Written & Compiled by Karin Fabry & Hannah Ferguson
As summer vacation nears, parents throughout the area are already wondering how to keep their little ones busy during the 80 days of summer vacation. If you’re looking for ways to beat the “I’m bored” blues, check out Ocala Style’s kid’s summer activity guide. From local to regional events, museums, and day-trip suggestions, we have you covered. So go ahead, start planning.
1. See A Play. This summer, the Ocala Civic Theatre will showcase two productions presented by the Missoula Children’s Theatre: Alice In Wonderland (June 12-17) and The Jungle Book (July 24-29). (352) 236-2274.
2. Uncle Donald Had A Farm. Just a short drive to Lady Lake is Uncle Donald’s Farm, a unique petting zoo and animal experience. On July 4 the farm will feature the Parade of Animals. See a variety of animals displaying their patriotism with flags, bandanas, and tutus. There will also be an educational reptile program on July 4. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the day. (352) 753-2882.
3. Have A Scavenger Hunt. Give kids a list of 20 titles for them to find at the library. First one to successfully locate their titles wins a free book at Barnes & Noble.
4. Make it a Disney Weekend. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park features a “water coaster” attraction that combines steep drops with gravity-defying, coaster-like inclines. Guests have three different spillways to choose from — Banana Blaster, Coconut Crusher, and Pineapple Plunger — each ranging between 410 to 420 feet in length.
5. Hunt For Seashells. Gather a collection of shells on a trip to Cedar Key. Once home, use your shells to make a unique art project.
6. Experience Expedition Everest. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the legend of the yeti comes to life in a thrilling new adventure, Expedition Everest. A high-speed train bound for Mount Everest takes trekkers on a daring adventure through rugged terrain, along icy mountain ledges and inside dark snowy caves in the forbidden mountain. (407) W-DISNEY.
7. Have an American Girl Sleepover. Greet the invited guests with feather boas and virgin bellinis in a champagne glass with a strawberry. Play fun games, polish each other’s toes and fingers, and have a dance contest. Rent all-American videos such as Ella Enchanted and The Princess Diaries. A twist could be to invite the mommies, too.
8. Celebrate SummerFest. This is a family-friendly festival hosted by the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando. Be prepared for lots of activities that will delight the kids including medieval knights, storytellers, magicians, stilt-walkers, stunt shows, an American Idol spoof, and sword swallowers. For reservations, call (407) 586-4FUN or visit gaylordpalms.com/summerfest.
9. Host A Summer Book Club. Invite a few neighbor kids and parents to read a book every two weeks, then get together and discuss each one. At the end of the summer, celebrate with a reading party complete with personalized bookmarks and certificates.
10. Get Slimed. What other hotel can you get slimed at, spend time in the kids’ spa, or have your own personal PlayStation? Spend the night at the Nickelodeon Family Suites in Orlando. Visit nickhotel.com for rates and availability.
11. Summer Survivor Adventure. Have children invite friends over to take the Survivor test — eat blindfolded cows brains (green spaghetti), stand in a cooler of ice the longest, dig for worms in a bucket, ride a bike around a course with just one leg, etc. The possibilities are endless. Make sure the winner gets a special prize like a No Fear shirt or hat.
12. Visit the Marine Science Center in Daytona Beach. The center provides a rare opportunity to see into an active sea turtle hospital. Also, the bird rehabilitation facility allows a close-up look at owls, hawks, wood storks, and other birds. The center also offers a variety of summer camps and programs. Check out echotourism.com/msc for more information. (386) 304-5545.
13. Enjoy The Day At Rainbow Springs. On May 6, Rainbow Derby Day will feature canoe and kayak races, a children’s area with face painting, storytellers, jugglers, and art lessons. On a daily basis, canoe and kayak rentals are $10 per hour for two people. (352) 465-8555.
14. Picnic In The Park. Try Jervey Gantt, Tuscawilla, or Ocala’s newest outdoor recreation facility, Shalom Park near On Top of the World. Pack sandwiches, lemonade, chips, and fresh fruit. Don’t forget your blanket and a good book to read.
