Monday, March 16, 2009

Fun On A Budget

Recession got ya down?

Try planning a family outing to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Adult admission: $23.95 Kids three and up: $11.95. Then there's parking. Let's say, for argument's sake, it's six bucks (I can't remember but that sounds about right). So for a family a four, the privilege of looking at fish in tanks for a few hours costs upwards of seventy-five dollars.

Recession got you even more down?

Now you have some idea of why we spent last Saturday somewhere else: the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. Adult admission: five dollars (suggested donation). Kids: a dollar (suggested donation). Parking: we spent three bucks. Total expenditure for the privilege of looking at fish in tanks for a few hours: fifteen dollars.

Suck on that, Aquarium of the Pacific.

Here's the thing: for small kids, an aquarium doesn't have to be friggin' ginormous to be entertaining. This one actually had a room full of hands-on stuff for kids to do. There were open microscopes set up with stools for kids to stand on and plenty of tiny briny sea creatures to look at underneath their lenses, many alive and moving. There was a puppet theater with hand puppet sea creatures for the kids to play with, a dress-up area, a TV monitor and seascape to stand in front of so the kids could be on TV as divers or sea creatures. They had a table full of crayons and pictures of fish to color, fish puzzles and games, a walk-through model of a mud flat with oversized 3-D models of creatures that live in it to touch, even an aquarium you could crawl into and stand up in and be totally surrounded by schools of fish. Then there was the tide-pool touch tank, tons of whale models (a whole room devoted to whales, with whale bones too), the occasional riveting (for four-year-olds) nature video, and very cool looking jellyfish.

Of course what Thing 1 and Thing 2 loved best of all was the swing set a short walk away on the beach. That cost nothing.

I gotta say, I am a culture vulture and a big museum goer, but any museum charging a family of four seventy-plus frickin' bucks for the day -- and it ain't even Disneyland -- has some nerve: especially now. (And Disneyland is a non-starter these days.)

I actually had coupons for the Aquarium of the Pacific. But they would've only saved us eight dollars. That's not even lunch for the four of us. So no go.

More belt-tightening is sure to follow for us, and other families, I'm sure. We'll have more park days, and fewer museum outings. And kids really don't need all the bells and whistles we think they do to have a good time. Still, I hate having to think long and hard about whether we can, say, afford to take all of us to a professional baseball game (fifteen bucks for parking? Five-dollar a ticket service charge? C'mon, Dodgers, surely you can do better than that: why not have Manny treat everyone to parking for a day?).

I'm glad there's always some fun to be found on a budget, if you look. But pissed off that I've gotta start saying "no we can't" in what I was hoping was gonna be the age of "yes we can." Another thing I can blame Bush for, and believe me, I do ... along with all the folks on Wall Street who flushed everyone's nest egg down the toilet. You want a bonus? My kids have a diaper full of bonus for you all. Lucky for you, my kids are not using diapers anymore. Wait, here's an idea. I think I know what they ought to toss into the shark tank at feeding time down at the overpriced Aquarium of the Pacific. Or should I say who?

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