Summer Splurges: Family Fun Starting at $36

Ray's Splash Planet has a sprayground play structure perfect for young children
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CHARLOTTE – Everyone loves a great deal, but summer is also a time to splurge a little on family fun!  The activities described here range from as low as $36 to as high as $280 for a family of four.  Most fall in the $40-60 range for 2 adults and 2 children.

We’ve done our best to provide accurate information, but note that many of the activities included here have variable hours and pricing.  Make sure to check double check their website to verify the pricing for your specific party on the day you wish to visit.

Looking for a less expensive way to spend the day?  Check out our article on Summer Steals!

High Seas Mini Golf: $36

Where: 10001 Charlotte Highway, Indian Land, SC
When: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm daily
Cost: adults $10, kids and seniors $8.  Children 3 and under are free with a paying adult, and police/fire/military/veterans always play for free!
Essential Info: High Seas Mini Golf is a pirate and nautical-themed mini golf course located just over the South Carolina border.
Tips: Make sure to visit Castaways Beer and Wine Garden next door.  In addition to a selection of beers, seltzers, ciders and wine, Castaways also has a large selection of family-friendly yard games.

Ray’s Splash Planet: $32-$50

Ray's Splash Planet has a sprayground play structure perfect for young children
Ray’s Splash Planet has a sprayground play structure perfect for young children

Where: 215 North Sycamore Street, Charlotte
When: hours vary, check website
Cost: Mecklenburg County Residents – adults $10, seniors (55+) & children (1-17) $8, “dry” tickets – $3; Non-County Residents – adults $15, seniors & children $10, dry tickets $5.  Infants under 12 months old free.
Essential Info: With gradual entry to a sprayground, a lazy river, a current pool and a three-story giant slide, Ray’s Splash Planet has something for everyone in the family to enjoy.  Everything is indoors, so it’s a great way to enjoy water play without getting burnt!
Tips: The cost for a family of four to visit Ray’s can vary greatly depending on whether you live in Mecklenburg County and whether the adults are swimming.  Hours vary and are generally announced a few weeks in advance, so make sure to check the website before planning a visit.

Carolina Raptor Center: $40

Take a self-guided tour of the 3/4 mile Raptor Trail at the Raptor Center
Take a self-guided tour of the 3/4 mile Raptor Trail at the Raptor Center

Where: 6000 Sample Road, Huntersville.
When: 10:00 – 12:30 and 1:30 – 4:00 daily
Cost: students $8, adults $12, seniors/military/educators $10, 3 and under free.  Note fees ranging from $1.54 – $1.75 are added per ticket at purchase.
Essential Info: Carolina Raptor Center is home to the “Raptor Trail,” a ¾ mile self-guided trail that features over twenty bird species.
Tips: Tickets are issued for the “morning” or “afternoon” session, but guests need not arrive right at the start time.  Guest who enter prior to 12:30 may continue to explore the trail between 12:30 and 1:30, but the ticketing center, gift shops and restrooms are closed during that time.  It takes about an hour to explore the trail fully.  Family memberships are available for $100 annually.

Village of Lake Park Pools: $40

Where: Lake Park, NC
When: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm Monday through Saturday, 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm Sunday through the start of school.  August 28 – September 5, weekday hours are 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm.
Cost: $10 per person
Essential Info: If you don’t have a neighborhood pool or belong to the YMCA, it can be tough to find a place to swim regularly during the summer.  The Village of Lake Park has four pool areas adjacent to its Community Center, and it is one of only a few places in the area that offers day passes.
Tips: Want to swim all summer long?  The Village of Lake Park offers season passes for non-residents starting at $215.  Non-resident family passes for the season are $350, which will pay for itself in about nine visits for a family of four.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: $46

Where: 6500 South New Hope Road, Belmont
When: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm Wednesday – Monday
Cost: adults $14.95, children (2-12) $7.95, seniors (60+) $12.95
Essential Info: Known as the Carolinas’ Garden for all seasons, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden provides guests with the chance to reconnect with nature in its 380 acres of spectacular gardens.  Through September 5, learn all about butterflies in Butterfly Bungalow, open 10:00 am – 3:00 pm and included with your admission to DSBG.
Tips: Make sure to check out DSBG’s Events & Exhibits Calendar.  Annual membership starts at $85 for families and includes benefits like half price admission for up to four guests.

