Spring break daycations

You don't have to go far for a trip that will entertain the kids

It’s that time of year again: spring break.

Your kids have been infected with the dreaded “there’s-nothing-to-do-itis” instead of spring fever. As you listen to them whining the “nothing to do” chorus while simultaneously fighting over a Nintendo Wii game, you realize suddenly that you’ve all got to get out of the house or you’ll go mad.

Fear not. Although these leaner economic times may mean you won’t be jetting off to a Magic Kingdom where it’s almost mandatory to wear mouse ears, you can find plenty of magical spring break experiences right in your own backyard.

Talk to the Animals

Nature-loving kids and their parents are in luck, as there’s a terrific place in this area to get “up close and personal” with flora and fauna. The 2,002-acre Kansas City Zoo (open daily 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is located inside valleys and rolling hills in Kansas City, Mo.’s Swope Park, and contains more than 1,000 animals. You can hop with kangaroos in the Australia section, marvel at tigers in the Asia section, and ride high above the African Plains on the African Sky Safari (weather permitting), crossing approximately 1,500 feet at 35 feet above the ground. (Your toes will dangle just above cheetahs, lions, giraffes and rhinos.)

The action is nonstop in the Tropics, an indoor rainforest, where otters swim underfoot in the lush tropical setting. Twin Golden Lion Tamarins, born Jan. 18, are now on exhibit there. Aww … cuteness overload.

Special kid zone areas of the zoo include the Discovery Barn and Peek-a-Boo Tree, where kids can climb and play like monkeys.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Powell Gardens’ slogan is “Road Trip for your Soul,” and after just a few minutes in this peaceful and serene setting, you’ll begin to feel yourself unwind.

This 915-acre nature center is located in Kingsville, Mo., about 30 miles east of Kansas City on U.S. Highway 50.

Featuring 6,000 varieties of plants and using 225,000 plants a year in seasonal displays, there’s always something special to see, year-round.

On Sunday afternoon, your family can join Horticulture Director Alan Branhagen for the “Singing Frogs and Early Blooms Hike,” exploring a 3.25-mile nature trail as spring begins to emerge. (Call 816-697-2600, extension 209 to make reservations.) Fortify yourself for the hike by indulging in fresh, local and seasonal fare at Cafe Thyme.

Calling All Space Cadets!

The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center in Topeka is now enrolling students for the “Space Academy: Master the Force” spring break camp, March 19-23. Cadets will investigate space travel, create cities of the future, design light sabers and master the ways of a Jedi Knight.

Each day of the camp offers new hands-on challenges that prepare kids for a final space mission and showdown with Imperial Forces. To register, email camps@kansas


But you don’t have to be a camper to enjoy the Discovery Center. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday during area schools’ spring break and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, the center’s exhibit floor creates a unique experience for the whole family. Kids can explore nine different interactive areas emphasizing science, art, building/engineering, careers and the “real world.”

Your own children’s favorites might be the Auto Center where they can change oil and rotate tires, the Art Pavilion where they can paint on the walls (and not get scolded for it) and the Real Tool Workshop, where children and adults work together using real saws, hammers, vices and building materials. Who knows, maybe you’ll create a unique family heirloom!

With the opening of the International Dream Rocket project, March daily programming includes activities centered around space, rockets and dreams.

The Center’s 15,708-square-foot building is nestled within four wooded areas of Gage Park, off 10th Street. While in the area, you and your kids can also enjoy the Topeka Zoo, the mini-train and the old-fashioned carousel.

Nothing But Net

Young Jayhawk fans who just can’t get enough hoops during March Madness will think they’re in heaven when they first lay eyes on the College Basketball Experience, located in Kansas City’s Sprint Center, directly across from the Power & Light District.

At the CBE, you can easily “get off the bench and get in the game!”

The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame occupies approximately one-third of the CBE (with historical exhibits giving recognition to great coaches, players and teams), but it’s the other two-thirds of the place that captivate most basketball fans, as they work up a sweat touring (and participating) in the high-energy, highly interactive venue. Casual and hardcore fans of any age can totally immerse themselves in the game of basketball. Dedicated hoopsters can take part in three-point shooting, dunking, dribbling and passing drills.

Hands-on exhibits throughout the facility place visitors in electrifying game simulations, from sinking the game winning shot (à la “Mario’s Miracle”) to announcing the play-by-play action from the ESPNU broadcast desk. (The ESPN Sports Center is part of the College Basketball Experience.)

With exhibits titled “Beat the Clock,” “Call the Highlights,” “Clean the Glass,” “Get in the Zone,” “Make the Pass,” “Shoot from Downtown” and “Step Up to the Line,” the whole place is like a slam dunk for diehard basketball addicts.

The CBE is open to the public Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.