Now is the sweet spot in terms of Florida weather. We still might wear sweaters some days, but it’s not yet blistering before you’ve even have had your coffee.
While there are loads of nice parks, preserves and hiking trails to take advantage of, here some other ways to get the kids outside before it becomes unbearably hot again.
Take a boat ride
In downtown Tampa, the Pirate Water Taxi lets riders hop on and off all day as it cruises along the shops and restaurants that line the Hillsborough River. It’s $25 ($15 for kids) for an all-day pass, for a narrated trip with 14 stops. piratewatertaxi.com. On weekends, the same operator offers the Lost Pearl, a family-friendly pirate cruise with swashbuckling games and pirate entertainment — it even shoots off a cannon. The pirate cruises are $30 for adults, $25 for kids, which includes complimentary soda, domestic beer, house wine and house spirits. tampapirateship.com.
The seasonal Cross-Bay Ferry from Tampa to St. Petersburg is a twin-hull aluminum catamaran that provides a stable and comfortable ride. It currently runs Wednesdays through Sundays through April 30 for $10 per trip for adults ($20 for a round trip), $8 for kids and under 4 free. Check thecrossbayferry.com for the schedule and rates.
Pet some animals
Take the kids to John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach to visit the Alligator & Wildlife Discovery Center, home to more than 180 animals. It takes in exotic pet rescues, including alligators, lizards, pigs, skunks, guinea pigs, rabbits, snakes, fish and frogs. There are also encounters, where you can pay a few bucks to feed a gator, snuggle a sloth or hold and take pictures with animals such as gators, snakes, scorpions and lizards. Admission is $15, $10 seniors and military, $10 ages 3-12. It is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. 12973 Village Blvd., Madeira Beach. 609-329-8751. kissagator.com.
The owners of Old McMickey’s Farm in Odessa say their mission is more than a petting zoo. They create hands-on experiences for people to learn what it is like to tend to animals on a farm such as pigs, goats, ponies and rabbits. You can milk a cow before going on a hay ride or eat lunch overlooking Crescent Lake. Farm tours begin at 9 a.m. and leave every 15 minutes with the last tour leaving at 1 p.m. Tours are $14, $13 for ages 2-12 and $12 for first responders, school teachers, military and seniors. 9612 Crescent Drive, Odessa. 813-920-1948. oldmcmickys.com.
Horse Power for Kids is an outdoor animal sanctuary and family fun farm in northwest Tampa near Oldsmar and Westchase. It has a petting zoo, pony rides, a playground and a train for children that encircles the farm. It is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday-Friday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Admission is $12 per person, age 1 and younger free. You can add a pony ride for $3 at 8005 Racetrack Road, Tampa. horsepowerforkids.com.
At Cracker Country, located on the Florida State Fairgrounds, you can step into a “living history museum” of 19th century rural Florida. The grounds hold a collection of 13 original buildings dating from 1870-1912, which were relocated from across the state. You’ll find a country store, a train depot and costumed interpreters portraying the daily lives of Florida pioneers. Cracker Country is open on select days throughout the year, but you can also book private tours by reservation that cost $9-$14 per person. Find information at crackercountry.org.
The Pioneer Florida Museum and Village in Dade City welcomes families for self-guided tours of its many historic buildings and displays mainly representing the 1800s through 1945. During special events, such as Cracker Cowboy Day on March 5, docents in period clothing will give talks and there will be traditional craft demonstrations. Self-guided tours are available 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. There will be guided tours by appointment. Admission is $12, $10 seniors, $6 students, age 5 and younger free. 15602 Pioneer Museum Road, Dade City. 352-567-0262. pioneerfloridamuseum.org.
The U-pick season is underway, and it really gets going in March when the berries come in. One of our favorites is Upicktopia, 19125 Phillips Road, No. 6952, Masaryktown. As its name implies, the 56-acre farm in Hernando County offers a variety of veggies to pick yourself, as well as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and more throughout the growing season. Check their Facebook page to see what’s available, as well as the eggs and other farm-fresh goodies available at their market.
To find a U-pick farm near you, Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a locator map of U-pick farms throughout the state at fdacs.gov/Consumer-Resources/Buy-Fresh-From-Florida/U-Pick-Farms.
Before the spring break crowds start to mob the Tampa Bay area, get a jump on some of the outdoor attractions.
For kids who are fans of dinosaurs, Plant City’s Dinosaur World offers lifelike replicas on its boardwalks and a dino-themed playground of slides and swings. It has reopened its Bone Yard where kids can grab some tools and start excavating to uncover a 27-foot skeleton from under the sand. Due to COVID-19, the park’s Fossil Dig remains closed, but you can buy bags of three fossils for $3. Coolers and pets are welcome, and it has a shady picnic area. Admission is $19.95, $14.95 for ages 3-12. 5145 Harvey Tew Road, Plant City. 813-717-9865. dinosaurworld.com/florida.
Adventure Island, the water park across the street from Busch Gardens in Tampa, reopens for the season March 5. It is adding two new waterslides and a makeover of its lounge area, though many of those improvements won’t be finished until later in the spring. There is a deal right now that gives you a free Adventure Island pass with the purchase of a Busch Gardens Fun Card. And Busch Gardens and Adventure Island have brought back the Preschool Pass that gives free admission to kids 5 and younger. But you must register online and redeem the pass in the park by March 10. See adventureisland.com/tickets/weekday-card-and-fun-card for details.