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East County Friday, Feb. 22, 2019 3 months ago

Family fun is in close range

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Eighty-six the plane, trains and automobiles with quick, affordable (and sanity-saving) local-ish staycations and getaways.
by: Jess McIntyre Contributor

I once read a statistic that a whopping two of every three Florida residents are transplants from other places. I am one of those people. Having grown up in a cold, Midwest climate, I perceived Florida to be a magical place with never-ending sunshine. Like so many others, I dreamed of trekking thousands of miles on an annual family vacation. Disney, beaches and theme parks, oh my. 

Eventually I grew up and lived out my childhood dream by moving to the Sunshine State. I’m fairly sure 9-year-old me is still proud. I don’t have to take vacation, I LIVE on vacation! Good thing too, because as a parent the word “vacation” when mixed with small children, brings a paralyzing fear. Add in the words “flight” or “road-trip” and you’ll soon find me huddled and rocking in a corner. Eleven hours in a car with kids? No thanks. Kudos to you, parents-of-kids-in-other-states. 

Fortunately for those of us who made the (wise) choice to settle in Lakewood Ranch, there are myriad affordable options for day-trips, staycations or full-on family getaways that won’t be bookended with days of travel. 

Beach Trips

On a budget? Take a random weekday off work, pack a cooler of snacks and (adult) beverages, load up the kids, and head to one of the many amazing beaches we have at our fingertips. Go fishing at Rod and Reel Pier on Anna Maria Island or play on the playground at Siesta Key. If you want something quieter, scope out a personal patch of sand with the locals on Holmes Beach or Bradenton Beach. The best part? If your small humans begin to meltdown, hop back in the car, because you’re only 30 to 45 minutes away from home (phew!).

Want to take it up a notch? Airbnb and VRBO both offer affordable, private and unique lodging options to give you a true getaway feel. Embrace the seaside lifestyle for a few days and explore the selection of locally owned restaurants and shops that create the true character of a beach town.

Theme Parks

Don’t roll your eyes. I am the first one to shy away from crowds, lines and melting credit cards. But there are a seemingly unlimited number of options for saving your sanity (and bank account) while providing your tiny tot with a series of pretty darn cool experiences. Many of these can even be done in a single day! Read: less packing, less stress and less planning ahead.

Preschool Passes: Many theme parks are picking up on a trend to offer FREE annual passes to the next generation of roller-coaster fiends. Legoland, Busch Gardens and SeaWorld all offer free annual tickets to munchkins aged 5 and under. 

Fun Passes: In conjunction with the preschool pass, parks are also offering adults an annual membership of sorts for a price not much higher than a single-day admission. Sure, there are black-out dates, but who wants to frequent a theme park during a peak attendance week in July anyway?! 

Florida Resident Packages: Walt Disney World and Universal Studios lead the way with flex passes for families. Residents get a discount off tickets, and they are adding in free days to double your park time. Grab a hotel room either on or off-premises (there are deals for everything!) and ride the teacups until you fall over, or split up your time with a series of day trips.

Tampa Exploration

Tampa is the closest “big city” to our area that boasts endless options for children, adults and families. There are several opportunities for exploring the area both as a day trip or getaway.

Pay for a Day: ZooTampa at Lowry Park offers the option to pay for a day at full-price and come back all year long. This pass even includes special events for holidays. With exciting animal exhibits, hands-on experiences (ever fed a giraffe?), a petting zoo, splash pad and small amusement park rides, there is something for everyone at the zoo.

CityPass: Last, but not least, if you are craving a true vacation without all the hassle and travel, book yourself a week or more up in Tampa. The city, roughly an hour away, offers a whole host of options for entertainment. Several major attractions have joined forces to offer an all-encompassing pass. Good for nine consecutive days, CityPass grants unlimited admission to Busch Gardens, The Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa at Lowry Park, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry. Break up the adventures with a Tampa Bay Rays or Lightning game, or dining trips to Armature Works and Sparkman Wharf, and you’ve created a vacation on the fly.

To recap: This is why we all moved (or stayed) here, folks.

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