15. See an Indoor Hurricane. On May 20, “The Body by Sesame Street” opens. This exhibit features Sesame Street Muppets in a hands-on, interactive learning exhibit about the human body. “Disasterville” featuring Weather Quest opens June 10 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. Experience eight different natural disasters and discover the science behind them. (813) 987-6100.
16. Summer Nights at the Zoo. Recognized as one of the top three mid-sized zoos in the country, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo currently features 41 acres of lush, natural habitats. Starting in May, Summer Nights returns to the zoo. The park will stay open until 8:30pm on May 12, June 9, July 14, and August 11. Enjoy sunset strolls and mild evening temperatures while visiting your favorite exotic animals. Plus, all rides are free after 5pm, and special animal encounters will take place between 6-8:30pm. Each evening features live entertainment. (813) 935-8552.
17. Kids’ Pick. Have each child make a list of the top five things they want to do for the summer that don’t cost a dime. Examples include go for a walk, play a board game, or go to the park. Have them make a “Summer Fun Calendar” to add these items to and place it on the refrigerator. Stickers are added when each activity is completed.
18. Be a Marine Biologist For a Day. (May 6, June 10). During your adventure you will assist aquarium team members with their daily routine of cleaning, food preparation, feeding, and animal care. Find out what it feels like to hand feed stingrays, help target feed sharks and fish, explore special behind-the-scenes areas, and learn animal handling skills. $100 members, $125 non-members. Visit flaquarium.org for more information.
19. Explore Florida’s History. Visit St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States. For added fun, stop by the Ripley’s Haunted Castle — Mysteries of the Castle Warden Hotel. Decide for yourself if the mysterious fire was an accident or murder. May not be suitable for children under 10. (904) 824-1606.
20. Camping at Camp Kiwanis. The only local overnight camping experience for kids ages 7 through 13. The sessions include swimming, archery, arts and crafts, campfires, dances, and more. Applications are available at local schools. $175 per Monday-Friday session, per child. Call (352) 236-5401 for more information.
21. Play I Spy. Go for a walk and play I Spy but with a math twist. Ask the kids to find objects that are shaped like rectangles, octagons, circles, triangles, and squares. Collect them then return home to make a shape collage.
22. Have A Flip-Flop Party. Get some inexpensive flip-flops at a local store and buy colorful fabric. Cut fabric in three-inch by one-inch strips. Tie the strips in knots around the band of the shoe. Also, add rhinestones for sparkle. Try spring flip-flops with pastel colors or Fourth of July with red, white, and blue fabric.
23. Play Sports.
Tennis & Swim Camp (Dates vary). Fort King Tennis Center’s third annual Ocala Tennis & Swim Camp will be hosted by Head Tennis Pro Jason Weiss. This camp is for youth ages 7-13. The first eighteen campers to enroll each week will learn grips, serving mechanics, scoring, and basic strokes. Held at Jervey Gantt Park. $115 per week. Tennis only is $95 per week. (352) 629-8453. Call for information.
YMCA (Dates vary). Archery, games, character development, team building, arts and crafts, nature hikes, swimming, and field trips. The camp fees include parent orientation, field trips, a family campfire, monthly parent night, camp shirt, and camp water bottle. For information, call (352) 368-9622.
Midnight Basketball (Dates vary). Participants will learn basic basketball skills, rules of play, team dynamics, and sportsmanship. Open to youth ages 6 through high school. $10 per participant. Two locations, both Monday-Thursday: Reddick Collier (Old Gymnasium) June 6-13. 4:30-9 pm. (352) 368-5550. E.D. Croskey Recreation Center May 30-July 6. 4-10pm. (352) 626-8485.
Competitive Swimming (May 15-July 29). The City of Ocala swim teams will compete against other area swim teams. Open to youth ages 5-16. Practices are typically three days a week 5:30-6:30pm with swim meets on Saturdays. $55 per swimmer. Call for more information. (352) 624-2410.
