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A trip to Disney World may be a dream vacation, but it can also be a nightmare for the family bank account. You've got lunch with Cinderella, all those gift stores, expensive hotels and the travel, not to mention the price of admission. So, for families trying to find fun vacations for less this summer, NPR is trying to help out. For our series Cheap Thrills, NPR's David Schaper finds some amusement-park-style fun much closer to home.

DAVID SCHAPER: Chicago summers are, well, short, so we try to get the most out of them with neighborhood festivals and carnivals. One of the biggest is the Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club's Family Fest, held in a huge parking lot near some old factories on the city's North Side. There's a midway of sorts, with lots of games offering prizes like live goldfish or big stuffed animals that, of course, are not Disney characters.

Mr. JIM GALLERY (Volunteer, Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club): Well, you don't have to go to Disney World.

SCHAPER: Jim Gallery is a Neighborhood Boys and Girls Club volunteer.

Mr. GALLERY: It's a long way to go for what I would consider standing in a lot of lines, whereas, here, you come, and you get right in. There's a bunch of rides. They're the best rides of any of the carnivals. You get that funky carnival look, too, look and feel.

SCHAPER: You're not going to see Cinderella. You're going to seeā€¦

Mr. GALLERY: You're not going to see - I would say the visuals are better. You've got more tattoos per capita and fewer teeth. There you go.

SCHAPER: In all fairness, the ride and game operators are neatly dressed and polite, nothing like the carnies I saw as a kid. And the best thing about this carnival, most of the money you do spend goes to a good cause, even though you're really not spending that much money.

Ms. INGER CARLE: Well, clearly, this is much better for the bottom line.

SCHAPER: Inger Carle tries comparing the carnival to Disney while waiting for the younger of her two children to get off a slow-moving, mini Ferris wheel. She calls it awesome to be able to just walk over to the carnival and affordable, even while she tries to save up for a trip, someday, to Disney.

Ms. CARLE: I don't know. It doesn't have the same, like, the fireworks and the magic, but this is really, really fun for them.

SCHAPER: So how much fun can it really be for the kid whose heart is set on going to Disney someday? I asked four-year-old Rebecca Byrnes, who walked over here from her home a few blocks away with her mom, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Rebecca, how much fun do you have here?

Ms. REBECCA BYRNES: So much. Like, I wish I could live here.

Ms. LISA MADIGAN (Attorney General, Illinois): Live here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHAPER: And she wouldn't know the difference with Disney, would she?

Ms. MADIGAN: No, because we haven't taken her to that other place.

SCHAPER: How many times have I taken you to Disney World in Orlando?

Mr. MICHAEL SCHAPER: Never.

SCHAPER: This is my 13-year-old son, Michael. I'll give him a $20, so he can buy a wristband for unlimited rides for four hours, and he'll still have five bucks left over for games or food. But first, I ask him to describe his favorite spinny ride at the carnival called Zero Gravity.

Mr. SCHAPER: It's just fun because you get, like, stuck to the wall, and it's, like, kind of crazy. And it's - the ride, like, tilts completely so you're like, almost vertical and it, like, spins.

SCHAPER: What happens to you and some of your friends after you get off of it? How do you feel?

Mr. SCHAPER: Just really dizzy. And then you, like, can't walk straight, and you sort of feel sick.

SCHAPER: Do you ever throw up after going on that one?

Mr. SCHAPER: A couple of my friends did.

SCHAPER: And while the kids are spinning themselves sick, parents can head to the beer tent. No kids allowed here. Drinks are four bucks for your choice of:

Unidentified Man: Pabst Blue Ribbon, Berghoff and sangria.

SCHAPER: The food's pretty affordable, too, mostly in the $4 to $6 range and falling into two basic food groups: sticky or deep fried. And then there's the music.

(Soundbite of music)

SCHAPER: Definitely no "It's A Small World" here at this carnival. The headliner tonight is The War Pigs, a Black Sabbath tribute band and, well, the crowd is really singing along. I think I smell a funny kind of smoke.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

(Soundbite of music)

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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