Access Birmingham All Summer for Less Than a Single Trip Elsewhere

This time last year, you were excitedly trolling the internet looking for ideas as you planned camp for the kids, the must-see list for your annual family vacation, and the feasibility of a short getaway with your spouse. This year your pocketbook has snapped shut and you are you are pondering how to generate excitement for a Slip ’n Slide in the back yard.

Be thankful you’re a BirminghamMom, because your hometown has some fabulous options that you and your family may have dismissed during headier times. There’s no need to feel like a pauper when you can OWN THIS TOWN all summer (indeed, all year) for less than the cost of one overnight getaway. Here’s how I reckon you can live like a queen and still have money left over:

Alabama Adventure – $60 per person for season passes; $240 for a family of four (parking extra)

Personally, my days of stomping along asphalt trails in huge amusement parks are over. At Alabama Adventure, we have all the expected thrill rides and I can find my way from point A to point B without referring to a map. With a young family, all you really need are the basics: Roller coaster (“Rampage”), Ferris wheel (“Big Wheel”), a ride to soak everyone (“Wild River Gorge”), and a few options with vague threats of nausea (“Mindspinner”, “Tidal Wave”, and “Vertigo”, to name a few). There is always a bench convenient to most of the rides, so there is room to sit one out while the kids ride the coaster for the 14th straight time.

The children’s section has all the necessary rides like bumper cars and a miniature coaster (adults can also fit the ride, and it’s not as wimpy as you might expect – sort of like riding a mechanical bull on rails). Here again there are benches for you to dig through the stroller basket and administer refreshments as needed. You can keep an eye on the kids and not lose sight of them from the beginning of the ride to the end, especailly when they charge out the exit gate ready for the next thing. (What mom hasn’t felt panicked when she couldn’t figure out whether her kid was still riding, about to disembark, or already out and scaling a hazardous fence?)

The carousel near the entrance is as good as a front porch swing, only automated. A grand carousel really is a must for every amusement park, and Alabama Adventure’s is a swell one for warming up before the thrill rides or settling down before you leave. If the kids beg for one more round, you’ll probably be much obliged yourself.

Besides the Magic City (ride) area, there is Splash Beach, a mom’s best escape from the doldrums of her own deck. Here you can churn the waters along with the kids or (if they’re older, of course) lounge poolside like a lizard and read a book. The wading pool is the swim diaper hangout, and there are shady sections so you can stake out a chair for your camp. The bucket pool is great fun, just beware that the brave child that starts down the sliding tube may come out the other end terrified and wondering what just happened.  

I love riding a tube in the Lazy River, because strangely like my mother (who never wants to ruin her hair set), I don’t like getting my head wet unless I’m actually swimming in a pool. I realize now that this aversion is taken as a challenge by my kids, who find every way possible to sucker me into situations where I will get “slimed” by a water jet, adding immensely to their own enjoyment.

BirminghamMom tip: If you are a good sport who likes getting drenched, my advice is to pretend to mind so your kids can find ways to get you soaked. If you do mind getting wet, never let on, or else you will spend your time staying a step ahead of your scheming kids. And bring a ball cap anyway for after you inevitably lose the battle.

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McWane Science Center – $90 for a family membership; many other options available (see below for BirminghamMom discount!)

I’ve extolled the virtues of McWane Science Center previously, as it always entertaining and especially good on hot or raining days (see above about wet hair aversion).  They have several exciting new exhibits features on tap this summer, including a shark and ray touch tank. I always find something new when we go and I particularly like the Itty Bitty Magic City, which now has mini golf for the kids and is one of the city’s best hangouts for play dates and mom meet-ups. 

The McWane Science Center has generously offered BirminghamMoms a $10 discount on a family membership. Just mention BirminghamMom when purchasing an annual pass at the ticketing window or on your mail-in membership application.

Birmingham Zoo – $99 for 2 named adults and up to 4 children in household

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A Zoo is such a wonderful asset to a community, and ours is large enough to be fascinating, small enough to be manageable.

The best summer feature, especially for young kids, is the play fountain. Kids can cool off in the shooting water and you can watch them from the shade of a vine-covered arbor within a short leap’s distance. Beside the fountain is a playground and a carousel (separate charge) that features exotic animals rather than the usual horses. This portion of the facility is still new and the restrooms are spacious and convenient. Spend the morning viewing the animals before coming here to change the kids into swim wear. They can burn off energy before a nap or the ride home.

Hours are extended to 7 p.m. in the summer on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. This means you can check things out after the heat of the day has passed and in time for Davenport’s Pizza for dinner.

So there you have it: For less than $450, the cost of one brief overnight vacation, you can have have all the wild animals, coaster rides, splashes and science experiments you could possibly want each and every day of the summer. As a bonus, you’ll enjoy discounts and member news that will help you make the most of your visits. Plus, you can continue visiting McWane and the Zoo through next year.

Things will pick up again and you’ll get back to your big week-long destination vacation one day. But you’ll never regret the summer you got to know your own hometown and its vacation that lasted all summer long.