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5 cheap things to do in Tampa Bay with your kids this summer

Three-year-old Marie Adams, center, leaps into the pool at the Highland Family Aquatic Center while her friend, Katie Kopcik, 3, left, waits her turn to cool off.

Douglas R. Clifford/tbt*

Three-year-old Marie Adams, center, leaps into the pool at the Highland Family Aquatic Center while her friend, Katie Kopcik, 3, left, waits her turn to cool off.

As June arrives, the great philosopher Alice Cooper reminds us: "Schooooool's out, for summer!"

So what are you going to do now that there's no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks?

We took a look around and came up with five recession-friendly things to do in Tampa Bay this summer with your kids. Now the only question you'll face is, "When are we gonna get there?"

Water parks on the cheap

Not that the big themed water parks aren't fabulous, but more city pools and county parks are getting in on the splash park game lately, and they provide a wallet-friendly way to get wet. One of our favorites is Largo's Highland Family Aquatic Center (largopools.com). It's a city splash park that has everything from a toddler splash area to a new double slide worthy of any jaded teen's attentions. It only costs $5-$8, but the times are set in two-hour blocks. Look for family nights where they offer package deals for up to 10 people for $23.

Just float

Ride an inner tube on the Rainbow River in Dunnellon or Ocala's Silver Springs, the setting for the cheesetastic 1954 horror movie Creature from the Black Lagoon. Most state parks are cheap to get into and rent a tube, usually $10 or less. See floridasprings.org for a good overview.

Make a little history

The Tampa Bay History Center opened its doors in January and the 60,000-square-foot museum offers treasures big and small. A series of neon-lit sculptures hang overhead (from Babe Ruth to a flamenco dancer) as kids learn the stories of the port, the Seminole Wars, sports franchises and festivals that keep us all stocked with beads. The second floor is perfect for kids, featuring an interactive map that takes you on a virtual tour of Tampa Bay landmarks, an exhibit that lets you make orange crate labels; and offers a chance to sit in the saddle and feel like you're really riding in a cattle drive. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, students and $7 for kids age 4-12. Call (813) 228-0097 or see tampabayhistorycenter.org.

Cheap(er) theme parks

Go second-tier and cheesy like Gatorland or Dinosaur World. Or take advantage of the Florida resident discount that gives you an annual pass to Disney's water parks for only $59. The catch is that it's for after 2 p.m. But a day at Downtown Disney, with the new Characters in Flight hot air balloon ride, and shopping options that double as play time — such as Lego Land or Mickey's Mart, where everything's under $10 — can pass the time in the morning. Just keep an eye on the weather report, since Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach pretty much shut down when the afternoon thunderstorms threaten.

Learn to paddle

You can rent a canoe to put the whole family in the same boat for less than $50. Ray's Canoe Hideaway in Bradenton rents their rides along the Manatee River; it's only $31.95 for a full day, $26.63 for four hours on a beautiful, gentle river. Call (941) 747-3909 or go to rayscanoehideaway.com. The Hillsborough River, just a half-hour drive from downtown Tampa, is one of the most scenic in Florida with 31 miles of designated canoe trails. Canoe Escape on Fowler Avenue offers rentals, transportation and paddling lessons for two- to six-hour trips for $47-$67 for a family of four. And don't worry about gators, they steer clear of humans. Call (813) 986-2067 or go to canoeescape.com.

Contributing: Sherry Robinson. For more parenting ideas and debates, check out tbt*'s parenting blog, Whoa, Momma! at blogs.tampabay.com/moms.

5 cheap things to do in Tampa Bay with your kids this summer 05/28/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2009 4:30am]

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