10 Ways to Save Money on a Cruise

Drinking a local beer in Roatan

Drinking a local beer in Roatan

Cruises are deceiving.  You pay a big price, but it’s anything but all inclusive. We love them and we have done quite a few, but you need to be ready to know what you are getting in to or they will nickel and dime you right out of your budget.

1.  Drink what’s Free – They do offer pop/soda cards, but they are expensive and the only way to get your moneys worth is to drink a lot and then it just becomes unhealthy.

2.  Don’t eat a the restaurants that charge – There are more than enough “free of charge” restaurants to choose from why would you even consider paying for a meal?  If you do want to pay for a meal do it while in port and try some of the local flavor instead.  That’s why you are on vacation right??

This was a bean dip fondue in Honduras

3.  Choose the Free activities – There are plenty of things to do on the boat.  Plenty of shows to see and game shows to watch, don’t pay for your entertainment.  Walk past the casino, you can do that anywhere.

4.  Don’t feel like you need to have an excursion at every port – Big, big money maker here.  We met up with a couple a few years back and they had booked something at all but one port.  By the time they were at the last one they were happy they could do their own thing and not have another excursion.  They almost felt like they had missed out on a few ports because they were whisked away to an activity instead of enjoying the culture.

A private island I found online before we went. We walked over to the boat ferry. We did not book it ahead of time.

5.  Book excursions through another company, not the cruise ship.  You can save up to $10-$20 a person just booking it yourself. (UPDATE: I know cruise ships are trying to crack down on this so double check that you have plenty  of time to get back to the ship. When excursions are not booked through the ship, they don’t wait for you.)

6.  Grab your drinks while in port – Ships charge lots of money for alcoholic drinks and they charge a 15% (although it could be higher now) tip right on there, and give you an additional tip line.  Really??  We like to stop at a local place and try one of the local beers or drinks.  Tons cheaper and you get to do something more authentic.

7.  If you want drinks on the ship try and bring some of your own.  It’s risky, sometimes they go through and sometimes they don’t.  But if you can get your own on the boat it will save you tons. We personally have never done this, but we saw lots of people doing it.

8.  Once off the ship, walk a little ways – If you get a block or 2 away from port the taxis start to get significantly cheaper.  Acapulco was a huge price difference.  We went to see the cliff divers. We paid  $2 and the couple next to us grabbed a taxi right at port and paid $17.

9.  Buy local – You are cruising so you can see different cities in different countries or areas.  Don’t buy the silver on the boat, instead walk the city streets and pick up something from the locals.  It will be a fraction of the price.

Some of the Many Shops in Cozumel

10.  Don’t tell your kids the card is attached to an account – They make it so easy to spend money on a cruise.  Your room key will also get you drinks.  As a matter of fact our last cruise didn’t accept cash or credit cards. It was room keys only.  Either don’t tell your kids or make sure they know they are responsible for anything charged.

There are so many more ways to save, but this is just some of the basics.  For us it becomes a game. You want my money and I try and see how little I give you.  We don’t have regrets about things we haven’t purchased, instead we love the new things we tried and the adventures we have found, at a fraction of the price.

Hilton Garden Six Flags Tips and Review

We loved this place and would go back in a heart beat, but you need to be prepared to make it work for you since it is a busy hotel.

First off I went directly to the site and looked for a room with breakfast included for the 4 of us.  With taxes and anything else added it came to $313 for 2 nights.  I did so much better than that.  Check out the whole thing HERE. I did call and have her offer me something a little better, but I did best with package deal.

Since this Hotel is near the park(actually it’s the closest) I figured it would be run down and marginal.  I was so surprised to see that it was not only very nice looking, but it was very clean.  It makes going back to your hotel to rest a whole lot more fun.

Our breakfast was a cook to order, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect there.  BIG TIP:  When we were there the place was busy, but not off the charts busy since we always hit amusement parks in the off season. I am sure during the busy season this place is a zoo and you really, really need to plan accordingly.

This is a sit down breakfast.  There is a pastry/cereal/toast bar plus a fruit bar.  From there you wait for someone to come take your order for hot food which is eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, pancakes and waffles to name a few.  The kitchen cranks it out as fast as they can, but they do get behind. The servers are running like crazy.  DO NOT think you will eat in 15 minutes or less plan accordingly.  It will take some time especially if you have to wait for a table.

I really, really appreciated the shuttle service. I am sure that since they were not super busy that they accommodated us well.  You have to schedule what time you want to be taken to the park and what time you want picked up.  Spots fill up quickly, so book at departures to the park as soon as you arrive.

