Help Us Plan Our Family Vacation
We got some money back from taxes this year and were want to use it to plan a trip to take the kids somewhere. We’ve only been on one 3 day vacation where we were not visiting family and we want to make the most of the opportunity.
We were considering going the week before Memorial day.
We had thought about trying to go to Disneyland, but after talking to our Facebook readers, we decided it was way to much hassle. We weren’t sure it would really be worth it and we didn’t have enough money anyway. I still can’t grasp the concept that it’s worth working 7 weeks to pay for a 1 week vacation, but that’s just me. :-)
So we are planning to go to Branson and Silver Dollar City for our family vacation. (For those of you not familiar with it, Silver Dollar City is a fun family amusement park with a cave tour.)
Here are my questions:
What hotel would you recommend that has a pool and breakfast? Preferably less than $70 a night if that’s possible and, since there are 6 of us, that limits which hotels we can use.
Are there ways to get cheaper tickets into Silver Dollar City other than e-bay? We don’t want to get there and then not have the tickets be valid. :-)
What are some good places to eat? Most of our meals will be McDonald’s or Wendy’s, I’m sure, but one or two nice sit down nights might be nice. If I’m going on vacation, I don’t want to be cooking!
What else is fun to do in the Branson area? We might stay one or two extra nights and do something else besides visit Silver Dollar City but what would be worth doing? I found zipline tickets on Groupon but are there any other things you would recommend? Our kids are ages 4-16. They would probably not appreciate any shows ($200 are you kidding!!!) or fishing.
Since we have never really gone on vacation, I am HORRIBLE about trying to plan these things and I think I need to get some anti-anxiety medications just to get me through figuring out the hotel! LOL
So, pretty please, share you ideas with me!
grizzly bear mom
You are wise to begin planning this early.
1. My Capital One and Citibank credit cards give me points or money back. Charge with them and ANNUALLY you get money back.
2. Some hotels have a stay X nights, get 1 free. Determine if there are any in your area.
3. Pack your crock pot, disposable cutlery, plates and cups. Heat up prepacked frozen mac and cheese, chili, stew, cold cuts, condiments and rolls or bread while you are at the “parks” and eat in the car or room. Save dining out for when you are in transit. 4. Select a color and dress your family in it so that all tops, slacks, pants, and sweaters go with each other. You’ll pack less. Develop a packing list to ensure that you have everything when you go and when you return. If you email me I will send you mine or you can check on “Universal packing list” to ensure that you are fully prepared for a trip form packing qtips to stopping the mail. Save your grungies to wear on the trip and toss them as you use them. I have to remind myself not to toss the holy undies until traveling. Also, if your swimsuit is still cold and wet, rinse it in warm water before you put in on.
5. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her stories from Mansfield, Missouri, not far from where you are going. Mansfield has ?Laura Ingalls Wilder? days if you want to visit them.
Branson offers special deals if you and your husband are willing to sit through a land deal (takes about 1.5 hrs). That will give you 2 free weeknights, and for a small fee you can get tickets to performances cheap.
We loved Dolly Parton’s dinner theater, good price for entertainment and food.
Bring your fishing poles-great waters around there.
Our favorite restaurant is Lambert’s in Ozark, Mo where they throw the rolls-the servings are so huge that it feeds us at least twice-when you ask for a to go box.
Last year we happened to go when there was a music festival and for two days we had free music with everything from rock to country. Just bring your own snacks. Last year it was in early May.
They have wonderful parks. We caught fish and grilled them at the park-YUM.
Lots of antique shops to wander in and out. Great thrift shops, our fav is the humane society one.
By the way, your site rocks. I get the best ideas and recipes. Thanks.
I was going to ask a friend who has a time share. You can usually get last minute nice places dirt cheap.
grizzly bear mom
http://www.womansday.com/life/travel-tips/wds-guide-to-planning-a-family-vacation-103913. Has a list of hotels and even rental “homes” to stay at all over.
Mapquest can help you plan your trip, where to eat, etc.
Consider bringing a sleeping bag and air mattress for each kid to save on hotel rooms. Some hotels will lend you a cot for $? or maybe free. Ask when making reservations.
I give each child a police whistle on a necklace and write my phone number in pen on their arm in case they get lost.
