Family, Humor, Summer, Travel

Vacation on a Budget – How I Got out of the Crap-Tastic “Dells” Without Taking Out a Loan

So I mentioned we went to the Wisconsin Dells for an overnight getaway with the kids over the weekend.

The “Dells” is huge in our area as a little getaway place for families. It is a town filled with cool water parks, beautiful scenery, fun boat rides, and lots of kitschy stores filled with junk.

It’s about 3 hours north of the Chicago area (depending on where in Chicago you live) and everyone I have ever met from this area has been to the Dells at least once in their life. Most families around here go every year for a long weekend. We hadn’t been since Annie was three, so we decided that since my husband gets no vacation this year and that things are still tight, we would do the Dells this summer for an overnight.

My budget was to be under 300 dollars for two days of fun, food, and entertainment and a one-night stay in a hotel.

I thought this was a very high budget, but apparently, I am very naïve and also very cheap.

The cheapest water park rooms we could find were $193.00 a night without tax.

This did not deter me, however, so I kept plugging along, knowing there must be a better way.

There is this little mom and pop motel on the quiet side of town that we always used to stay in when we would go in the past that was running a special $99 a night ($110 with tax) but with your stay you get 4 free Wilderness Resort water park passes for 2 days!!

A great deal, so we completely jumped on it and wondered what the hitch was?

There was none.

The kids had a blast, the adults had a blast, and we realized that seven hours at a water park is just enough for all of us before meltdown would occur (which did not happen at all) and injuries would sideline us. Ellie has some scrapes on her elbows, Mike jammed his arm on a rock and has a big gouge, and I somehow pulled a muscle in my abdomen when pulling myself up onto one of the inner tubes. Annie, thankfully, came away unscathed.

If you need any sign of how great the weekend went, this should help you visualize:


She never usually sleeps in the car

Yes, she had that much fun. 

Here are some sights we had on the way home

Horse crossing!


The site of the original Culver’s restaurant.



Big sister making her little sister giggle uncontrollably from the front seat.


Hide and seek with mommy, two inches away.

It was a great weekend with so much fun for all of us!
We made some glorious memories and on a budget too!

Cost rundown of the weekend:

Gas money– we spent around $85.00 round trip and there was no way to get around that. The gas was MUCH cheaper in Wisconsin and the farther north you got; We filled up outside of the Dells instead of in the Dells to save some more money (which we did).

food– this is always a hard category for me when I travel for many reasons (yes, it is a vacation but I still want the girls to get balanced meals) so this is what I try to do: pack food for the car and eat out when we get to the destination.

For this trip, I went to Wal-Mart two days before and got snacks for the car and snacks for the motel room. We weren’t allowed to bring snacks to the water park but didn’t need them because the girls were so entertained that they never once said they were hungry. I got pretzel sandwiches, combos, goldfish for the car, and fun junk food for the room. I made freezer bags for each of the girls with their favorite foods in them, wrote their names on the front with a sharpie, and no argument over food occurred. It was heaven and I will do this for any road trip we make in the future.

As far as cost rundown is concerned:

food from the grocery = I will not count for the trip because we had plenty of leftovers and are still using them now.

Lunch day one= McDonald’s’ $25.00

Dinner day one = burgers and fries at a little sports bar in town $35.00 with tip (a lot more than I wanted to spend, but we were kinda stuck for options)

Breakfast day two = $35.00 all you can eat for all the four of us at Paul Bunyan’s (a little high but this place is legendary, and I really wanted to girls to go here. Plus, the doughnuts are worth every penny of that 35 bucks.) lunch day one = $25.00 at Culver’s which is pretty good for 4 people as Culver’s can be pricey. Total food = $120.00.

Now if we were going on a longer vacation, we would have never eaten lunches and dinners out this often or spent that much as we would have brought a cooler full of food. This is also why we like to stay in rented homes or condos when we go on week-long vacation’s so that we have a kitchen to cook in. We brought a small cooler for bottled water and definitely saved money there as bottled water was three bucks a bottle in the Dells and I got a case for under two bucks at Wal-Mart before we left.

Room and board and entertainment– motel room for one night plus two days at water park = $110.00 (this is with tax). We really wanted to go on the Original Ducks, I have been on them many times, Mike a couple, Annie once, but she was three and doesn’t remember it.

But the car sickness monster reared its ugly head once again outside of Milwaukee, so thought we should spare the other passengers this and skipped the Ducks this year. There is always next year.

Extra’s = candy for the girls at the local candy shop was $10.00; one margarita and one beer at the water park bar (which you could drink while lounging with the kids in the lazy river-like pool!!) = $12.00; deep-fried Twinkie for all of us to share and try for the first time = $3.50 (not worth it, trust us.)

Trip grand total = $335.50 a little over my $300 budget, but a great time was had and we made splendid memories!

Again, this trip was budgeted for and pre-planned way before my no-spend August. But it is turning out to be a rough no spend month indeed….my digital camera broke two days ago.

Yes, I said again.



10 thoughts on “Vacation on a Budget – How I Got out of the Crap-Tastic “Dells” Without Taking Out a Loan”

  1. We tried a deep-fried Twinkie at the State Fair and I totally agree with you – big disappointment. Fortunately, we followed it up with a deep-fried Snickers 🙂


  2. I love how you did a total breakdown of the trip! Ahhh I have totally been there when I have run out of formula and diapers..and had a poop explosion all at the same time haha! Love all of your pictures..And your blog header is great!


  3. I love how you did a total breakdown of the trip! Ahhh I have totally been there when I have run out of formula and diapers..and had a poop explosion all at the same time haha! Love all of your pictures..And your blog header is great!


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