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Free and cheap things to do with kids this week

Children cool off at the splash pad at Ballast Point Park, which officially reopened this week and offers great views of downtown Tampa.


Children cool off at the splash pad at Ballast Point Park, which officially reopened this week and offers great views of downtown Tampa.

As fall comes on with all its busyness, we have lots of wallet-friendly ways to spend what little free time you have left with what little cash you have left. You can get a free meal if you don a chicken costume, 1905 prices at the Columbia, a price break at the zoo and more in this week's list of free and cheap things to do with kids:

Having witnessed hundreds of people willing to dress like a cow for free food at Chick-fil-A, we are guessing Pollo Tropical will have no shortage of people willing to trade their dignity for a free meal on Saturday for National Chicken Lovers Day. Pollo Tropical will give you a free quarter-chicken meal that day, complete with rice and beans, to anyone who dresses from head to toe in yellow and clucks like a chicken. The offer is good from 2 to 7 p.m. Visit for locations.

It's going to be a busy weekend at the Lowry Park Zoo. Saturday is Zoo Run Run, the annual 5K and children's fun run inside the zoo and along the Hillsborough River includes admission for the day afterward. Check-in 6:30 a.m. Saturday; $35, $10 kids run. Then on Sunday, it's the popular $5 Day at the Zoo. They only offer this price break a few times a year so it draws a crowd. This Sunday they've added free extra parking available by the Tampa Greyhound Track with free shuttles 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. The zoo is at 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa.

Bring your appetite for Festival Del Sabor in Ybor City on Saturday. The family-friendly event showcases the sabor (flavor) of Tampa Bay's Hispanic culture through food, music and art and attempts to find Tampa Bay's best arroz con pollo. Free admission. Centennial Park, 1800 E Eighth Ave., Tampa. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

It's been 31 years since Raiders of the Lost Ark first hit theaters — June 12, 1981, for those taking notes — but as Indy liked to say, "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage." That's why AMC Theaters is bringing back all four Indiana Jones installments — Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — for a one-day-only movie marathon. The adventure begins Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at Veterans 24 in Tampa and Regency 20 in Brandon. Tickets are $25 and include a poster and a lanyard, while supplies last. (Go to for more information.)

The hip Art on the Water event has a lot going for it. For one thing, location: Along the Riverwalk next to Jackson's Bistro in Tampa will be more than 80 artists with tents and art displays. Add in a display by Ferrari of Tampa Bay and samples by sponsor Blue Moon Brewing Co., plus food, drink and music by the Soul Circus Cowboys, and you've got quite a scene. Both valet and self-parking are available at Jackson's Bistro Bar & Sushi, 601 S Harbour Island Blvd. It's free and runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Columbia Restaurant's annual 1905 Day ranks as one of the year's top don't-miss events. This year it's Sunday, celebrating the 107th anniversary of Florida's oldest dining franchise. What's the big deal? Just that menu prices at Columbia's five restaurants statewide (but not the Tampa International Airport and Riverwalk cafes) are rolled back to ridiculously low prices. How low? Try $2.95 for full-portion entrees including chicken Ybor with yellow rice, boliche beef medallions and a Merluza-baked fish fillet. Columbia's famed 1905 salad is prepared at your table for only $1.95. Spanish bean or Cuban black bean soup is served in a cup (50 cents) or bowl (75 cents). Flan for dessert costs only 50 cents. Get there early because this deal is for dine-in only and tip like you paid full price.

Celebrate Mexican Independence Day at a street fiesta in Clearwater on Saturday "El Grito" is celebrated, which refers to the shout for independence that marked the beginning of the struggle for Mexico's independence from Spain. Starting at 3 p.m. Saturday, the Clearwater East Gateway District at Cleveland Street and Betty Lane will have an outdoor street fiesta with bands, mariachi music, face painting, bounce houses, Mexican food, beer and soft drinks. Free.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne writes for the parenting blog Whoa, Momma! Join the debates and discussion on the blog at or follow on Twitter @WhoaMomma.

