Push Away the Screen: Summer Camp at Busch Gardens Tampa

Summer is right around the corner! Holy smokes has the time just flown by!

I'm a working mama now, so that means I need to find summer camps for my kids that will not only keep them safe, but active, and engaged.

When Busch Gardens Tampa Bay reached out to me about sending the #TampaTrio to a week of camp at their facility, I might have squealed with delight, and in all honesty, felt huge pangs of jealousy. I LOVE Busch Gardens.


Whether your kid is five or fifteen, they are ALWAYS ready for an adventure and Busch Gardens day camps offer adventures that last a lifetime! Discover what adventures await your kids this summer at Busch Gardens.

Day camps allow campers to make new friends, learn team-building skills and discover new things. A variety of camps fit kids’ interests and grade levels. From caring for animals to becoming a Counselor in Training, day campers will take on new challenges while having fun.

This summer my kids will be rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders (again..WOW!! How did that happen??) They had some great camps to choose from!

Ronin chose Zoo Chefs where he'll lend a hand in helping feed more than 12,000 animals at Busch Gardens.

Ella chose to learn how important water is to Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and Adventure Island by choosing Splash Seekers camp!

Haley is going to get her hands dirty while shadowing a field researcher in the Creature Researchers.

ALL camps include:

  • Daily lunches, snacks & drinks
  • A Camp T-shirt and a water bottle
  • A complimentary photo with a Busch Gardens animal ambassador
  • Complimentary admission to Busch Gardens following camp each day for campers


You can check out all the available DAY camps for your child HERE. And the chart below lists some of the camps available for kids up through middle school.


What camps are you sending your kids too this summer??

Push Away the Screen: Top 5 Reasons why Universal Studios Florida is Autism Friendly

My family are Busch Gardens Tampa snobs. We love Busch Gardens and go as often as we can. Busch Gardens treats us well, and offers a "special needs" pass that allows us to quickly move through the park without the threat of meltdowns from my Ronin. 

When Ronin was 3 years old we attempted our first Disney trip. IT WAS AWFUL. We spent over $600 for tickets to Disney MGM Studios during Star Wars weekend. We left the park in tears less than 2 hours later. It was simply awful.

Needless to say, that experience left us feeling a little jaded on Orlando theme parks, so we have been sticking close to home with Busch Gardens.

Over the summer we ventured out to Legoland Florida and it went VERY well. Like Busch Gardens they offered a special needs pass and it made our experience one that I would repeat.

This past year the #TampaTrio has become ENTHRALLED with all things Harry Potter, so I made them a promise. As soon as one of them read at least one of the Harry Potter books I would take them to Universal Studios.

I honestly wasn't sure if they'd go for it. Haley has tried the books in the past (when she was in 3rd grade), but just couldn't get into them. We tried to do it as an audio book in the car, but the narrator had such a thick British accent that he was difficult to understand. 

But low and behold...once Haley had finished all 16 of the SSYRA books, I caught her with Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, her face buried in the book. 

And before I knew it, she had read the first 5 books. I mentioned to my mom that I was planning on taking them, but was complaining about the cost of tickets, and how we'd need the 2 park ticket, blah blah blah. Imagine my surprise when our Christmas card arrived from Grandma with enough money for us to go to Universal Studios! She's so awesome!

So off we went, just me and kids! And we had a GREAT TIME!!!! 

So...what did I do to make Universal Studios more manageable for my autistic kid?

1) I DID MY HOMEWORK, and I planned, planned, planned. I found out online when their least busy time of the year was (just happened to be the weekend BEFORE the Superbowl) and made plans to go then. My little dude does not do well in huge crowds of people, so knowing that the park would be at a low capacity was pivotal to my plan!

2) I printed out copies of the park maps beforehand. This gave my kid the opportunity to see the park laid out before him. Ronin is very spatial and LOVES maps (check out this study, it's pretty cool) so giving him some knowledge beforehand of where we'd be going and what we'd be seeing could only work in my favor.


3) During my planning stage I also learned that Universal Studios also offered at Attraction Assistance Pass. I researched how the pass works, and prepared my dude. So how does it work?

First, you bring your child with you to guest services. Since we arrived at the park BEFORE it opened (again part of my planning) we went to guest services OUTSIDE the park and there was NO LINE. I had brought a doctor's note with us explaining Ronin's condition, but it was not needed. Anyone who speaks with him for a few minutes can figure out that he's a special little dude.  With the pass we were able to gain entrance to all the rides using the Express Pass entrance WITHOUT having to pay for an express pass.

Now, the pass works like this: if a ride has less than a 30 minute wait period and you present your Attraction Assistant Pass, you and your family are allowed to enter the ride immediately without wait through the Express Pass entrance. If, however, the wait time is longer than 30 minutes, the staff member will give you a time to return to the ride. In other words, if the wait time is 45 minutes, the staff member will write the time (45 minutes from then) when you may return and then enter the ride without any wait.

