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Many parents and families of young kids have set their sights on Disney vacations over the years.
For scores of people right now, however, those plans are pretty much out the window — or at least put on hold.
The cost of a trip to Disney World or Disneyland can quickly surge into the thousands of dollars once park passes, shuttle travel, accommodations, airline tickets, incidentals and more are factored into the equation.
Parents and kids can have a good time this summer while also taking control of the costs and the scheduling.
Here are 10 fun summer activities the whole family can enjoy without breaking the bank.
1. Have some backyard fun
Parents and caregivers can put a lot of pressure of themselves to try to keep their kids happy. But this Virginia mother — like plenty of others, to be sure — discovered that you don’t need a ton of money to be creative. I bought an all-purpose pop-up sun tent for the beach — and used it in the backyard as a fort, which is great fun for kids ages 3-12.
Check your local stores’ prices or go online, as the costs vary.
Add a child-sized beach chair, blankets, pillows and towels for the inside of the tent. Pull together some healthy snacks and add drinks to a cooler for convenience.
Around the yard, set up a sprinkler or a baby pool to cool off in if there’s no pool (make sure to watch all young children closely around any body of water, no matter how shallow the water may be).
The sky’s the limit on the fun backyard activities.
More fun: Set up a bubble station and play some fun music. Consider holding a scavenger hunt for the kids. Purchase a giant lawn bowling set and a giant Connect Four game for the kids (check online or at your preferred store for prices). The sky’s the limit on the fun backyard activities.
2. Visit a local zoo
Kids love the zoo and there are plenty of options. Take the kids to the zoo for a summer’s day or throughout the year; prices vary per ticket depending on location.
At the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, children under the age of two enter free.
For children ages 2 to 11, tickets cost $14.95 per kid; and for ages 12-plus, a ticket costs $17.95, according to the Virginia Zoo website.
Become a member to enjoy events all year ’round. Prices range from $69 for an individual 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 camping grounds, cabins, hiking trails, bike trails, lakes, beaches and more — and many of them host local events.
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, the National Park Service sites that charge an entrance fee will offer free admission to everyone. The remaining free dates in 2022 are August 4, Sept. 24 and Nov. 11.
4. Spend a night or two in a hotel near home
Book a hotel room in your area for a night or two — or try a local restaurant you’ve never been to before.
Search out art festivals and food festivals to enjoy.
Check out local splash pads 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 spice up a room, patio or deck.
5. Go to a children’s museum
Check out museums and cultural centers in your local area for a day out with the kids. Hunt out educational presentations, planetariums, exhibits and interactive games.
Check with your local museum to learn about summer programs — and sign up the kids. Costs vary according to the city or town in which the museum is located.
6. Head 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 trips. The Virginia Aquarium offers dolphin-watching and whale-watching boat tours. Prices vary, depending on the aquarium.
7. Enroll the kids in an art class
Look into art classes or craft classes for your children this summer.
Local art studios often have a variety of classes and options such as pottery making, canvas painting and glassworks for older kids and adults.
8. Help your children learn to cook
Introduce your kids to the joys of cooking by signing them up for classes — then try making some recipes together at home.
Look into local classes this summer; take a few classes together.
Or hold your own cooking class at home. Pick out a cookbook — and just go for a recipe that’s right for your child’s age. Maybe choose a favorite dessert to make together, then watch your young one enjoy it with relish.
9. Plan a fun day trip
Pack the car and take a day trip with the kids to a local lake, mountain, beach or waterfall.
Take plenty of snacks with you, plus lunch — and take the scenic route to your destination.
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 provides free entrance to national parks and other federal recreation areas to current U.S. military members and their dependents, according to the National Park Service on its website.
U.S. military veterans as well as Gold Star families are eligible, the park service notes. Check out www.nps.gov/findapark to find a U.S. park near you.