COMMENTS

We investigate some of the popular annual passes including Merlin, National Trust, English Heritage and Chester Zoo

There are so many amazing places to take children across the UK but the cost can really add up, especially over the holidays.

So is it worth splurging on an annual pass so you can visit your favourite places as often as you want? We investigate the most popular options.

Merlin Pass

The Octonauts ride at Alton Towers

Alton Towers

What is it?

The UK’s biggest annual pass offering entry to 32 Merlin attractions including Alton Towers, Legoland and more.

What do you get?

Entry to 32 attractions – London Eye, Chessington World of Adventures, Thorpe Park, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, Sea Life Centres, LEGOLAND Windsor, LEGOLAND Discovery Centres, Madam Tussauds sites, Blackpool Tower, five Dungeon sites around the UK, Shrek’s Adventure.

You also get free car parking at theme parks and Warwick Castle (with a Premium Pass), 20 per cent off food and drink inside and discounted entry for family and friends.

How much is it?

The Standard Pass is £179 per person, £139 per person for a family pass for 3 or more people (maximum three over-12s).

The Premium Pass is £229 per person. £189 each for a family pass.

If you renew the pass after 12 months, the family price drops to £109 (standard) and £149 (premium).

Can I pay monthly?

Yes you can, with a new monthly membership option.

For the Standard Pass it costs £29.99 per person joining fee and then £8.99 per month per person.

The total cost over a year would be – £137.87 per person, similar to a family pass cost.

For the Premium Pass the cost is £34.99 joining fee and then £11.99 per month. The total cost is £178.87 per person, similar to an annual family pass.

MORE:  The six steps you should follow to find the cheapest hotel deals for your family

Note: you have to sign up for a minimum of 12 months.

What about the small print?

The Premium Pass gives you entry to all attractions at all times plus priority entry to venues, a fast track pass voucher and free parking.

With the Standard Pass, you ARE restricted on which days you can use it at certain attractions.

In August and all UK Bank Holidays: No entry to any central London attractions including London Eye, Sea Life, Shrek’s Adventure, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds London.

Valentine’s Day: No London Eye entry.

October half-term weekends around Halloween: No entry to London Dungeon.

Friday, Saturday or Sunday in August and September 1: No entry to Alton Towers, Thorpe Park, Chessington, LEGOLAND Windsor, Warwick Castle.

No free parking at any attraction with a Standard pass.

How much could you save?

The standard pass costs £46 per month for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children).

If you visited one attraction a month, Merlin’s website claims you will save £684 over a year compared with on-the-day entry.

You can use the Merlin Pass official calculator here.

However there are lots of 2 for 1 offers available online and via cereal packets and newspapers for most of these attractions, so nobody should be paying full price.

That makes the pass roughly the same price as a monthly visit to a Merlin attraction.

Verdict

In order to save money with this pass you need to visit more than 12 attractions in the year. If you are going to manage that then it could be good value.

MORE:  We visit Bournemouth - home to ‘Britain’s best beach’ - for a family stay with our children

Top tip

Look out for Merlin pass discounts – this usually happens in January and June. You can save between £20 and £50.

(For our reviews, tips and advice on LEGOLAND Windsor, click here).

National Trust membership

deer outside Dunham Massey

Dunham Massey

What is it?

An annual pass giving free entry to more than 500 National Trust parks, gardens and houses.

What do you get?

Free entry to National Trust sites, free parking at most car parks, a handbook and a National Trust magazine three times per year.

How much is it?

A family pass for 2 adults and up to 10 children (living at the same address) costs £126 per year.

For 1 adult and up to 10 children it is £78 per year.

Children under 5 go free anyway, so take that into account. You can pay by monthly direct debit if you prefer.

What about the small print?

It is relatively simple but there are some car parks not included for free. Sites like Stonehenge and Tatton Park, which aren’t exclusively run by the National Trust, can incur some charges.

You have to sign up for a year at a time and can only cancel when your renewal is due. Be sure to mark your renewal date in your diary so you don’t miss it.

How much could you save?

Average entry price to a large National Trust place is around £30 for a family of four so you can save a lot.

Car parking can be costly too, from £3 to £7 at a lot of places.

Membership costs £10.50 per month for a family with two adults and £6.50 for a family with one adult, so if you go to a NT site once a month or more, you canstart to save money.

MORE:  Will the home of LEGO live up to children's expectations on a trip to LEGOLAND in Denmark?

Verdict

Good value for the sheer number of sites and car parks you can use, especially if you have a good selection near to you, as we do.

(We have lots of National Trust articles on this site, including reviews of Dunham MasseyQuarry Bank MillTatton Park, and our Famous Five trail in Dorset).

English Heritage membership

A visitor does a handstand in front of the stones at Stonehenge

Stonehenge

What is it?

A pass allowing access to 400 historic places including Stonehenge, Dover Castle, Tintagel Castle and more.

What do you get?

Unlimited access to 400 sites, free car parking, free entry for up to 6 children, a handbook, children’s activity pack and members’ magazine four times per year.

How much is it?

A family membership for 2 adults and up to 12 children costs £105 per year. For 1 adult and up to 6 children, it is £60.

What about the small print?

Not all events at English Heritage sites are free for members. They do get a reduced rate though.

You will get a reminder  letter one month before membership renewal. You must cancel at that time or pay for another year in full.

How much could you save?

Entry to each site varies in price. There are some for less than £20 for a family of four, but others come to £50.

You need to visit at least five English Heritage sites per year to start saving money.

If you need ideas then this is a good page on their website here.

Verdict

Lots of properties but if you also have National Trust membership as well, do you really need both?

(For our review of Stonehenge, click here).

MORE:  Is the National Trust's Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire a fun day for all the family?

Chester Zoo membership

An orangutan and a baby orangutan in a hammock at Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo

What is it?

Annual membership to the most popular tourist attraction outside London.

What do you get?

Unlimited access to Chester Zoo, Fast track entry, 10 per cent discount in the zoo’s shops and cafes, a quarterly magazine, access to junior members’ events, one free entry annually at several other UK zoos (Bristol Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, Newquay Zoo, Living Coasts, Marwell Zoo, Paignton Zoo and Twycross Zoo).

How much is it?

Individual adult membership is £95 and it is £53 per child, if paying by direct debit and £105 and £59 if not.

So family membership for 2 adults and 2 children is £245 per year by direct debit.

What about the small print?

Fairly straightforward, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. You can go anytime. If you are using your free visit to another zoo you must take your membership card and membership letter.

How much could you save?

A day visit to Chester Zoo is up to £85 for a family of four booked in advance. There are rarely offers and discounts available.

You must all visit the zoo at least four times per year to start saving money.

Verdict

If you live close enough to visit regularly and have children who enjoy it, a Chester Zoo pass is a great family treat. Plus if you are members, you don’t feel you have to see every single animal and area each time and spend a whole day there for every visit, which is far more relaxed.

Top tip

If you are planning to visit, don’t miss our popular article Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money.

MORE: A family holiday in the Cotswolds – read about our stay at a fabulous farm cottage and the attractions we visited with our children

The Family Holiday Guide Email

The best news, reviews, ideas and

tips to help you enjoy

fabulous family holidays.