Best low-budget bets

It is a well-known fact that college students’ wallets are often empty, and as a result they are forced to think of creative, inexpensive ways to have a good time. Thankfully, the west coast and central sections of Florida offer a plethora of low cost, entertaining options that all students are sure to enjoy. Here is a list of just 10 options, all below $35.

Think theme parks are way too expensive? Think again. There is not one, but two theme parks that fit the bill: Cypress Gardens Adventure Park and Holy Land Experience.

Located in Winter Haven, Cypress Gardens is only $34.95 for ages 10 to 54. Finding it hard to compete with theme park giants Disney World and Busch Gardens, the small nature park closed for major remodeling. After $50 million in renovations, Cypress Gardens reopened with new roller coasters, a food court and more shops, along with the beautiful gardens and ski shows it was originally known for.

The Holy Land Experience is a Bible-based theme park located in Orlando. The life of Jesus is re-enacted with live camels, actors and a detailed city of Jerusalem as it was in 66 A.D. At only $29.99 for adults, this unique park promises a fun day for religious students.

Three nearby museums are also a cheap alternative. The Salvador Dali Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Florida Air Museum offer interesting insights.

The Salvador Dali Museum, located in St. Petersburg, is currently showing its newest exhibit, “Dali Revealed: Land, Myth, Perception and God” through Oct. 31. According to its Web site,, “This exhibition of the Museum’s permanent collection highlights subjects that preoccupied Dali throughout his life.” It’s open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, until 8:30 on Thursday and noon to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. The cost is $14, $12 for military and police, $9 for students 10 and older, $3.50 for ages 5 through 9 and free for 4 and younger.

Also located in St. Petersburg, The Museum of Fine Arts costs only $8 for adults, $4 for students and is free for ages 6 and under. Its next exhibition, “A is for Ambrotype,” runs from June 18 to Sept. 11. This exhibition traces the development of the photographic medium from early ambrotypes to the present.

Located in Lakeland, The Florida Air Museum has shown the legendary aviation genius Howard Hughes’ personal collection of aviation-related memorabilia since 1996. It seems the recent blockbuster The Aviator left many things out and this museum intends to make all of Hughes’ ideas and inventions well known to the public. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, the cost is $8 for adults, $4 for ages 8 to 12 and free for age 7 and younger.

For the outdoor- and insect-oriented student, the Florida Botanical Gardens, In the Breeze Horseback Riding Ranch and Butterfly Rainforest are sure to stimulate great interest.Summer is the best time to visit the Florida Botanical Gardens. The Gardens offer 10,000 beautiful plants, 10 garden areas and free admission to the public. Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily and located in Largo, this is the perfect spot for a romantic picnic. Don’t forget about our own USF Botanical Gardens.

In the Breeze Horseback Riding Ranch, located in Tampa, is the polar opposite of Ybor City. The Ranch offers an authentic hayride through a 300-acre ranch operated by long-time local horsewoman Lynda Fowler. The cost is $3 per guest for a 30-minute hayride, and there’s a five-guest minimum.

According to Kurt Loft of The Tampa Tribune, the Butterfly Rainforest in Gainesville is “billed as the second largest butterfly collection in the world, behind the British Museum. The 6,400 square-foot exhibit features 2,000 living specimens at any one time, more than 6,000 specimens and images, waterfalls and a viewing trail that takes visitors into the heart of an exotic, subtropical environment.” The Rainforest is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7.50.

Finally, for the wildlife-minded person, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and Clearwater Marine Aquarium offers up close and personal contact with marine wildlife.

According to, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park showcases native Florida wildlife, including manatees, black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, American alligators, American crocodiles and river otters. Daily admission is $9 for adults (age 13 and over), $5 for children (ages 3 through 12) and free for children age 3 and younger. Enjoy the wildlife year-round with the season pass at $22.50 per individual. This pass allows one year of unlimited admission to the park, from date of purchase.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a nonprofit working aquarium dedicated to public education, marine research and rescue, and rehabilitation and release of injured and sick marine animals. It offers guided tours of exhibits of marine environment and sea life including dolphins, otters and sea turtles. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, admission is only $8.75 for adults, $4.25 for children 3 to 11 and free for age 2 and younger.

With all of these options, there is no reason for a broke college student to stay home.