It’s great to give and receive gifts, but what to do if your recipient just has too much stuff? An annual pass is a great idea – either to give someone else or as a gift to yourself. We’ve found the best annual memberships for families (though they all offer individual packages too) from a land where you can play with diggers all day to the far more grown up environments of palaces and stately homes, with everything in between too.
1. Sea Life Annual Pass: £45 per person over the age of 3, Sea Life
There are twelve Sea Life aquariums and centres around the UK (Birmingham, Brighton, Hunstanton, Manchester, Weymouth, Blackpool, Great Yarmouth, Loch Lomond, Oban, Gweek, London and Scarborough) and an annual pass gets you unlimited free entry to all them. This is a particularly good membership because it’s fun to visit the aquarium whatever the weather. Owned by mega entertainment group Merlin, your pass also gets you one free entry into either Chessington World of Adventures Resort, Alton Towers Resort, Thorpe Park or Legoland Windsor which, if you are only intending on going to one of those once, but live near a Sea Life Centre, makes this a great deal. The price is the same for adult or child (under threes go free) but the first two passes you buy cost £45 and subsequent ones cost £38, so if you buy for a family with two adults the children are effectively a little cheaper.
2. Diggerland: £69.99 per person, Diggerland
You probably wouldn’t go to Diggerland without kids, but if you did you’d have a great time, with all kinds of digger-related activities from being given your own full-sized digger on a mound of mud and license to move it all around to hitching a ride 50 feet in the air in the scoop part of a specially modified digger. If you must take younger family members then there’s plenty for them too, from driving mini diggers to using diggers to find buried treasure or play skittles. With locations in Kent, Durham, Devon, Yorkshire and, coming soon, Worcestershire, There’s a flat rate of £69.99 for an annual pass regardless of age, though children under 90cm are free.
3. National Art Pass: £104, Art Fund
A Family National Art Pass gets two adults at the same address plus any children under the age of 16 entrance into over 200 museums, galleries and historic houses around the UK, with half price admission into major exhibitions, a welcome pack and a subscription to Art Quarterly Magazine. If buying as a gift you can add tote bags (£8) or sketchbooks (£6) to the pass so you have something to wrap up.
4. Historic Royal Palaces: £93 for two adults and up to six children at the same address
Historic Royal Palaces is a charity which counts as its properties the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Hillsborough Castle and more. An annual pass gives unlimited entry to all its properties as well as a members’ magazine, member events, discounts in its restaurants and shops and a private members room at Hampton Court. If you’re joining for free entry to Kew Palace, be aware that you can only get to it via Kew Gardens, and you have to pay an entrance fee to do this.
5. National Trust: £111 for family membership, £84 for family membership of National Trust Scotland
Reciprocal arrangements mean you can join either the National Trust or the National Trust for Scotland and get entry into properties all over the United Kingdom (and free parking at these properties), though your membership fee goes towards the upkeep of the properties they maintain – so the right thing to do would be to join the one that looks after the properties you visit most often. Properties vary hugely – many have picnic areas and kids’ trails as well as family friendly events, so it’s worth researching where is best for your family before you visit.
6. Legoland Windsor: £100 per person, Legoland
It’s £100 per person for an annual pass (except for under threes who are free) but as single visit tickets are over half that, if you live anywhere near the Windsor area it’s probably worth it. This gets you unlimited entry, 50 per cent off entry into other Legoland Parks around the world, 50 per cent off Q-Bot rental – a small robot that queues for rides for you while you enjoy the rest of the park – free car parking and money off in the restaurant and shop. The park itself has over 55 rides and attractions as well as Miniland – models of famous landmarks and scenes made entirely from Lego. If this floats your boat you might even be interested in a lifetime pass – unlimited entry for the rest of your life – which costs £696 regardless of age. Pre-School Annual Passes, ideal for locals, cost £60 and include entry for an adult and child aged three to five during term time whenever the park is open (it’s closed for some of the winter).
7. Wildfowl and Wetland Trust: £81 for family membership, Wildfowl and Wetland Trust
Family membership is for two adults and up to six children aged between four and 16, with the unusual, but very welcome, part being that the adults can be parents, grandparents or even just friends – they don’t all have to live at the same address but they do all need to be declared on the application form. What’s more, membership for a one-adult family is £64 per year which makes the WWT one of the most friendly organisations when it comes to acknowledging the different shapes and sizes of families. For this money you get free, unlimited entry to all 10 of the centres around the UK (Arundel, Caerlaverock, Castle Espie, Llanelli, London, Martin Mere, Slimbridge, Steart, Washington and Welney), a quarterly magazine, discount vouchers for family and friends and a free book if you pay by direct debit. Each Wetland Centre is different but all have trails packed with endangered (and less endangered) birds, adventure playgrounds, cafes and shops.
8. English Heritage: £92.50 for family membership, English Heritage
If you love a photo opportunity then you’ll love English Heritage Sites – there are over 400, with highlights including Stonehenge, Dover Castle and Hadrian's Wall. Members receive unlimited free entry, free or reduced entry to events, a members’ magazine and a free English Heritage handbook. Each adult can bring up to six children with them. Many of the sites have special attractions for families though some sites have limited facilities, so do your research before visiting. There is a cheaper option for one-adult families.
9. Ironbridge Gorge Museums: £68 for a Family Pass, £50 for a one-adult family
On the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, Ironbridge Gorge Museums is actually ten museums spread over the small village of Ironbridge on the River Severn in Shropshire. Museums of tile design and iron smelting are part of the package as is Enginuity, the science and technology centre packed full of family friendly interactive displays. But the two main attractions must be walking across the world’s first cast iron bridge (designed, quiz fans please note, by Thomas Pritchard not Thomas Telford) and the wonderful Blists Hill Victorian Town where actors in every shop and house make the experience real by staying in character as you converse, right down the lively young men singing parlour tunes round the piano in the pub.
10. London Transport Museum: £17 per adult (under 18s go free)
In the heart of Covent Garden, the London Transport Museum is well worth multiple visits, so the annual ticket (all tickets are annual) is a very welcome deal. Whether you like pretending to drive tube trains, exploring old buses or the design element of transport posters and maps, there really is something for everyone, and a very fine shop too.
11. DisneyLife: £119, DisneyLife
Not the usual annual membership, but perfect for those family duvet days where no one can be bothered to leave the house, DisneyLife is an app that gives you access to films, box sets, music and books as well as invites to premieres, previews and special events.
The Verdict: Annual membership gifts
We’d be happy with any of these – the Ironbridge Gorge Museums pass is great value and possibly no other village in the world has quite so much to see and do, while Diggerland helps you unleash all those building site dreams you’ve had since you were a kid yourself. But for value alone, Sea Life membership, with its free ticket into Legoland Windsor, can’t be beaten if you were planning to go to the latter at some point in the year anyway.
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