Tiger World: $54

Where: 4400 Cook Road, Rockwell
When: 9:00 – 5:00 daily, closed Wednesdays
Cost: adults $15, children and seniors (2-17) $12, public servants (police, EMT, firefighters, etc) $8, children under 2 free
Essential Info: Founded in 2007 as a way to make a difference and participate globally in conservation and education, Tiger World is home to 54 various species including 14 endangered animals.
Tips:  Tiger World offers many options for guests beyond general admission, like a $20 Carnivore Feed Safari Tour in Thursday evenings, and a $100 Educational Animal Encounter.  Their newest feature is a 9-hole WILD Adventure Golf course for $5 per person.  Season passes are available for $120 for a family of four.  Big cats like the ones housed at Tiger World often sleep during the hottest part of the day, so Tiger World recommends visiting before 11:00 am in the summer to have the best experience.

Discovery Place Kids: $56

Discovery Place Kids encourages imaginative play
Discovery Place Kids encourages imaginative play

Where: 105 Gilead Road, Huntersville
When: 10:30 – 4:30 Wednesday – Sunday
Cost: $14 per person in advance online, $17 per person at the door.  Children under 1 visit free.
Essential Info: With numerous different areas to explore, create and move in addition to a daily schedule of live shows, Discovery Place Kids is a great destination for families with young children.
Tips: Note that everyone in your party – adults and children – will pay the same admission fee, making the price for a family of four as high as $68 if you don’t pre-purchase online.  If you’re looking for a more economic museum visit, consider Discovery Place Nature located at 1658 Sterling Road.  Open Friday – Monday from 10:30 – 4:30, DP Nature is just $8 per person, and kids under 2 are free.

SeaLife Charlotte – Concord: $66 – $84

Get up close and personal with all kinds of fish at SeaLife
Get up close and personal with all kinds of fish at SeaLife

Where: Concord Mills Mall
When: 11:00 – 5:00 Monday through Thursday, 10:00 – 5:00 Friday, 10:00 – 6:00 Saturday, 12:00 – 5:00 Sunday
Cost: varies by day, ranges from $17.99 – $21.99 per person for adults and $14.99 – $18.99 for kids.  Children under 2 are free.
Essential Info: At SeaLife, you can wander through North Carolina’s only underwater ocean tunnel, meet giant sharks, rescued turtles and jellyfish, and even touch a real sea star.  Visit the new Sea Turtle Rescue Center where guests can come face to flipper with Beasley, a rescued sea turtle!
Tips: If you plan to visit more than once, SeaLife Charlotte offers several different membership options that are worth considering.  For $39.99, you can visit any weekday with the exception of specified blackout dates.  $65.99 buys you “anytime admission,” and both options include the benefit of 40% off family and friend tickets.  Note these prices are for individual memberships; SeaLife does not offer a family membership.

Urban Air: $38-$78

Urban Air's Tubes playground is perfect for young children
Urban Air’s Tubes playground is perfect for young children

Where: 9108 Lawyers Road, Mint Hill
When: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm Monday – Thursday, 10:00 am – 9:00 pm Friday, 11:00 pm – 9:00 pm Saturday, 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm Sunday
Cost: $20.99 for deluxe attractions (does not include climbing walls, ropes course or sky rider), $25.99 for ultimate attractions.  Children 5 and under are always $11.99, and parents can access the same attractions as children for 50% off.
Essential Info: From the Tubes Playground to the Pro Zone, there’s something at Urban Air for every age and skill level.  Urban Air is also excited to be launching new attractions soon!
Tips: The cost for a family visit to Urban Air varies greatly depending on the age of your children and whether adults plan to jump, too.  If you visit Urban Air frequently, a membership is definitely something to consider!  Individual deluxe memberships are only $9.99 a month, and individual ultimate memberships are just $12.99 monthly. Parents can be added for just $3.99 monthly.  The ultimate membership even includes a small snack!  That means a monthly ultimate membership for a family of four is around $34 – less than the price of even the cheapest single visit for a group that size.  Memberships are billed monthly, and an initial 12-month commitment is required.  Note that all jumpers are required to have Urban Air socks, which are available for $3.49. To find all the best deals on Urban Air Admission, follow them on Facebook and Instagram. 

Riverbanks Zoo: $82

Giraffes at Riverbanks Zoo
Giraffes at Riverbanks Zoo

Where: 500 Wildlife Parkway, Columbia, SC
When: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm daily
Cost: Adults $21.99, children (2-12) $18.99, military and seniors $19.99, under 2 free. Parking $5.
Essential Info: Located on 170-acres, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is home to more than 2000 animals as well as one of the nation’s most beautiful and inspiring botanical garden.  Admission includes entry to both the zoo and botanical garden.
Tips: Rides and attractions are accessible with an Explore More card.  Attractions range from 2 credits for the Spots & Stripes Railroad, Carousel, Farmyard, and Giraffe and Lorikeet feeding to 7 credits for the “Sky High Safari” Ropes Course.  Riverbanks Zoo offers a variety of membership options starting at $59 for individuals and $129 for families.  All memberships include a number of free guest passes and one or more visits to Lights Before Christmas.  If you’re looking for a slightly less expensive option, the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is $15 for adults, and $11 for children and seniors, or $52 for a family of four.  The world’s largest natural habitat zoo, it is actually larger and closer to Charlotte than Riverbanks Zoo, but many families find Riverbanks more easily walkable.