What about factory tours such as Hammond Candy in Denver or other factory tours?
Contact the Chamber of Commerce for each city or county. You can usually get some good information and a lot of times you get coupons for money off at restaurants, things to see, museums, etc.
Grizzly bear mom
Buffalo Bill’s museum and grave site are in Denver. So is an American Indian museum or a wing of one. I’m pretty sure they have a Buffalo Soldier (Black calvary) museum too but I didn’t get to see that.
There are many places to see & visit in almost any state. Check out the Chamber of Commerce in the area you plan to visit. They should have plenty of suggestions of where to visit & where to eat as well as stay. Enjoy your family time together & take lots of pictures. You can buy a cheap camera at Walmarts for around $7-8 dollars which takes really good pictures. Any place you go in the U.S. has tons of things to see & do.
Enjoy your trip & let us know where you choose to visit.
I would check out vrbo.com for rentals. You might find a condo or something that would suit your family better than a hotel. We have found the generally these are about the same price as a hotel with more to offer. Read the fine print and the reviews! There is usually a cleaning fee that is separate from the listed price, but will be included in the details. If you can avoid a holiday time, you will find things cheaper and less crowded. Another reason we enjoy a condo rather than a hotel room is they typically come with a kitchen. I seldom actually cook meals on vacation (it’s a vacation, after all!), but one way we treat ourselves without breaking the bank is buying food we wouldn’t normally get at the store – premade salads that we love, soups, special breads and meats, etc. Even a sandwich is nice if it’s made with great bread and ingredients. We typically take or buy breakfast foods to have at the condo, eat one meal out per day, and then have the other meal at the condo. I looked at the Branson area listings (I haven’t been there myself since I was a kid, so I know nothing personally about any of these places, nor am I anything other than an occasional vrbo user). For example, this one http://www.vrbo.com/102895 has 2 bedroom/2 bathroom/full kitchen/pool/playground/washer/dry/er/grill, etc., and is $672/week in the month of May. That’s a little over the $70/night you hoped for, but that was just an example on the first page of search results that I got. Have a great vacation!
A couple of easy ways to save money, save time from standing in line, and to keep your normal nutrition in line (which equals less vacation stress): take water bottles with you. You can fill them up at drinking fountains for free. And you can take crystal light packets to add variety to the water. Take a small travel pack of wipes – it’s easy to get sticky and sweaty. Buy each of your kids a disposable camera and let them take pictures of “their” vacation. Then you have fun when you come home, seeing what they each chose to take pictures of. How about asking each of your kids to plan an activity? The oldest can look online at some options and youngest can just go with “play at a playground at a park”. Branson might have some “back stage tours” of some of their play houses that could be fun and inexpensive. If your hotel room has a fridge and a microwave, find a grocery store when you get into town and fill it with lean cuisine type meals. Then you don’t have to eat out for every meal. Stock pop in that fridge and you can all get a special treat when you get back to the hotel in the evening. Carry finger snacks in zip lock bags. ALWAYS take zip lock bags on a trip. One Disneyland tip that works for any theme park: go early in the morning, leave mid afternoon and go back to the hotel to take a nap, go swimming, watch a little tv or whatever. Then you can go back in the evening refreshed, not dragging and sun-scorched. Have fun!
I had to chuckle Rebecca about taking snacks in a ziplock bag. It is a good idea but we tend to go a little over board in that area. Tawra and kids are on the way to my house now (about a 9 hour drive) and they have got boxes of food to snack on. We always take way more food that we need in the car but that isn’t such a bad idea because we have been stranded in blizzards before and had to eat on the food we had for 2 days so we always take a bunch.
My mom who is a seasoned traveler (about 5-6 trips a year across country driving) has a thing she carries in the care to heat up water which is really handy because besides making coffee, tea, hot chocolate, she also can make up instant oatmeal, cups of soup and things like that. She even has a small port a potty she cares for emergencies too. You can tell most of our trips were not easy breezy simple trips and we started being prepared for almost any thing. Part of that too was up until recently we drove a lot across Kansas and there were very few rest areas or places to get gas and eat. That has changed now but you still can go through a few long stretches with nothing.
