Froggy Girl Designs

A glimpse into my daily life of crafting, frugal living, and being a mom!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Froggy Girl on Vacation: How to do Gatlinburg on a budget

(Told ya'll it was coming! And warning this is long, but hopefully helpful!)

Last weekend, my wonderful husband and I finally got to go on our honeymoon. Almost exactly a year to the date we got married. We went to Gatlinburg, TN for 2 days. Our first thing in preparation was making reservations for a place to stay. Initially, we thought of renting one of the gorgeous cabins, but then decided since it was only 2 nights, and I had never been there before, we would look for something that was closer to the "sights".
We started out by checking the major travel sites like Expedia, Travelocity, etc. as well as just putting "Gatlinburg hotels" into Google. Expedia had the best prices overall, without too much digging. We called around a bit to verify prices with a military discount, etc. and settled on the Sidney James Mountain Lodge. The pictures on their website were gorgeous, and when we called, we were told our rate for a creekside room (the view was over the creek) would be $72 a night. Yes, we knew we could stay in some chain hotel for cheaper, but we really wanted it to be special. The email confirmation I received stated $76 as the rate, so I immediately called back and was told that it was in the notes that the rate was $72. OK, sounds good.
Upon arriving, I stayed in the car with Wyatt nursing him while Bobby checked in. He came out and said that the total seemed high. And it did, $171 for 2 nights? So we went up to the room, and realized that we did not, in fact, have a creekside room-we had a lovely view of the parking lot. I went back downstairs and asked the clerk about the charges and found first of all, the tax rate was 12.5%! Nothing we could do about that one, but keep it in mind, but we were also charged $76 each night, for the wrong room. No rectification was offered except to honor the $72 quote we were given with excuses of the reservation service they used making mistakes and causing lots of problems. There were no creekside rooms available, and according to the front desk, there were none available when we made the initial booking either. A little disappointed, I went up to bed, determined to make the most of things.
One tip when vacationing, especially when going to a very touristy area-always look in hotel lobbies, gas stations, information centers and the like for discount booklets. There are usually tons of coupons for restaurants, attractions as well as tips on places to go and stuff. Also check with your hotel's front desk, because many times they will sell attraction tickets for less than you would pay at the gate. We picked up a bunch of those and started planning the following day. Bobby decided he was hungry (at almost one am, he has a really bad habit of that one lol), so we looked through the booklets and found a coupon for a pizza place that delivered until 3, a large pizza and 2 liter of Coke (the room had a mini fridge) for like $13. Good enough, it was late, we were tired.
We went down there specifically to relax, we made no plans prior to arriving other than where to stay, and since we just had the baby with us, that worked. If we had the other 3 boys as well, we probably would have planned things more around meals, etc. As it was, we immediately knew we wanted to visit Ripley's Aquarium of The Smokies. We had asked at the front desk, and they did in fact offer tickets a dollar cheaper than you could get at the aquarium itself, but we wanted to find out about their price with military discount. We went first thing in the morning, around 9 I think it was, no later than 10, and that was PERFECT. Walking up, we saw the prices of $19.99 per adult and kind of gulped. We knew it was something we really wanted to do, and also knew we wouldn't be doing anything else like it, so we forged on. Imagine our surprise when the total was $9.99 for both of us. That's a 75% discount, just for showing our military ID cards. People, this place was HUGE. We were in there for a probably two hours or so. When we got there, it was not crowded at all so we were able to take our time looking at all the exhibits, reading and being amazed at the shark tunnel. We left a little after noon, and realized the parking garage was now almost full, and the grounds were quite crowded.
We decided to walk around a little bit and just see the sights. We went into the Guiness Book of World Records Museum. Price at the door: $9.99 per adult, Price with military discount: $1.99 each. Again, major savings. Next we did what any self respecting frugalista would do on vacation-hit the outlet malls! OK, maybe not the most frugal of things to do, but I had a reason.
This may possibly be TMI, but we're all friends here right? I've been wearing the same two bras in rotation since I was 3 months pregnant with Wyatt. They're Motherhood basic nursing bras (the $12 cheapies that I just LOVE), and the closest outlet to our house is 45 minutes away-not far, but not in an area we go to very often and I hate to go just for something like that. So the point in going to the outlets was to see if they had a Motherhood where I could get a couple of replacements. They didn't, but we did find a few things.
