Other than my honeymoon, I’ve never gone on a big, fancy trip with my hubby. I love to travel and experience new things, especially with my BFF. But we’ve just never been able to. Well, four years ago, we were lucky to finally take a family trip together. This post will explain how we scored a vacation for $99, but what I really want to stress is to work hard and research in order to save money on your next family vacation.
Now before I get into how we were able to go on such a cheap trip, I need to write a little disclaimer. I am not telling you my story to encourage you to go out and do this. In fact, I would strongly encourage you NOT to. However, if you decide to do something crazy like this, and you are up for the challenge, then by all means! I will never do this again, but let me explain….
The vacation opportunity
It was Christmas 2012, and my hubby, two boys, and I were at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, MO. We were visiting Santa, participating in all the Christmas fun, and shopping for gifts. By the way, did you know, you can get your photo with Santa for FREE! We did this two years in a row before moving back to Iowa. They print you a 4×6″ photo to take with you – it’s great!
Anyway, as we were getting ready to leave, some random guy comes up to us and asks if we’d like to go on a mini-vacation for just $99. Well, I was immediately intrigued because, like I said earlier, we had never taken a family vacation (other than going camping). So I
stupidly said, “Sure!”
He chatted with us for a while; he was a really nice guy. It turns out that for $99, we would stay in a really nice hotel for two nights in Branson, AND we’d get $175 in free Bass Pro gift cards IF, and only if, we sat through an entire timeshare presentation! *insert dramatic music*
Yep, it was a timeshare trap! And I got sucked in.
Making the decision
No matter how hard they would sell to us, we just couldn’t afford a timeshare, so the trip would still be worth it in the end. PLUS, we’d have our two small kids with us – they couldn’t keep us there forever! Now, some of you who’ve experienced a timeshare presentation are probably snorting with laughter at this point (no offense), but keep reading.
The one catch for this deal was that we had to use it before the end of February. “Ok, that’s fine,” I thought. No big deal. A family vacation in the middle of winter will still be fun. So we made the reservations, and we were ready for our adventure.
Branson was only about an hour from where we lived at the time, so we ate dinner at home, and then we were off! When we first booked the hotel, we realized there was no continental breakfast (what’s up with that?), so we came prepared with our own food.
Vacation tip: If you want to save some money while on vacation, bring a cooler with meals, snacks, and drinks!
At the hotel, there was a glorious pool and hot tub, so as soon as we got settled into our room, we took the kiddos down for a swim. We all had a wonderful time, enjoying the water and spending some quality, much-needed time together. At the end of the night, we got all cozy and snuggled into our luxurious beds, and didn’t even think about what we might experience the next day.
The next morning, I was a mess! My anxiety (and probably my blood pressure) was at an all-time high. I was a nervous wreck thinking about what we were gonna have to endure at this timeshare
disaster presentation. We ate a quick breakfast in the hotel and then got in the car.
We were headed to a resort called the Bluegreen Wilderness Club at Big Cedar in Ridgedale, MO. It was only a 15 minute drive, which was unfortunate for me because it didn’t give me enough to stew and worry! *smirk* When we got there, we searched for the place where we’d be having our “meeting,” unloaded the kids, made sure we had snacks, diapers, and toys, and made our way into the resort.
After waiting only a few moments, we met our “guy” – I don’t know what you’d all these type of timeshare people. To me, he was the “guy.” His name was Lenny, and he looked to be about 65 years old, minimum. He introduced himself and asked us questions about ourselves; such a nice man.
He first wanted to give us a tour of the resort which sounded fun. My husband and I like to get to know people, so we asked Lenny lots of questions about his life. Turns out, he was just working this position as a post-retirement fun job. Fun? Ok, Lenny. If you say so!
He led us all around the property, and as we walked, my nerves started to settle down. It was absolutely beautiful there. We saw some amazing rooms, a mini water park, and even family cabins! Oh how fun to stay there! But the fun was short-lived, because Lenny explained it was now time for the sales pitch.
So I won’t bore you with all the details of the sales portion of the presentation, but it wasn’t AT ALL as bad as I had imagined. Lenny explained to us that Bluegreen Vacations wasn’t like the normal timeshare company. They were much less salesy and in your face. We were immediately offered a free Coke beverage, of which I took advantage. My hubby was worried that they’d try to charge us for it, but by that point, I was like, “It’s ok. I’ll pay for the dang drink.” Hehe…
Lenny took us to a table and started going through all the variation payment plans. One after the other, we kept saying “no.” We literally just could not do it. I told Lenny, “we wouldn’t be able to afford to feed our kids if we do this.” He totally understood, however, his job meant that he HAD to go through each pricing structure before he could let people leave. Seriously.
So we ended up moving to three different meeting places, we were shown the rock-bottom prices (which were actually pretty tempting – I can see why people get sucked in), and then Lenny excitedly told us that we’d get our free Bass Pro gift cards. He took us to the lady that handed them over to us, and THAT’S when I was finally, mentally, back to normal. I could relax. We were done!
