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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Free and cheap things to do with the kids this week



Our pants may be getting looser as we go back to heathy post-holiday eating, but how about our wallets? From the Gasparilla parade to Clown Day, to monster trucks to manatee love, there's lots of free and cheap things to do with your kids this weekend.

beads.jpgThe Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza on Saturday is the G-rated version of the grownup parade coming next week, sort of like comparing Disney and Las Vegas. They are both over the top, but there’s a lot less skin flashed at this one.
It can be a long day.  The big event is 3 to 6:30 p.m., followed by fireworks, but there are plenty of activities along the water in South Tampa, beginning with a bicycle safety rodeo at 11 a.m., to keep little ones occupied. Need some tips on getting the most out of the day? Read our guide here.

You can get up close to a monster truck for free at various locations today and Friday, in the run-up to Saturday's big show, Monster Jam. If you've never been, Monster Jam is a blast for the kids (and "big kids" known as Dad, too) as the mud flies and the metal is crunched as these behemoths crush lesser cars and even school buses. Look here for our guide to getting the most out of it.

The lovable sea cow is getting some extra props this weekend at the Florida Manatee Festival in Crystal River and Manatee Celebration Day in Tarpon Springs. This is the 24th year that Crystal River, home to a large colony of manatees drawn to the spring-fed water there, holds this two-day event. It includes fine arts and crafts, live entertainment, boat and kayak tours, car and boat shows, a beer and wine garden, manatee education, live music, a Jimmy Buffet sound-alike contest and children’s activities at 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. They ask a $3 donation, children free at U.S. 19 and Citrus Avenue. At Craig Park and the on-site Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum, 100 Beekman Lane, they will have a full day of activities on Saturday, including the film Water’s Journey: The Hidden Rivers of Florida, children’s crafts, meet and greet and book signing with St. Petersburg Times environmental reporter Craig Pittman (author of Manatee Insanity), puppet making, children’s story time and a manatee painting contest for kids. It’s free from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

They both have big snouts, clowns and trucks, and they will both be in abundance for Touch-A-Truck and Florida Clown Day at Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive. Kids will be able to climb on an assortment of vehicles while the Uptown Clowns are on hand to entertain the family. Limited on-site parking available, but there is a free shuttle from the Largo High parking lot, 410 Missouri Ave.

Former Bucs coach Tony Dungy is always good for drawing a crowd, but he’s bringing along the first-string quarterback of his household, his wife, Lauren, to sign their new children’s book, You Can Be a Friend. This is the first in the couple’s planned series of inspirational children’s books that remind kids of the importance of family, friends and self-confidence. The signing is at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Barnes & Noble in Carrollwood, 11802 N Dale Mabry Highway. Wristbands will be handed out at noon. The signing is free, but books are an additional cost.

If anything can draw a crowd to a blood drive, this cheekily named effort, There Will Be Blood, at Jannus Live should do it. The Florida Blood Services Bloodmobile will be there Saturday at 4 p.m. for a free concert featuring Mighty Mongo, Tres Bien, Jeremy Thomas Band, Geri X, Will Erickson and Paint the Town Red. Donate blood and get a free draft beer (after donating) and a T-shirt. Cash donations happily accepted from the squeamish at 16 Second St. N, St. Petersburg.

We’ve got 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers from across the country here. Ready? OK! The pepped-up athletes will be competing in the Orange Jam for awards in their respective all-star, school, recreation divisions and overall Grand Champion title. It’s free for spectators at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa.

seal.jpgWant to see more amazing photos like this one of a leopard seal? Paul Nicklen has plenty to show off. The photographer and marine biologist went on a three-month solo journey to the Arctic and captured a mysterious and sometimes deadly polar landscape. Join him at 7 p.m. Tuesday for Polar Obsession, part of the National Geographic Live Series at the Straz Center in Tampa. Tickets start at $25.50. (813) 229-7827.

This isn't free or cheap but we thought we should report that Gwazi at Busch Gardens has gotten  spiffy new cars. The wooden coaster at Busch Gardens will reopen with the new trains on Saturday. And you have extra incentive to ride it: special coupons for discounts on food or drink. Read more here.

Tampa Theatre has free movie to get ready for Billy Elliot the Musical, coming to the Straz Center Feb. 2-20. But you can see the movie that inspired it for free on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at the historical theater. There will be goodie bags for the first 50 guests, and everyone who comes will receive the opportunity to purchase specially priced tickets to see the musical when it comes to the Straz. Don’t know the plot line? The story follows Billy’s journey as he stumbles out of the boxing ring, into a ballet class and discovers his dream to dance. The musical, with music by Elton John, won 10 Tony awards in 2009.

See extreme skateboarding in person at the Maloof High Ollie Challenge on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Skatepark of Tampa, 4215 E Columbus Drive, Tampa. Skateboarders will be grabbing some big air in this competition. See who can fly the highest in the air while maintaining the illusion that their skateboard is stuck to their feet. Winner receives a free trip to Vegas to compete in the semi-finals and finals. Free for spectators. Phone: (813) 621-6793

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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[Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 5:51pm]


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