We did the Disney thing when my children were 5 and 6. We stayed at the Nickelodeon Hotel and after wasting so much money and time in Disneyland, we discovered the children just wanted to hang out at the hotel. We went in off season and waiting for an hour to see a princess for a few minutes was not as fun as dancing with Dora in the restaurant. Could have saved ourselves a mint.
One thing we did was purchased water bottles with filters in them. The kids were constantly refilling their water bottles. We also vacuumed packed a lot of single snacks before we went so we divided up nuts and dried fruit into smaller portions so the children could just grab a healthy snack and go. We also went to the grocery store to purchase meals as our room had a kitchenette.
We don’t do holidays much either but this year we discovered cruise ships. It was $450 per person and included all meals for the full week. We were also charged $11.70 per person a day for gratituity. We did the cruise to Mexico and it was the best vacation my family had. We also discovered that a few days before the cruise, the cruise line will call and offer you an up grade for a cheaper cost then purchasing right away. (We choose to stay in the cheaper room as we did not plan on doing anything other than sleeping and showering in our room.) So other than these fees, we just had to bring spending money. The kids ran about the ship swimming in pools, going on the water slides, and even spent a bit of time in the free daycamp. First holiday we all got to rest and have fun. Kids loved it better than Disneyland.
One of our best tricks is that nearly every motel has a local phone book in the drawer. We always look in the discount coupon section for a good coupon/special from a local pizza place. We like to take one evening as relaxing time to eat pizza in our room while watching a good movie, but you could eat at the restaurant if you prefer. This idea makes a nice change from the usual food and is always a great value.
Another thing we do is take a cooler with us and keep ice, fruit, cereal, bagels and cream cheese in it, as well as simple cold cuts and a loaf of bread – if the room doesn’t have a fridge. That saves a lot of money on breakfasts and lunches, which also makes it easier to get out and about earlier, and leaves a little extra money for when you want to go out for a nice meal. Souvenir shirts are the best choice to spend money on, as they also add to the wardrobe. Also look for free postcards at the motel, but even inexpensive ones from the shops make good souvenirs if you arrange them in a scrapbook or photo album that can be added to in the future. Be sure to compare prices for both shirts and postcards, as prices can vary a LOT between shops. Motels that sell souvenirs sometimes have the best prices, but do compare. I have also found that many motels are happy to make a gift to you if you tell them that you really like a monogrammed towel or some other small item. I have asked politely if I could purchase a towel or a soap dish, and both times was told that it was their gift to me because I was honest and did not just steal it. if you’d like to have a small such token, just ask!
Whatever you do, make sure to take lots of pictures, because they can later be used to have custom printed gifts for loved ones for special occasions – with a Groupon, of course!
Have a safe and wonderful vacation!
Before you leave freeze your water bottles or gallon jug so you can keep other foods cold. Buy large bags of pretzels etc and pkg them proportionately in cheap little tucker sandwich bags. Head a thermos and add hot water and heated hotdogs for a warm meal on the way.
Hope you have a lot of fun on your vacation. We are going on our 2nd cruise. We have found 7 day cruises that leave out of Galveston for $1600.00. Now before you think that is super high, remember it is all the food and entertainment on the ship. This is also for 4. We love it.
Hey, I was thinking that you need to get some of your faithful readers to offer to let you stay with them in their home, and to impress you with their frugal cooking skills. You could stay at a different house each night! Save you money, thrill some people with some one on one with their Favorite Frugal blogger, and meet some new friends!
It’s been a few years since we’ve been to Branson, but we like to stay at Rosebud Inn. It would most likely cost more than $70 for 6 people. They only have an outdoor pool, so it may not be open at the time you are going; I’m not sure. It does have an extended Continental breakfast. It’s off of the main road, but we like that about it. If you do stay on the main road, you will want to allow extra time, as the traffic is usually bumper to bumper. You can buy Silver Dollar City tickets through a lot of the hotels/motels. Many offer tickets that are good for 2 days for the price of 1 (or, they used to). We like to go to the old part of Branson. There are shops and flea markets. Hope you all have a wonderful time!
