As part of a larger road trip over Memorial Day weekend, we stopped in Saint Louis to visit the regularly hyped City Museum. This destination has been on our bucket list for a while and we finally visited it!
The 600,000 square foot museum occupies a former shoe factory. The ferris wheel on the roof along with the giant praying mantis sculpture are dead give aways that you are about to have a great time!
Frugal Boy, sporting an “Old MacDonalds” happy meal box on his head, was unabashedly enthusiastic.
We parked in a nearby $5 surface lot and walked the block to the entrance. There is a closer parking lot for twice the price. Do you like the school bus hanging off the corner of the building? You can go into that and look down!
The museum has a bit of a cult following, and can roughly be summarized as a “love it, or hate it” division. If you love climbing around jungle gyms and crawling through tiny labyrinth tunnels, start planning your trip. If that doesn’t sound fun to you, or you don’t want to keep up with your child, then go somewhere else.
Headlamps are advisable for many areas of the building. We spent three hours there and covered maybe 70% of the grounds. A 1:1 adult to child ratio would be recommended.
Right off the main lobby on the first floor there are already plenty of “crawling holes” as Frugal Boy calls them. Some simply loop around while others will inexplicably go off to a different level of the museum. You really have to follow your ward into each hole because you don’t know where they’ll end up otherwise.
Sometimes they dead end.
And other times they connect to a larger passage.
Frugal Boy, age 4.5, was just about the right age for the museum. He had a complete blast and was usually yanking our arms to go explore another section. Frugal Girl, age 14 months, was delighted to do as much as she could, but her little feet were too small for some of the ironwork sections.
I really liked this part of the museum were you could crawl John McClane style through ‘vents’.
The only thing missing was a lighter and cut up bare feet!
Frugal Boy was kind enough to stop and take this picture of me squeezing through a particularly tight bend.
One of the points of reference that we developed to help navigate the place was this aquarium on the 2nd or 3rd floor.
It was right by the exit of the 10 story curly slide. Yes, you read that right. I was so sweaty that it wasn’t much of a slide down. Squeaaaaaaakk.
Outside is more metal work, wire mesh, and rebar. All of our tetanus shots are up-to-date.
There are two planes that are suspended in the air that you can climb to.
It pays not to be scared of heights!
Up on the roof you can climb up the inside of the rotunda. We didn’t have time to do it on this trip, but there is always next time!
The “Caves” were probably the favorite sections for our family and age mixture.
After a while you start to get a feel for how the craziness is laid out. I was able to get this video showing Frugal Boy and Shae emerging from one spelunking area.
Are you wanting to go to the City Museum but aren’t sure if it is right for you? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer it. We had a great time and cannot wait to go back!
The beach is a great frugal place to spend time. Oftentimes the most expensive part of a beach is getting there, but once you are at a beach, you can have hours or even days of fun just using your imagination so pack your sand toys and let’s go!
An obvious choice is to go swimming.
or to go for a walk along the shore and leave footprints.
I find that little kids attention span and physical ability tends to limit them to more terrestrial activities such as building sand castles.
and building bigger sand castles.
If sand castles aren’t your thing, then maybe getting or burying someone in sand is more appealing.
You can get creative and become a Merman
or a merman at a sushi bar
Or you can drive a sand car around.
or fly your sand airplane.
Just be careful that the land sharks don’t get you!
When I was growing up, we would make an annual or biennial road trip to visit my Grandma in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a full day or sometimes even two day car ride and it was BOOORRRIINNG. I don’t mean the car ride itself was boring, of course that was, but also the destination portion as well. To add insult to injury, the route to and fro always passed by Lake Delton, home to Wisconsin Dells and some of the largest waterparks in the world. I always remember looking out the window as we crept along the interstate and wished that we would stop there instead. It would have been a lot more fun than the regularly scheduled program.
A kid can dream
Alas, we never did stop at the waterparks on our way to Grandma’s. As an adult, I understand my parents reasoning. Firstly, it is expensive, especially when you have a station wagon full of kids. Secondly the purpose of the road trip was to visit home bound family members.
