Wednesday, 16 December 2015

How We Saved Money On Our Trip to Las Vegas and Disneyland

Hi Savvy Saving Travellers,

This year I turned the big 3-0! I couldn't believe how much time has passed and how my 20's were over just like that! I guess I must of had a mini freak out because I felt like it's time to be a grown up and the fun times was over. It's easier to explain why you did this or that cause you were 20 but at 30, it felt like people just expect you to smarten up and mistakes are harder to swallow. It's strange cause I mentally still feel like a kid and want to do fun "kid" stuff! So, I do what I do best... plan a getaway trip to ring in my new decade. When you don't know where you want to go and everything is based on budget, it seems so much harder to pin point where to research a trip. I've searched for cheapie one week vacation to Cuba, Mexico, Dominican, even NYC. Everything was just way out of budget when you add up the accommodations, food and spending money. Then one day, I got a notification that Las Vegas trips were $500 all in for hotel and flight for 3-4 nights. I have a cousin living there and was trying to figure out some tips on places to stay and eat. He's one of my closer cousins and I didn't want to infringe on him and his family. I also haven't really seen or spoken to him in about 12 years since I was last on the West Coast. He told me all the ones in my budget sucked and just to stay in his new house. Amazing! So, our trip went from a few days to approximately 10 days. We took red eye flights to save some money and not lose an extra work day. I also wanted to go to Disneyland and see some other family in the area.

The flight was about $472 per person. Ouch, it was a lot more than previous sales I've seen for about $300, but if we were saving on accommodations then it would make up for the cost. We also made a decision to rent a car so we'd be able to get around on our own without having to rely or burden my relatives. I got our cheap rental online from Costco for just under $200 for nine days. It was an amazing deal! But, here's the kicker as a novice car renter, theres the matter of insurance. Ouch again! As we were unfamiliar with our credit card/insurance policies we decided to get the insurance which was over $200 USD for full coverage. It more than doubled our cost, but I was thinking this is the US, health care is crazy expensive if we got in an accident and someone needed care, or the car got totalled. We decided to pay for it anyways as a hard lesson learned. The one good thing about Vegas, is that there is tons of free parking as long as you self park. If you get valet service, it's technically free but you do have to tip out the dude. And that adds up real quick! Gas wise, we got a Toyota Corolla and definitely spent less than $100 in gas including topping it up before dropping it off. For the amount of driving we did, this car was amazing on gas mileage!

                                              Our brand new rental a 2015 Toyota Corolla
                                        (It was so new, we didn't even have a license plate!)

Arriving in Vegas, my cousin offered to pick us up and take us to his restaurant to have dinner. My cousins honestly were so generous, we ended up eating there almost every day we were in Vegas and saved a ton of money. We made sure to let them know how greatly we appreciated everything they did for use and took them out to some fancy dinners and offered to pay for stuff when we hit up the town. It was great to see family and catch up on old times. My cousin's kid also flew in from DC just to meet me. We haven't seen each other since I was about 7-8 years old and we are both about the same age! My cousin's were also very cool too, they let us do our own thing and everything was very chill. I guess it's a contrast of how I would spend my summers over there previously, when they scheduled family dinners/outing and stuff was more rigid.

Here are some money saving tips on your trip next trip to Vegas or OC!

There are two main areas of Vegas you'll want to check out. The Strip, which is the main area with all the large hotels, casinos and shops. It's walkable but it's pretty big and pretty far. And there is even a ton more walking involved because there are only a few designated crosswalks to get to the other side of the street. It can be brutal, especially in the heat! You can also bus, cab or uber around. Trust me, I would of been happy to jay walk but the fences are so high you can't jump over them and just cross the street! Hahaha!

                         Crossing using the designated walkways. You can see how high some
                          points of the fence are and the use of bridges to get across the street.

The casinos are mostly filled with luxury, high end stores that I didn't even want to bother going in. Outside on the actual strip, there was a ton more affordable stores like Marshalls and Ross. Ross is like Winners and there are so great finds for designer purses and clothes. There are also some novelty stores which are pretty pricey like Hersheys, M&M's and the Coco-Cola store. There are always clearance sections and sales so you can grab a few souvenirs for pretty cheap. Coke store was very cool because you can sample drinks they have around the world for about $15 and included trays of drinks that you'd have to share with friends.

                                                Tastes from around the world with Coke!

                         There are tons of people on the street trying to sell you shows and tours

I don't gamble and I'm all about just hanging out and a bit of shopping. If you want to see shows or do anything, it's probably best to walk the strip in person and get some discounted day of tickets. They pretty much sell tickets throughout the Strip. There are tours for helicopter tours to the Grand Canyon, gun ranges, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Theres a ton of competition so if you have the time, take a walk and have a browse and try to deal them down further if you can. Also, if you have a friend with a Nevada ID, you can have them grab you tickets to get the local discount. This is for pretty much everything too! We saved $10 a head when we took my relatives to a big Vegas type buffet for dinner. Also, another thing I've noticed for the past 10 years or so. When you buy a Starbucks gift card or top up your card on your phone, you can still use it anywhere in Canada or the US. I usually like to pick up a few gift cards from Groupon when they sell $5 for $10 credit. Best part is there is no currency conversion, so your dollar goes a lot further! Especially now, when our dollar is so crappy!

   Fremont Street

The other area is called Fremont Street. It's great! It's outdoors but there is a cover that is pretty much like a giant screen with lights! It's definitely walkable but you can't walk from The Strip to Fremont. You can see everything they have to offer here in a few hours or less. Same deal as the Strip, valet is free if you're a member or you have pay for street parking or in a lot. Membership is free so just go in and spend 2 mins to sign up for their points card. There are lots of places for cheap and quick eats. We bought three deep fried Oreos for $1! It's about $6 here at the Ex.
                                                                   Some cheap eats!