Junior Golf Camps (May 30-July 18). Instruction is provided on golf rules including swing development. Open to youth ages 8-16. $150 for a two-week session. Camps offered Monday through Friday from 9am-3pm. Call to register. (352) 401-3909.
Ocala Regional Sports Camp (May 30-July 28). Youth ages 8-13 will learn rules and be walked through the various aspects of basketball, soccer, flag football, baseball, and other sports. They will also learn the value of teamwork and sportsmanship. $60 a week. 8am-5pm. Call for details. (352) 873-6569.
“All Sports” Camp (June 5-9 and July 17-20). These camps will have five sports per day with an emphasis on sportsmanship, good attitudes, and learning how to be a good team player. Campers will compete in baseball, flag football, soccer, basketball, and indoor kickball. Includes a daily lunch, a t-shirt, all activities, instruction, and awards. CFCC’s Marty Smith “All Sports” Camps are for boys and girls ages 6-12. $130-$150. 9:30am-4pm. (352) 427-8372.
Baseball Camp (June 12-15 and July 24-27). CFCC’s Marty Smith Sports Baseball Camps for boys and girls ages 6-12. These camps will be heavy on baseball instruction with an emphasis on the fundamentals and good sportsmanship Held at CFCC’s Goodlett Field. $130-$150. 9:30am-4pm. (352) 427-8372.
Camp Patriot (June 19-22 and June 26-29). CFCC’s Basketball Camp for ages 10-18 provides opportunities for young players to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to play the game of basketball. Emphasis on the fundamentals of shooting, passing, dribbling, rebounding, and defense. The camp will also stress cooperation, self-discipline, and teamwork. Held at CFCC. $130-$150. 9am-4pm. Call for details. (352) 873-5807.
Pee Wee Golf Camp (June 26-29). Little golfers, ages 4-7, are taught course etiquette, swing development, chipping, safety, and more. These short-course workshops run from, from 9-11am and are $30 per student. Registration is limited to the first 25 children. Call to register. (352) 401-3909.
24. Immerse Yourself In The Daytona 500. The Pepsi IMAX Theatre at DAYTONA USA is the only place in Central Florida where fans can view NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience in 3-D. NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience is a 45-minute film that takes fans inside the world of NASCAR’s elite drivers and teams. Show times vary. Visit daytonausa.com for details.
25. Snorkel with Sea Cows. Here, your family can snorkel with the nation’s largest wintering herd on special tours made just for families. Bird’s Underwater in Crystal River emphasizes learning and will even shoot a video of your child’s prehistoric giant. Your kids will learn how to respect these gentle, endangered creatures and perhaps get some inspiration to eat their vegetables from these voracious herbivores. (800) 771-2763.
26. Paint Pottery. Amazing Glaze, in Lake Sumter Landing in The Villages, is a paint-it-yourself pottery studio and cafe and is the ideal creative entertainment for the whole family. Bring the kids and have them create a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of artwork to display in your home. (352) 751-0100.
27. Join A Summer Camp.
Ocala Civic Theatre (Dates vary). Take part in a variety of classes and workshops geared towards the young actor or actress. There are classes available that suit children ages 4 to 18. Prices vary depending on class. For a complete listing, visit ocalavicitheatre.com.
Discovery Science & Outdoor Center. (Dates vary). Each week brings a new and different adventure. The summer will be filled with exploring science, art, and the great outdoors. Activities include canoeing, camping, beach days, field trips, and a variety of indoor activities. For camp information, call (352) 401-3900.
Camp Kiwanis (Dates vary). The only local overnight camping experience for kids ages 7 through 13. The sessions include swimming, archery, arts and crafts, campfires, dances, and more. Applications are available at local schools. $175 per Monday-Friday session, per child. Call (352) 236-5401 for more information.
Summer Recreation Outreach (Dates vary by school). This program provides open recreation sites at various schools throughout the country free of charge through the Ocala Recreation and Parks Department. Programs will include table and board games, basketball, talent show, flag football, and activities. For date listings by school, call (352) 629-8406.