One of the best things I ever did was write to the chamber of commerce in several towns we were passing through. Found out about things to see I would have missed and we got to watch a small town parade. We sat outside on the car and waved at everyone like we knew them. It was so much fun.
if you really do go to Branson, it is all made for tourists. contact their chamber of commerce and they will send you caboodle’s of info. if you get that close to Arkansas, might as well drop down to Eureka Springs and visit that novel community. it is different from any place else you might pick – something to see for everyone in your family. google it to see what I mean. I have been to both Branson and Eureka Springs and they are not like each other at all, so it won’t be repetitious.
Eureka springs you can see the passion of the
Christ. It was great. You can even check your local visitors bureau and visit your own state capital and when you get there ask the locals what’s off the beaten path. We did that in Hawaii and saw so much more and the same in Cape Cod.
You didn’t say anything about how you were getting there. On road trips, we eat in the car and play at the rest stops. I don’t understand sitting in the car,then sitting at the rest stop to eat, when it is time to move! Cheese and crackers, quesadillas, cold pizza and other such things travel well. Cheese and yogurt don’t need to stay cold, just don’t let the get hot. Hard boiled eggs and jerky travel well. Dried fruit. And lots of water…
I like the crockpot idea. Bring some of your frozen meals to reheat in the crockpot while you are out. No prep! I mean, prepare ahead, then in the trip, just drop the meal in the crock pot.
Be careful of motel room snacks. Sometimes, just opening the refrigerator can cost you! Ask ahead! Motel 6 children stay free. Further away from the main attractions usually costs less, but watch out for the “bad” part of town. That might be the cheapest, but maybe not the wisest. Same for gas stations. GasBuddy.com can show you the best gas prices along your way and where you are staying.
It seems that a lot of attractions are less crowded early in the day. Weekdays are better if you can work that out. Are there some scenic parks that you could enjoy for free? Watch traffic in the river, pretty places to walk, quirky buildings to see, that kind of thing. AAA has guide books, perhaps even online to look at to get ideas.
I thought on of the ideas was doing to say, dress everyone in the same color clothes to make it easier to find each other! All red shirts, or lime green, yellow, not black… Or matching hats. Park personnel may help you find each other when they see you all looking alike.
That’s enough for now. I will let others get what missed.
Thanks for the gas buddy reminder. We’re going on a road trip next month from Wisconsin to Tennessee. Should be fun. Taking our 6 year old granddaughter to the Nashville ballet frugal style! Children’s matinee 30 minutes long $18 for adults and like $13 for kids. She was abused and is blind in one eye and doesn’t see well in the other so it’s all about her. She wants to be a ballerina when she grows up. We have a timeshare and this place that we traded had an awesome park and mountain trails. Frugal. And yes I get all my frugal ideas from Tawra and her mom. And all of you as well. Thanks so much. I contacted the visitors bureau for Tennessee and they sentence a state book of things to do on Tennessee.
Branson is awesome, there are so many fun things to do there and
I would definitely recommend contacting the chamber of commerce for
any freebies or coupons off. Eureka Springs, Arkansas is not too
far and it is really fun, it’s the town that’s built on a hill, really
fascinating. It also has the Passion play, there is a college just
outside of Branson going towards Arkansas that has an old grist mill
and they still grind their grain there. It is also not far from Carthage,
Missouri and that is where the Precious Moments Chapel is.
The Ripley ‘s Believe it or not Museum is in Branson and it’s fun, they also
Have a Dancing Waters show that is neat. The Little Shepherd of the Hills
Book originated there. I could go on and on, we had a great time in Branson!
Don’t know how far Clarksville is from Branson but we went there also for a riverboat cruise on Huckleberry Fin & Mark Twains riverboat. There town is right there also. You can visit their houses etc. Fun place to go. You can also watch a lock fill with water and the barges on the River. Very cool.
We’ve been to Branson twice but never to Silver Dollar city. It’s not that great, just your average run of the mill amusement park. We took a duck boat tour, kids loved it and they were 5 & 7. We rode go-carts, went on the river boat and went to several shows and our kids loved them all! Especially the 70’s show! Great music and audience participation! There is great shopping and lots of local places to eat. Food is reasonably priced cuz lets face it, most of the people there are older folk who like cheap meals. Oh and the horse show/dinner program I’ve heard is fun! Good luck planning your trip!
