You're not sure why, because it's one of the hottest, rainiest weeks of the summer, but your parents have decided to come visit the grandkids this week.
How can you send them out to entertain the kids without them spending a fortune or having them stress out over all of the activity? There's always the beach or a local park, so we won't go for that obvious choice. Instead, we offer up these 10 suggestions for keeping them on the move and in the groove. (You'll find all the links and addresses to our suggestions at the link below on the right.)
1. Go in search of Flipper. Dolphin boat excursions abound all over the bay area, from the Dolphin Queen at St. Petersburg's Pier to the Dolphin Quest out of John's Pass. The beauty of these particular boats is that they both offer canopies to shade from the sun (or rain), and they usually have an encounter or two with dolphins. Plus, while the grandparents are sitting, the kids can scramble to the bow to keep lookout for fins. The Queen even offers kids the chance to sit in the captain's seat for a photo op of them driving the boat.
2. Shuffling's cool again. The hipster magnet known as the St. Pete Shuffle draws a range of ages to the venerable courts in downtown St. Petersburg. The grandkids will like the iPod shuffle of new and classic music and checking out the young bohemians who flock to the scene. The older folks can kick butt with their technique and their knowledge of the rules.
3. Speaking of cool . . . Ice cream is a must if the grands are in town. But don't just settle for store bought or chain stuff. Tampa Bay's home to plenty of homey ice cream joints that have a lot of local flavor. We'll list a few, but you might have your own favorites: Alley Oops on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg, Matt and Tanya's in North Tampa and Campbell's in Brandon. (And if you're a family who live up north but are down visiting the grands in Sun City Center, be sure to hit them up for a scoop at the Java Cow Ice Cream & Coffee Cafe.)
4. Putt. Putt. Putt. Par! Oh, okay, bad joke. But miniature golf is awesomely fun and retro. Who wouldn't want to stroll through a course that includes live gators and mountain terrain. Yep, you heard that right: live gators. You can even buy food to feed them at Smugglers Cove miniature golf in Madeira Beach, Indian Shores and Brandon. Bet they don't have that back up north!
5. Go fish. The Fort DeSoto fishing pier is a good spot to take a lawn chair and set up a spot. Granddad can strike up a conversation with an old salt who might be able to give a tip or two, and if the kids get hot or bored, Grandma can take them down to the beach for a swim and a stroll. The concession at the foot of the pier also sells snacks and frozen bait.
6. Hoof it on a hike. It's not the mountains of Western North Carolina, but many of the parks in Pinellas and Hillsborough offer trails that range from leisurely to rugged. Brooker Creek Preserve in upper Pinellas County has miles of trails, as does Hillsborough River State Park, which has the added bonus of the sound of rushing water from the river.
7. Hey batter, batter. Pick the Rays early this week and you'll have to fight through the crowds who want to catch the Boston Red Sox for the home stand June 30-July 2. Your call, but that sounds stressful. The end of the week brings the Kansas City Royals, which might have more tolerable crowds. But if you think small, you can have just as much fun for a little less price. The bay area has several minor league teams, including the Clearwater Threshers (if the kids belong to the Lil Anglers Club, they can run the bases after the game Tuesday and there are fireworks on Thursday), Tampa Yankees and Dunedin Blue Jays. And really, to us, the chatter in a smaller park sounds just a little bit more authentic.
8. Book 'em. Oh no no no, not get them arrested. Find them some quality cool air time at a local library. Hillsborough's library system, for example, offers everything from roving magicians to puppet shows to reptile displays. And while the kids are watching those, the grand can take in a computer class or two with a guest library card.
9. Streeeee-yike! Bowling is another great indoor activity when it's too hot or too rainy. Splitsville in Channelside has the attraction of being among restaurants and sight-seeing, but be aware that no one under 21 is allowed after 8 on Friday and Saturday nights. AMF also offers lanes in Clearwater and Tampa.
10. All aboard! The Florida Railroad Museum isn't really a stodgy old building but a rolling reminder of the importance of the railway in Florida's development. Located just south of the bay area in Parrish (that's about 25 miles south of Tampa), the train leaves at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the weekends and rolls for 13-mile excursions. The caboose is available to rent for birthday parties or just for fun for the family. If you've got a Thomas the Train fanatic in the house, this is going to be one very cool field trip with the grands.