Thankful for Lenny
I really think God sent Lenny to us that day. A retiree who just loved the resort and wanted to meet new people and maybe make a buck or two, he didn’t need the income, but it just kept him busy. He took care of us; I really believe that. I’m not sure the experience would’ve been as pleasant as it was had it been someone else.
To top it off, Lenny also told us that we could use our gift cards at a restaurant called the White River Fish House. This is a floating eatery owned by Bass Pro Shop, and that’s why we could use our gift cards there. Awesome! Now we could eat out a couple of times on our fancy little vacation!
Lenny also told us that if we were looking for some free fun (which we totally were), then we should go check out the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery. He handed us a map, we thanked him for everything, and we piled back into the car. Before we left, we stopped at the resort gift shop so I could memorialize the trip with souvenirs!
It was well past lunchtime by the time we left the resort, so we went looking for a cheap lunch somewhere. Usually, on a vacation, I’d like to try new restaurants like unique local dives, but we were more concerned with our budget. So after accidentally ending up in Arkansas, we headed back towards Branson where we ended up eating at Subway.
After lunch, we scoured the map, looking for the fish hatchery, and we realized it was only six miles out of Branson – woohoo! We were really interested in seeing how enjoyable this freebie was going to be. Turns out, it was actually pretty neat. We watched a short little (and quite interesting) video about how the fish hatchery works, and then we could tour the place and, my son’s favorite, feed the fish! We did pay a quarter here and there for fish food, but it was totally worth it!
When we were done at the hatchery, we considered visiting the Table Rock Dam, so we went for a scenic drive, but for reasons I can’t remember, that didn’t end up panning out. After being unable to find another free option, we opted to pay for just one really fun adventure, but it would have to wait for tomorrow.
A Bass Pro dinner
By this point on our vacation, the sun was starting to set, and we figured there might be a wait at the White River Fish House. So, we decided to find the restaurant and put our name down. Now, remember I told you that we got free Bass Pro gift cards for doing that lovely timeshare thing? Well, now we were gonna get to have dinner for FREE!
Well, there ended up being no wait at all, which was great! The boys and I were ready to eat, and we were pleasantly surprised by the food. I’m not a huge fish lover, but there were loads of options! In addition, the appetizer was this delicious mini cast iron pan of cornbread. Oh my goodness, I need to find that recipe!!! If anyone knows what I’m talking about, please help me figure out how to make this divine dish for a future post!
We would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone that is in Branson! The plan was to have lunch there the next day, before heading home. When we left the restaurant, Bass Pro was already closed, so we took pictures by this funny bear statue and then headed back to the hotel. The boys hadn’t gotten their usual nap that day, so they both slept like logs!
And we were grateful for it!
The Butterfly Palace
One our last day of vacation, our one big splurge on this trip was going to The Butterfly Palace in Branson. For about $40, my hubby and I, and our two kiddos, got to spend a few hours visiting some of the neat attractions within the Palace. Some of our favorites included the Butterfly Aviary (of course), the Emerald Forest Mirror Maze, and the Banyan Tree Adventure. After playing with the beautiful winged creatures, we watched a short movie about Monarch Butterflies in the Rainforest Theater.
This was the highlight of our trip, and I’m so glad we spent the money to do it. In the end, $40 was totally worth the lifetime of photos and memories we now treasure. If we are ever in Branson again, we are definitely going back!
Vacation tip: We were told that butterflies are attracted to the color red and sweet-smelling perfumes. The day we went, I was wearing a red shirt and cherry vanilla perfume. So, the butterflies were all over me! Dress in red and make yourself smell sweet!
Shopping and dinner
After the Butterfly Palace, the four of us drove to Bass Pro Shop. We have always enjoyed going there and now, with our glorious gift cards, we were even more excited to shop! Each year we go camping, so we actually picked out a couple of kids’ sleeping bags!
Lunch was at White River Fish House once again, and we enjoyed choosing different entrees to try. We were so glad to once again have our meal paid for! With our tummies politely full, we loaded up into our car and headed home.
So we scored a vacation for $99, but that really only covered our hotel stay. We did end up spending some of our own money including the following:
- Lunch at Subway: $25
- Admission to the Butterfly Palace: $40
- Gas for our trip: $70 (YIKES! Gas prices were $3.49!)
Our vacation grand total was $234. Not too shabby for a three day, two night trip. Yeh, it wasn’t too far from our home at the time, but Branson is such a unique destination. Oh, and I actually ended up with $7.03 leftover on one of my Bass Pro cards! Woohoo!
If you are planning a small vacation, I would NOT recommend sitting through a
scary timeshare presentation just to save money on your hotel. Most people don’t end up with the happy ending that we did – no timeshare and free gift cards!
The advice I would give you is to do lots of online research about the location, and try out some freebie activities. No matter what you do on vacation, you’ll make memories doing! So don’t forget to take photos!