In the last year, my family has walked with dinosaurs, explored hidden pathways in secret gardens, saddled up and taken countless pony rides and scaled a ropes course to a crashed plane, all without leaving Utah County, or even Lehi for that matter.

We’ve milked a cow, petted a goat, put on puppet shows and smelled the flowers, proverbially and literally. We’ve learned about dozens of kinds of bugs, had the magical experience of dancing with butterflies and built a tower that felt like it reached the sky. We conquered our fears of so many things and felt bursts of excitement as we stared through waterfalls, fed hundreds of eager fish and got literally blown away in tornado speed gales of wind.

Now, with only about a week left in the second month of the year, it’s safe to say 2020 is already flying by, and we find ourselves scrambling to keep up and make even more meaningful memories as a family, and part of that includes renewing our Thanksgiving Point membership.

A solid truth we hold dear is that life certainly doesn’t have to be busy to be beautiful, but with timelines and deadlines, technology and trifle, paving the way for some set, unplugged time as a family has been one of the greatest decisions we’ve made. After toying around with temporary rec center memberships, amusement passes and regular trips to local parks and museums, in 2018 we made the leap to a Thanksgiving Point membership, and all because of unlimited pony rides.

We’d been to Farm Country at Thanksgiving Point a handful of times before, and the thing my little people always loved the most was climbing astride a horse of varying size for several laps around a small corral, where they’d smile, wave, blow kisses or even just look stoically ahead with a shimmer of pride in their eyes.

Living in Provo, we’d initially decided the distance was too far to justify the cost of a full membership, but on a warm spring afternoon, with the farm nearly to ourselves, 25 minutes seemed like a lot less time when compared to the joy of feeding goats, taking a lap or two around the area on a horse-drawn wagon and marveling at a peacock with glamorous tail on full display. We did the mental math of how much we’d need to go to justify the cost and just dove in, never looking back.

What started as a love of unlimited pony rides soon blossomed into so much more, and we’ve become seasoned explorers who now find even more joy in bringing friends and family to appreciate the adventure. With two years under our belts, here are some of our favorite ways to put our membership passes to use:

The more the merrier

Our first year of membership at Thanksgiving Point found us regularly utilizing our discount benefits to bring friends and family on our adventures. At sometimes over $20 a ticket, visiting some of the attractions there can get costly quickly, and our family membership allowed us to also get a 50-percent discount for any guest. As fun as it was to watch my little ones delve into the world around them without inhibition, it was even more enjoyable to see them introducing their friends to their favorite things, and having a few extra adults on hand for our own adventures.

This led to a second year of membership as Bonus Family members. Though the cost has raised a bit in the last year, it’s still just $100 more than a regular family membership and allows two free guests on each visit, which was even more enjoyable, as we could easily invite friends to join us without worrying about the extra cost. I would say honestly that one of the biggest pluses of a membership has been regular access to a really incredible local resource along with the ability to share it with our friends, from the Tulip Festival to the early, exciting weeks of the Butterfly Biosphere. Now we try and go regularly on playdates at Thanksgiving Point, either bringing friends as guests, or going with other member friends.

Quick savings

Other than Farm Country, which has admission set at $10 for adults and children alike, the rest of Thanksgiving Point’s venues have tickets priced at $15 for children and $20 for adults for a single-day visit, with seasonal events, such as the Tulip Festival, adding to the cost. It doesn’t take many visits to add up to the cost of a membership, and a huge plus we often enjoyed cashing in on was the 10-percent discount available to members for dining, special events and more. With so many options of places to visit, it didn’t take long for us to get our money’s worth in fun.

So much to do, so much time

The Thanksgiving Point campus includes Farm Country, which is a real, working farm, the Museum of Ancient Life, the Butterfly Biosphere, the Museum of Natural Curiosity and Ashton Gardens. One of our favorite parts of our visits over the last two years has been the flexibility in finding something everyone wants to do, switching between venues if the little ones need a change of pace, or introducing our comrades to multiple places that we love all in one day, without the pressure of “getting our money’s worth” out of a single-day ticket, or worrying about multiple admissions. As the seasons change, so do the venues, with insect exhibits continually changing at the Biosphere, the farm adapting to what changes in weather mean for the animals and plants involved, and the gardens switching over to a variety of different festivals. There are also regular activities for all ages and a variety of fun events that are either included with membership or discounted accordingly.

