Nearly every form of family entertainment has ascended to luxury status.At least when it comes to price. A matinee showing of Dreamworks Animation's Bee Movie, for instance, set us back $50, including tickets for four people and food ($7 per child, plus one adult). Take the kids to a pro sports game and prepare to hemorrhage more than $400 in about two hours. A Broadway show? Cough up a stack of Benjamins. At those prices, it's no wonder so many U.S. families rack up huge credit-card debt. When my family hits the movies, we pay to have a business try to sell us something else -- from ads on popcorn bags to endless trailers before the show even starts. I filled up the kids with grilled-cheese sandwiches and potato chips before we caught the Bee Movie showing, hoping to curb their appetites. I've shamelessly ignored the "no outside food" policy for years, lugging extra water and juice in my purse, to quiet pleas for a reload on the $5 soda. But we ran up our snack bar tab in a flash at an AMC Theater, where a small popcorn and soda cost is $5 a pop. A weak-moment promise of nachos that I made on the way there stung me for $7, raising the total damage to $21. Bring a child's friend, or go to an evening flick, and the costs skyrocket. The Simpsons Movie, last summer's big-screen edition of the News Corp. ( NWS)/Fox Entertainment Group television show, was a $100 affair. The quality of family entertainment should match the price -- at least in theory -- but that's not often the case. I'll pay to see an animated film from Disney ( DIS)'s Pixar or Dreamworks so my children will share a common experience with their classmates -- and because they're usually creative and witty productions (although not necessarily worth $50 for a matinee). But trailers for Sony Pictures Are We There Yet? and Daddy Day Camp practically begged us to wait for the DVDs.
Sticking It to UsWe enjoy a New Jersey Devils hockey game now and then, but always wait for promotions, such as Scout Night, to lessen the otherwise $325 price tag for a five-person family to sit in nose-bleed territory.
The discounted tickets are usually about half price, but we can't pick our seats. They always require a heart-pumping climb to the top of the arena, from where we always spot hundreds of empty seats in better locations. One time, we had to crane our necks to watch the action. My husband and I take turns running the stairs for the kids' bathroom breaks. Then we haul expensive, lousy food up the same path. A barebones lunch costs at least $40. The $12 parking fee always galls me, because the arena is located in New Jersey's massive Meadowland Sports and Entertainment Complex, and I can't park anywhere else.