As June arrives, the great philosopher Alice Cooper reminds us, "Schooooool's out, for summa'." So what are you going to do now that there are no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks? We took a look around at our vacation-destination home front and have come up with five recession-friendly things to do with your kids this summer. Now the only question left to answer is, "When are we going to get there?"
1 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, above, (www.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 costs only $5-$8 to use it, but the catch is that the times are set in two-hour blocks, which is about the attention span of most kids. Look for family nights where they offer package deals for up to 10 people for $23.
2 Visit something new
The Tampa Bay History Center opened in January and the 60,000-square-foot museum offers treasures both 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 the festivals that keep us all stocked with beads. The second floor is just perfect for kids, featuring an interactive map that takes you on a virtual tour of bay area landmarks, an exhibit that lets you make orange crate labels; and a chance to sit in the saddle and feel like you are really riding in a cattle drive. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, students and $7 for kids age 4-12. For information, call (813) 228-0097 or go to www.tampabayhistorycenter.org.
3 Just float
Ride an inner tube on the Rainbow River, left, 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 www.floridasprings.org for a good overview.
4 Cheap(er) theme parks
Go second tier and cheesy like Gatorland, above, or Dinosaur World. Or take advantage of the Florida resident discount that gives you an annual pass to Disney's water parks for $59. The catch is that it's for after 2 p.m. But a day at Downtown Disney, which has free parking and shopping options that double as play time such as Lego Land or Mickey's Mart where everything's less than $10, can pass the time in the morning, and you might want to splurge on a super-fun restaurant like the T Rex Cafe. Just keep an eye on the weather report because Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach pretty much shut down when the afternoon thunderstorms threaten. Considering it's only 90 minutes away at most for Tampa Bay residents, there's no need for a hotel room because the kids will conk out on the drive home.
5 Learn to paddle
There's nothing better than being out on the open water, and unlike a kayak, 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 for $31.95 for a full day, $26.63 for four hours on a beautiful river that is a gentle ride. Call (941) 747-3909 or go to www.rayscanoehideaway.com for details. The Hillsborough River, just a half-hour drive from downtown Tampa, is one of the most scenic rivers in Florida with 31 miles of designated canoe trails. Canoe Escape, an outfitter on Fowler Avenue, offers rentals, transportation and paddling lessons for two- to six-hour trips for $47-$67 for a family of four. Call (813) 986-2067 or go to www.canoeescape.com.
Staff writer Sherry Robinson contributed to this report. For more parenting ideas and debates, join Sharon and Sherry on the TampaBay.com parenting blog Whoa, Momma! at blogs.tampabay.com/moms.