Fun-N-Sun Summer Day Camp (May 19-Aug. 4). This camp program is open to elementary school-aged youth and will be held at the E.D. Croskey Recreation Center. Children will participate in court sports, board and table games, arts and crafts, field trips, movies, and a gameroom. CDS vouchers are accepted at this site. Open 7am-6pm Monday through Friday. For details, call (352) 629-8454.
Lillian Bryant Recreation Center (May 19-Aug. 4). Open recreation will offer playground activities, arts and crafts, tumbling, and dance. A variety of fieldtrips will be offered including trips to the movies, skating rinks, and swimming. On-site activities are free and children can pay as they go for fieldtrips. For information, call (352) 629-8389.
Sunnyside Summer Camp (May 22-July 21). This program is open to children ages 5-11. This camp will offer a multi-generational twist as the youth and the senior citizens at the center co-mingle for a portion of the day. For detailed information, call (352) 401-3918.
Summer Adventure Camps. (May 22-July 21). Grace Episcopal is offering nine weeks of unique summer camp experiences. Activities will include yard games, adventures in nature, theater, pottery, kids in the kitchen, marine biology, and sewing. A Kindercamp is also available for children who have completed K3-K5. Full-time, $100 week; part time, $85 week. For detailed information contact (352) 629-2312.
Camp Fantastic (May 22-July 28). This program offered by the Ocala Recreation and Parks Department is open to elementary school-aged kids and will take place at the Tuscawilla Youth Center. The children will participate in a variety of activities including swimming, carnival days, nature walks, jazzercise, and movies. For information, call (352) 629-8378.
28. Talent Show Night. Put on a play with family and friends. For an added twist, have the kids draw the talent they must perform from a hat. Add ideas such as singing karaoke or holding your breath the longest.
29. Visit the Butterfly Rainforest in Gainesville. Walk amongst 55 to 65 different species and hundreds of free-flying butterflies. Inside, the McGuire Center public exhibits gallery showcases the “Wall of Wings,” which captures the eye with thousands of preserved and photographed butterfly and moth specimens. Located in Gainesville on the University of Florida campus. (352) 846-2000.
30. Visit the Discovery Room. Starting June 12, the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Discovery Room will be open. The Discovery Room is a room for children and their families to discover different ecosystems of Florida including prairie wetlands, marine, and coral reefs. There will be arts and crafts projects as well. Located in Gainesville on the University of Florida campus. (352) 846-2000.
31. Ride The Waves At Wild Waters. For just $39.99 your child can visit Wild Waters every day this summer. With a season pass, you can enjoy the Silver Bullet, the Tornado, and the Twin Twister all season long. For $62.99, you can also enjoy Wild Waters’ sister park, Silver Springs all summer, too. What a deal! (352) 236-2121.
32. Get Up And Move. Ride bikes or rollerblade along the Greenway. It’s a great way to get in shape.
33. Calling All Chocoholics. Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory in Daytona Beach offers free, guided tours. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of how chocolate candies are made and boxed for shipment to chocolate lovers nationwide. Call for tour times. Closed on Sundays. (800) 969-2634.
34. Children’s Book Festival. This day-long event celebrates the joy of reading and the author’s and illustrators who write children’s books. Throughout the day guests may listen to authors speak, talk with the authors, have books autographed, dig for seashells, do arts and crafts, receive a free book, learn about summer reading programs, and have a picture taken with Clifford the Big Red Dog. 10am-3pm. Ocala Public Library. (352) 671-8551.
35. Take A ‘Mystery’ Trip. At the beginning of summer, have each family member write on a sheet of paper a fun day trip. Fold and put it in a decorated mystery trip box (shoebox with stickers will work — the kids can decorate). Draw a suggestion each week and off you go!
36. Camp Kennedy Space Center. At Camp Kennedy, young people experience, imagine, and interact through Space Shuttle mission simulations, tours of the Kennedy Space Center, and the chance to witness first-hand the everyday challenges faced by astronauts. This program is designed for youth ages 8 to 14 years. For information on 2006 camps, call (352) 449-4400 or visit kennedyspacecenter.com.
