Monday, May 31, 2010

5 Steps to a Thrifty Vacation ( & Edgewater Review)

 We combined our Memorial Day weekend with our son's 4th birthday for a truly terrific vacation, full of thrift of course. Since his birthday is in the summer he always ends up with an awesome outing on his special day, for his 2nd birthday we went to Branson, Mo and for his 3rd we went to the zoo in Belfast, N. Ireland. This year he really lucked out because I had learned the secrets for a bargain vacation...

STEP ONE: Go Local

I know it's possible to find some great deals on airfare and that's great but if you want a really low price for your vacation take advantage of your nearest city. An added bonus is that less travel time means less stress for you and your family.
Tickets to say...Florida, even buying the cheapest ones possible would have been around $200 each for a total of $1000 but we'll say $500 total since it's possible we would have come across an awesome deal. Though if we wanted to fly anywhere we'd have to travel 4 hours to the airport, which would be even more money for gas.
When we decided to try to find a fun designation for our get-a-way we look at Duluth, MN which is an hour and a half drive from our tiny town. A quick Google search lead us to the Edgewater Resort & Waterpark Hotel on beautiful Lake Superior. At first glance the prices seemed really high but since we were following step two, this wasn't a huge concern.

Step Two: Plan Ahead

Now it's certainly possible to decide to go on a trip a week beforehand... but you'll pay out the nose. (Anyone know the origin of that saying? I couldn't find the meaning online and now it's bugging me.)
Let's take our trip as an example. I started looking at ideas around 6 months ahead because we were in the middle of the horrible winters here and I thought looking at summer ideas would make me feel warmer and it paid off because at the time they were running a special! So instead of paying the full room price of  $239 we only paid $109! And not only was this just a room, it was a room inside a hotel with a huge indoor waterpark! So room and attraction all in one, plus another swimming area outside, mini golf, basketball, playground, and arcade! (If you are booking ahead make sure you read your hotel's cancellation policy beforehand. )

Step Three: Don't be picky about the date

If you are open to staying in hotels midweek or on a Sunday, lots of times you get a discount or extra amenities. Since we opted to stay on a Sunday we were also given a free pizza dinner, with drinks, for us all and an extra large room was available, with a micro-wave, fridge, king size bed, 2 TVs, and 2 sets of bunk beds! (The fridge and micro wave were a huge benefit for step five.) The room (pictured) was just like having 2 rooms as the kids were off in their little section.

Step Four: Look for free attractions before you go

I found an online guide of Duluth that had a list of fun or cheap things to do in the city. 
Since our theme for Alex's birthday was "Splish Splash" we decided to go watch ships come in and out beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge  (pictured)
and take a visit to the Great Lake Aquarium
The first of which is free for all and the second was free for us because our awesome library offers free tickets to local attractions and they gave us 5 tickets to the aquarium, worth $55! ($15 for adults and $9 for kids) We LOVE our library! It's always a good idea to stay updated on what your library offers for locals. Another option is to call the attraction yourself and ask if there is a discount for locals, lots of these places don't charge you the tourist price is you live nearby or they might offer a "free admission to locals day" once or twice a year.

Step Five: Take your own food

This is an very easy way to save huge amounts of money and so easy! I simply packed a box of bread, peanut butter, jelly, lunch meat, cheese, mayo, burritos, popcorn, snacks, juice, and a birthday cake. This was all items I had on hand and food we wold have eaten those days anyway so no extra cost to us, except for the cake. Know how much we saved by doing this?

Let's take a look at the menu at the hotel and our schedule.

We ate breakfast at home before leaving.
For lunch we had ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, and water.
If we had eaten at the hotel we would have paid $4.95 each to have hotdogs. Saved $25
Dinner was the pizza and drinks we got for free, rounded out with the burritos since the pizza was on the small side. (I planned ahead for the possibility that the pizza would not fill us all up.) If we would have had to pay for dinner for us all from the hotel it would have been around $35 at the least.
For dessert we had Alex's birthday cake! The hotel has little birthday cakes for sale but they come with a large price tag. At first I was going to bake a cake but I knew it would be hard to transport since I don't have a cake carrier, instead I kept an eye out at Wal-Mart until I saw the one I wanted go on clearance for $3 and then I bought it and stuck it in the freezer since it was weeks ahead of time. Another $20 saved.
After swimming all night we were hungry again later so we had our snacks and popcorn. Saved us the $10 it would have cost to raid the snack machines.
For breakfast the hotel offered a free breakfast bar (if they hadn't we would have taken fruit and muffins) and for lunch we made PB&J sandwiches. On the hotel menu PB&J's are $3.95 each so another $20 saved.
Whoa.....that's $120 we saved on food!
If you can't get a room with a micro-wave and fridge you could take a cooler and toaster oven or just pack food that doesn't have to be cooked. I remember on vacations that my mom would bring an electric skillet, a crockpot would work also. If you run low on food you can swing by a grocery store in the area.

So, let's recap!

We saved:
At least $500 by staying local and not needing airfare or lots of gas.
$130 on our room
$55 on attractions 
$120 on food

That's $800 we saved on our trip!
Plus ended up with a larger room, free food, and free attractions!
We had an awesome vacation with all this for only $109 plus gas!

Everyone had a blast, it was a wonderful, stress-free vacation! The kids are all begging to go back, it really was a great resort and we will probably do another visit there for Jarod's birthday in November. The waterpark was open until 10pm so they swam for hours the first day and our check out wasn't until noon the next day so they have time for more swimming the next morning! They did not want to leave! Loved it!
Oh they also had board games you could borrow! And all the staff were super nice and helpful and the rooms were very clean and there were plenty of lifeguards walking around. It was nice that our room was right next to the waterpark because we could go back and forth to our room with ease.

In fact the only things that made us think "Hmmm, this could be better." was the breakfast. They advertise a "Deluxe Breakfast Bar" which made us assume it would have hot foods but we ended up disappointed because it was just cold items, cereal, juice, donuts, muffins, and such. The kids were happy enough but Jason and I were expecting biscuits and gravy, eggs, and sausage or at least some waffles or pancakes.
No big deal though, next time I'll just bring some of my frozen pancakes or something.

*Oh and one more thing, don't forget that the most thrifty trip of all is the one you win! You can read all about the trip to Washington DC that Rebecca won in 2008 HERE.

Ok....who's ready for some photos?! :-)

     Alex's Spish Splash Birthday!

                                                                     Tiki Time!

                                                              Happy 4th Alex!

                                                                 Indoor Water Park!

                                                                 View from our door!

Bring it on!

Alex and I

Rebecca and Jarod

Alex and I coming out of the huge 4 story slide!

Rebecca and Alex


Aerial Lift Bridge

Grand Lakes Aquarium

Outdoor Play Area

Mini Golf!



All tuckered out!

It was amazing! The best vacation we've ever had and I loved that the kids never fought, there were no stressful moments, and we just had FUN the whole time!
It was was affordable too!

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