We had scheduled a pick up, but some other people waiting had not.  Had we not scheduled it, those people would have never gotten picked up, because a shuttle would not have known to come get them.  The nice thing is since the Hotel is so close they can turn around and come back for the next group within 5 minutes.

I am not sure in the busy season how many trips they become willing to take.  They claim one trip every 1/2 hour, but they were doing more.  At $15 a day for parking at the amusement park, this was a great benefit to our hotel.  No other hotels in the area do this.  Not only do you save the $15, but you don’t have to walk all the way from the parking lot or back to your car at the end of the day. Drop off and Pick up are right there by the entrance.

Read  my previous posts to find out what all we did at the park and other ways to “discover” Magic Mountain.

Do You Really Need a Flashpass at Magic Mountain?

Roller-coasters

Terminator at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

We spent a total of 3 days at the park.  Well, our half day the day we arrived, full day on Tuesday, then a half day on Wednesday before we had to catch our flight.  Since we went for 3 days we purchased the season passes.  This also allowed us discounts at stores plus coupons for so much more. We could have gotten into Hurricane Harbor for FREE, but we chose to concentrate on the coasters instead.

If you are going and you want to get the most out of your day, make sure you go first thing in the morning.  We hit 6 rides in an hour and half.  The day before we had gotten there at 12pm, because of our flight, and we stayed until 6 and we rode 6 rides.  The lines were longer later in the day.  For even more tips about getting in quicker than everyone else make sure you check out yesterdays post.

Let’ s back up and remind you of my first secret.  That was checking school calendar.  I realized that California was still in school June 14-16, so therefore the park was not super full.

Everyone runs right for Tatsu and X-2.  If you are going more than one day, pick one day to go the opposite of the MOST popular rides, because very, very few people go that way.

Do you really need a Flashpass to get the roller coaster all to yourself?

We were on the very first ride of the day on Goliath and we had it all to ourselves.  By the time we made our way around to Scream, we sat and rode it 3 times in a row. These are all great coasters, they just aren’t considered the biggest and the best at this park. Tatsu and X2 are on that list. We do love Tatsu and plan one day to run straight to it and wait for the front row.

If you are a wooden roller coaster fan don’t miss The Terminator. It’s one of the best wooden roller coasters.  It is super fast and the seats are ultra cushy making the ride much more enjoyable. They completely redid it a couple of years ago and now I love it.  Don’t pass this one by.

Because we did run a lot in the morning and hit the opposite side that most people go to, we were able to get in 14 rides on the 2nd day.  We would even take breaks.  Remember that we always pack our snacks, so they are healthy and much more affordable.  We had trail mix and jerky packed in our cargo shorts.  We would stop at restaurants along the way and ask for our FREE glass of water to have with our snack. (I know other parks do this as well. Never buy water or carry a water bottle around when you can get FREE ones whenever you want)

I do also need to mention that we did something we don’t often do.  This was do to that fact, that even though I was running through park and riding coasters, I did have back surgery scheduled for the day after we got home.   We did need to take breaks on this trip.  We ended up hitting the park hard in the morning, then we left for a few hours of napping, eating and swimming, only to return to the park right before closing and hitting more rides.  Had we stayed that extra 4 hours we would have had nearly 20 rides that day.

So I guess to answer my question, “Do you really need a Flashpass for Magic Mountain?” I would have to say, if you timed it right, there is no reason.  If you HAVE to go in the middle of summer and have the money to spend I would probably get one just so you can really enjoy the park. Read for restrictions before purchasing though as they do have some limitations.

Have you ever purchased a Flashpass?

It Really Does Pay to Discover, Best Six Flag Tip of the Year

We have “discovered” some great tips while visiting Six Flags Magic Mountain, sorry it has taken me so long to get all the details out to you.  We have saved some money and time and found ways, that had we know, we could have saved even more money and time.  I missed out, but I am sharing with you, so yo don’t miss out.

We like to get to the park just before it opens and stand at the gate and run in. I know we are crazy, but that’s what works for our family.

It Pays to Discover

BEST TIP OF THE YEAR:

We noticed that they have a line for Discover Card Holders.  Yep, that’s right.  It pretty much looked like an express lane.  Masses of people to your right and to your left about 5 people in line.  We have a Discover card, but we did not bring it, because we didn’t know.  Bring your Discover card!

Also as you go around the park you get an instant 5% off of most things that you purchase, plus the discount for being a season pass holder. These signs were in all the windows of the gift shops and some of the eateries.  I think we also get 1% cash back on most purchases using our Discover card, so this really does start to add it.  Slowly, but every little bit helps.

All that to say, I guess it really does pay to “Discover” at all Six Flags nationwide.

