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Many parents and families of young children have targeted Disney vacations over the years.
For many people, however, those plans are all but out of the window right now — or at least on hold.
The cost of a trip to Disney World or Disneyland can quickly climb into the thousands of dollars when park passes, shuttle travel, accommodations, airline tickets, incidentals and more are factored into the equation.
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Parents and kids can have a good time this summer while managing costs and scheduling.
Here are 10 fun summer activities the whole family can enjoy without breaking the bank.
1. Have fun in the garden
Parents and caregivers can put a lot of pressure on themselves to try to keep their children happy. But this Virginia mom, like many others I’m sure, discovered that you don’t need a lot of money to be creative. I bought an all purpose pop up sun tent for the beach – and used it as a fort in the backyard which is great fun for kids ages 3-12.
Check prices at your local stores or go online as costs vary.
Add a child-sized beach chair, blankets, pillows and towels for the inside of the tent. Stock up on some healthy snacks and add drinks to a cooler for convenience.
Put a sprinkler or baby pool around the yard to cool off in if there isn’t a pool (be sure to keep a close eye on any young children near bodies of water, no matter how shallow the water might be).
The sky is the limit for fun backyard activities.
More Fun: Build a bubble station and play fun music. Consider hosting a scavenger hunt for the kids. Buy a giant lawn bowling set and giant Connect Four game for the kids (check prices online or at your favorite store). The sky is the limit for fun backyard activities.
2. Visit a local zoo
Children love the zoo and there are many options. Take the kids to the zoo for a summer day or all year round; Prices vary per ticket depending on location.
In Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, children under two years old are admitted free.
For children ages 2 to 11, tickets are $14.95 per child; and for children 12 and older, a ticket costs $17.95, according to the Virginia Zoo website.
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Become a member and enjoy events throughout the year. Prices range from $69 for a single adult to $249 for a family (deluxe package of two adults and three guests) per year.
3. Go to a county, state or national park
Find a great park to visit. Many parks have campgrounds, cabins, hiking trails, bike trails, lakes, beaches, and more—and many of them host local events.
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Most parks charge an entrance fee. Admission may be free at some parks or range from $5 per person to $35 per vehicle. Go online to contact your preferred park for fees.
For five days in 2022, National Park Service metered sites will offer free entry to all. The remaining free dates in 2022 are August 4th, September 24th and November 11th.
4. Spend a night or two in a hotel close to home
Book a hotel room near you for a night or two — or try a local restaurant you’ve never been to before.
Look for arts festivals and food festivals to enjoy.
Check out local anti-splash mats in your area or buy your own to cool off.
Plan an indoor picnic, book a spa day, or plan a themed lunch or dinner at home.
Better yet, throw a summer party for the kids with music. Pick up balloons and decorations from a local dollar store to brighten up a room, patio, or deck.
5. Go to a children’s museum
Visit nearby museums and cultural centers for a day out with the kids. Hunt educational presentations, planetariums, exhibitions and interactive games.
Contact your local museum to learn more about summer programs—and enroll the kids. The cost varies depending on the city or municipality where the museum is located.
6. Go to an aquarium
Aquariums are always a good idea for the kids – they learn and have fun at the same time.
Depending on where you go, there may be otters, dolphins, turtles and stingrays – maybe even sharks.
Some museums offer special dolphin rides. The Virginia Aquarium offers boat tours for dolphin and whale watching. Prices vary depending on the aquarium.
7. Enroll the children in an art class
Check out art classes or craft classes for your kids this summer.
Local art studios often have a variety of classes and options such as pottery, canvas painting, and glasswork for older children and adults.
8. Help your kids learn to cook
Introduce your kids to the joys of cooking by enrolling them in classes—then try making a few recipes together at home.
Check out local classes this summer; do some classes together.
Or host your own cooking class at home. Pick a cookbook – and just pick a recipe that’s appropriate for your child’s age. Perhaps select a favorite dessert to prepare together, then watch your little one savor it.
9. Plan a fun day trip
Pack the car and take the kids for a day trip to a nearby lake, mountain, beach or waterfall.
Pack plenty of snacks and lunch—and take the scenic route to your destination.
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Regardless of the exact activity you choose this summer, there are plenty of ways to have fun together without spending a fortune – and your kids will remember this special time for years to come.
10. Take advantage of military and veteran discounts
If you or a spouse are an active military service member or a veteran, the Interagency Annual Military Pass offers current U.S. service members and their dependents free entry to national parks and other federal recreation areas, according to the National Park Service on its website.
US military veterans and Gold Star families are eligible, the park service notes. Visit www.nps.gov/findapark to find a US park near you.