Less expensive alternatives to pricey attractions
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.