Start your morning off right at the Airport Observation Deck. Despite it's relatively unassuming nature, it seems that the kiddos can spend hours here. Bring a few sand toys for the sand play area; maybe an airplane or two to run down the runways. If it's spring or summer, load up on bug spray and sunblock. If it's chilly pack a hat... the wind is killer in the cold weather.
After you've thoroughly exhausted your little ones running around, head over to lunch at the nearby. This one's off of Airport Blvd., so all you have to do is exit the airport (towards I-40, not 540), cross over I-40, and drive down about a mile. Cracker Barrel is on the right, a little bit past a Schlotzky's Deli.
This one is RTP-Central so expect to wait at least 15 minutes on weekdays (longer on weekends). Fortunately, we've never had to wait much longer than that, and there's plenty to entertain and distract in the Olde Country Store and out front, in the rocking chairs. You'll be at your table before you know it.
They have a pretty extensive kid's menu, but our favorite is the veggie platter. You can let your kid indulge in some mac and cheese (totally a veggie, right?) and *maybe* even sneak in some green beans or baked apples. The biscuits and corn muffins are always a success, as well. Just make sure your table has strawberry jelly.
After you've filled up head back over towards I-40. The outlet mall is on your left, immediately before the highway. Park near the Carter's Outlet and pick up some goodies. If you've subscribed to their mailing lists, they send out a 15% off of a $50 purchase coupon about every two months. You can really get some good bargains if you plan accordingly, shop the super-clearance, and tear through all of the bargain bins outside the store.
A seasonal kids consignment sale also takes place in the empty storefront directly across from Carter's. It's best not to do both at once (Carter's will already be picked through), but the consignment sale is worth a trip out there on it's own. Just make sure you're registered and coming on the appropriate day.
The Morrisville Outlet Mall is also conveniently empty (not for them, I suspect). For parents and toddlers, it's a great place to walk around and explore. You can shop but you can also run down vast empty halls, climb around on deserted stairwells, and even stop for a snack in the food court. It's a fun, interesting spot, even though it's desolation is a bit confounding.
when to go: plan this one for the big consignment sales, when you've got a coupon and a newly-sprouted toddler in need of pants, or even when you're grabbing a friend at the airport (as long as they don't mind tagging along!)
what to bring: again, double upand bug protection in the summer at the Observation Park. Pack coupons. And if the consignment sale is on, bring the minivan.
what it'll cost you: $10-20 will easily cover lunch for two at Cracker Barrel (you can get off cheaper if you split an entree or order sides). As for the shopping, that's up to you!
advisories: double-check the Outlet Mall and the Observation Deck's hours before opening. We've ended up in Raleigh ready to play at the airport only to discover it was shut down for one reason or another. The Outlet Mall also seems to have strange hours. Of course, Cracker Barrel is always open. :-)