If there’s anything Joey and I love, it’s giving our girls fun experiences and making memories as a family! We love doing new things with them and exposing them to all kinds of different things outside of their normal routines. 

We want them to see people, see places, and have awesome memories and experiences! But as much as we love to do these things, all parents know family fun can get expensive in a hurry. We started talking about a summer getaway in the spring. 

Pin it for later here.

After a little thought and research, I came up with some easy ways to make our getaway a lot more frugal and I want to share them with you!

Here were my first steps:

Look close to home.

This is probably my favorite easy thing to do. It’s easy to automatically default to a plane ride or a 10 hour drive away, but you don’t have to!

I’ve found some really cool places and events around us on Facebook event pages, AirBnb, Groupon, or a simple Google search that we would have never known about otherwise. 

Considering a staycation can be ideal for a few reasons:

It saves on gas, which can easily save several hundred dollars, depending how far you’re driving.

If your kids are small, a long car ride might be a lot for everybody!

Go deep in your search and challenge yourself to find places places you haven’t heard of before, and have fun checking them out!

Plan ahead.

After some research, we ended up going to a Great Wolf Lodge that wasn’t too far from us. We were looking about three months ahead of time and got a great price on a Back to School special, so we ended up paying about one third of what the rooms normally go for!

A pro tip is to search Groupon for places and events near you. A pro pro tip is to call ahead and see if they accept them because they aren’t obligated to. We found this out a few years ago when we treated our families to a broadway style production of Elf for Christmas, and our tickets had been scalped by a guy in Minnesota that was probably eating Cheetos and playing video games in his mom’s basement. They were very nice about it and gave new tickets last minute due to the situation, but worse case scenario, we would have been out about $700 and they would have put on Elf without us. Do your research and verify your information!

Once we decided on Great Wolf Lodge, we knew we had to cut some corners to make it more budget friendly. Here’s how we did it.

1) We skipped the dining plan.

When we started looking at dining plans, we quickly saw that they were not a good deal, even though they made them look like we were getting some kind of exclusive

We decided for this trip, we would eat out once a day, for dinner, and have breakfast out the morning we were leaving. 

What we ate:

For breakfasts, we had oatmeal.

They had a Dunkin Donuts on site we visited a few times for breakfast sandwiches, coffee, chocolate milk, and donuts, at a fraction of the on site restaurant or dining plan offered with the room.

We knew we had a microwave and mini fridge in the room.

Here are some things I brought for the fridge:

  • Half gallon of milk
  • Lean cuisines
  • Protein shakes
  • Cheese (for sandwiches)

For lunches, we had sandwiches or leftovers from dinner the night before.

We actually accidentally skipped lunch a few times, had a snack, and opted for an early dinner. The girls were having such a good time in the water park, they didn’t want to leave; even to eat! Mark that down in history.

Alternately, if we had had a larger fridge and/or been staying longer, I would have shopped when I got there. We went to Tennessee several years ago and did this to save on costs and it worked wonderfully.

We ate out once a day for dinners. We even found a new favorite pizza place!

2) We didn’t eat out more than once a day.

Of course, you can pick whatever will work best for you. For us, it was easier to have breakfast and lunch in the room, and go out for dinner.

3) We took advantage of the activities where we stayed.

Great Wolf Lodge offered some really cool activities! The water park was a given here, but we also enjoyed the arcade, story time, mini bowling, visiting the gift shop, rubber ducky painting and racing them down a water slide, and craft time! All of these, with an exception of the arcade and bowling was included in the stay. They also had a little salon and build-a-bear which we skipped due to cost. 

Ella bowled like some kind of mix of a grandma with no coordination and a water buffalo, but she sure had fun!

4) We skipped rented movies.

Every little bit adds up! We were having too much fun to stop long enough to watch TV, anyway. 

5) We brought our own snacks.

Skip the vending machines! Dollar Tree and Walmart had some great stuff I brought with us.

Some of the snack we brought with us were:

  • Yogurt covered raisins
  • Applesauce
  • Freeze dried fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Cheez-its
  • Protein shakes
  • Teddy grahams
  • Water bottles

6) We asked my aunt to pet sit.

My aunt was sweet enough to pet sit for us while we were away. It was added peace of mind that our furry buddy was in good hands, plus it saved us a pretty penny compared to putting him in a kennel.

7) We made do with a basic room.

This was a total risk, but we brought a pack and play for Lexi (she was 6 months at the time) and got a room with two queen beds. At the time we went, Sophia and Ella had never slept in a room together, let alone in the same bed, with us two feet away! We had to go to bed when they did, but overall we were really pleasantly surprised with how well they did. This saved a ton compared to the really snazzy, shiny, kid rooms with the lofts and tree houses and bunk beds and wolves everywhere.

We didn’t plan on being in it that much anyway, so this seemed like the easiest way to cut costs (by half or more, in this case).

8) We split whatever we could with our friends.

We did this trip with our good friends, and we planned to split a cabana at the water park and sharing it. We ended up not doing it because when we went, it really wasn’t busy at all and we were able to get some pretty good seats without it.

Including the room, food, and all activities, we did this 4 day trip for about $600. That’s at least one third of what we would have paid if we spared no cost!

That was with splurges like candy, Dippin’ Dots, the arcade, bowling, eating out every night for dinner, a treat from the gift shop, coffee, and donuts with breakfast twice. We easily could have spent $2,000 – $3,000. 

Bonus tips for going to Great Wolf Lodge:

  • Get a lanyard protector for your phone in the water park! I almost skipped this because I didn’t want to spend the money, but I ended up loving that I could take pictures of my kiddos having fun in the water!
  • Two words: duck race. When you decorate ducks, you can race them down the slide! Ours was at noon. 
  • Go to story time for free! Double check, but ours was every night at 8:00. Lots of kids went in their pjs!
  • Pack 2 swimsuits if you have them.
  • Remember travel size laundry detergent; they have laundry on site!
  • Be at the water park early if you want seats/a table.
  • Get floatie vests for weak swimmers! There were a few times one of our girls went to her back and panicked. If she hadn’t had the vest on, she would have gone under, but the vest kept her above water until we could get to her. These were especially helpful when she rocketed out of a slide and it was hard to catch her.
  • Have fun!!


What are your favorite tips at Great Wolf Lodge? Leave a comment and share yours! Remember to pin for later!

Also be sure to check out:

Best Activities To Do With Kids In Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Gifting Your Kids Memories: A Different Approach To Christmas For Kids That Have Everything

The Art of Raising Kind Kids – And How To Start Today

Have fun, my friend!

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