Check back tomorrow as I share some more great money saving and time saving ideas.

The Outdoorsy Side of Hood River

Triple Falls Columbia Gorge

I have easily passed through Hood River 100 times.  I kid you not, I have driven back and forth to Eastern Oregon and Portland for nearly 18 years now.  We did discover the quaint downtown and for a while our stop included the Taco del Mar.  We didn’t know about all the other amazing places, but we do now. It was easy and the place was so quaint, it was a fun stop, and always guaranteed fast.  Every time we drove in and back out, I would look around and just want to take my time.  But with 6 hours still ahead or 6 hours behind you, stopping to look was not an option.

Finally last summer I met up with a friend and we stopped in Hood River.  We had the the most amazing meal and I decided the next time we came through we would stop as a family and enjoy.  And we did!!  That was the stop that made me want to come back for a weekend. So here we are 3 months later enjoying Hood River again.  Before we even entered the town we enjoyed hours of hiking and [Read more…]

The Romantic Side of Hood River

columbia-gorge-hotel-view

Hood River is the Windsurfing Capital of the World, but it’s also very romantic.  If you want to get away there a few things that must not be missed.  To start you MUST stay at the Villas of Columbia Hotel Gorge.  HERE is how we got great pricing and upgrades.  The view was amazing, relaxing and beyond romantic.

The grounds at the Columbia Gorge Hotel are beyond romantic, as they are the settings to many weddings.  From the pictures you can see why.  What I never knew is hidden on the hillside is this beautiful [Read more…]

How to Get the Most Out Of Your Theme Park

Want to learn how to really enjoy and get the most out of your theme park trip?  I have some proven tips to share with you.

If you have already booked your trip there are still some tips to help you out.  Even if you can’t use them all there are still some great tips in here to keep you happy while at the park of your choice.

  1. Pack Light – If you don’t have little ones, take as little as you possibly can.  This works great for places like Disneyland, because you can skip the bag check line and pass up all those people.  We load up the boys cargo shorts with things we might need, like snacks, phones, cameras and sunscreen.  You never have to keep up with a bag and in the end, we have never missed the bag.
  2. Be Willing to Eat in the Park – This is a big one for me, because I like good food and good food is hard to find in a park, and it’s expensive.  We try and choose a hotel with a big breakfast, then we pack snacks in hopes of just needing to eat a light lunch.  Try and find healthy food so you don’t make yourself sick and miss out on all the fun of the park. We don’t like to waste time leaving the park and re-entering, so we just try and find something there.
  3. Don’t be Cheap, Drink Lots of Water – Especially during the summer, stay hydrated.  You don’t want to ruin your day and get sick because you didn’t drink enough.  Try asking for a free glass of water at the counters.  I know Cedar Point has to give them out.  Other things we have done in the past is carry a reusable bottle and filled it for FREE at the water fountain.  Our kids also have fond memories of us buying a HUGE water bottle and walking from our hotel to the Disneyland entrance, we couldn’t enter until the whole bottle was gone.  That was our way of making sure they started the day hydrated.
  4. Wear Good Shoes – There will be lots of walking no mater what park you are intending on going to, so make sure you have good shoes.  Our family runs from ride to ride, because we keep track of how many rides we can go on during the day and write it down when we get back to the hotel in the evening.
  5. Check School Calendars –  I mention this tip a lot, but it has given us some great vacations.  You pay so much money to go, you might as well try really hard to find out when the area is out of school or when they go back.  We have done Cedar Point late August a few times because they had gone back to school and we hadn’t yet.  We also hit the California parks once we get out, but before they get out.  We almost always use this tip.  You can see from the picture above, that April is a great time to go to Great America in California, we had the place to ourselves.

How to Figure Out What Hotwire Hotel You Are Booking

Yep there is a trick to figuring out which hotel you are booking.  In my case it led us to a better deal. Here’s a few steps to help you figure out what hotel you just might be booking.

1.  Do some investigative work. If you look through all the hotels in the area you can find some matching descriptions.  The one that set mine off was 100% smoke free.  Look through the list of amenities and you can kind of figure it out.  Another time when looking only one hotel in the area had a spa, so that was easy.

2.  Book a package and it will show you what you are booking.

I did number 2 and it was the one I actually booked.  I booked a car/hotel package.  Not only did it show us the hotel, but it was the best price we had found.  Even adding the car it ended up costing us less.

You will need to do some math because it breaks it down per person.  That’s fine, it was costing us $71 per person to have the motel with no breakfast and no car.  I got motel, breakfast and a car for $80 a person.  Break that down, for $9 more a person or $36 total, we are getting a rental car for 3 days and breakfast for four for 2 days.  Sweet!!

