Ah, summer and the alluring trap of popular, costly attractions — that are pricier still when the price of admission is multiplied with every family member. Here are a few summer diversions that may or may not measure up to their costs, as well as some budget versions to mull over.
Madame Tussauds Hollywood
When I’m paying in excess of $20 per family member ($27.95 adults, $22.95 students, $20.95 children), I want to see something I can’t see anywhere else. Well, there are 13 cities in the world besides Hollywood (Vegas, anyone? D.C.? Sydney?) where you can enjoy the waxwork wonders of Madame Tussauds. I don’t think it has to be in Los Angeles, where you can spot a flesh-and-blood star at Whole Foods. And though taste is beside the point at Madame Tussauds, I’m not sure that seeing replicas of recently deceased stars Patrick Swayze and Whitney Houston — there are four of her — is going to intrigue kids (or adults) more than spook them.
When I’m in L.A., I want to be in L.A., and a less macabre way to imagine the lives of celebrities is to get out in the sun in your rented Mustang convertible and cruise the neighborhoods where the stars live. Those goofy bus tours can be even more expensive than Madame Tussauds, so I’d either opt for the Seeing Stars website or snag a cheap map from a hawker on Sunset Boulevard. Or get the kids to create their own movie-star maps using online sources before you even fly out West.
Pool at the Parker Meridien, New York
The gorgeous, glassed-in rooftop pool with its amazing city view has become sort of an institution for the aspiring class, but the hefty $100 day-pass price is likely designed to keep buzz high and attendance low — imagine bringing the kids and grandma in for $500 before you’ve ordered a french fry. There are, after all, guests in the more than 700 rooms who’d like to swim, too. Towel service and gym access come with admission (pool hours: 6 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends), but I’d pay serious attention to the hotel’s weekend packages that start at $350/night (two-night minimum) for a junior suite that sleeps four. Included: pool access, plus a blowout in the Drybar salon and a haircut or professional shave in the Sharps barber shop.
You’ll save $25 for a pool pass at the more egalitarian Holiday Inn on 57th Street ($75; hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, towels included). This pool is open-air. Of course, the city offers a range of public pools open for the summer. Note that you can’t bring much of anything besides yourself. No cameras, radios, cell phones, beach toys, blankets or shoes beyond flip-flops. I recall them being pretty draconian about outerwear; once I went with a boyfriend who was wearing board shorts and he had to convince the staff that they were swim trunks and not street shorts. (Men’s trunks are required to have a mesh lining, but the staff didn’t get that invasive.) Apparently, T-shirts are now allowed, even in the water, for the sun-challenged.
You basically have to take out a mortgage to see hot Broadway shows. “The Book of Mormon” can command $159 for a partial-view mezzanine seat; when I went to the TKTS booth in Brooklyn to score a ticket for “Pippin,” the same-day discount rate was $150 (and that was before this musical revival took home a bunch of Tony Awards). Not that you can’t get a good deal at TKTS; you just have to be flexible and come with a list of shows you’d be happy to see.
I’ve had great theater experiences when I bought season tickets to the Roundabout Theatre Company, where a $225 membership gets you access to three plays. (Some plays are available only to subscribers.) The actors are well known, and the plays, whether new works or revivals, are vital to anyone who cares about American playwriting. See David Morse and Rich Sommer (Harry Crane in “Mad Men”) in “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin,” as well as revivals of the hit plays “The Real Thing” and “Dinner with Friends.”
A three-day pass to Florida’s Walt Disney World will run you $279 (ages 10+), and a one-day park-hopper pass at California’s Disneyland will set you back $137 (ages 10+). Of course, every family should visit at least one of these theme park complexes once, but when planning subsequent vacations, there’s always…
Branson, Mo. It’s wholesome, red-state and cheap. There are all sorts of shows and attractions, most costing between $20 and $40 for adults, with free admission for kids under age 12 and family passes available for some events. The diversity is impressive, from go-carts and ziplines to cruising scenic lakes and feeding tigers at a sanctuary to to Patsy Cline and Neil Diamond tributes. Even Bill Cosby plays Branson, as does as a Cirque du Soleil-type extravaganza. (In Las Vegas, for Cirque de Soleil’s “Zumanity,” you pay for risqué — to the tune of $75.90 to $137.50 a ticket.) Some shows and attractions can be bundled with hotel stays for even greater savings. When I searched for hotels in Branson, I was hard-pressed to find a room for more than $100 a night, which had my luxury travel-self shaking in his rhinestone cowboy boots.