Spring break ideas for kids
The month of March has been seen a crush of visitors to Florida for spring break, and now it's finally Pinellas kids' turn for a week off, followed by Pasco kids the first week of April. The kids want to play on the sand as much as the college coeds do. But where to find the best kid-friendly beaches for spring break? Where can we go that won't cost us a mortgage payment? And how about some cool camp ideas for those of us who can't get the week off work? We have you covered, Mommas. Read on for some ways to cure spring fever:
Be an old-school tourist
Forget the high-priced theme parks. Instead, check out some of these down-market attractions:
Gatorland, Kissimmee: How can you resist a swamp full of 125 alligators? You can buy turkey dogs to feed them by hand (from a safe distance, naturally). There's also an aviary, petting zoo and four new residents: rare giant leucistic alligators, known for their ivory skin and piercing blue eyes. Gatorland is off I-4 at 14501 S Orange Blossom Trail near Orlando. Admission is $24.99 for adults and $16.99 for children ages 3 to 12, but you can save $3 if you buy tickets online at gatorland.com.
Sponge Docks, Tarpon Springs: The Greek fishing village makes a great half-day or full-day trip. Start off the day at Spongeorama, which has a free sponge museum and a '50s-vintage film on sponge diving history. Hokey? Sure, but the kids can see real sponge divers at work. Take a 90-minute sightseeing tour by boat for $17.99 for adults, $9.95 for kids under 10. Then, stroll funky streets lined with shops where you can buy candy, spices, ice cream, pastries and some sponges to take home. Then have lunch at a Greek restaurant.
Dinosaur World, Plant City: Located just off Interstate 4 in Plant City, Dinosaur World, right, is populated by great fiberglass dinosaurs (from the Plaster Age?) and recently underwent an expansion and remodel that includes a new museum, gift shop, playground area and lifelike dinosaurs that move. It is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission is $14.95 for adults, $11.95 for children ages 3 to 12 and $12.95 for seniors. Parking is free. Pets on leashes are welcome. 5145 Harvey Tew Road, Plant City; (813) 717-9865; dinosaurworld.com.
Best kid-friendly beaches
Pinellas: Mom favorites include Fort De Soto (don't forget to stop at the fort where kids can climb on a real cannon, shown at left), Pass-a-Grille, Gulfport and Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs for plentiful restrooms, playgrounds and a low-key scene. Clearwater Beach is a favorite, too, because of its concessions, full-time lifeguards, picnic areas, playgrounds and showers, but be aware that this one has a lot of college parties roaring during spring break.
Hillsborough: Picnic Island has a long swimming beach, canoe launch, children's playgrounds and picnic shelters galore, if you don't mind driving past gasoline silos and other gritty industrial buildings at the south end of Commerce Street in Port Tampa to get to it.
Pasco: Pasco's gulf waters are kind of shallow, which is nice for little ones, and many folks enjoy Robert K. Rees Memorial Park, formerly known as Green Key, in New Port Richey and Hudson Beach. They both have play areas and are quite kid-friendly. And the Anclote River Park in Holiday offers a beach, picnic area, a playground and restrooms.
Fun while you work
Can't get the week off work but want your kids to have a memorable break? Check out the spring-break camps offered at MOSI, Tarpon Springs theater camp, the Pinellas Science Center, Busch Gardens, the Largo Cultural Center and most city and county community centers.
What's happening this week?
- Adventure Island: This month marked the opening of the water park for the season, starting at 10 a.m. You can save $5 if you buy a single-day ticket online for $39.99 for adults, $35.99 for a child 3-9. Or get the Weekday Pass, which gives you unlimited weekday access to Adventure Island from March 12 through Sept. 3 for $49.99 for adults and $45.99 for children. And this summer the park has added extended hours, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., from June 11 through Aug. 12. 10001 McKinley Drive, Tampa. (813) 987-5600; adventureisland.com.
- Chasto Fiesta continues through March 31 with music daily and a Native American Pow Wow, as well as a carnival midway, festival food, vendors and other events that raise money for numerous local nonprofits. Held in and around Sims Park in downtown New Port Richey. Free admission.
- Sunset Cinema at Pier 60 : Bring blankets, low lawn chairs or towels to plop on Clearwater Beach and watch free movies. Friday is Happy Feet 2 (PG); Saturday is Footloose (PG-13). Concessions for sale. No alcohol. Shows start around dusk. Pier 60, 10 Pier 60 Drive, Clearwater Beach. (727) 434-6060.
- Saturday (March 31) is $5 Day at MOSI. Everyone is admitted to MOSI's exhibit galleries for just $5 the visting DEA: Drug Awareness Day, exhibit will havelive music by local bands. Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa, 33617
When is spring break?
The spring break schedules are all over the place at local schools and colleges, and Easter isn't until April 8. Here's the rundown:
--St. Petersburg College: This week
--USF and Hillsborough County public schools: March 12-16
--Pinellas County schools: March 26-30 Pasco County schools: April 2-6
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— Sharon Kennedy Wynne