The school calendars for this winter break leave a pretty big gap between Christmas and Jan. 8, when most public school students return to class in the Tampa Bay area.
So if you are looking for some ideas to fill the days in that chasm here are some kid-friendly activities to consider once the wrapping paper has been dumped in the recycle bin:
Snow Days at the Aquarium
Florida kids get to play in the snow the week after Christmas at the Florida Aquarium. From noon till 5 p.m. Tuesday through Dec. 31, there will be a snow play area for kids, included with admission. Even after the snow is gone the aquarium has another treat included with admission: a new 4-D Theater now screening Polar Express. The 4-D experience combines the screening of a 3-D film with bubbles, wind and scents. Shows daily through Jan. 11. The aquarium will be open during regular business hours for the week 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. $28.95, $26.95 seniors, $23.95 ages 3-12, 2 and younger free. Prices are generally about $2 cheaper if you buy them online at flaquarium.org. (813) 273-4000.
The once-giant science center is in the process of moving to downtown Tampa so in the meantime, it has cut ticket prices in half and moved most of its attractions to one wing of the building. It’s full of hands-on science exploration and a new digital exhibit. And through Dec. 31, you can check out Santa’s Workshop in MOSI’s Idea Zone. It has been transformed into a video game and animation-inspired winter wonderland where "elves" create mini movies, glowing cards and wood works daily through Dec. 31. There is also a zip line and Sky Trail Ropes Course ($7) that’s open Friday-Sunday, and the Saunders Planetarium with daily shows ($5). Free parking. Admission $12.95, $10.95 seniors, $7.95 ages 3-12, 2 and younger free. 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. mosi.org.
Ice Skating at Tampa’s Winter Village
Even in balmy Florida, you can get in the holiday spirit by ice skating on an outdoor rink in Curtis Hixon Park. Each 90-minute session includes skate rental for $13. Note that the skating rink will open at 4 p.m. for Christmas Day. On New Year’s Eve, the skating rink will have extended hours to midnight. Regular hours are 4-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4-10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays noon-p.m. through Jan. 5. Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa. (813) 221-3686.
Star Wars and the Power of Costume
The visiting exhibit at St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts has perfect timing, coming on the heels of the blockbuster The Last Jedi. It features more than 60 original costumes from the Star Wars films. The special exhibition requires a timed ticket of $25, $18 ages 7 to 17, free children 6 and younger, which includes admission to the other galleries. It remains on display through April 1. The MFA is closed only on Christmas, so it’s otherwise open regular hours (including Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day). 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg.
While school is out for winter break, there will be free activities at seven of the city of Tampa’s park and rec centers during the day from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. It takes place Wednesday through Friday this week, and also Jan. 2-5 at: Benito Playground Activity Center, 10065 Cross Creek Blvd.; Copeland Park Community Center, 11001 N 15th St.; Gwendolyn Miller Community Center, 6410 N 32nd St.; Jackson Heights Center, 3310 E Lake Ave.; Loretta Ingraham Complex, 1615 N Hubert Ave.; Port Tampa Community Center, 4702 W McCoy St.; Wellswood Center, 4918 N Mendenhall Drive.
Also four of the community centers will be open from 6-10 p.m. Wednesday through Friday this week, and also Jan. 2-5 for "Stay and Play" for teens with rec cards. Copeland Community Center, 11001 N 15th St,; Jackson Heights Center, 3310 E Lake Ave.; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center, 2200 N Oregon Ave., Springhill Community Center, 201 E Eskimo Ave.
Looking for a way to wear kids out in addition to having some fun family time? Here’s some ideas:
• Consider the huge trampoline arenas to burn off energy. Most kids are thoroughly worn out within an hour of literally bouncing off the walls. The Boing Jump Center, 622-624 Ware Blvd., Tampa, has extended its hours from 10 a.m. to 10 a.m. until Jan. 6 before the kids go back to school. (813) 341-4897. boingjumpcenter.com. Also check Airheads Trampoline Arena, with locations in Carrollwood and Largo, (813) 247-4323. airheadsusa.com.
• Skatepark of Tampa: A good chunk of this well-known skateboard facility is actually indoors, with mini-ramps and street courses for all levels, including its famous bowl. 4215 E Columbus Drive, Tampa. (813) 621-6793.
• Escape rooms: Players in groups of two to eight must work together to find clues, crack codes and solve puzzles to escape the room before time runs out. There are numerous choices in the area, such as the Great Escape Room, 300 Madison St., Tampa, thegreatescaperoom.com; and the Tampa Bay Escape Room, 625 Cleveland St., Clearwater; tampabayescaperoom.com.
• Xtreme Adventures Family Fun Center near Land O’Lakes is a two-level, 6,000-square-foot center with laser tag, "human foosball," an arcade and a cafe at 24810 State Road 54, Lutz. xtremeadventures4fun.com. For the winter break the fun center will be open early on weekdays.
• Vertical Ventures indoor climbing gym has locations near Tampa International Airport and in St. Petersburg, offering huge walls of man-made rock obstacles. verticalventures.com.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.