The original post appeared on CNN. Curated by Norman Lee
You know the drill. Pony up a little (or a lot) more scratch at America’s top theme parks, sports stadiums, wildlife sanctuaries, lounges and museums and you can expect a different deal. The VIP deal.
But where and when does it pay to go VIP?
You should always take those three letters with a grain of salt, but sometimes they really do sweeten the pot, provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience or just save your sanity.
Here are 12 VIP options in nine categories that are worth the extra cash.
If money was no object, who wouldn’t do the whole destination amusement park thing differently?
As in, no lines anywhere, front row seating everywhere and a personal park operative to maneuver you through the madness.
The Disney World Premium VIP Tour (from $315 per hour) is about as close to that parallel universe as it gets in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and beyond.
The package includes a door-to-door resort guide overseeing your own personally customized, multipark itinerary — with all the line-skipping, special-seating and headache-saving that groups of up to 10 can pack into six hours.
The Six Flags VIP Tour (from $199) also offers fully customized tours for private groups, assigning a hands-on guide to keep you oriented and on-task with preferred everything from parking to show and restaurant seating to front-of-line privileges on most rides.
Major League baseball
Unless you’re about to be tackled by security at midfield, stepping onto the actual turf at one of the world’s most venerable sports venues is strictly reserved for pro athletes and umps, right?
Not if you book The Wrigley Field Experience (from $25,000) for a private VIP event.
Then the hallowed home of the Chicago Cubs, the nation’s second-oldest ballpark, is yours for the experiencing at home-plate level.
Customized events let you tour “The Friendly Confines,” play ball right on the field with accompanying scoreboard and sound system, and even take batting practice with legends of the game.
Will they play the Seventh Inning Stretch song for you? You bet.
Not that jockeying for position to glimpse gorillas among the weekend zoo crowd isn’t a privilege in its own right. It might even inspire some comparisons with the guy standing beside you.
Just know that there are premium animal encounters to be had at some of America’s most popular wildlife parks and attractions from coast to coast.
Left Coast: San Diego Zoo’s Exclusive VIP Experience (from $599) provides a customized, intimate journey through one of the world’s most famous zoos.
The tour includes up-close animal encounters, a special lunch and access to off-exhibit areas tailored to your zoological hankerings.
Right Coast: SeaWorld Orlando’s Private VIP Tour (from $299) lets guests dodge crowds for intimate feeding sessions with dolphins, sea lions and stingrays — plus jump to the front of every ride line and enjoy reserved seating at live shows — before their own feeding at Sharks Underwater Grill.
Hollywood studios have been inviting folks for behind-the-scenes peeks since the silent era, when Universal boss Carl Laemmle came up with the idea of selling bleacher seats during shoots for 25 cents a pop.
While the standard 45-minute Universal Studios Tour is more or less a warmup for the theme park, the Exclusive Universal Studios VIP Experience ($299) at the world’s largest movie and TV studio includes a personal park guide, VIP meal service, hours of front-of-line ride benefits and back-lot access to otherwise off-limits sound stages, props warehouses, costume departments and all those immortal exterior sets from your favorite old Jim Carrey and Michael J. Fox flicks.
Warner Bros. Studios is home of “Casablanca,” “Rebel without a Cause,” “Two and a Half Men” and the Warner Bros. VIP Tour($52), which whisks guests for more than two hours around the 100-acre lot of Hollywood’s oldest studio.
No two tours are the same here, because this is workingman’s Hollywood.
You’re seeing life on the lot as it plays out during the week without the aid of a theme park ride: through props departments, craft shops, sets of hit TV series and sound stages.
You love the American Museum of National History’s great Fossil Halls, the Earth and space section covering the universe’s 13-billion-year history and those fascinating human origins dioramas.
But you’d love it even more without all those other humans milling around.
Take it from Ben Stiller and Robin Willia … er, Theodore Roosevelt — New York’s natural history museum is an entirely different place outside regular public hours.
While the American Museum of Natural History’s VIP Tour ($500 for a group of up to five) can’t guarantee you’ll befriend Sacajawea or a T-Rex that fetches rib bones (that stuff only happens after sundown), the facility’s premier private tour (9-10 a.m., before doors officially open) walks you through the place like it’s your own.
Then, when all the regular guests arrive, you get pre-seating at the Space Show, IMAX viewing and access to special exhibits.
Tough to come up with a sequel as good as that.
Snagging any old seat to hear The Eagles crank out “Take It Easy” for the millionth time or watch Sting, LL Cool J, Ozzy Osbourne and Kiss strut on stage (no, not all together) means a call to TicketMaster.
Sitting front row at any of these upcoming summer concert tours, attending a pre-show party and doing a meet-and-greet photo op with some of these stars means a trip to VIP Nation.
The preferred concert seating company, specializing in premium VIP packages and rare access to your favorite musical artists, can probably help you get that special moment with Gene Simmons you’ve been waiting for all these years.
You can get the “private room” VIP treatment with great city views at any lofty restaurant worth its African salt-crusted sea bass.
But for the real gravity-defying haute dining experience you have to lose the walls, the floor and the windows and do Dinner in the Sky — a singular multicourse dining adventure that seats you and your closest 21 VIP friends or business associates at a table suspended up to 18 stories high by a specialized crane and equipment.
Developed by Europe-based Events in the Sky, the U.S.-authorized experience can be set up in virtually any 100-foot by 50-foot space accessible by a large truck.
Still miss the Rainbow Room?
Can you believe it? The World Series is just two months away and the Super Bowl is in less than half a year!
Welcome to the sports doldrums of late August and early September.
Is there a classic American sporting event happening somewhere at this time worth dropping a bundle on to experience in the most pampered manner possible?
Yes. In Flushing Meadows, New York, home of tennis’ U.S. Open.
There are four basic ways to experience the greatest Grand Slam tournament (if you’re not British, French or Australian) in racquet sports.
1. Not at all
2. In your living room, on ESPN
3. In the nosebleeds watching Serena Williams — or is that Roger Federer?
4. With a U.S. Open Supreme Package (from $700 up to $1,850), which includes VIP parking, loge level seating, breakfast in the Media Dining Room, exclusive dining access and a $200 U.S. Open Event Card for each guest.
Tao. Pure. Lavo. Moon. Mix. Rain. Hyde.
Do any — or all — of these syllables spell a brilliant time in Vegas to you?
If so, the V Card ($149.99) might just make it even smarter — allowing you to cut through long lines, escape crazy cover charges and score two-for-one drinks at some of the most happening venues all over the Vegas Strip.
Introduced last year on the heels of Vegas’ VIP-for-a-weekend “club crawl” services, the V Card lets frequent Vegas visitors check off 40-plus ultra lounges, nightclubs and all-hours pool parties over the course of several visits.
Or one really crazy weekend.