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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



eltoro.jpgMonster trucks roar into Raymond James Stadium, the kids take over Gasparilla and a new family area opens up in the botanical gardens. We have these and more family-friendly (and wallet-friendly) suggestions in this week's list of free and cheap things to do with your kids:

I have never hidden my fondness for Monster Jam. What's not to love? First there's the meet and greet with the drivers and pictures next to the trucks. It's an amazing sight when you see a grown man isn't as tall as one of those wheels. Then there's the tailgating with the other families before the show starts and then the metal crunching begins. Despite all the testosterone, it's a very G-rated, family friendly event. Monster Jam is so popular here, it's coming twice. First up is this Saturday and then again on Feb. 4. Why is it so popular? Because it’s loud and the trucks fly 200 feet into the sky and it’s awesome when Grave Digger soars through the air and lands on a motor home and it explodes like a confetti cannon. That's why. It's also affordable. Tickets start at $15.

The kids take over Gasparilla this Saturday. There's lots of beads and even the pirate Jose Gaspar himself this year at the Children's Gasparilla Parade. Never been? Check out our insider tips and the day's schedule here.

butterfly.jpgSaturday is the grand opening of the new USF Botanical Gardens Family Area. The new kid-friendly zone features a reading area, potting tables and monthly activities for garden visitors. Light refreshments will be served at this grand opening starting at noon at 12210 USF Pine Drive, Tampa. Free.

Everyone is invited to meet farm animals and sip on coffee or hot chocolate at Farm Interaction Day. Kids age 17 and younger can take horse rides around a wooded trail; rides are free for kids who bring an honor roll report card. It benefits the animals at Saddle Up Riding Club. Admission is $2; rides are $5. Saddle Up Riding Club, 6080 94th Ave., Pinellas Park.

Stop by the visiting Sea Monsters interactive exhibit at Largo's McGough Nature Park. See sea “monsters” with characteristics including venom, ultra vision, jaws and glow-in-the-dark abilities. Free. McGough Nature Park, 11901 146th St. N, Largo. (727) 518-3047. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays.

Join the Tampa Bay Sunday Bicycle Group for a Bicycle Ride and Clinic, including a 30 (or more) mile ride from the Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium through Carrollwood Village and North Tampa neighborhoods to the scenic and shady Upper Tampa Bay Trail. Return to the Emporium for refreshments and a short seminar on bicycle safety and maintenance. Free. 8 a.m. Sunday. Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium, 14407-B N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 236-8119.

Florida Championship Wrestling comes to Largo’s Minnreg Hall on Saturday with a special appearance by WWE Diva Layla, who will have a meet-and-greet with fans before the show starting at 6:30 p.m. There are eight matches scheduled for this event, which is official developmental territory for WWE. Bell time is 7:30 at 6340 126th Ave., Largo. Tickets start at $10 for kids and $20 for adults. See

The 87th annual college all-star football game known as the East West Shrine Game has moved to Tropicana Field in St. Pete for the first time. The game on Saturday is a showcase for up-and-coming NFL talent; this year’s roster includes players like Florida QB John Brantley and USF safety Jerrell Young. 4 to 7 p.m. $15.

Saturday's Bark for Life is a fun event for you and your canine to fight cancer and help raise money for a cure. Your dog must have all shots, be 6 months or older and on no more than a 6-foot leash. The event starts with a survivor walk and ends with a doggie parade on Shore Boulevard S. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society. 2 p.m. $10. Gulfport Recreation Center, 5730 Shore Blvd. S, Gulfport. (727) 320-2069.

Grab your muskets! With more than 1,500 re-enactors, 28 cannons, 60 horses and more than 50 sutlers, the Brooksville Raid Re-enactment is touted as Florida’s largest Civil War re-enactment. Admission includes food concessions, camp tours, chair rentals and music by the 97th Regimental String Band. 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. $8 adults, $4 ages 6-12, ages 5 and younger and scouts in uniform free. Sand Hill Scout Reservation, 11210 Cortez Blvd., Spring Hill. (352) 799-0129.

Check out this weekend's Suncoast Arts Fest at The Shops at Wiregrass (the proceeds fund arts education). The Wesley Chapel mall is playing host to more than 130 fine artists and crafters who will line Paseo Drive with mini galleries of their work. Activities include visual art demonstrations by Tim Decker, live music from regional artists, a kids interactive arts area and live chalk art creations. Proceeds benefit Arts for Kids in Pasco County. Free. It runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at The Shops at Wiregrass, 28211 Paseo Drive, Suite 100, Wesley Chapel.

This isn't free or cheap, but two endangered Malayan tiger brothers are moving into Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, so make them feel welcome at these feline festivities, including treats, music and special activities with Radio Disney AM-1380. Bonus: The first 200 guests will receive a plush tiger. It runs 9:30 a.m. to noon and is included with zoo admission: $23.95; $21.95 seniors; $18.95 kids 3-11. (813) 935-8552.

--Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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[Last modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 2:37pm]


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