Since I live in the Springfield, MO area which is only 35 miles from Branson and I have grandchildren. Silver Dollar City is a great place. I would also suggest the Grand Country Inn which has an indoor water park which your children will love. Not knowing for sure when you are planning on going, the indoor pool would be great. You also have White Water in the same vicinity which is great fun also. Branson is very much a tourist destination and you have Tanger Outlet on the boulevard as well. There is lots to do and you are still close enough to Springfield to enjoy the Discovery Center and maybe catch a baseball game with the Springfield Cardinals.
We live in Missouri about 3 hours north of Branson. We go FREQUENTLY! Make sure you stop at one of the gas stations around Branson and pick up a Sunny Day Guide. There is also another magazine like it, but I can’t remember the name right off the top of my head. These magazines are full of good coupons (2 for 1, dollars off, etc.) Some hotels will have them in the lobby as well. Silver Dollar City, be very wary of the Ebay tickets. Every time we go, we see quite a few really mad folks because their tickets are not good that they purchased off Ebay. If you go that route, make sure the Ebay seller has sold the tickets before and have a 100% rating so you’re not getting screwed. We typically buy our tickets online from Silver Dollar City. I have also called them and a lot of time they will be running promotions of 2 days in the park for the cost of 1 day. Several of the banks in our area carry the tickets at the counter for $10 off a 1 day admission. When you go out to SDC, buy a refillable cup, it is something like a $1 to refill it at every station. We ate at several of the sit-down restaurants while we were there and the food was not crazy outrageous in price. I also carry a bottle of water in my backpack and a few snacks when we get the munchies. The shows at SDC are always fun and entertaining. The price of admission is worth it because of all the shows, the craft makers, and the rides. Out of SDC, we love the Showboat Branson Belle. Your ticket to SDC will also get you a discount at the Branson Bell. It is a great evening! Dixie Stampede is great! We’ve gone several times with the kids and it is an outstanding evening. The price seems high at first, but you get a huge meal that we usually end up taking half of it home with us, you get an hour long preshow plus the regular show. Definitely buy your tickets before you go because they sell out fast! As for a hotel, we look for 3 things: clean, breakfast, and indoor pool. We usually stay the Stone Castle Inn and Conference Center. It is not fancy. It is very large (3 buildings), I have never been in a dirty room. They also have 2 indoor pools, an arcade and a large breakfast buffet with lots of choices. There are also refrigerators and microwaves in the rooms as well. Buildings 1 and 2 they have been remodeling, I haven’t stayed in building 3 because I always request that we not be near pet rooms and the pet rooms are in that building. I hate hearing a dog bark and whine because they want their owner to come back and I usually end up with a room next to one of these type dogs. Anyway, I have never paid over $75 for a room at this hotel. There are TONS of hotels in Branson and I usually search the internet for “cheap Branson hotels” and look at them online then call to see if I can get a better price. I have also stayed at the Grand Oaks Hotel in one of their large family rooms with 3 queen beds because 6 of us went one time. It was very nice as well, but I do not remember the price. The bed was very comfortable…I do remember that. There are TONS of things to do in Branson. I usually do a search for free things to do or cheap things to do and you will get tons of hits; it’s not all about the shows anymore. We will usually spend an afternoon at the lake on Moonshine Beach, take a picnic lunch and just relax. It may be a little chilly to swim Memorial Day weekend, but maybe not. It is also fun to go to the dam visitors center and walk along the paths around it by the lake. Plus it’s free. Below the dam is a trout hatchery. The kids love to go feed the fish and other than the quarters to feed the fish, it is free as well. Riding the Ducks is always a blast. Make sure you clip the coupons out of the magazine for this. You learn the history of Branson and get to ride in a WWII duck vehicle, it also takes you on a little lake cruise and up a mountain side to see other military vehicles. Best of luck to you on planning your vacation. Branson can be done on a budget, but you really have to do your homework. I’m not usually a coupon clipper, but rather a bargain shopper, but coupons and bargain shopping are definitely your friends in Branson. Enjoy your trip!
That was VERY helpful! Thank you so much.
