You promised the fam a summer vacation, but that was before gas prices skyrocketed and wildfires laid waste to half the land. Besides, who wants to log the same number of hours in a car that it'd take to fly to Prague or Luxembourg or Euro-freakin'-Disney?
Save yourself the headache by pocketing Scene's handy summer trip guide, featuring 12 vacation spots both you and the kids will enjoy. They're all within easy driving distance, and they're cheap, cheap, cheap. You can thank us later -- preferably with cash donations.
AFRICAN SAFARI WILDLIFE PARK
Why the Kids'll Love It: Watching animals cavort in their pseudo-natural settings is a favorite childhood pastime, but there's always that pesky problem of proximity. Here, the animals get up close and personal as you drive through the 100-acre preserve. (Just imagine: Camels at your steering wheel! Warthogs in your rearview!)
Why You'll Love It: Where else can you enjoy zebras from the air-conditioned comfort of a crossover vehicle?
The Fine Print: $16.95 for ages seven and up, $10.95 for children three to six, and free for children two and under. Located at 267 Lightner Road, Port Clinton, 1-800-521-2660, www.africansafariwildlifepark.com.
Why the Kids'll Love It: CP's rides cater to children of all ages, from toddlers and tykes (Krazy Kars, Lolli Swing) up to thrill-seeking teens (the 240-foot-droppin' Power Tower).
Why You'll Love It: By adding new attractions yearly, Cedar Point does everything in its zany amusement-park power to thwart grown-up boredom. Just try to act burdened as you're dragged from arcade games to Challenge Golf to the X-Treme Trampoline. (Tightwad's tip: Night owls can take advantage of the "starlight" rate, which gains $24.95 entry to the park after 5 p.m.).
The Fine Print: Prices vary depending on the day and time of your visit, but expect to pay around $41.95 for folks 48 inches or taller, $11.95 for those 47 inches or shorter, and nothing for children two and under. Located at 1 Cedar Point Drive, Sandusky, 419-627-2350, www.cedarpoint.com.
Why the Kids'll Love It: Like its land-lubbing counterpart, Soak City is all about bigger, better, and faster -- two inner-tube river rides, more than a dozen water slides, a 500,000-gallon wave pool, and the huge Splash Zone, a play area featuring more than 100 toys designed to do nothing but drench you.
Why You'll Love It: The Bubbles Swim-Up Bar gives adults a place to lounge on underwater bar stools and sip frozen margaritas.
The Fine Print: $29 for folks 48 inches or taller and $11.95 for everyone else. Located at 1 Cedar Point Drive, Sandusky, 419-627-2350, www.soakcity.cedarpoint.com.
PIONEER WATERLAND AND DRY FUN PARK
Why the Kids'll Love It: They don't put "waterland" in the name for nuthin' -- the park offers six-story-high slides, inner-tube rides, a three-acre cement activity pool, a lake for paddle-boats, a kiddie waterland, and more.
Why You'll Love It: It's all the thrills and sunshine of South Beach. But, you know, without the beach. And not those kinda thrills.
The Fine Print: Located at 10661 Kile Road, Chardon, 440-285-0910, www.pioneerwaterland.com.
PARAMOUNT'S KINGS ISLAND
Why the Kids'll Love It: When you can't get down to Disney, Kings Island's Nickelodeon Universe is the next best thing. Eighteen tamed-down rides feature familiar faces from the Nick Jr. gang: SpongeBob, Aang, Dora the Explorer, Blue and Magenta, the Rugrats, and more.
Why You'll Love It: With a 214-foot-tall drop taken at 78 mph, the Son of Beast is arguably the coolest coaster in the known world.
The Fine Print: $37.95 for folks 48 inches or taller, and $29.95 for everyone else. Located at 6300 Kings Island Drive, Mason, 513-754-5800, www.pki.com.
THE GREAT LAKES MEDIEVAL FAIRE AND MARKETPLACE
Why the Kids'll Love It: Jugglers, live jousting, action swordplay, and a medieval magician who hammers nails into his head. Want more? Candle-making, face-painting, fortune-telling, a Robin Hood stunt show, Peter Pan gallivanting with his merry band of fairies, and human-powered carnival rides. (For once, they'll give Dad a break.)
