This summer, our family wanted to visit our family in beautiful St. Augustine, Florida. Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously-occupied city in America. The city is spectacularly beautiful, very rich in history, and a fantastic family vacation destination.
With the economy putting the squeeze on our family pocket book, it seemed like our annual trip to the sunshine state was going to be impossible. But with some careful planning, understanding we were going to give up a few luxuries and by doing a lot of research, we were able to have an amazing vacation for half the cost.
This was the majority of our expense when planning. With 2 adults and three and five year old boys, round trip airline tickets were going to set us back $1,150. Rental car and gasoline was going to add another $450. Paying $1,600 just to get where we wanted to go dashed our hopes from the very beginning. Our solution was – suck it up and drive!
Driving did eat over a full day of vacation time, but the math convinced us. The cost of fuel roundtrip was under $250. Right from the start we were able to save $1,350 by driving instead of flying. Understandably, not everyone lives close enough to Florida for this to be reasonable. From our state of Indiana, St. Augustine is just over 16 hours away. The time it would take to drive to the airport, park, get through security, board, have a lay over, land in Florida, get our luggage, retrieve our rental car, and drive to St. Augustine from Jacksonville airport, would be right around 10 hours. It really was an easy decision.
Both of our children are not yet of school age so the difficulty of planning around their school schedule luckily didn’t affect us this year. We were able to save several hundred dollars by planning our trip in the low season. During the low season, lodging is less expensive, restaurants and attractions offer better discounts and coupons and local guided tours are more likely to come down on their prices. Other great reasons to go in the low season are the number of tourists and weather.
We went the second week of May and it almost seemed like we had the entire city to ourselves. We only shared our pool with other guests on 2 occasions and both times it was with only 1 other person. This was also a perfect time of year for weather. The highs were in the mid to high 80’s and it only rained 1 time. We were very lucky. The summer months are so hot it is quite miserable and the winter months it can get very chilly.
Seasons are as follow:
Low – January 1 to February 26, April 17 to May 21 and August 21 to December 31.
High – May 22 to July 2 and July 10 to August 20
Premium – February 27 to April 16 and July 3 to July 9
We researched all of the hotels on and near the beautiful beach of St. Augustine. Since we were vacationing in the low season, prices were much lower. However, we were still looking at $85 to $150 a night for a hotel room. The thought of spending so much money and being cooped up in a cramped hotel room did not at all sound appealing. Staying with family seemed even less appealing! Investing a little time on the internet, we realized the obvious answer was renting a condo. We were able to spend less money and get 10 x more space and accommodation.
We reviewed several properties and our final decision was The Ocean Gallery condominium resort. It turned out to be the best lodging experience we’ve ever had. The cost was $719 for one week (Saturday to Saturday) which was far less than a hotel that would have cost us nearly $1,000. The property was immaculately landscaped, extremely clean and had spectacular amenities. With 5 swimming pools, hot tubs, fitness center, 2 saunas, shuffleboard, and tennis, there was more to do than we had time for. Not to mention the spectacular white sand beach that was a 1 minute walk away from our doorstep!