37. Plan A Day of Art. Grab your kids, a canvas, and some paint and head to the park with the only assignment being for your little artists to paint away. Then, have an artist preview party at home for Daddy that night. Help your child pick out a frame and frame his or her masterpiece for display.
38. Go On A Jungle Adventure. Jungle Adventures is one of the oldest, all-natural, and native attractions in Florida. This 20-acre park and wildlife sanctuary, located in Christmas, is dedicated to eco-tourism, a unique experience for close encounters with native wildlife. (877) 4-AGATOR.
39. Have A Sundae Party. Let the kids pick out their own ice cream mixes and make their own sundaes.
40. Sleep at SeaWorld. Family sleepovers at SeaWorld lend a whole new meaning to camping in the wild. In essence you are sleeping in the Arctic Circle inside sleeping bags spread before floor-to-ceiling Plexiglas aquariums, where whales swim on one side and big white Coca-Cola bears prowl on the other. Parents and kids grades K-5 can sign up for the sleepovers, which run from 7pm Friday until 8am Saturday. For more information, call (800) 327-2424 or visit seaworld.com.
41. Swim With The Dolphins. Twilight Evenings continue at Discovery Cove through September. From 3-9pm Twilight Discovery immerses guests in a tropical paradise, wrapping them in amazing encounters with dolphins and enchanted evening swims through colorful coral reefs featuring thousands of tropical fish and rays. Throughout the evening, live music drifts through the air with Caribbean steel drums, keyboards, and guitars. $279 per guest. (877) 4-DISCOVERY or visit discoverycove.com.
42. Veg Out. If you can be home with your kids one day, vow to stay in your pajamas all day. Make breakfast and lunch in bed! Rent favorite videos and dress only if you really have to.
43. Discover Science. The Discovery Science and Outdoor Center offers exhibit rooms with hands-on activities involving fire trucks, veterinary care, and life in the theater. The center also offers an urban forest where kids can take part in a scavenger hunt for animals, plus dinosaur exhibits and the Brick City rock quarry. (352) 401-3900.
44. Make It A Movie Night. Leave a movie kit on the kids’ beds at night so in the morning they see they’re going to a movie marathon. The movie kit includes a bucket of microwavable popcorn, candy and tickets to the movies. Cheaper By the Dozen 2 and Curious George are scheduled for release on DVD this summer on May 23 and June 27, respectively.
45. Go To The Extreme. Too Your Health Spa is offering a complete summer camp experience. Pool activities, basketball, a skate park, an obstacle course, and a rock climbing wall are just a few of the activities offered. (352) 237-6149.
46. Free Movies. Every summer, Regal Hollywood 16 offers a variety of children’s movies for free. See some of your favorites on the big screen this summer! Contact the theater for a list of available titles and times. (352) 861-2699.
47. Spa Day With The Girls. Visit a local spa (try Face The Day, Your Day Bridal, or Marchelle’s Paris) and get pampered with manicures and pedicures. It’s a great bonding experience and will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
48. Visit the Springs. Sponsored by the Friends of Lake Louisa this is a one-day, Earth-friendly event for all ages designed to create awareness about Florida’s fragile ecosystems and the plants and animals within them. Exhibitors from all over the Central Florida area will be there with displays, live animals, and literature. There will also be BBQ, activities for kids, vendors and workshops that park visitors can participate in. Lake Louisa State Park is located 10 miles south of Clermont. For more information on Florida’s natural springs, visit floridastateparks.org.
49. Do the YMCA. A unique summer camp experience. Various themes throughout the summer for each week include SpongeBob SquarePants, Space Jams, Country Western, Crazy Hat, Super Party, YMCA Spirit Week, Summer Carnival, and Time Capsule. For camp dates and registration information, call (352) 368-9622.
50. Create a Scrapbook. Provide your child with a disposable camera at the beginning of the summer and encourage them to document any trips or activities that take place throughout their break. As summer vacation comes to a close, help them create a memory scrapbook of their summer vacation. Use construction paper, stickers, and colored markers to make the pages come to life. It’s a memento they will cherish for years to come.
Written & Compiled by Karin Fabry & Hannah Ferguson