Hit the roller coaster at an amusement park

1. Amusement Park
A day at the amusement park can feel more chaotic than carefree if not planned properly. Use these tips to find calm among the crowds and get the most out of your trip.

Print out a map of the park before you go, and have each person in the family put stickers on the rides they want to try—green for the must-dos, yellow for the maybes and red for the if-there's-time options. Laying out a game plan early will help maximize your family's time and get the kids excited from the get-go.

Ward off the boredom of long lines with a family scavenger hunt. Give out the challenge on the ride to the park—who can find two girls wearing pigtails, six men in blue T-shirts, five park-goers eating funnel cake? Your kids won't even notice that they've been waiting 45 minutes to board the roller coaster.

Set a game allowance for each person in your group and make your own mini-Olympics. Divide into teams for Skee-Ball, water-gun races and beanbag throwing contests and then make your own family prizes (winner gets to choose the music for the ride home!) for first, second and third place.
A day at the beach

2. Day at the Beach
You may only be there for a few hours, but your beach day can feel like an island getaway with a few simple adjustments.

Mix up some Caribbean cocktails—alcohol-free for the family, of course. Try Oprah's favorite Pomegranate Daiquiri, and replace the raspberry and cranberry alcohol with juice. Bring the cocktails to the beach in a cooler, but serve them in disposable martini or margarita glasses, and don't forget the paper drink umbrellas!

It's no day at the beach without sandcastles. Before you head into the sun, have each member of the family print out a picture of a castle to use as inspiration. Make it a sand castle contest, or build them just for the fun of it. Make sure to take pictures of your masterpieces!

There's no shopping necessary during your trip to the beach, but that doesn't mean you'll come home empty-handed. Seashells make the perfect souvenir to commemorate your day. Bring clear water bottles and fill them up with shells. It makes a great-looking centerpiece (and keeps the sand contained!) or memento for the kids.
Spend a rainy day at a bowling alley

3. Bowling Alley
Summer showers don't have to keep you at home. Pass your spare time at the local bowling alley, and give it that vacation feel with these simple tips.

Bowling jerseys can be pricey, so make your own at home. Separate into teams ahead of time so you can think of team names (Pinheads! Bowled Over!) and create fun logos—then put them on T-shirts and a big family scorecard.

Reserve a lane at the end of the alley so your family can hang up decorations and team signs. You can even bring a cake in the shape of a bowling pin or bowling ball.

Get in the spirit on the drive to the bowling alley with a bowling-inspired soundtrack. Try Raffi's "The Bowling Song" or "Score Tonight" from the movie Grease 2.
Have a picnic in the park

4. A Day at the Park
Local parks are the ultimate budget-friendly vacation destination. Bring your own picnic to pass the entire day without spending a dime.

Since you'll be eating outside, pack nature-inspired foods like ants-on-a-log (celery or pretzel sticks with peanut butter and raisins), bug juice (fruit punch) and dirt cake (make a cake of your choice with chocolate frosting, sprinkle with crushed Oreos and gummy worms).

Many local parks play free movies outside on summer nights. Call ahead to the park offices for the summer film schedule, and ask what other organized events they're hosting. Many softball or soccer leagues play in local parks in the summer, and they'll always welcome cheering fans!

Bring a Frisbee or baseball and glove or play games that require no equipment at all like tag or red light green light.
Take your kids to a children's museum

5. Children's Museum
School may be out, but summer can still be a time for learning. Children's museums are the ultimate interactive educational playgrounds, and with a little planning, a day there can feel like a true getaway.

Go to the museum's website to learn what exhibits will be on display during your visit. Museums will usually make resources available so you can educate your children on the topic beforehand. On the way to the museum, ask them to think of two questions for the museum guide—you'll get them excited for the day and foster the learning spirit.

Be hands-on. The museum may be for children, but the day will be more fun for the whole family if parents participate as well, and you'll likely learn a thing or two! You can also extend the learning adventure by asking the museum guides for experiments that are safe to conduct at home. If they don't have any, the museum website can provide suggestions.

Pass on the gift shop. Instead, choose exhibits where you can make your own souvenirs to bring home. Most children's museums have at least one permanent exhibit that involves a create-your-own element, which make for more sentimental—and wallet-friendly—mementos.
Take your family out to the ball game

6. Baseball Game
Nothing says summer like a trip to the ballpark. Indulging in America's pastime is a great way to escape without really getting away. Here are few ideas to help make your day a home run.

Have each member of the family pick a favorite player and make T-shirts and signs rooting him on. Make signs for your home team too, and wave them high—if the game is being televised, that's your best bet for getting on camera!

Have a baseball movie marathon before you go. Little Big League, The Sandlot and Angels in the Outfield are all family-friendly baseball flicks. Then, let your kids feel like ballplayers themselves by getting tickets on the day of a Run the Bases promotion, when stadiums let kids on the field to run around the bases before the game.

Bring lunch, as ballpark food can get expensive, but give each member of the group a budget to buy one souvenir, like a foam finger, an ice cream sundae in a baseball helmet or a pack of baseball cards. Try to score tickets on a giveaway day, and you could come home with a free bobblehead, T-shirt or baseball cards.


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