Fun times with the kids on a budget

This week, a friend asked me how I do all the stuff that I do with the kids.   “You must have a huge budget, Kelly!” he remarked.  The answer is no.  I do not have a huge budget.  But when you have kids and you work too, it is critical to do stuff together where everyone (and that includes you!) can relax.  You get to de-stress and you build memories too.  It is possible here in Jam Down with a little planning.  So this post is dedicated to EY.  May you have fun times with your girls and build memories for a life-time.

MY MUST HAVES FOR A FUN TIME

1.  Working vehicle
2.  Tank full of gas
3.  Igloo

You see, with all of the above in place, there are so many options open to you.  Here are some of my favourites:

1.  BEACH TRIPS:

Ocho Rios Public Beach, Frenchman’s Cove (Portland), Doctors Cave (Montego Bay), Negril, Ft. Clarence.  Any of the above can be done in a single day. For Negril and Mobay, leave home early (think 6am).  Buy patties en route for breakfast or make sandwiches from the night before.  Pack your own snacks and fruit that you bought in the grocery, and pack water and juices, soda and rum for Mummy.  Admission to these beaches ranges from 150.00 per person to 400.00.  Now many of these beaches don’t allow you to bring your own food.  Some of the food options on the beaches are really overpriced in my opinion.  So for those beaches with the expensive options, I still carry my snacks and frozen bottles in my beach bag, and promise the kids to stop somewhere more affordable for food on the way back. This adds another dimension to the road trip.  Kids are usually more than satisfied with the low budget options available like BK and KFC, and I also use the opportunity to expose them to various jerk spots and “decentish” cook shops where you can get get good Jamaican food for under 500.00 (there are great places with parking along the Northcoast highway like that spot opposite Green Grotto Caves, Lyming, jerk in Blueberry Hill, St. Mary, Spur Tree curry goat.  On every road trip I look out for potential stop-offs and plan for them on my next trip.

2. THE ZOO IN KINGSTON:

I think it is now 500.00 for adults and 200.00 for kids.  This is a central oasis that doesn’t require big planning.  Stop at KFC or your favourite take out place, get your food, carry a blanket (or not!) and head off to the zoo.  The zoo has recently been transformed and the grounds which were lovely before with huge expanses of lawn, are even lovelier now with the addition of many many palm trees and the creation of new picnic areas. You can picnic in peace and quiet under the mango trees and enjoy the quietude and breeze.  The children will enjoy running up and down  looking at the animals and you can walk with them or not.  It never gets tired.  There are new animals with the promise of more to come.  There are interactive exhibits where for a little more money (think 200.00 per person) you can feed the birds or pet specific animals.  Check it out!  It’s a fun, hassle-free way to take a few hours off and just relax.

3.  THE NATIONAL GALLERY

An hour and a half in the gallery on a quiet Saturday morning down town Kingston is a wonderful way to expose your children (and you too!) to another side of our culture.  Sometimes there are exhibits and activities there geared towards children. Admission is free I believe.  Parking is secure.  And when you are finished., just take a walk with your children along Harbour Street.  Take them into Burger King for a little treat.  Easy, fun and memorable.

4.  TOM REDCAM LIBRARY

I could almost copy and paste the verbiage for the National Gallery here.

5.  EMANCIPATION PARK

The park is lovely in the evening, just before the sun sets.  It’s still light, but it’s cooler.  There’s an icecream shop opposite the entrance to the park.  Get a single scoop of your favourite flavour and saunter slowly into the park.  Chat, walk, people watch and grab a seat on a bench or on the grass.  From time to time there are shows there that you can enjoy for free.  But even without a show, the park remains a great choice to just exhale and clear your mind.  Really young children love it. The huge expanses inspire them to just run, and by the time you get home and bathe them they’re ready to crash!  Hint: keep those toddlers awake in the car on the way home so they sleep when you get home, and you can relax with a glass of wine in from of the TV.  Heaven!

6.  HOLLYWELL PARK

It’s just a 45 minute drive from Papine.  Pack a picnic, wear your sneakers, carry your sweaters and lots of drinking water and fruit.  A regular car can make that drive.  Once there, I think you pay a nominal entry fee (something like 200.00 or 300.00 per adult and way less per child).  Park and take one of 2 main hiking trails. Young children can do these walks. Each trail is 45 min long with great views along the way and lots of interesting things to see.  Check in at the Ranger cabin so someone knows you are out there.  Ensure that you have your cell phone and get to walking.  Aim to get there by 10:00 am. and do your hiking then.  The afternoons get overcast, misty and rainy…great picnic weather huddled under one of the many gazebos on property.

7.  DRIVE-OUTS IN AND AROUND KINGSTON:

So I love to drive!  Grab your favourite music, make a big deal of it, and load up the car.  Head out to the lighthouse near the airport.  Watch the planes come in, look at the sea.  Talk.  Collect rocks along the shore.

Drive through the more affluent neighbourhoods like Beverly Hills, Norbrook, Cherry Gardens and do some harmless House Hunting.  It’s fun.  You can chat along the drive.

Do the Port Royal Tour.  I don’t think it’s more than 500.00 for adults. It’s fun and it’s informative.

I highly recommend the Bob Marley Museum tour.  Can’t remember the fee, but it is way less than a movie for sure.  Even children will find it interesting.

Go for ice cream at Devon House.  Saturday afternoons are good.  It’s not too crowded, and it feels like such a treat to break your day and just sit under a tree or gazebo eating great ice-cream.

Mayfair Hotel in Kingston is a great spot for the kids to swim and Mom and Dad to have a drink.  For 350.00 you can swim and relax under a huge mango tree out back.  There’s a bar and grill.  It’s central, quiet and safe.

8.  LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Palace Amusement rocks.  I loooove the movies: the dark and cool and nachos and my sneaked in flask of tonic to take me through animate features (I hate cartoons in any form).  Nowadays, I consider movies a big budget item!  So I carefully choose what we’ll go to see and make an event of it.  And to be perfectly honest, I go by myself after work from time to time. Ain’t nothing nicer than sinking into that cushy seat by yourself, in the dark with your snack of choice, enjoying not having to talk for 2 hours and being entertained. Try it…

Take the kids to an age appropriate local play.  My kids enjoyed Breadfruit Kingdom

They enjoyed the Pantomime last year too.

Save some $$$ and look out for all-inclusive hotel specials and do this once per year.

Create your own rituals.  In my house, Sundays are special.  I throw down on a Sunday and we lounge around at the dinner table for 3 hours eating and talking.

Always be on the look out for festivals, free shows, exhibitions, etc that you and your children could be interested in.  Naturally, this list is not exhaustive.  There are numerous big ticket items like the Water Park in Negril, paint-balling in St. Thomas, Mystic Mountain and swimming with the Dolphins.  You can plan for these.  I haven’t spoken about Castleton, heritage stops in various parishes, and the many other beaches around Jamaica Land we Love.

My next road trip will be a drive to Black River to do the Black River safari (1600.00 per person).  I may stop at the Grace agro-processing facility in St. Elizabeth on the way back and get a tour of the facilities.  We’ll see…

It’s always more about building the memories and creating an environment and context where your children feel safe and loved.  Have Fun!!!!!

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