We are not "souvenir" people. There were only two souvenirs purchased the whole trip, a small magnet from the Aquarium for our fridge ($2) and a My First Teddy Bear from one of Dolly Parton's shops for Wyatt ($5). The bear has been named Smoky (for the Smoky Mountains) by my husband. We did make a few purchases of things we were needing here at home and that the prices were very very good on. A couple of glass jars from Old Time Pottery (big ones for my sewing room) for $1.19 each, wooden spoons which were 3/$1 at the Black & decker outlet (my old ones are just ew, and I have been looking at yard sales and the like for months with no success for replacements), coat hooks from the same place that were also 3/$1, and a few manly type tool things for hubby that the prices were better than we had been able to find locally (maybe $40 in all). But we had fun, we held hands, and talked and played with the baby. By the time we went back to the hotel room, we were tired, but had had a great time.
The next day, we wanted to visit The Old Mill Restaurant & General Store before we left. It actually was a little cluster of shops so we walked around a bit before eating. I found one little craft store tucked in there which was mostly patterns with a very small selection of $9 a yard fabric, but they had fat quarters of wool felt for $1.75 a piece which I haven't been able to find locally at all and have been looking for for some projects that were in my head so I bought a few of those. Then we went to eat.
Now, about our meals. We are weird food people, we generally eat one large meal a day and then basically snack the rest of the time, or eat very light meals. On Saturday, we ate at a large buffet restaurant in Pigeon Forge that looked wonderful in the advertisements, but in reality, was quite overpriced and the food was not that good. The name escapes me at the moment, but I'll update with it when I remember. It was $12 a person for brunch, with the military discount it went down to $11, plus $2 a piece for ANY drink (including water!). Late that night, we were walking around Gatlinburg near the hotel looking around in the shops and things (we found a Peacefrogs store!!!!! I haven't seen one in ages and I was in heaven-I LOVE LOVE LOVE Peacefrogs!), and one of the storekeepers recommended a small restaurant which happened to be across the street (again, the name escapes me, will update promise).
We were prepared for more overpriced food, but were pleasantly surprised with average prices, along the lines of Applebee's or something. Two meals (only half eaten, we really should have shared one), after the military discount was $22. Lovely little place with a nice atmosphere and good service, average food.
The Old Mill Restaurant-amazing hush puppies. I could have made my meal those alone they were so good. The rest of the meal, it was ok, nothing to write home about which was a bit disappointing, but that's ok, it was decent fried chicken, just not "spiced" enough for my tastes. The one major disappointment-they had no military discount, and would not accept their coupon from the booklet even though it stated valid until 2008, no daily exclusions or anything. Their reasoning-we have a 30 minute wait for a table right now, so we won't honor it. Customer service at it's finest people.
And that's our weekend. Exciting, huh? All said and done, our costs including the price of gas to get down there (6 hour drive), hotel, food and everything we purchased, was well under $500. I didn't think that was bad for a very tourist driven area that was 2 states away. Could we have done it cheaper? Definitely. Am I disappointed? Not at all-many others would have spent triple that for the same length stay as we had.
Going on any type of vacation is a rarity for our family, but we have decided to make the trip to Gatlinburg a yearly affair (although we won't be staying at the same hotel, reasons for that are a whole 'nother post). Use the internet to your advantage, and exhaust your options. Call hotels directly to inquire as to the best price. Ask for any and all discounts you may qualify for-military, AAA, AARP, membership in your local shoe shine club, you never know unless you ask. You can still save money and have a good time.


  • At 10:53 PM, Blogger lera said…

    Sorry to hear about your parking-lot view room.

    You really took advantage of that military discount. Woo-hoo! (Do we still get that when he retires? Do you know? That's one thing I would miss.)

  • At 10:21 AM, Blogger Barb Mcf said…

    I don't live too far from Gatlinburg so I'm very familiar with that area. You did good and using your military discount really helped. There have been some news stories recently about the local county officials there cracking down on motels about how they advertise and price their rooms. Glad you had a good time anyway.


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