Vacations are not something we get to experience often. After all, we are a 1 income family in a 2 income world! As Dave Ramsey says, "We live like no one else so that someday we can live like no one else"!
We are watching the boys get older and closer to going off to college so we really wanted to have a vacation this year. One that was not connected to anything else....none of the the..... we are going to visit the Grandparents so we will stop along the way for a couple of days together....or, no, I have to take this business trip so we can take the family and spend a little time together while we are there. Nope. This one needed to be a vacation only vacation!
After much deliberation we decided to go to Branson, MO. We chose to go after school had started but before Labor Day weekend so we could avoid a lot of the crowds. (Homeschooling has it's advantages!) The boys don't really remember going to amusement parks when they were younger so we wanted to visit Silver Dollar City while in town and maybe visit the local water park. The shows were really not of interest to us so we didn't need to consider those costs.
I began researching deals at Silver Dollar City. I found that you could get into the park after 3:00 p.m. one day and then that ticket would get you in for free the next day. This sounded like a great deal until I found that some local hotels and resorts had 2-day tickets for the price of 1 (and you could still go at 3:00) the day before so it was like getting a day and a half for free. The tickets are well over $60 each so we were looking at over $250 just in Silver Dollar City tickets.
The hotel was the next thing to research. Our plan was to stay 4 nights and 5 days. We would arrive on a Sunday and leave Thursday. This was we could avoid the weekend rate increases and the weekend crowds. I began looking into hotels in the area and narrowed down the search to a couple that had their own indoor/outdoor water parks. I figured if the hotel had a water park we would not need to pay to go to the large water park in town. It was also important to have a room with a refrigerator and microwave. I thought this was a pretty standard request but I soon found that it was not. After much computer work, I found the hotel that seemed to fit our needs the best and it did come with a refrigerator in the room, no microwave.
This is where a little, ok, a lot, of research comes in handy. I went through ebates.com to get to hotels.com where I booked our room. By going through ebates.com I got 3% cash back on our final hotel bill. We got a GREAT rate through hotels.com and I was also able to print out a rebate coupon so I will get a $20 rebate on our hotel stay. I was able to get the room for less than $55/night.
I had a little sticker shock over the price of Silver Dollar City even though I knew it was a great deal to pay $250 and get to go to the park for 2.5 days. We visited the concierge at our hotel to order the tickets and they offered us a deal IF we sat through the 2 hour timeshare pitch. I knew we would get one of these offers at some point during our visit to Branson and my husband and I had already decided we would rather pay full price than sit through one of these high pressure sales pitches BUT, I must admit, I love a good deal! They offered us the 4 Silver Dollar City tickets for $75! That was almost $200 off!! I couldn't resist! To me, that was like paying us $100 an hour to sit and listen to someone talk while eating their snacks and drinking their drinks. lol So, much do my husband's dismay, I took the deal. Granted, it was not a fun 2 hours but it was sooooo worth it!
The next expense was food. Think about it.....5 days times 3 meals out equals a lot of money! There was no free breakfast at the hotel but you could have an all-you-can-eat breakfast for $8 per person. No thank you! I am usually a cook-from-scratch and eat your veggies kind of gal but I knew I couldn't really do that on vacation so I started making some plans. I borrowed an electric skillet from my Mom and began preparing some foods at home that I could freeze and take with us. I froze some of our fresh eggs and browned some sausage and froze it in another bag. I cooked sausage patties and packed a box of pancake mix. I collected fresh veggies from the garden and made a casserole that could be reheated in the electric skillet. I packed bread, flour tortillas, sandwich meat and peanut butter. Our first meal was breakfast burritos. At lunch we had sandwiches and chips. Our first dinner was chicken and rice in a cream of mushroom/cheese sauce.
We did eat out while on vacation but it was places that we really wanted to go not just because we needed a place to eat. By the time we got home, we had eaten out 4 times. I estimate that we saved over $400 in meals.
We had a vacation on a budget but none of us felt deprived in any way. We did all of the things that we wanted to do. We splurged and had funnel cakes at the amusement park. We played 18 holes of putt putt golf at one of the tourist traps in town. We didn't miss out on anything AND we didn't break the bank.