Free and cheap family fun -- holiday edition
You can get your thrills away from the holiday hooplah, but if you want to get into the season, here are some events to get you out of the house and in the spirit.
Gymboree Play and Music of North Tampa is having a free Holiday Party and Toy Drive for all members from 3-5 p.m. Friday. Bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to Metropolitan Ministries. For information, call (813) 264-1123.
Sims Park/Orange Lake in New Port Richey is the scene for Main Street Holidays, a festival that includes the downtown merchants "Shop 'n Stroll," an Arts and Crafts Village, kids activities, a carnival and midway, pony rides and lots of food, entertainment and exhibits. The Holiday Street Parade will be at 7 p.m. Saturday in downtown New Port Richey. Check out the free festivities at Bank Street and Grand Boulevard from Friday through Sunday.
Pull up a blanket or lawn chairs for a free showing of the classic comedy A Christmas Story on Friday on the lawn of the Riverwalk at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. No coolers, but you can buy movie snacks and beverages on-site. Bring a nonperishable food item or a new unwrapped toy to benefit Metropolitan Ministries and receive a free small popcorn and soft drink. The movie starts at 8 p.m. at 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa.
Get a picture of your pooch with “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Paws” for $5 at the Pinellas County Animal Service's open house on Saturday. Photos will be taken from 10 a.m. to noon; proceeds benefit the Animal Welfare Trust Fund. The open house also includes exhibits, tours, refreshments and special rates on adoptions and rabies shots from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 12450 Ulmerton Road in Largo. You can also have your pet take a photo with Santa at International Plaza in Tampa from 8-10 a.m. Sunday.
Looking to do a little holiday shopping without the kids around? The Zoo School at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is offering a "Drop and Shop" program for children ages 3-8 (must be potty trained) from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Dec. 20 and 21. The one-day program led by a Zoo School instructor will feature a zoo hike, animal encounter and enrichment, visit to see the reindeer, holiday craft, hot cocoa and cookies. The cost is $30 for one child and $25 for each additional child per day. Pre-registration is required. For information or to register, check here or call (813) 935-8552 ext. 232.
Winter Wonderland sounds more like something you would find up north but it will be in Clearwater through Dec. 21. The 16th annual event features pony rides, a bouncy house and giant slide, a petting zoo, cookie decorating and, of course, pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus. There is a small fee for some rides and the photos. And during the wonderland, bring a non-perishable food item or unwrapped toy to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and needy families in the area. Find the fun at Drew Street and Fort Harrison Avenue.
You'll love a parade in St. Pete Beach from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The bands, floats, dancers and Santa and the Mrs. step off from the St. Pete Beach Community Center at 7701 Boca Ciega Drive. And the Westchase Community in Tampa will have Santa's "Pre-Flight" Parade and Celebration from 2-7:30 p.m. The parade will end at West Park Village Center where there will be a party and tree lighting.
For a more historic holiday celebration, go to the Christmas Jamboree at the Environmental Studies Area at Boyd Hill, 2900 31st St. S, St. Petersburg. The free jamboree will feature hay rides, tree climbing, old-time games, carols throughout the day and a craft show.
Want to throw a little learning into the holiday fun? Check out Science with Santa, an event for kids and their parents that teaches about winter weather and features a snow machine and snow play on Saturday at the Science Center of Pinellas County, 7701 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Kids will make an ornament with Mrs. Claus and have a pizza lunch and dessert with Santa. Advance reservation is required and deadline is Friday. Fee: members -- $10 for parent and child, $5 for each additional child; non-members -- $15 parent and child, $8 for each additional child.
Finally, on Sunday at the Treasure Island Yacht and Tennis Club, the annual Christmas Boat Parade and Holiday Celebration will cast off at 6:20 p.m. Bring a new toy to the Recreation Department at City Hall or Treasure Bay on Paradise Boulevard by Friday to receive a pass to watch the parade from a special spot. The toys will be donated to the Christmas Toy Shop Project Inc.
Now there are plenty of opportunities to do some good this holiday season. You can donate a toy or canned good and get a discount admission or free service; or you can attend a fundraiser for a great cause. And of course there are plenty of other events all weekend long to choose from. Whatever you do, get out and enjoy the season with your family.
-- Sherry Robinson