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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: GoCards from Smart Destinations

I love nothing more than saving money on my vacations. It makes me giddy to see how much I would have spent and the actual total for my trip getting lower and lower. I don’t care how long it takes me to find discounts, but lucky for me Smart Destinations makes it super easy to save big and do a ton on your trip. They offer GoCards (and GoCard Select) for 9 U.S. cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Oahu, Orlando, San Diego and San Francisco. They bundle a bunch of travel activities and attractions into one card to help you save money, do more and prepay for your entertainment, so you don’t have to worry about how to pay for each thing you do once you get there.


GoCards allow you to skip the ticket queues and go straight to the turnstiles at most attractions. You present your card and either are admitted entry right away or get an admission ticket to use on your way in. I was provided with 2 two-day Los Angeles GoCards and we had more than enough things to choose from on our trip. In fact, there were so many options, we had to make some decisions about what we definitely wanted to do and what we could do without.


We planned to spend one day in Hollywood and another day on the coast – in between our theme park days and other activities – so we chose attractions in both places and set out to save as much money as possible (even if these things weren’t paid for by us). The more you use the cards, the more you save. Had I not been provided promotional tickets for this review, I would have purchased the cards on my own to do these things.

Day 1 – Los Angeles/Hollywood

We drove to Hollywood early in the morning to take in breakfast at the famous Mel’s Drive-In (not really a drive-in) after reading about how many diners enjoyed the morning selections. I also had a Groupon. Then we followed it up with:


Movie Star Homes Tour by LA City Tours – These tours are great, as they are in small groups (around 10), so you have time to ask questions and also aren’t crammed in a bus with a ton of other tourists and not able to get photos of what is being talked about. Not only did we see some amazing homes of stars, like Simon Cowell’s palatial estate, but we also passed by famous Hollywood landmarks like the Viper Room and places where celebrities have been spotted, like the El Pollo Loco where Brad Pitt once worked. This tour is generally $49 per person.


Tour of the Dolby Theater (formerly the Kodak Theater) – The Dolby is the permanent home to the Emmys and, during the two months they aren’t setting up and taking apart things for that, Cirque du Soleil. Right now they are performing Isis, a movie-inspired performance. What more would you expect from a theater in Hollywood? Tickets are normally $15. The tour is 30-60 minutes long, depending on how many questions are asked, and you learn about who gets invites to the Emmy’s, security, the red carpet and VIP areas. We showed our GoCards at the box office and got two admission tickets.

Eric making a deal he can't refuse
We had afternoon tea reservations at 3:30 at the London West Hollywood and then we returned to Hollywood and Highland to visit Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Usually, I avoid it because it seems terrifying. I figured since it was virtually free it wouldn’t be the worst decision in the world. At first, it was scary, but then I got into it and it was really fun. Eric thought it was hilarious when I ran away from the wax figures. Regular admission fees are $30 per person and even though it was a few minutes past the 5:30 pm cut-off, they still let us use our cards.

By now it was getting dark, so we checked out the hand and footprints in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater, appreciated the lit-up front of the El Capitan Theater owned by Disney and then went back to Anaheim.

Day 2 – California Coast


Several days later we headed to the beaches, since we always skip going to them when we are in California. This time we had many, many days to fill and we felt we should do it at least this once. Our first stop was in Long Beach at the Queen Mary. We got there super early – we were so used to everything taking forever to drive to – and we had a leisurely breakfast at the cafĂ© on board. When we went to get our tickets for the tour we were told that our cards didn’t work.


Unfortunately, we weren’t told that our promotional passes were only good for consecutive dates (normally they are valid for two weeks from your first use), but on the plus side, Smart Destinations’ customer service is amazing and friendly and they let me know that even though our cards were deactivated, we could still use them by calling at each destination and letting the rep talk to the ticket office. We were a bit behind schedule at this point, so we left and headed to Venice Beach. If we had stayed, the Queen Mary tour tickets would have usually been $25 each.

After a nice stroll along the Venice Canals and the beach, we headed to Santa Monica where we used our cards and customer service to get wristbands for Pacific Park. We rode the only solar-powered Ferris wheel in the world, the only West Coast steel oceanfront rollercoaster on a pier and other fun rides. Unlimited ride bracelets are generally $23.


Because there was a party at Pacific Park that night, we skipped going to the aquarium and used our GoCards and customer service to get seats on the Santa Monica Hop-on, Hop-off Bus. If you’ve been reading Shereen Travels Cheap for any amount of time, you know how I’m obsessed with these. Instead of paying $40 for each of us, our tickets were included with our cards. We got a lovely ride on an open-top double-decker bus along the coast and through Brentwood, Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills. The bus has running commentary along the route and you can stop off at a number of places along the way.


Even with the misunderstanding of how the promotional cards worked, the GoCards were super easy to use and gave us quick entry into every attraction we went to. Had the traffic into Hollywood not been so slow on Day 1, we also would have squished in the Hollywood Museum, which would have run $15 for regular entry. The GoCards Los Angeles allows you to gain entry into 39 attractions in total. A two-day pass costs $110 and we used $157 worth of attractions. If things had gone as planned (as if they ever do), we would have saved $92, instead of $47, but even so we saved 30% off the regular cost of all the attractions we did.

GoCards are great budget traveler take-alongs. They help you do more on your trips and stay within your vacation allowance at the same time. Who doesn’t love that? If you’re going to any of the cities where they are offered, you should definitely look into getting them for your travel party. You can get them for children, too, at a discounted rate.

More information
Where you can buy them: SmartDestinations online
How much they cost: varied
Other specs: GoCard and GoCard Select available for Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Oahu, Orlando, San Diego and San Francisco.

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Disclosure: I was provided two GoCards for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% mine.

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