit is the access to reciprocal admission benefits at other attractions across the United States. We decided to test the benefits of an ASTC Passport Membership this past week during a family trip to see if it was a deal worth the money.
One of the most affordable local memberships (with reciprocal benefits no less) is the Roper Mountain Science Center family pass. Currently, priced at only $65/family a year ($60/family for teachers and homeschool families), this pass is already a good deal. My family uses ours frequently to attend the monthly 2nd Saturday events at RMSC for free. The pass also gives us free admission to the Friday Starry Nights Planetarium shows and first access to the popular RMSC summer camps.
We recently took a trip up to the Northeast with our pass in hand to check out the reciprocal benefits that the pass offered. We figured that we might see a few interesting places with our pass, but our pass ended up providing access to places much larger than we predicted.
Our drive was a daunting 10 hours. That’s 10 hours with no stops or traffic jams. We have 2 small children. We knew that we would have to make a least one or two longer stops if we ever wanted to arrive at our destination, nerves still intact.
So, on the way up we checked the ASTC Passport Program list to find a museum on route. We chose to stop at the Science Museum of Western Virginia. Our family could enter for free with our pass and the museum looked small enough to be easily enjoyed in just an hour (crucial for getting back on the road).
Science Museum of Western Virginia
SMWV was a perfect stop in route, located under 5 hours from Greenville. The museum had a full floor of hands-on exhibits including a touch tank, tornado simulator, and even a stunning traveling exhibit of King Tut replicas. We didn’t get to experience it (closing time) but the museum also had an open science lab where the kids could select a science experiment box and mix and experiment away with the help of a lab assistant. My 6-year-old who constantly is trying to mix large batches of baking soda and vinegar together when I’m not watching would have loved that room.
Our kids had a great time getting out all their energy (while learning no less). When we got back in the car, we all agreed that the couple hours out of the car had helped us all feel a little bit more patient about the hours of driving ahead of us.
Total Amount Saved: $38.25
Once we arrived at our destination in Pennsylvania, we decided to go to nearby downtown Philly for a day of fun. We consulted our list and came up with several possibilities but the Franklin Institute looked the most promising.
After eating Philly Cheese Steaks at the close Pete’s Famous Pizza (recommended by a local and definitely worth passing on to you), we headed to the Franklin Institute. We were amazed by how large the museum was, just check out the massive Benjamin Franklin statue (pictured above). And, the ticket price was equally large at a whopping $18/adult. We were a little afraid our hand-written local card would be rejected, but the admissions desk checked it against the list and then passed us our blue wristbands without charging us a dime.
The Franklin Institute was an experience that I think our kids will remember for a long time. The museum housed a “Brain Climber”, Human Body exhibit, full-size train replica to explore, full-size plane replica that you could sit in, and more exhibits than I could ever list here. Everything practically was hands on. We pretended we were in the circus, played sports, sat in a theater that tricked our eyes into thinking we were upside down, and walked until our legs ached. We could have also attended Planetarium shows and spent probably hours more exploring, but even tourists have their limits.
Total Amount Saved: $66.00
Virginia Discovery Museum
Days later, we finally headed home. Our experience on the way up had been so positive we decided to find another museum to stop at on the way home. After a bit of research we chose the Virgina Discovery Museum which looked similar to our own Children’s Museum of the Upstate (only much smaller).
We were disappointed to encounter a significant amount of traffic, combined with the sort of bathroom break schedule that only kids can create and a gas station that lost power in the middle of our gas pumping. Our ETA ticked later and later until we finally arrived in Charlottesville, VA just 25 minutes before the museum closed. Our pass really saved the day at this point, because paying for just 20 minutes would have made no sense. For free, though, we hopped out anyway and decided to make the best of it.
We would definitely recommend the Virginia Discovery Museum as an excellent mid-trip stopping point to others with small children. The museum was very small but packed with interesting exhibits including a miniature Virginia history exhibit (log cabin and all), a play Panera Bread restaurant, a role-playing bee-keeper station, a hospital, and a movie theater.
Charlottesville also has an attractive small downtown and the museum has a free parking option.
Total Amount Saved: $24.00
We couldn’t believe how much value our RMSC pass added to our trip with a total savings of $128.25 of attraction passes. We could have seen and done even more too if we would have had time (and energy for it).
And, yes, it’s not your imagination. My preschooler is wearing a pirate costume in all these photos. The price of happiness, right? In fact, if you see “Jake” running around Greenville just stop and say “hi”. There’s about a 99.9% chance that it’s us.
Don’t forget to call and research reciprocal membership benefits before making plans. Reciprocal arrangements are subject to distance restrictions and can change at any time.
What memberships does your family recommend for Greenville?