I would definitely check out the Precious Moments Museum and the George Washington Carver National Monument. They are just 10 min away from each other, and both are free! Plus, it’s a pretty drive out that way. There are picnic grounds at the GWC Nat Mon. There is also a great museum at College of the Ozarks for a small fee -maybe $8- I can’t remember for sure. My kids loved it! The Bass Pro Shop in Springfield might be fun to visit. They have lots of cool displays and that’s free, too. Branson Landing sometimes has free shows outdoors, and it’s fun to walk around down there. Check out this website for dining out deals: www.halfpriceozarks.com
We have a large family also. I looked at many websites and found Expedia a great help in scheduling my room. Kid friendly with a pool and all. I also work at a hotel so what I am staying in is important to me and to have the rooms rated by guests is good. When you have planned around where you are going go to trip advisor.com it will tell you about attractions. Free and not free, with websites you can visit, and reviews by guests. Have ideas of things that you are interested and then call guest services at your hotel and ask about them and other cheap/family friendly activities to do. If they are worth their salt they are more than happy to help. The other thing that I do is bring a crockpot. After a long day I don’t want to go out. The most expensive meal of the day and trying to figure out what everyone will eat (most of the time ours tastes better and everyone will eat it). Dad takes the kids down to the pool while I finish supper. Then a quick supper and bed for kiddos. Peace and quiet for Dad and I. Maybe mix packets of spices is all. Just get the few things that you need at the store. Of course paper plates. I have never had a complaint from hotel staff. Only asked for my recipes! Have a great trip you guys. So glad that I’m not the only tightwad even though it feels like it. Guess who everyone takes pointer from when times get bad? If only they would do it in good times as well!
I forgot to add to my earlier post that we’ve also stayed at all of the Branson’s Best motels. They have outdoor pools, great breakfast and evening ice cream and cobbler social. They run anywhere from $50/night to $75. There are 3 motels in the chain. There is also a 50’s style diner with real wonderful hand pattied burgers and hand made shakes. GREAT food. I believe it is called Billy Bob’s. It is in the same parking lot as the gas station next door to Fudrucker’s. If you are there on a Tuesday evening, Rib Crib has all you can eat ribs. Dana’s BBQ is also good. Golden Corral always has a really good buffet and is reasonable. There’s actually several mom & pop style diners around if you look for them. OH and don’t forget to go to Dick’s 5 & 10 in the old part of Branson. They have a little of everything and something you’ve never thought of. We think its fun to spend some time browsing and giggling.
If you decide to stay in a motel, look for one that offers a free continental breakfast. This helps with one less meal to purchase and for having to go and find a restaurant first thing in the morning. Check around, some places offer really good continental breakfast with bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits, waffles, fresh fruit, pastries, oatmeal, yogurt, cold cereals, coffee, milk, and fruit juices. Others are kind of skimpy with their choices. Hope you all have a wonderful vacation.
Eat breakfast late so you don’t need anything but a snack for lunch. Denny’s always has specials too where kids eat free! Have fun!
I loved the “Ducks”, I can’t remember the real name. It’s an amphibious bus. It takes you on a tour around the Branson area, then goes out into the lake. It’s a half day adventure. The kids loved it. Our bus let some of the kids on board drive the bus in the water. Several places offered free tickets for the bus. Mine was a time share presentation. It was a great way to see more of the area when it’s unfamiliar. Enjoy your holiday.
A couple of years ago we took our grandsons to Branson after they came to live with us. It was our first “new family” vacation. Silver Dollar City was closed ~ off season. A favorite was “Ride the Duck” ~ both boys got to drive it. They rode the go carts too ~ not something we would do at home, but this was vacation. Look for coupons for the go carts and the Wax Museum. The boys and Grandpa had a great time posing for pictures with the famous characters. One suggestion I have not read (or may have missed) is a visit to the fish hatchery. It is free, except for the fish food, and educational in a fun way. If you go to the hatchery be sure and take cups to hold the fish food ~ you can’t hold the food in your hands without spilling a lot. When we were finished we gave our cups to folks who didn’t bring any. We also took a tour of a winery ~ I think it was free and then we got to do some tasting (non-alcoholic for the kids of course) and bought a few bottles to enjoy at home. We saw some great shows too. You will have a wonderful time.
See the Butterfly Palace. Go in after 3 pm and get in next day free. I know you proably all ready went but maybe next time.