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Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Free (and fun) places to throw a kid's birthday party



cheapparty.jpgOur colleague Katherine Snow Smith, the original Rookie Mom columnist, has a great article today on places to hold a kid's birthday party that are free or nearly so. And best of all, they are terrific unique ideas for a party.

Among them:

Southeastern Guide Dogs Southeastern Guide Dogs' 23-acre campus where hundreds of dogs are raised and trained is just over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Palmetto. It offers free "puppy hugging" every day from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. except Thursdays and Sundays. "Some children, instead of asking for presents for their birthday, ask for donations for the school. They bring in a toy for the dogs or shampoo," said Jennifer Bement, Southeastern Guide Dogs spokeswoman. There are usually 10 to 15 puppies in the kennel and about 100 dogs on campus in various stages of training. Kids can also walk older dogs after they finish playing with the puppies.
CONTACT (941) 729-5665,; 4210 77th St. E, Palmett.

Kilwins John's Pass Larry Butterfield, owner of Kilwins candy and ice cream store at John's Pass, welcomes up to 20 children at a time to tour his 2,000-square-foot business and see what goes into making all those sweet treats. "We get a little stepladder and let them dip their own pretzel in chocolate," he said. "And I try to have one of my cooks here so they can see us actually make fudge." Sometimes they dip an apple in caramel and take it to go or Butterfield gives each child a free scoop of ice cream.
CONTACT  (727) 397-9800,; 160 John's Pass Boardwalk, Madeira Beach.

Tampa International Airport The airport offers several tours  to choose from, including a scavenger hunt for participants to search the airport for 31 items in 45 minutes. The airfield tour offers a behind-the-scenes look at air cargo, the fire training facility, the fuel farm and maintenance hangars. Other tours teach kids about the airport's public art, its history, security, structure and design. The airport also offers PowerPoint presentations on African-American aviation history and women in aviation. You can ask a tour guide to discuss aviation-related careers on any tour.
CONTACT: Go to and click on About TPA then Guest Services for more information.

Publix  Going to the grocery store may seem a mundane chore to parents and kids, but when they get a behind-the-scenes look it can be a pretty cool place. Publix offers free tours for school groups. If your child wants to invite the whole class this is your ticket. Kids will start out laughing when they have to put on required hair nets, above. (You don't even have to buy party hats.) What they do on the tour is up to the individual store manager, but activities can include watching someone make and bake bread, learning the origins of local and international produce and a primer on cutting beef. Kids are really wowed when the butcher puts on a protective glove made of wire mesh and shows how a sharp knife can't get through it.
CONTACT: Call your local store for more information.

Halloween in March? Most kids love dressing up and trick-or-treating, so it's a thrill if they get to do it an extra time for their friend's birthday instead of with that tag-along sister in the Dora costume. This inexpensive birthday party takes a little more planning than the others but it's worth it. Buy some candy or trinkets from the dollar store. Ask a few neighbors if they can give out treats that you provide during a one-hour window. Older neighbors without children in the house will think this is cute (and a bit crazy) and enjoy being a part of the game. Have party guests arrive in costume then take them around to the predesignated houses. Cars will slow and neighbors will gawk when they see a group of kids trick-or-treating in any month besides October. When you're done collecting, go home and let them eat their haul while they watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. You can also get an older sibling to tell fortunes or read palms. If you want to go all out, decorate a room in your house like a haunted house.

The only downside to these party ideas, Smith notes, is some parents might resent you for hosting such a great affair that costs so little.

For more money-saving ideas, like the Facebook page at Here's the Deal Tampa Bay; or on Twitter at @HeresTheDealFL.

Follow us on Twitter @WhoaMomma

[Last modified: Monday, September 26, 2011 3:34pm]


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