A few of our favorite things

Aside from the most obvious favorite thing — pony rides — we’ve come across a few of our favorite ways to play at Thanksgiving Point that we’re happy to share.

Ashton Gardens during any time of year is absolutely riveting, but one of our favorite times to go is in the week before the Tulip Festival, while the flowers are already creating a vivid display but the crowds aren’t so overpowering. A membership benefit is 10 percent off of rentals at the garden as well, so we’ve found endless fun in spending around $30 on some visits with friends to take a golf cart for a spin. Though they can’t go in any of the actual gardens, there are plenty of available pathways they can traverse, and it’s really quite exhilarating! Other days we’ll go and specifically just visit one or two specific gardens, or even attend during an event for the extra activities it allows.

When it comes to the Museum of Ancient Life, the entire family has found fun exploring the same exhibits by looking for 13 cleverly hidden miniature gnomes hiding throughout the museum, some painted, some figurines. Though some are easier to find than others, for many it takes a well-trained eye to spot the minute buggers, and it’s become a point of pride to take note of every one we discover. Even the littles can join in on the fun, with regularly placed seasonal objects and a rotating visiting exhibit. Though we’ve only found all the gnomes once, and with some help from a friend, it’s still a pretty fun experience traipsing through the land of the dinos and digging for fossils or learning about erosion.

The Museum of Natural Curiosity is an easy favorite for the kids, and usually the bane of my existence because it’s so easy to lose track of them in all the exhibits! When we explore the downstairs areas we usually have a designated adult to keep tabs on the children as they adventure through the crazy amount of ropes and climbing available, but we also love testing our knowledge in some of the activity rooms or playing with the projector games that rotate on the floor.

Highlights include several enclosed areas for imaginative play, an entire section devoted to water fun (sometimes a change of clothes is a good idea after) and an outdoor area that’s large enough you could spend an entire day just exploring that, with caves, gardens, a hedge maze, trails, fish and playground equipment that can engage even the most unenthusiastic of explorers. Just be willing to let out your inner child, and maybe treat yourself afterward to 10 percent off the delicious Monte Cristo sandwich.

Speaking of eating, a hidden gem is the Brick Canvas Cafe, located in the Brick Canvas building behind the Biosphere. Brick Canvas is home to a spa, fitness, salon and more, and is a little off the beaten path, but the dining alone made it worth the trek.

The Butterfly Biosphere opened midway through our membership, and it’s been a family favorite ever since, with a fun learning space and book nooks, a multi-level playground with areas for all ages, rotating insect exhibits, creature showcases and, of course, the Biosphere itself. Prepare yourself for some serious heat and humidity, leave behind loose clothing and remember to look but don’t touch as you enjoy hundreds of beautiful butterflies soaring through the air. The butterflies are most active during the day, but there’s something to be said about the lack of human traffic at night.

Finally, Farm Country is always a big hit, with goats, cows, bunnies, ponies and chickens galore, not to mention a recently revamped play area, opportunities to feed the critters, and did I mention PONY RIDES? Plus, at 5 p.m. daily you can help milk a cow. Life goals right there.

Family fun

Regardless of how you decide to play, our favorite thing about visiting Thanksgiving Point regularly has been exploring as a family. Putting down phones (except for the occasional pictures), and getting out without having to worry about keeping regular room in the budget for activities. When family comes to visit, we can share those experiences with them, or if it’s been a really long week and we just need to get away, we hop in the car and head out, even if it’s just for an hour or two.

I’m a big fan of finding what works for you and your family, but I’m also a really big fan of the learning and growth we’ve been able to experience as we delve into science, history and nature at one of Utah County’s biggest attractions.