Off the Strip
With a car, everything is relatively close as long as you don't hit traffic. We did once and it was incredibly brutal and my aunt almost missed her flight! There are plenty of cheaper hotels off the strip and fast food joints like In and Out where you can grab a burger for $3.50. I love their food, the fries not so much but everything is fresh, cheap and tasty! They have a secret menu and you can ask for grilled onions as well.

                                                            Current In and Out prices

If you do as much walking as we do, you'll probably want to hit Chinatown for the cheap $20 massages! It's one hour and they do your full body and they usually include a few minutes with hot stones and stuff. Downside, you have to tip them $10 a person or they will cuss you out (as told to us by my cousins). I love hitting up Lee's Sandwiches for late night eats and bubble tea type drinks and slushies. They have these baked Deli Manjoo's that are the best things in the world. They are like those HK style pancake balls but with custard inside. Super addictive treat!

                                                                     A Deli Manjoo

Orange County
It's hard not to head to Little Saigon for some affordable eats and cheap $15 massages! My aunt use to make us drive one and half hours all the way here from San Diego to go grocery shopping and drive back home! My other cousin now lives like ten minutes from Disneyland and offered her place for us to stay and even offered to drive us so we save $17 USD on parking and a crazy amount on AirBnb. We made pit stop by the 99 cent store for a few items like straw hats to wear to Disneyland. Honestly, it was the best 99 cents I spent all trip! I hate hats but it really saved me from the sun, and I didn't want to go with an umbrella for shade (insert old Chinese lady joke here). They have everything you could want there. It's like a full dollar store and grocery store but it's not as cheap as I remembered!

Line up for security check, done! Now line up to enter with pre-bought tickets!

Visiting Disneyland: You can imagine the countless articles and websites I found just on this topic. It was really intimidating. I wanted to get the most out of the day I could. At $100 USD a person, and with our incredibly sad Canadian dollar the cost of the tickets came out to about $270 for two entrance tickets. It's best to pre-buy and pre-print the tickets to avoid another line to buy them in person. There are people and lines ups everywhere! I thought September would be easy since most kids are in school, but nope! This is F&*^ing Disneyland: The Happiest Place on Earth! Believe me, I looked up every which way to find discount tickets and even asked my little cousins who go all the time to help me. No such luck! The good news, you are able to bring in food and drinks as they don't really search your bag too through. We took in frozen water bottles that we drank from through out the day. It was so bloody hot, that I was surprised I didn't pass out from the intense heat.

Food wasn't as expensive as I remembered when I went about 12 years ago, but I also didn't have a job and any money back then hahaha. We were able to get a burger and small fries for $11 USD. Not bad, considering we split the mini-meal. My cousin made sure to feel us well at breakfast to brave the hot day on our feet. It also got a bit chilly at night so I'm glad I brought a sweater. Comfortable shoes and clothes are an absolute must! It was a weekday and it was still rammed, we still waited about an hour for some rides. The best part of Disneyland are the fast passes. You are able to grab one ticket per admission ticket every couple of hours. It pretty much gives you a time you can come back and go straight into a by pass line that is way shorter! We didn't know how important the admission ticket was until we lost one and was so sad we couldn't fast pass together, but we found out you can go to customer service and they'd assign you another one for free. It's so great! Not all rides have fast passes, and you just go to a machine and put in your admission ticket. It then spits out your ticket and another bypass ticket with the time you are to return. If you're late, but super nice and they will still let you through, but don't lose your fast pass as they collect them in line!

- Stock your bag on snacks and frozen water bottles. You can save most of your money by not eating park food and the crazy line ups that come with them. Who doesn't like saving time AND money? Do what I do, eat in line, the whole two birds with one stone thing. It was so hot that I didn't want to eat anything and just drink cold water. (Side note, bottled water everywhere we went was insanely expensive.  It's about $3.99 USD for a small 12 pack and that's if it's on sale!)
- Go to city hall and ask for a free button. They have one for almost every occasion. Winton and I got birthday badges as ours are so close to each other. All day Disney employees made sure to say Happy Birthday to you and it was nice!
- Buy your Disney merchandise before going into the park. It seemed like everyone was wear or sporting Disney apparel. It is so expensive! I wanted some Disney ears and they were $20 USD. They had some cool Mickey balloons and I almost crapped my pants that they were $14 USD. I later found out that some of them can light up at night, so you can a cool glowing balloon. If you're with a small child. I'd probably pre-buy them a disney toy they would like and stuff it in my bag. When they get too antsy for not buying anything I'd bring it out without them noticing and tell them I bought it when they went to the bathroom. Smart huh? hahaha
- Stick around for the Electric Parade. I wasn't interested in seeing a parade at the end of the day, but the streets were so crowded there was no room to walk around. Then we saw the park dimmed their lights and a crazy parade of lit up floats and characters walk by with crazy infectious music. It was so much fun and made the $100 ticket worth every penny.
- There are a bunch of photo spots with Disney photographers to sell you prints, but they are more than happy to take a photo with your own phone or camera for free so you don't have to buy anything.
- If you do have to eat before you enter, there are a bunch of restaurants on the street before the entrance. Entrance is probably at least a five minute walk from the street to the turnstile to enter the park.
- If you want to take pictures with the popular characters, prepare for a line up! Line ups are inevitable and it takes so much longer as they "play" with you for a couple mins. I just wanted my picture and leave. There are less popular characters walking around everywhere and they are usually good for a quick selfie!

Hope that gives you some insight in planning your trip!

Eros and Pookie

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