30 years later and kid me got his wish fulfilled! Shae’s work puts together discount trips throughout the year. We decided to take advantage of one such trip that was a two night stay at America’s largest indoor waterpark, the Wilderness Resort in Lake Delton, WI.
3 Charter Buses Caravanned
a small part of the mega resort
3 indoor waterparks for the price of 1
The room cost was $386.27 for both nights, and the bus ticket cost was $25 per person. We also spent $85 on dinners, and another $14 on breakfasts and lunches. The total trip cost was $560.27 including all transportation, lodging, food, tickets, taxes, fees, and gratuities. Per person, that comes out to $186.76 or $93.38 per day. We could have included a 4th person for just the bus fare of $25 plus food. One could easily argue that this was not a frugal trip.
We did save gas money by riding on the charter bus, so that was probably $40 saved. We also saved quite a bit of money by bringing breakfast and lunch staples from home and only eating out for dinner. Finally, the room rate was a special group rate. We saved $15 with the Group Rate for lodging.
There are three separate indoor waterparks at this mega resort, and we tried them all out over the course of two days. All of them had a mix of little kid/teen/adult attractions. Shae couldn’t partake in any of the slides because she is sporting a wonderfully cute baby bump.
Frugal Boy at a stout 37″ was able to go with me on probably 50% of the slides. The two of us had a great time riding tubes and rafts down dark passageways. At the end of the trip, he said it was his favorite part. Ahhhh.
Some areas were included in the lodging price, such as this three story play area.
It was a lot of fun climbing around the structures and using the air cannons to shoot nerf balls at other people.
Frugal Boy loading a mega cannon.
a little teamwork
multi-story slides are fun!
We skipped other areas that were pay-to-play, such as the Arcade and High Ropes course.
my nephew would be begging to go on this.
We had packed breakfasts and lunches from home to save money on eating. I was pleasantly surprised with the cost, quality, and service of the dinner choices. I was expecting concession stand quality food at huge markups in cost all paired with crappy service. Instead for dinner we had decent food with quick friendly service at only a modest ‘tourist trap’ markup in price.
Frugal Boy contemplating what he wants for dinner
When we travel, we try to stick to our normal bed times. For Frugal Boy that is 7pm, so like it or not, we tend to have a lot of downtime during the evening. One of the tech items that I really enjoy is Plex. Plex lets you serve up your media collection at home to anywhere in the world. Now when we travel, we can bring along an old laptop, or our Apple TV and we can watch all of the same movies and tv shows that we can watch at our home theater. When Mom and Dad just need a moment, Paw Patrol is still one of the best distractions.
It will be nice when the kids get a bit older and do activities later into the day. For now though, we’ll just enjoy the cuddles.
The company does the same, or very similar, bus trips each year. Next year, we’d probably skip this trip because there is not a lot that a one year old can do at the park.
While it was an expensive weekend getaway, it was a lot of fun and our last 3-person trip before our family dynamic changes. Shae and I both wanted to enjoy and savor the last bit of time that we have with Frugal Boy as an only child.
I wanted to do something a little more memorable than Chinese takeout for Shae’s birthday, so for this long weekend, I packed up the car and we did a little road trip to two of my favorite childhood state parks in Indiana, Turkey Run and Shades. The two state parks are situated in West Central Indiana near the Illinois border. They both operate in the Eastern timezone.
Given that it was a holiday weekend, the park campgrounds were full, but I was able to make a reservation a week ahead of time for a primitive campsite at Rockville Lake Park. RLP is a private campground just 15 minutes south of Turkey Run and about 5 minutes east of the town of Rockville.
We arrived a bit before dinner on Friday night and decided to set up camp before looking for food. Who really wants to be a camp cook after a day of work and driving multiple hours.
I made Frugal Boy help pack the car, so he was excited to see those packed items come out and be used.
It didn’t take long for him to become a camping expert and start doling out advice on how best to secure the tent.
