Zoo, Aquarium & Museum Memberships: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck


I’m a mom on the go and I like it like that. I love getting out of the house and having adventures with my boys.  For one, I find that I am more engaged with them outside of the house where it is all too easy to get wrapped up in a project, a show, or the scroll.  When we get out of the house, we tend to have a lot of learning experiences.  Almost always there’s a mind-blowing event that is bound to happen and we cannot wait for Daddy to get home so we can tell him all about it.  We love to invite friends whenever possible and get to know new friends better and make lasting memories with old ones.  My family has collected a few memberships to some favorite places and I’m sharing what I love about each place and some tips I’ve found to save money on memberships to get the most bang for your buck.  

The Phoenix Zoo – We first got our zoo membership 6 years ago when my oldest was an infant and I was looking for places to go just to get out of the house and walk.  I knew a couple other friends who had zoo memberships and I’ve always enjoyed going so we went for it.  It is by far my favorite place to go.  In ideal weather, you can find us at the zoo almost weekly.  Every time we visit the zoo we have a new encounter or discover something we’ve never seen before.  The Phoenix zoo offers different tiers of memberships. We have the Family Membership. The “higher up” you go on the membership tier, the more benefits are offered.  Our family membership includes 2 adults and up to 4 children ages 3-17, while children 2 and under are always free.  You can choose to name the two adults and therefore only those two adults are admitted on the pass, or you can choose one named adult and one flexible guest.  The latter is the choice we have.  Since I am the only named adult on our membership this means my husband can’t go on his own to the zoo, but I can take any adult with me.  This makes it worth it so that I can always invite a friend to join us.  As a random act of kindness, I’ve been known to grab a random stranger out of the line and invite them to come in with us so they can save money. Of course, Daddy is welcome to come anytime he wants!  Our 12 month membership expires at the end of the year, and my sweet grandma always renews it for us each year. When it renews, we always get a couple tickets to ZooLights, which is one of our favorite Holiday traditions.  Pro Tip: Go on the member preview nights to avoid crowds, unlimited carousel rides and entry to Stingray Bay.  One time our membership lapsed and the zoo had a special offer to get us to renew that included extra freebies, including a tee shirt. There are occasionally Zoo membership specials on Groupon.  Outside food and beverages are permitted so I suggest to pack a lunch and have a picnic at the zoo. The Phoenix Zoo is a great way for kids to learn about conservation, animal traits and behaviors, exploring nature with all the plant life, and of course to get out into the fresh air.  Phoenix Zoo members receive the following benefits:  

  • Unlimited FREE daytime admission to the Phoenix Zoo for one full year 
  • Free or reduced admission to more than 150 zoos and aquariums across the country 
  • Early entry to the Phoenix Zoo one hour before opening 
  • 10% discount at the Phoenix Zoo’s Desert Marketplace Gift Shop 
  • Discounts on special events and advanced viewing of new exhibits 
  • Discounts on WILD Birthdays, programs and camps 
  • Discounts on stroller and wheelchair rentals 

OdySea Aquarium – When I visted OdySea Aquarium for the first time, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  Not just me, but my boys, too.  There’s so much to learn about not just fish, but eco systems, water conservation, wild life conservation, marine life & conservation, the power behind water, and even STEAM concepts.  In the summer, it’s a great solution to getting out of the house and into an air-conditioned environment where kids can burn off some energy.  Although, there is no covered parking so getting back to the car is a bummer.  To buy an annual membership pass for our family of 4 would have been pretty expensive if it wasn’t for OdySea’s half off special in the summer.  I do not know if they will be offering this again, but for the last few years, they have offered 50% off annual memberships and that definitely makes it worth the investment.  Our favorite highlights in the Aquarium are the sloth, the stingray petting pool, the water table (kids love that thing!), and of course, the sharks!  It’s cool to just be able to pop in to OdySea and go check out any one particular thing we feel like.  There’s even a daily schedule of events on their website so you know what time to go to see the otters’ enrichment play time or the shark feedings. Unlike the Phoenix Zoo, OdySea Aquarium does not offer a flexible guest option, so unless your buddies also have a membership, there’s no additional guest passes offered.  I personally find this to be a drawback to the membership program as their regular entry fee can be a bit pricey. OdySea has a cafe if you’re hungry, but says that outside food and drink are not permitted. Although due to food allergies, we have brought our own food in and nobody has ever said anything to us.  Usually I make myself abundantly clear to my kiddos that we are not there for sitting down to eat and then those expectations are set. Many of the restaurants in the complex do offer discounts to members or visitors of the aquarium so be sure to check, although this is not advertised through OdySea as a benefit.  Membership to OdySea Aquarium comes with the following benefits: 