Although the kids are waiting the same amount of time as everyone to ride, they are not required to wait in the line with other people. (Very beneficial to anyone else in line if you ask me.) There were only two times that we had to return: Spiderman, and for the Aerosmith Rip Rockin' Rollercoaster. While we waited for Spiderman we ate lunch and while we waited for Rip Rockin' we took a rest break on the lawn area in front of the coaster. It was a beautiful sunny day and it felt good to snuggle together and get off our feet for a few minutes. If Ronin would have had to wait in line with everyone else, our trip would have been disastrous. 

4) Interactive experience. Ronin is a high functioning autistic child. He can be very much "upinyourfaceandnotgiveyouanyspaceofyourown" or he can be quiet and withdrawn. He was both on this trip.

During our wand experience in Diagon Alley, Ronin was selected as the "special child" to receive 1:1 time with the wand maker. The rest of our group (including Haley & Ella) were ushered out and only Ronin and I remained in the room. The wand maker spoke very calmly, very delicately to Ronin. Told Ronin to "place your hands" up on the counter and not move them. Ronin did as he was told.

He listened so carefully to what the wand maker was telling him, kept his eyes on his the entire time. It was magical. 

And then later in the day Ronin was very hyper, very excited, very "inyourfaceandnotgivingyouanyspace" and he was chosen as one of the kids to squirt water on the contestants at Fear Factor Live.

He loved both of those experiences and each one was very different. 

5) DINOSAURS. A lot of autistic kids have things that they fixate on. Ronin's current fixation over the past couple of months has been JURRASIC PARK. He's watched the movies over and over, and he saw the Jurrasic Park land on the map, but he wasn't expecting to actually SEE a T-REX.


For him, this was the coolest thing EVER! He loved it. It was too cold for us to go on the Jurrasic River Rapids ride because you get soaking wet, and it was just above freezing, but we'll go back in a few years and if he's still interested he can go on it again.

Our family had a FANTASTIC day. From Diagon Alley and Hogwarts Express, to the Incredible Hulk and Fear Factor LIVE, our experience at Universal Studios was


We went on EVERY ride we wanted. Missed NOTHING. In our 10 hours at the park we accomplished every goal Ronin had set out for us! 



Have you ever been to Universal Studios Florida? What was your favorite part??

5 Tips on how to raise a reader

Reading has always been an important part of my life.

I was taught to read by my mother before I was 3 years old.

Nightly story time began when my children were still in the womb.

But loving to read, and raising your child(ren) to love to read are two very different things.

Children that become lifelong readers (like me!) often need that "perfect" book, something that just opens their imagination and introduces them to the wide world of fiction.

Non-fiction was always my children's first foray into independent reading. They loved to read books about animals, weather and geography.

But getting them to read fiction INDEPENDENTLY was a little challenging. I always read fiction books to them during our evening story time. Harry Potter, Little House on the Prairie, and of course, shorter non-chapter books like Ferdinand the Bull, Going on a Bear Hunt, Skippy Jon Jones, and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel were (and still are!!) some of our favorites.

In 3rd grade I bought Haley all of the Sunshine State Young Readers Award books (SSYRA) she read a few of them, but it was more out of a sense of obligation to ME than of her wanting to do it for HER.

I found it so odd that a child of a LIBRARIAN wouldn't take the mom librarians suggestion for great books. She'd take suggestions from her school media specialist and classroom teacher but not her own mother. Undecided

So I backed off, and decided to use the tips I used with my own library patrons to try to instill a lifelong love of reading in my own children.

1. READ ALOUD. Just as I mentioned above, reading aloud is something that I have always done with my kids, and continue to do with them today at ages 8, 9, and 10. They love to have me read them a story, and I love reading to them.

2. STICK WITH A SERIES. If my kids love a book that is part of a series, I'll continue reading the series to them. But I noticed that Haley (my oldest) was often asking to read ahead in the series. I'd get her hooked on the first book, and then she'd take the series and finish the rest of it! Score one for Mom Librarian!

3. MODEL READING BEHAVIOR. I make sure that my kids see me reading. And reading a REAL book. Not an e-book. Not a magazine, but a real honest to goodness book.  I also make sure that reading is part of our family lifestyle. The kids and I have a 30 minute "silent reading" time every afternoon. I read, they read, and though 30 minutes is hard for Ronin, he's working on it. He might only get 10 minutes, and then I read aloud to him for the other 20 minutes.

4. LET THEM CHOOSE!! This one was hard for me. I despised when Haley would bring home Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. But she loved them. She could read through them quickly, she was laughing, she was engaged. I had to remind myself that even through Greg demonstrated behaviors that I didn't want Haley to do, it didn't mean that she would simply by reading the book. If anything it was the opposite. She got to "live" through Greg's bad choices.

5. CLASSICS!! As a librarian I have a TON of books in our home. And a lot of those books are classics. Charlotte's Web, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, etc., all take up a prominent spot on our bookshelves. As Haley started to become a more voracious reader, she started grabbing the classics to fill up her time between visits to the library.


This year, Haley decided she wanted to read the SSYRA books. All 15 of them. She started last week, and as of today she has read 8 of the 15 books.


But the BEST part of watching my children emerge as readers is that they are reading just for the sake of reading. Countless studies have shown that children that start reading earlier have better academic success AND become LIFELONG readers.

And we visit the library often!! They have so much more at the library than just books!! Like Lego's. Lego's are fun.

Do you have any tips to share on raising a reader??