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5 Things To Do With Kids Outside In Tampa Bay While The Weather Is Nice

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.

Guests line up to board the Cross-Bay Ferry docked at the Tampa Convention Center. The seasonal boat ride runs through the end of April. [ TIMES (2020) | Times ]

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.

You can kiss a gator at the Alligator & Wildlife Discovery Center at John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach. [ DIEZ, CHERIE | Times (2012) ]

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.

Camp counselor Kayla Messer, 16, of Tampa, feeds a stable of American pygmy goats in 2020 at summer camp at Horse Power for Kids, a nonprofit farm and petting zoo on Racetrack Road in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

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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.

Old-fashioned history

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.

A “dunce” hat reserves a special place for students in the historic Lacoochee School exhibit at the Pioneer Florida Museum in Dade City. The structure is architecturally typical of the one-room school houses of the 19th century. [ TIMES (2020) | Times ]

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.

U-pick farms

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.

Marianne Foot, 5, shows her brother Michael, 3, of Tampa, the strawberry she picked on a long stem while Violet Connelley, 4, goes to pick more strawberries during picking season at Keel and Curley Winery at Keel Farms in Plant City on Feb. 5, 2022. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

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.

Outdoor attractions

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.

Dinosaur World in Plant City includes a boardwalk and lifelike dinosaurs that move. [ Times (2012) ]

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.

Construction is underway on two new rides at Adventure Island which opens for the season March 5. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

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