  • Unlimited visits to OdySea Aquarium with no blackout dates or times 
  • Exclusive Passholder previews to popular events such as Mermaid Magic, Kids Fest, SeaTREK Santa and much more 
  • 10% discount on Shark Behind the Scenes Tours and Penguin Interaction Program 
  • 10% discount at Lighthouse Café and OdySea Treasures Gift Shop 
  • 10% discount on BODIES REVEALED admission tickets 
  • 10% off Birthday Parties 
  • 3 for $7 Bumper Boats & OdySea Express Train 

Children’s Museum of Phoenix – The first time I went to the Children’s Museum, I was massively pregnant with baby #2 and went alone with my just-turned-three-year-old.  He had not quite developed the adventurous and independent spirit he now has so he wanted me to do everything with him.  If you’ve been to the Children’s Museum, you know about the play structure on the ground floor.  At 35 weeks pregnant, that was a no-go for me.  All the other interactive experiences were also quite the struggle for me and I left thinking we would probably never go back again.  Fast forward to baby #2 being 2 years old and we did go back and oh, boy, did we ever have the very best time! Now the Children’s Museum is one of our top favorite things to do. Traveling to downtown Phoenix can be a bit daunting, but it’s not hard to get to once you exit the I-10. This is another great place to head to in the dead of summer to play indoors and burn off energy and it does have covered parking.  It can be really busy if you go when there’s a field trip scheduled, but you can always check the website to see the calendar of field trips and plan accordingly.  There are also special member extended hours on the 3rd Friday of most months which is fun to do for a family night out.  Standard admission is the same price for adults as it is for children and all guests must pay admission.  If you go 3 times a year, the membership pays for itself.  My boys love going so much that I am happy to take them as often as we can.  With a 6 year old and a 3 year old, there is something for everyone, but the tricycles car wash is everyone’s favorite spot. There are tiers of membership based on how many people in your party.  We have the Learner Level, which is currently listed on their website for $195.  They do offer a Black Friday special on memberships and according to a concierge at the Museum, they occasionally offer additional membership specials, but the Black Friday special is the biggest savings. That’s when we purchased our membership and gave it to the boys for Christmas along with a special toy they were both intrigued by in the gift shop.  They were so excited! The Learner membership is for 4 people and we set the membership up in both me and my husband’s names.  Either of us can go without the other and can take a total of 3 people (besides ourselves) in with us. For example, Hubby can go with his sister, her daughter and one of our kids, or I can go with our two boys and one more child or adult.  I really enjoy the flexibility of that because I will often go with my little brother while big brother is in school and we can bring a mom friend and kiddo as our guests.  The Museum also offers Grandparent or Nanny cards to be purchased a la carte. There is a cafe at the Museum to purchase meals, drinks & snacks, but they also allow outside food.  I like to pack our lunch and if it’s nice outside, we eat lunch in the garden.  Lockers can be rented for fifty cents per use.  I try to remember to bring $1 in quarters when we go so I don’t have to carry the lunch bag around.  Membership benefits to Children’s Museum of Phoenix includes:  

  • Free admission to the Children’s Museum for 1 year from date of purchase 
  • 2 additional general admission passes 
  • $1 discount for guests 
  • Subscription to e-newsletter with discounts, specials and early-bird registration news 
  • 10% discount at Children’s Museum gift shop 
  • Discounts and advanced notice on workshops & programs  
  • Special rates on birthday parties & facility rentals 
  • Special subscription rate for Raising Arizona Kids Magazine  
  • Discounts on partner offers 
  • Invitations to exclusive members-only exhibit previews, receptions and special events 
  • Personalized membership card 

Those are the 3 memberships I hold with my family.  Between the three, we have enough places to visit as often as we wish to keep us busy.  Currently, with it being such nice weather this time of the year, you can usually find us at the Phoenix Zoo.  Do you have a membership elsewhere that we should know about?  We’d love to know your insider tips on when to buy and how to save.  

Special note: Save the date! Scottsdale Moms Blog & North Phoenix Moms Blog will be meeting at the Phoenix Zoo on March 11 for a community play date. Admission not included, but we hope to pair up zoo members with non-members to save on admission. See our blog post on Park Hop Play Dates and be sure to mark that you are going on our Facebook Event.  


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