Discovery Place Science: $94

Discovery Place Science has different areas for kids of all ages to explore
Discovery Place Science has different areas for kids of all ages to explore

Where: 301 North Tryon Street, Charlotte
When: 10:30 – 4:30 Friday – Monday
Cost: Online – adults $23, children (2-13) $18, seniors (60+) $20; walkup – adults $28, children $23, seniors $25; children under 2 are free.  Your first hour of parking in the DP Science Garage is free; after that, it will cost you $12.
Essential Info: An innovative, hands-on museum that encourages both scientific exploration and creativity, Discovery Place science has a range of permanent and rotating exhibits focused on the natural world and physical science as well as “Thinker Space” that sparks creativity and imagination.
Tips:  Assuming you spend more than an hour at the museum, a family of four will spend at least $94 to visit Discovery Place Science.  If you’re planning on visiting more than once, consider a membership. At $150, a single-museum family membership will pay for itself in just two visits.  Shell out just a bit more up front, and visit two Discovery Place museums all year long for $180 or all three museums for $200.  Members receive unlimited visits as well as a host of other benefits, including early access to the museums, discounted IMAX tickets, invitations to members-only events, discounted admission for guests and discounted parking at Discovery Place Science.  Educators also receive discounted membership with an NC or SC teaching license or homeschool certificate.

Carowinds: $205

Camp Snoopy features rides exclusively for younger children at Carowinds
Camp Snoopy features rides exclusively for younger children at Carowinds

Where: 14523 Carowinds Blvd, Charlotte
When: Hours vary, check website
Cost: daily rates start at $45 and increase on weekends and other peak days; parking is $25
Essential Info: Known as “The Carolinas Premier Entertainment Destination,” Carowinds is home to nearly 60 world-class rides, Carolina Harbor Waterpark live entertainment, Camp Snoopy, and downhome Carolina cuisine.
Tips: If you plan to visit Carowinds more than once, you’ll definitely want to consider a season pass!  Season passes are currently $130 per person, and they include admission to the park through the end of the calendar year, including Scarowinds, Winterfest and other events.  Season passes also include free parking, which means a season pass pays for itself in just two visits.  Register your your 3-5 year old for a Pre-K pass online before September 5, and they will receive FREE admission for the entirety of the season.  Note that Pre-K passes must be activated in person at the main entrance by September 5 with a valid passport or birth certificate that shows the child’s age.  Note that meals average $15+ in the park, and drinks are an additional cost; frequent visitors may benefit from adding an all season meal or drink plan to their season pass.

Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge's indoor waterpark is home to 11 slides and 4 pools
Great Wolf Lodge’s indoor waterpark is home to 11 slides and 4 pools

Where: 10175 Weddington Road, Concord
When: Waterpark hours are generally 10:00 am – 8:00 pm, but check the website to confirm
Cost: $50 per person for day passes to the waterpark, kids 2 and under are free
Essential Info: Located just 20 minutes north of Charlotte, Great Wolf Lodge is known for its indoor water park featuring 11 waterslides, four pools and more.
Tips: Great Wolf Lodge has dry land fun to offer as well: mini golf, a ropes course, bowling, an arcade – even a Build a Bear Workshop and gold mining.  Visit their website for deals and special offers; you can also occasionally find deals on Groupon.  Depending on the size of your family, you may find that you can reserve a room for a night for only a little more than the cost of day passes.

US National Whitewater Center: $286

Where: 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte
When: open dawn to dusk daily, check website for hours for specific activities
Cost: One-day all access passes are $75 for adults and $65 for children.  Single activity passes range from $27 for climbing to $55 for rafting.
Essential Info: This world-class 1300-acre outdoor center located on the Catawba River has something for everyone: whitewater rafting, flatwater and whitewater kayaking and stand up paddleboarding, trails for mountain biking, running and hiking, jumps, climbing, yoga, and ropes courses.
Tips: There is no fee required to enter the Whitewater Center, so anyone is welcome to visit, explore and observe (although parking will cost you $6).  The Whitewater Center frequently plays host to popular events, concerts and races, so make sure to check their events calendar before you visit.

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her eight-year-old daughter Hannah and her six-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: