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Sunday, July 3, 2022

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Summer budget travel

Can your family afford $1,200? According to, that’s the average price a family of four would pay to fly from Chicago to Tampa this summer. Tack on the price of a hotel, rental car, and meals during and it could jump to well over $2,500 for a week’s worth of fun in the sun. If you include the cost of visiting area attractions, the bill could easily skyrocket past $3,000.

If, like me, you’re lucky enough to call Florida home, you’re probably feeling pretty good right now. We have the privilege of enjoying this vacation paradise anytime we want for a fraction of the cost! No airfare. No hotel. No rental car. Just the price of a tank of gas and tickets to local attractions can be a staycation to remember.

As a morning anchor on ABC Action News, my days start early. Very early! I’m up at 2:30 a.m. Yes, I adhere to the old adage, early to bed, early to rise. But my family and I make time for fun, and lots of it. We like to call ourselves professional day-cationers. We routinely pack up our daughters Riley, 5½, and Ryan, 4, on Saturday mornings and hit the road for daylong adventures. The most difficult part of our travel plans usually involves where to start first.

Several times a month we start out in Tampa. The Florida Aquarium is one of our favorites on a hot day. My girls absolutely love the aquarium’s Explore a Shore! It’s the perfect spot for all of us. My husband and I usually find a shady spot to chill (the Cantina bar and grill) while our girls run 90-miles a minute from one thing to the next. They start out on the playground, then race full steam ahead toward the water adventure zone to cool off. I’ve even joined them a few times on the pirate ship. It’s pretty hard to resist the water canons and geysers especially on a near 100-degree day.

Another cool place is the Glazer Children’s Museum. It’s our “go to” place to take family and friends when they visit from out of town. My girls can easily spend the entire afternoon playing on the first floor without ever venturing to the second floor. There are a variety of play stations for kids to take on all kinds of roles. They can be a tug boat captain, then move on to working on a cruise ship to following the journey of water and working as an engineer. This place is perfect for allowing their imaginations to run wild! Ryan also loves the “veterinary play area” on the second floor. She usually makes up some rare illness that she’s treating a dog for. I think medical school is in her future and working for the rest of my life to pay for it is in mine!

Just outside the museum is the real gem we love showing off. Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa is usually our showstopper. Talk about turning on the charm and romance. Overlooking the Hillsborough River, it’s the perfect spot for an outdoor picnic. Make sure you pack a swimsuit for your kids. They’ll love spending the afternoon running in and out of the dancing fountains. Depending on how hot it is, you might consider it, too. I promise I won’t put you on the news for it.

MOSI and Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo are two more favorites. The rides are perfect for younger kids. They’re not too fast or high. They’re just right for little thrill seekers. I love them because the girls can actually ride alone or together without having Mommy climb on or into a ride. Riley especially loves the pony rides at the zoo. As soon as we get there, she nearly pulls my arm out of socket trying to get to Marshall, her favorite pony. The camel ride is a highlight for them more so than me. It’s hard to look poised and cute sitting on top of a camel. I’m just saying!

If you love dolphins, your family has several options! There are countless sightseeing boat tours all over the bay area that promise to get you up close and personal with dolphins.

For the thrill seekers in your family the choices are limitless! Busch Gardens in Tampa and for the little adrenaline junkies there is Legoland Florida in Winter Haven. These parks offer something for everyone. We’re partial to Legoland since it’s geared toward younger kids, ages 2 to 12. The rides are just daring enough to create butterflies in little tummies but not enough to keep them from coming back for more. The girls squeal on the “Beetle Bounce” while I hold on for dear life. Another bonus of this park, the lines move quickly and the park is very clean. The live water ski show is a definite must see! Spoiler Alert: Don’t sit in the front row unless you like getting soaked.

Of course no staycation is complete without a trip to one of our world famous beaches!

With so many options for fun in the sun, a tank of gas and an imagination are all you need for a daycation your family will never forget. The best part, you get to sleep in your own bed when the day is done.

Deiah Riley is the morning news anchor for ABC Action News and has lived in Tampa since 2003.

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