Ballast Point Park, a Tampa park for more than 100 years, officially reopened Wednesday. "It's popular because it has something for everyone — from the fishing pier to the expanded wellness center and new splash pad," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

The city matched a portion of the funds raised by the Ballast Point community for a tot lot, a playground specifically designed for children under 5 years of age. Additionally, the improvements added to the park include a great circular lawn, splash pad, four new prefabricated picnic shelters, benches and grills. The project also included a sail structure to cover the existing playground, eight additional parking spaces, a new patio at the existing Joe Abrahams Fitness Wellness Center, and Florida-friendly landscape and irrigation.

Ballast Point Park was developed as a tropical park in 1894 to serve as a terminal for an electric trolley car line at the south end of Bayshore Boulevard. It was originally called Jules Verne Park after French writer Jules Verne who in his novel From the Earth to the Moon fired a cannon from "Tampa town," Florida to the moon.

The park at 5300 Interbay Blvd. offers great views of downtown Tampa. It is full of shade trees, and offers quick access to Bayshore Boulevard for jogging, walking or rollerblading.

• • •

Halloween already? Yep, it's apparently never too soon to dress up your little boos to collect candy around the Magic Kingdom at the select nights called Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. It runs Tuesday and Friday nights in September and then picks up more dates in October. Disney aims for cheeky gags over gore, so there's a parade that starts with a finely dressed fellow on a galloping horse — only he has no head.

Our Disney mom, Suzannah DiMarzio, offers these tips for enjoying this separate-ticket event:

The Magic Kingdom has been turned into an autumn wonderland once again; colorful foliage, pumpkins and Mickey-shaped jack-o'-lanterns adorn Main Street, U.S.A., and spill over into Liberty Square as well. This annual hard-ticketed event is a family favorite, complete with costumes, parades and shows, special fireworks, and of course, trick-or-treating for all ages.

This year, the much adored "Treat Trail" will return to the walkway between Tomorrowland and the all-new Storybook Circus area of the new Fantasyland. This area was closed last year, because of construction of the Storybook Circus section and was missed by regulars of the party.

• • •

I'll admit it, I want teachers and day care providers to like me best. Does that make me a pathetic brownnoser? Maybe. I figure the good will undoubtedly extend to my kids. For babysitters, day care workers, coaches and teachers, I don't want to be "that" mom. I want them to look forward to seeing us.

At any open house night my question is always, "What's your pet peeve?" I think there are far too many times we do something we think is minor that throws their whole day off or is terribly annoying.

Here's some of the answers I've gotten to that question over the years:

Be on time: One of the reasons many day cares have a $1-a-minute late pickup charge is because too many parents blow in, bluster about traffic and rush out without thinking how they may have ruined the evening plans for their child care providers. For school-aged kids, being tardy is not a quirk. Being on time — or better yet, being early — shows respect.

Be well-stocked: Keep your day care well stocked with diapers and supplies. Make sure your school supplies are in order. If you can, contribute to your teacher's Adopt-A-Class fund so she doesn't use her own money to buy paper and printer cartridges (something that's been slashed in school budgets lately).

Get some sleep: Try to stay on the same nap schedule as the day care on weekends. Make sure the kids get to bed on time on school nights. Studies show sleep is the best way to foster brain development.

Keep sick kids home: They know that trick of loading a kid up with Tylenol and then dropping them off so you can go to work a few hours until you get a call at noon that your child has spiked a fever and needs to be picked up. Do I even need to say how disrespectful this is to her and the other kids you have now potentially gotten sick?

Attend conferences: This is the best way to stay on top of how your child is doing and how you can help.

Say thank-you: Be generous if you can at Christmas or during Teacher Appreciation Week, but a sincere thank-you note is really all that's needed. Let them know how much you appreciate their help in raising great kids.

Free and cheap things to do with kids this week 09/13/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 13, 2012 4:30am]
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