Raising Richmond: All aboard the membership!

Is it time to renew your membership to a local museum, or are you thinking about getting one to liven up some dreary winter afternoons? Read this rundown to see if any of the big ones are right for you.

Our family’s annual memberships around town are up for renewal right at the start of the new year. Before I pay out for another 12 months of quality enjoyment in support of some of our favorite places, I reviewed the options again to determine if it was actually worth it for us. Maybe memberships are a good value for your brood, or maybe a trip or two covers you for the year. Here are some popular places in Richmond that offer family memberships…

Note: be sure to refer to each venue’s website for complete details and other pricing options.

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Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Between the butterflies in the spring, the children’s garden year-round, and the water play area in the summer,1 we spend many hours and afternoons here. Lewis Ginter is good for the entire family as well as visitors. Some of our friends are members, so it’s also an easy space for a play date. The last two years I’ve purchased the guest pass, which isn’t listed on the membership options anymore, but it was an additional $20 in previous years for an unlimited guest pass. I don’t think we used our guest pass more than twice, and the membership comes with two complimentary tickets, anyway.

  • Annual Cost • $100 for two adults and up to five kids or $85 for a couple (children 2 and under are free).
  • Benefits • Free daily admission to the garden, 10% discount in the garden shop, free entrance to participating gardens nationwide, and discounts on classes and GardenFest tickets (with a few no-charge member nights during GardenFest).
  • How many visits equal the cost of membership? • The annual fee covers about 10 admissions (regular admission is $12 for adults and $8 for kids).

For my family of three, we take an average of two visits to see the butterflies, maybe two summer/fall visits, and up to two trips to GardenFest (which this year offered $5 savings on each ticket on a non-member night). It’s worth it for us to get again this year, though I’ll wait to renew the next time we visit, and will skip the guest pass if it’s an option anymore.

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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

I love the VMFA, but other than parking, we don’t use our membership card for most of our visits. It’s not a place where we’d try to meet up with other families, but we’ve often brought visitors to come with us (though their tickets, if needed, are paid full price). Paid exhibits aren’t the best experience with a small child, but they’re perfect for babies who naturally love fine art/sleeping in museums.

  • Annual Cost • $85 for two adults and all children in your household.
  • Benefits • Free entrance to ticketed exhibitions, free parking, 10% off at the VMFA shop, Amuse, and Best Cafe, and the satisfaction of telling people you are a fancy museum member.
  • How many visits equal the cost of membership? • There is no fee for the general collection (which is most of the museum). The most recent exhibit had a $20 ticket price for adults and $10 for youth (six and under were free), which is about average for the special exhibit costs, though there are some smaller, ticketed exhibits throughout the year. The membership is worth it if four adult exhibit tickets will be purchased within a year.

We’ve seen seen exhibits at least four times during the last year, making a membership worth it for us. Plus the free parking is nice. I’m going to hold off on renewing until I want to see another exhibit, though.

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Children’s Museum of Virginia

The Children’s Museum of Richmond has a lot happening throughout the year and several area locations. It’s a great bad-weather place, and a great way to keep kids busy on school breaks.

  • Annual Cost • $135 for two adults and up to six children in the household.
  • Benefits • Free entrance to all four locations (three in the Richmond area and one in Fredericksburg), including free admission to special (non-ticketed) events, and $1 off for guests.
  • How many visits equal the cost of membership? • $8 is the general admission price, so the annual membership is worth the price of almost 17 single admissions, which, depending on the size of your family, could be four visits or it could be eight. Or anything in between.

While I’ve often checked to see what’s happening at the central location, we’ve only taken our kid a few times. I can’t imagine going enough times to require a membership. If we were gifted one, we’d go just to make it worth it. I can see CMoR being worth it for parents or caretakers who spend more weekday time with their kids and wouldn’t be fighting weekend crowds for a chance to play with that tube that shoots out handkerchiefs. Also if you have six children this would totally be worth it.

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Science Museum of Virginia

I don’t remember wanting to go to the Science Museum more often than the annual school field trips allowed, so it wasn’t until I was in the building two years ago that I knew it even offered memberships. Up until now, the Science Museum has been out of our daughter’s realm of interest. Our only attempt to take her was so that we could see an exhibit (that I had to leave quickly because she was only two and loudly uninterested) and the regular exhibits were lousy with bigger kids. She would probably be more into it now. I remember a cool digging area outside. And I’ve never seen rats play basketball. That’s a thing, right?

  • Annual Cost • $99 for two adults and children.
  • Benefits • Free entrance to the museum and other technology and science centers throughout the world, café and gift shop discounts, four guest passes, and four Dome passes (I’m going to assume that the free and discounted movie admissions vary depending on if the movie is a nature film about pandas or a Hollywood movie).
  • How many visits equal the cost of membership? • Children under 3 are free. Adult admission costs $11, and youth are $10, so if my science is correct that’s about 10 admissions to pay for a membership, with an added $40-44 value in guest passes.

Plus if your kids aren’t motion-sickness-prone, all that Dome movie access would be cool.

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I’ve never considered a membership to Maymont. I give a few dollars every visit (usually less than the suggested donation, but always something) and have given the occasional donation via text. Until recently, my daughter could get into the Nature Center for free. We go at least six times a year and to the Nature Center at least annually. It’s just that…it’s free, or really inexpensive, and that’s nice.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost money. I don’t want Maymont to start laying off bison or cutting hours because people take advantage of the free entrance, so the prospect of membership has been on my radar. The birthday party discount (thinking ahead for birthday number 5–she can’t do playgrounds forever) first got me thinking about finally becoming a member, in addition to my kid’s renewed interest in things that aren’t steps in the Nature Center.

  • Annual Cost • $60 for two adults and up to six children in the household.
  • Benefits • Free Nature Center admission (otherwise $3 for adults and $2 for kids four and older), discounts on special events, 10% discount on souvenirs, and a $25 discount on birthday party packages.
  • How many visits equal the cost of membership? • You’d have to get 20 admissions to the Nature Center to make up the cost of the membership, and no one likes regional animals that much.

But a Maymont membership is like a public radio membership–you’re not getting anything you weren’t really getting before, but it needs contributions if you want it to thrive. Plus, it’s not that expensive, especially compared to other memberships. If you don’t get your money’s worth, at least you contributed enough to feed a bobcat for a day or something.

  1. We joined a gym with an outdoor pool, so we didn’t do the water play area much last summer. 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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