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A mom’s guide to drive-worthy fun around Tampa Bay

From a petting zoo to glass-bottom boats to the airport, there are ways to get out of the house and into the car, while keeping your distance.
The glass bottom boat tours at Silver Springs State Park drew the Mosall family out of the house for their summer adventures. Laura Mosall is a fifth grade teacher at Madeira Beach Fundamental School. She’s also the mom of three young boys who has come up with some great and cheap ways to entertain them this summer. Photo courtesy Laura Mosall.
The glass bottom boat tours at Silver Springs State Park drew the Mosall family out of the house for their summer adventures. Laura Mosall is a fifth grade teacher at Madeira Beach Fundamental School. She’s also the mom of three young boys who has come up with some great and cheap ways to entertain them this summer. Photo courtesy Laura Mosall. [ Laura Mosall ]
Published Aug. 5, 2020|Updated Aug. 5, 2020

Laura Mosall is a fifth grade teacher at Madeira Beach Fundamental School. She’s also the mom of three young boys who has come up with some great and cheap ways to entertain them this summer. We asked her to spell it out for us and offer her best tips.

We have been quarantining at home for so long, but we are very social beings and desperately miss our family and friends. We have three young boys who rise at the crack of dawn and are bored by 8 a.m., so we need stuff to do.

We have spent countless hours researching and planning activities that will get us out of the house and away from the endless lure of technology. Here is more in our series of our favorite socially distanced, fairly cheap adventures.

Related: Previously: A mom's guide to entertaining kids around Tampa Bay while in quarantine

Dinosaur World: This was our first venture out to a public place and we had a very positive experience at this Plant City attraction. Masks are required to enter as you purchase tickets via the gift shop. Once you’re in the open-air park, masks can be removed as long as you socially distance. There are huge dinosaur statues, woolly mammoths and information along the paved paths. Most everything is shaded, it’s stroller-friendly, and there is room to space out from other families. The playground, shows and fossil dig are currently closed, but you can still buy bags of gem-filled dirt to mine. Bring your own lunch as there is no restaurant or food for sale on site. $10 admission; hands-on activities are closed. 5145 Harvey Tew Road, Plant City. dinosaurworld.com/florida/.

Dinosaur World in Plant City is stroller-friendly, and there is room to space out from other families.
Dinosaur World in Plant City is stroller-friendly, and there is room to space out from other families. [ Times (2017) ]

Silver Springs State Park: We visited Silver Springs, just east of Ocala, specifically to take our kids on their famous glass-bottom boat ride. It was well worth the trip. They are only allowing two or three families on the boats at a time, requiring space between each group, and the boats are sanitized after each trip. There are shaded paths, camping options and paddling available on the Silver River. The restaurants and shops are closed, but there is a delicious food truck on site and you can bring in your own food. Park admission is $2, ages 5 and younger are free and the cost varies depending on the activities you choose. 5656 E Silver Springs State Park, Silver Springs. silversprings.com.

Sunken Gardens: We recently checked out Sunken Gardens on a Saturday and it was by far the busiest public place we have been to in the past four months. There is space to walk by other families, but the paths are more narrow than most of the other parks we’ve visited. There are lots of beautiful plants, flamingos, koi, tortoises and birds. We brought our lunch and found a shaded picnic table, but were met by quite a few mosquitoes, so bring the bug spray. Perhaps try to visit on a weekday, if possible, as the crowds may be lighter. Admission is $12, $6 for ages 2-17 (we scored a Groupon for half-priced adult tickets). 1825 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. stpete.org/attractions/sunken_gardens.

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Pink flamingos show off their color in Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg.
Pink flamingos show off their color in Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg. [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]

Wild Florida: This drive-through safari park was the most expensive and farthest we have traveled (to Osceola County) for an activity since the pandemic; however, we highly recommend it. There are Florida resident tickets, which are cheaper. Included in the drive-through safari park cost is also admission to the Wild Alligator Park, a small zoo just down the road. You remain in your car for the safari and can put your windows down as you cruise around a winding trail at a mere 5 miles per hour. People frequently stop for up-close pictures of water buffalo, deer, emu and alpacas, among other animals, or to allow the wildlife to cross the road in front of their vehicles. You can pay an extra $5 to get out at the end and feed the giraffes and there are also airboat rides available for an additional cost. The Alligator Park was a nice opportunity to stretch our legs and see way more than just gators: There are sloths, foxes, raccoons, snakes, birds and many other exotic critters. Masks are required and there wasn’t a ton of shade, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen. The drive-through safari is $29, $20 for ages 12 and younger. Other costs vary depending on the activities you choose. 3301 Lake Cypress Road, Kenansville. wildfloridairboats.com.

Old McMicky’s Farm: The cost to visit this Odessa farm was a little more than we expected, but we did feel like we got the royal treatment. We had a personalized tour from a guide (who wore a mask the entire time) and got to get up close to goats, pigs, chickens and a bunny. You get to milk a cow and the kiddos can even ride a horse. They had us all sanitize before entering the farm and after meeting every animal. There were very few other families and the staff made sure to keep everyone at separate stations, although we were there on a weekday. The weekends may be more crowded. They didn’t have outside tables available, but there were benches so you could definitely bring a lunch to enjoy by Crescent Lake. $14, $13 children. 9612 Crescent Drive, Odessa. oldmcmickys.com.

Laura Mosall is a fifth grade teacher at Madeira Beach Fundamental School. Photo courtesy Laura Mosall
Laura Mosall is a fifth grade teacher at Madeira Beach Fundamental School. Photo courtesy Laura Mosall [ Laura Mosall ]

Tampa International Airport: We stopped at the airport on the way home from another activity to try and catch some planes in action. Our kiddos were impressed after we watched a few land and a couple more take off so we headed out in less than an hour, making the entire activity cost nothing. The short-term garage makes for a shaded spot to watch the airport entertainment and there is a raised sidewalk around the whole parking lot. This might not be fun enough for an all-day event, but it was perfect to kill a little bit of time “outside” while not being in direct sun. It’s free for short-term parking for less than an hour. tampaairport.com, 4100 George J. Bean Parkway, Tampa. This website is a great way to find the best spots to park in the garage. Plane-watching could also be an option at St. Petersburg’s Albert Whitted Airport: stpete.org/visiting_the_city/airport, 107 Eighth Ave. SE, St. Petersburg. Also, the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport: fly2pie.com, 14700 Terminal Blvd., Clearwater.

Airplanes are pictured on the tarmac as a Southwest plane takes off behind them at Tampa International Airport on Thursday, May 7, 2020 in Tampa.
Airplanes are pictured on the tarmac as a Southwest plane takes off behind them at Tampa International Airport on Thursday, May 7, 2020 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Mixon’s Fruit Farm: We stumbled upon this Bradenton citrus farm and are so pleased we did. The open-air tram ride includes a stop to learn about some rescued critters such as alligators, pythons, baby emu, tortoises (they have quite an assortment). There is a very reasonably priced deli that has a decent-sized menu along with a large gift shop where you can purchase homemade fudge, ice cream, fruit and juices. We skipped the additional $3 play area (with two large inflatables) and instead opted to feed the koi in the pond on property. Tram tour is $10, $5 kids. 2525 27th St. E, Bradenton. mixon.com.

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