Why You'll Love It: About those stage shows -- let's just say they're not all G-rated. And while it's de rigueur to gnaw a turkey leg, no medieval celebration is complete without a few (dozen) brewskis and half a paycheck blown on Lord of the Rings-style fringed suede boots.
The Fine Print: $17.95 for adults and $5.95 for children. Located at 3033 State Route 534, Rock Creek, 440-474-4280, www.medievalfaire.com.
Why the Kids'll Love It: For the 100th anniversary of Hersheypark, guests are getting one hell of a present -- a new section that pays tribute to the classic boardwalks of Atlantic City, Ocean City, Coney Island, and Rehoboth. The expansion includes the $21 million East Coast Waterworks, which features seven slides, two crawl tunnels, 600 spraytastic toys, and more than 54,000 gallons of water. Mmm, chlorine!
Why You'll Love It: Hersheypark is just one of many attractions in Hershey. Make time for the zoo, a chocolate factory tour, and a trip to the Spa at Hotel Hershey. (Delish treatments include a whipped-cocoa bath, strawberry-parfait scrub, and chocolate-fondue wrap.)
The Fine Print: $45.95 for ages nine and up, and $26.95 for children three to eight. Children two and under are free. Located at 100 West Hersheypark Drive, Hershey, Pennsylvania, 1-800-HERSHEY, www.hersheypa.com/attractions/hersheypark.
GENEVA ON THE LAKE
Why the Kids'll Love It: Erieview Park may have closed last year, but youngsters will still be tempted with water slides, bumper boats, batting cages, a roller rink, mini-golf, and Laser Tag.
Why You'll Love It: Geneva is home to several fine wineries, schmancy lakefront restaurants, and nightclubs galore. Boating, fishing, flea marketing, and outdoor concerts (polka, rag, big band, gospel, etc.) are also options. Pack up the RV, and make a weekend of it.
The Fine Print: 440-466-8600, www.visitgenevaonthelake.com.
Why the Kids'll Love It: If the natural splendor of the falls doesn't enchant 'em, there are always the haunted houses, miniature golf courses, Guinness Museum of World Records, Marineland Canada, and more wax museums than you can shake Little Richard's plaster-molded pinkie at.
Why You'll Love It: Booze, gambling, and some of the best strip clubs in North America. Um, we mean . . . some of the best waterfalls in North America. There's a reason the area was, and is, a major honeymoon destination.
The Fine Print: 1-800-56-FALLS, www.niagarafallstourism.com.
GREAT WOLF LODGE
Why the Kids'll Love It: Not only does Great Wolf feature pools, water slides, tube slides, a gaming arcade, craft center, and daily activities, it's all indoors -- so there's no postponed or canceled trips due to weather. (Translation: No whining-crying-"You're the worst parents in the world!" temper tantrums.)
Why You'll Love It: The ticket price includes both lodging and entertainment. And let's not forget Wiley's Turndown Service, wherein the GWL mascot comes to your room bearing milk and cookies.
The Fine Print: Package prices vary. Located at 4600 Milan Road, Sandusky, 1-800-641-WOLF, www.greatwolf.com.
Why the Kids'll Love It: Imagine the ultimate basement game room stocked with new and classic video games, plus table games like pool and billiards. The lineup includes Sopranos Pinball, House of the Dead 4, Need for Speed, Maximum Tune Midnight, and Cyrcraft.
Why You'll Love It: Oh, right, like you didn't love Nintendo.
The Fine Print: There's no admission charge, but there is a minimum game-card purchase of $10 for unaccompanied minors. Located at 165 Easton Town Center, Columbus, 614-428-7529, www.gameworks.com.
Why the Kids'll Love It: Almost every exhibit at the Columbus hands-on Science Center is interactive, which is more than you can say about most textbooks. Here, kids can pet Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, watch rats play basketball, and take a bath in a cloud. Summer's coming attractions include a Cartoon Network exhibit on animation -- where kids can practice free drawing, play with storyboards, and edit sound clips -- and "The Science of Big Machines," a showcase focused on backhoes, bulldozers, and other highway-clogging apparati.
Why You'll Love It: Even if you flunked bio, you're bound to learn something at COSI. Find out what makes dry ice sizzle, how soap works, and why your hair stands on end when you touch the Electrostatic Generator.
The Fine Print: $12.50 to $18.50 for adults, $7.50 to $13.50 for children. Located at 333 West Broad Street, Columbus, 614-228-COSI, www.cosi.org.