I looked at rental cars, even through Hotwire and it was cheaper to do the package.

Are you a little curious what we are booking??

We really wanted to do Kingda Ka, but it’s so far away.  Our window is so small that we decided staying on the West Coast was our best option.

We decided to hit Six Flags Magic Mountain.  We really do love this park.  Our only hang up is that it’s kind of got a lot of gang activity, but they are watching it closely and we won’t be there during the night hours. By staying on the West Coast and having such a short flight we will be able to hit the park the day we fly in and the day we fly out.

Before we booked the trip we did what we always do and that is check the school calendar for the school districts in the area.  They all go through the week that we are there.  We might run into some bus loads of kids coming in for end of year, but nothing like it could be.

We just booked our airfare, and we had lots of miles.  Not quite enough to get it all for FREE, but the four of us are flying for $150, not too bad.

I know it’s a crazy idea, and it’s just days before my surgery, but the kids have really wanted to go.  My daughter has been asking for a vacation this summer and we just weren’t sure if it was possible and today I decided to throw caution to the wind and book it.

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Getting Away, Yet Close to Home

columbia-gorge-hotel

Day 1 -Today I am working on our 20 year anniversary trip that we will be taking.  Most people at this point do really big trips or re new their vows.  I actually wanted to do both, but because of my surgery and the cost of it, we will try and do an amazing trip, close to home on a budget.

My hope is to stay at the Columbia River Gorge Hotel  or Bonneville Hot Springs.  Let’s see if I can pull this off with a very small price tag.  We have chose this location for 2 reasons. 1) It’s only a little over an hour away and 2)I have always wanted to spend some time in Hood River.  It’s an up and coming food, wine and beer mecca and I want to experience it, all of it.  Often times the best places for people to vacation are right in your backyard, but we all choose to fly to someplace better.  Well, not this time. [Read more…]

9 Steps to Do Cedar Point on a Budget

cedar-point-vacation

If you are looking for a frugal Cedar Point Vacation, I have the information you are looking for.

Here are 9 steps to do Cedar Point affordably and do it well.

1. Be flexible about when you can go.  If you go earlier in the season or later in the season the rooms are cheaper.  We always go late August.  The room rates go down and the park is less packed.  To get the most out of my trip I also plan around the local school schedule.  I try to go once they are back in school in hopes of having it not be as crowded.

2. Use one of their hotels first and foremost.  You get in an hour before the public if you do.  Breakers Express is the cheapest, unless you choose to camp.  Plus if you are staying for a day or two the packages save you money on the entrance fee. We have stayed at Hotel Breakers and Breakers Express and we like the benefits of both properties. Plus you get free parking.

3.  Get a room with a fridge.  Go to the grocery store and buy fruit and muffins for breakfast and  meats and veggies for lunch along with nuts and chips for snacks. This option works best if you stay on the property and it’s so much cheaper and better than the food in the park.

4. Don’t buy expensive drinks in the park.  Better yet, don’t buy any drinks at the park. They have to give you a cup of water if you ask.  This is true, our last trip we did it the whole time and paid very little for any water.  If you must buy water, buy it out of the vending machine so you don’t have to pay sales tax.

5. Buy a Season Pass.    Since we travel all the way from Oregon we make a full week of it.  Therefore we buy the season pass.(Chances are there will be a day pass to the water park with your season pass.)  It costs a lot up front, but in the end it’s cheaper than buying a ticket every day.  Plus you don’t have to go to the window to get your ticket every day before you enter the park.

6Leave the property to eat dinner.  You will probably spend the same as the restaurants on the grounds, but you will get better food if you leave the property.  We went to a great restaurant just down the road, had amazing food, great service and no wait at all.  We came back to find an hour wait at TGI Fridays.  Our food was much better than what they were going to get and we paid about the same, plus it was less stressful.  We chose a restaurant that Dan Aykroyd even ate at, so it must be good.

7No need to do anything else.  Take advantage of the beach and the boardwalk.  After you have paid so much to get there and do the park, don’t spend money on other things, enjoy it!! It’s Cedar Point!! The Roller Coaster Capital of the World!!

8. Carry your snacks in with you.  We have the guys wear cargo shorts and we pack snacks in there so no one has to carry any bag.  When you need refueling pull out some nuts or trail mix and ask for that free glass of water. We bring ziploc bags to put our snacks in after we purchase them from the grocery store.

9. When you get a season pass you should get a booklet that shows discounts you get at participating stores.  Take advantage of this when getting souvenirs and any food you choose to purchase.

Now throw your hands in the air and enjoy!!