Trip to Wonderful

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Special needs vacation tip #2: Reciprocal memberships

Yesterday, I picked up Zagat's U.S. Family Travel Guide, which rates hundreds of attractions, both from a kid's view as well as the appeal to their parents. The guide also indicates age appropriateness, e.g., toddler, young child, and pre-teen, or any combination there of.

One of the things which struck me after just a few minutes perusing cities which may fall along our travel path is that kids consistently rate essentially four venues as their favorites, no matter where they are: Children's museums, amusement parks, zoos and aquariums. Throw in a park and beach or two, and if you spent your entire vacation within this purview, your kids will think they died and went to heaven. However, you might want to throw in an art or science museum, or even a historical monument. Zagat has the dirt on those as well.

Should you choose, like us, to indulge the affinity for children's museums, I highly recommend springing for an Association of Children's Museums reciprocal membership. For an annual fee of $90-$120 (depending upon "home" museum), the membership provide free entrance for parents/guardians and their children to over 100 childrens museums across the country, including big ones such as Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, etc. Our pass (from the Portland (Maine) Children's Museum also allows us access to hundreds of science museums as well (see list here [.pdf] of all science and discovery museums covered by the ASTC "Travel Passport".) You can purchase your "home" pass at any of these museums.

While some children's museums may be a bit overstimulating for autistic children with sensory issues, many include a quiet area for toddlers and babies. We found in the Baltimore children's museum (Port Discovery) that museum staff were fine with Jonah, our sound sensitive child, hanging out in this room (as long as one of us was with him), even though he was older than the age limit. Better to accomodate than have to endure a major meltdown in the middle of the museum. This year, we also intend on trying earphones and music for Jonah, to see if it helps as well.

Update: I changed the title of this post slightly, as I decided to look to see if there are other reciprocal memberships. Turns out that the members of the American Zoological and Aquarium Association also recognize reciprocal memberships with over 100 zoos and aquariums around the US. The list of participants can be found here.

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