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Cheap Southeast Michigan Family Fun Adventures

Looking for a local 2012 summer vacation getaway with the kids – without breaking the bank? Try these, affordable destinations in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor

When school gets out, kids are thrilled with the prospect of a wide-open canvas of free days ready for the painting. And then, about two weeks in, the cries of, "Mom, I'm bored!" commence. Save yourself a headache and nip that moaning in the bud with Metro Parent's top 10 (cheap!) family fun adventures.

Whether you need a few spare ideas for the down days between out-of-town excursions or a bunch of new options for your frugal stay-cation, we've got you covered. And none of these adventures will break the bank. In fact, many are free. With a little advance planning and a well-packed lunch, you'll be sitting (or running, jumping and swimming) pretty.

Kensington Metropark Farm Center

  • Cost: $5/car, nominal fees/programs
  • Address: 2240 W. Buno Road, Milford
  • Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., daily
  • Phone: 248-684-8632

Drag the kids from the smartphones for a day, filling their senses with the sights, sounds and – oh, yeah – smells of the farm. Kensington Metropark Farm Center is a standout, with a 150-year-old restored barn, chicken coop and a kids' cottage. Meet pigs, cows and horses, too, and check out special summer programs.

Drive-In Theaters

Compuware Sports Arena Drive-in Theatres

  • Cost: $7-$9/ages 13-plus, $5/ages 4-12, free/3 and under
  • Address: 14900 Beck Road, Plymouth
  • Hours: Dusk, June 11-Sept. 2, 2012
  • Phone: 734-927-3284

Ford Drive-In

  • Cost: $8.50/ages 12-plus, $3/12 and under, free/5 and under
  • Address: 10400 Ford Road, Dearborn
  • Hours: Dusk, year-round
  • Phone: 313-846-6910

Fill the van with pj-clad kids, popcorn, soft drinks, pillows and blankies, and off you go! You'll still find three of these outdoor theaters in metro Detroit. The crown jewel is 62-year-old Ford Drive-In with its five screens showing double features. The drive-in at Plymouth's Compuware Sports Arena also gives families more opportunities to take in a little affordable '50s-style Americana.

Belle Isle in Detroit

  • Cost: Free admission to park and most attractions; food concessions available
  • Address: Belle Isle Park, Detroit
  • Hours: 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
  • Phones: 313-331-7760

Do you realize all you are missing by NOT going to Belle Isle? The 982-acre park is the largest island park in the country. Enjoy the fishing piers, bicycle and nature trails, gorgeous water views, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, half-acre Kids' Row playscape, a half-mile-long staffed beach, picnic shelters, Belle Isle Zoo and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, for your young botany enthusiast. There's truly something for everyone here. And you can't beat the price. It's almost all free!

Detroit Museum Adventure Pass

  • Costs: Free/discounted
  • Addresses: Vary (multiple cultural institutes in nine counties)
  • Hours: Vary by venue

In its fifth year, this popular family program returns as an online reservation program. Via a new website (click the link above to get to it), you can print tickets for free or discount admission to cultural attractions galore, throughout nine counties.

Water Parks

  • Cost: Free-$18/head, depending on venue
  • Addresses: Vary
  • Hours: Vary by venue

Southeast Michigan water parks are a prime way to whet that burning need to cool off. Did you know there's a 570,000-gallon wave pool right in Detroit? Chandler Park also has oodles of spray fountains for wee ones. Or tackle a wicked water slide in Ypsilanti – or, if it gets too hot for ya, hit up the cool lazy river and water cannons at Warren's indoor community center. Check out our full list of 10 of the best picks in the region by clicking the link above!

Children's Theater

  • Cost: $5-plus, depending on venue
  • Addresses: Vary
  • Hours: Vary by show

Can't afford Broadway? Try your community theater. Kid fare rules the summer! Catch The Ugly Duckling at Wayne State University's Hilberry Theatre in June and July (only $5 a person). Or try Cinderella in Sterling Heights in July, Fiddler on the Roof in Warren in August and The Jungle Book in Northville in August/September.

Hart Plaza in Detroit

  • Cost: Mostly free; some costs apply
  • Address: 1 Hart Plaza, Detroit
  • Hours: Vary by attraction
  • Phone: 313-877-8077

Head to the waterfront for good food, great music and a special time in the D. Every year, Hart Plaza plays host to world-class events, like the Target Fireworks June 25, 2012; Arab & Chaldean Festival July 28-29, 2012; Ribs-n-Soul R&B Jazz Festival Aug. 10-12, 2012 – and many more.

Chelsea Teddy Bear Company

  • Cost: Free
  • Address: 400 N. Main St., Chelsea
  • Hours: 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturdays, year-round
  • Phone: 734-433-5499

How about hanging out with 100,000 teddy bears some Saturday? Your family can tour the Chelsea Teddy Bear Co. and see the design, dressing and assembly of their adorable, American-made teddies. Take a free tour on Saturdays at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. There's also a genuine toy museum featuring rare and valuable toys – especially antique teddy bears. It's a beary cheap time. But good luck getting out without buying a bear!

Volunteer for a Day

How about giving some sweat equity as a family project? The Greening of Detroit offers opportunities to plant trees and help beautify Detroit neighborhoods (check out their sites for planting dates). Contact an organization like United Way – or offer to clean the grounds at your family's house of worship. There are lots of ways to keep busy and have fun, while instilling the value of volunteerism in your kids.

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