We spent the majority of the time in the incredible main pool. Half of the pool is indoors and the other half is outdoors. Our boys never wanted to leave! When we checked into our condo, we were taken aback with how beautiful it was. Granite counter tops in the kitchen and master bath, king sized bed in master bedroom (and the most comfortable bed I think I’ve ever slept in) huge screened in patio with patio furniture and a loft bedroom for the boys with bunk beds and their very own flat screen TV! The unit had everything we had at home; washer and dryer, fully appliance kitchen, wireless internet (no charge), 3 flat screen tv’s and a dvd player. If you would like to see the exact unit we stayed in, you can view photos here: http://www.theoceangallery.com/listings/listings.cfm?action=description2&id=2F6BF7DA%2D1372%2D3F99%2D2CA9D860A148ADAD
The Ocean Gallery is the property will we stay at on all of our future trips to St. Augustine. The day we checked out, I actually cried because I was so sad to be leaving this little piece of paradise. For more information on the Ocean Gallery you can visit their website at http://www.theoceangallery.com/index.html
Eating out at restaurants can take a huge bite out of a vacation budget. While we have our favorite eateries in the Old City that we can’t pass up, we saved ourselves hundreds of dollars by making a short trip to the local Wal-Mart. We stocked up on bottled water, breakfast and lunch foods and snacks. We never ate out for breakfast and only had lunch at 2 of our local favorites, The Oasis http://www.worldfamousoasis.com/ and Harry’s http://www.hookedonharrys.com/page/28-4172.htm
For the drive there and back home, we packed a large cooler with picnic style foods like sandwiches, fruit, water, cheese, crackers, etc. When we would stop at a rest area, we would sit at a picnic table and have snacks or lunch. It may not sound appealing to eat at a rest area, but I was blown away by how beautiful the rest areas are between Indiana and Florida! The grounds were always lovely and expansive and every facility we went in was amazingly clean and fresh. It was quite a pleasant experience. We also had 2 gift cards left over from Christmas to restaurants that we used to eat dinner on the way there and back. Total cost: Zero!
We indulged a bit on dinner while in Florida. It is impossible to completely pass up the local fresh seafood. While dining out we did skimp on dining luxuries like alcoholic beverages, soda, appetizers and dessert. Another money saver is visiting www.restaurant.com to get some great dining deals. We saved over $50 just from this website alone.
We did “dine in” on 2 nights we were there. We had brought steaks and hamburger from home and we had 2 pitch in dinners with the family. Cost to us was only the cost of the meat and it was delicious. While not every family has the option of having a pitch in dinner in St. Augustine, purchasing local seafood at the market with some fresh vegetables and preparing them in your condo can save a family of 4 about $50.00.
My family would have been completely content doing nothing but swimming at the pool and playing at the beach the entire week we were in St. Augustine. However, since we were saving so much money all around, we did splurge a bit and take our boys to a few local attractions. There are coupons for nearly every attraction in the city. You can find coupons online, in free travel guide books at the visitor center and many other locations. We were lucky enough that our condo was fully stocked with coupons to different attractions and restaurants all over the city.
The Alligator Farm is a big hit with many tourists. Having been to St. Augustine 1 – 3 times a year since I was born, I have been to the Alligator Farm a dozen times. It has a special place in my heart. However, we found that our boys were a bit too young to justify the price of admission. My husband and I enjoy looking at all of the animals, but for $21.95 for an adult and $10.95 for children, it just wasn’t worth it. You can read more about the Alligator Farm at http://www.alligatorfarm.com/
Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum is another attraction that I’ve enjoyed numerous times over the years. With exhibits that are weird, strange, amazing, unbelievable and some that are just downright gross, this is a fun choice for many families. Again, age will come into play. Our 3 year old was absolutely terrified by some of the dark corridors and scarier exhibits that showcased weapons, torture devices and “ghosts”. What should have taken about 1 – 2 hours to tour took us 20 minutes. We walked out with 2 terrified boys that cried and didn’t exactly enjoy their experience. The price for admission is $14.99 for adults and $7.99 for children aged 6 – 12. Children under 6 are free, so at least we didn’t waste any more than $30.00! For more information on the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum you can visit http://staugustine.ripleys.com/
Other exciting attractions to the city include the beautiful fort Castillo de San Marcos, The Lightner Museum, the St. Augustine Lighthouse, the Black Raven Pirate Ship excursion, the Ripley’s Sightseeing Train, The Oldest Schoolhouse, The Oldest Jail, Historic Downtown shops, and a litany of fishing, parasailing, and helicopter tours. For more information on St. Augustine attractions you can view http://www.oldcity.com/attractions-sightseeing-information.cfm
This was by far the most wonderful vacation our family has been on. We were able to experience so many fun things, stay in such beautiful and comfortable accommodations and have delicious food, all for only about $1,600.00. Of course the best thing about our vacation: being together for 8 uninterrupted, fabulous days.