When traveling to major U.S. cities, buying attraction tickets for the whole family can eat up a substantial chunk of your vacation budget. One money-saving option is discount bundles, which offer savings of up to 55 percent over buying tickets to each attraction individually. They’re available through nationwide companies such as CityPass and Smart Destinations for cities from New York to California. In many areas, you’ll also find local packages like San Francisco’s WharfPass, which offer discount admission and coupons for local attractions.
Here’s a look at the options to help you decide which is right for your family.
Smart Destinations offers two different products ideal for families.
With a Go City Card, you get admission to dozens of top attractions for your choice of one, two, three, five or seven days. (Prices range from US$54-130, with discounts for children). You don’t have to decide which places you want to visit in advance: Just show your pass at the attraction. Go City Card is available for the Blue Ridge region, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Maui, Miami, New York City, Oahu, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.
For families with a more targeted list of two or more attractions, Go Select allows you to create a custom pass and purchase discounted admission for the attractions you want to visit. (In San Francisco, the list extends to 27 hot spots, including hop-on, hop-off trolley tours and bay cruises). Go Select is available in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Oahu, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago, with more cities coming soon. An upcoming mobile option will enable travelers to show a bar code on their smartphone as their attraction pass and even buy the pass via their mobile phones. Both options offer the ability to skip the ticket queue at many attractions.
With bundles of the top five or six attractions in a city, CityPass delivers the highlights of the town in one convenient package, often with the right to skip the ticket queues. Passes are available for New York, Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Southern California and Hollywood and are valid for nine consecutive days (14 days in Southern California).
The San Francisco package includes a must-have seven-day transportation passport, which includes Muni buses, streetcars and the famous cable cars, making it both an attraction in itself and a handy way to get around the city. It also includes admission to the California Academy of Sciences, a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise, Aquarium of the Bay and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Another coupon in the book offers a choice between visiting the de Young Museum or the Exploratorium. International visitors can buy passes online before they arrive: Adult passes cost US$69 and children, US$39, a savings of 47 percent over buying admissions individually.
Many destinations have their own homegrown bundle offers: Minnesota offers The Big Ticket, while The Big Apple has New York Pass. San Francisco offers the two-day WharfPass, combining the attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf with tours of the city. For US$67 adults, US$41 child, you get to choose one of seven sightseeing tours and one of two bay cruises along with four different customizable options: a bike rental, GoCar rental or cable car ride; a choice between the Wax Museum, Liberty Ship or Turbo Ride; a choice between the Aquarium of the Bay, a visit to a submarine or the Ripley’s museum; and a trip to a sourdough bakery or tokens for the wharf’s arcade. An Alcatraz visit can also be bundled with WharfPass.
For the best bargains, compare your list of must-sees with the attractions included in each pass and opt for the best match. When calculating your savings on a bundle, keep in mind that some attractions have free or “donation suggested” admission, however, you may still have to wait in the ticket queue without the privileges conferred by one of the passes. Most parents will agree: When traveling with kids, the power to avoid a queue is near priceless.