With camp secured, we drove into town and ate at a mom and pop restaurant. I had forgotten to stop at an ATM and only had $28 in cash in my wallet. Shae never carries cash and relies on the A(ndrew)TM whenever she needs it. I was a bit worried when we sat down at the cash only restaurant, but then remembered how cheap food is in rural Indiana. At $7 or $8 for an entree with two sides, we weren’t exactly pressured to eat miserly. Now I know how my middle brother, who spent a decade on the east coast, feels whenever I am bitching about the cost of staples.
The campground did not have an easily accessible supply of potable water so we stopped at a grocery store and bought a few jugs of water along with an evening treat.
A 4 pack of Smores drumstick ice cream cones was cheaper than buying a bundle of wood and having a campfire. You’re not supposed to transport fire wood because of all the critters that can hitch a ride and invade a new ecosystem and you are also not supposed to collect down branches and twigs in the campground because it depletes nutrients from the forest (my ecologist sister can correct me in the comments).
We turned in early that night because we were dog gone tired.
I woke up in the morning to an empty tent. Sometime in the night we acquired a couple of new neighbors. My stomach was growling, so I set to work making breakfast.
We had packed a cooler with half a dozen eggs, cheese, and an assortment of snack food. For car camping, I love the incredibly simple and rock solid single burner propane stove that I bought a decade ago at Wally World.
You have to buy the propane tanks separately, but they seem to last forever. The stove is strong enough to boil a few cups of water, so you can make quite a variety of foods on it. I had to take a picture of this particular propane tank because my parents gave it to us when they cleaned out an outbuilding. I remember these old tanks from my childhood, but they still work!
Shae had taken Frugal Boy down to the lake to go play.
When they came back, breakfast was ready!
I knew that Turkey Run was going to be popular on a Saturday, so we made tracks and got their early. The suspension bridge over Sugar Creek is always a favorite spot. A few kayakers and canoes drifted by below us while we crossed.
Inside, the spirit of adventure tugged at us to move forward.
Frugal Boy found a hiking stick
that he promptly lost, but talked about the rest of the day.
We found a cave (more like an overhang).
We hiked through streams
and climbed up ladders.
By lunch time, we had covered about 5 miles of trails, Frugal Boy was carried for some of that, but we made him walk even when he didn’t want to.
At lunch a bee landed on my hand. Frugal Boy asked what it was and I explained that it was a bee and it could hurt me. If I stayed still it would leave me alone and leave. We watched as it flew off and around and landed on Frugal Boy’s hand. My lesson apparently went in one ear and out the other because he tried to squish it. Maybe he is a first hand experience learner.
After lunch, we did one last trail. It was nearly empty and tucked away behind some cabins, but I thought it was one of the best trails we did that day.
When we left around 2pm all of the parking lots were full and the line of cars waiting to get into the park stretched out onto the highway. Just like the Shedd Aquarium, it pays to be there early.
We took a nap back at camp, and walked around the grounds. It was interesting people watching. Most of them were glampers, or people that were glamping (glamorous camping). We saw many satellite dishes, ginormous RVs, and flat screen tvs.
I made dinner on my trusty single burner camp stove.
I’m still trying to figure out what chain of events happened that made me the de facto camp chef. Some where history went wrong.
Frugal Boy has been doing very well with using the potty, but he still has some things to learn, like how to pee standing up. He got a primer on this camping trip and his only words were Awesome! and Again!
In the morning, we broke down camp quickly and left RLP so we could get to the canoe outfitters in time for their first run of the day. The outfitters was a well oiled machine that was processing hundreds of people. For $22 we had a three hour canoe ride down Sugar Creek. I could only surmise that the only way the outfitter made money was by sheer volume.
We got a different view of the suspension bridge that we crossed the day before.
We took one grainy selfie before we reached the pullout spot, a red covered bridge.
There is something like 48 covered bridges in this part of Indiana. I have never done it, but there is a covered bridge festival if that is something that interests you.
Back at the outfitters, we took one last picture of Frugal Boy and the canoe. He was really excited and wanted to go again.
From there we drove up to Shades State Park. The difference was night and day. Shades didn’t charge an entrance fee, even though it was listed. The parking lot was half empty at noon, compared to overflowing. The trails were sparsely populated. We ate lunch and hiked two more trails before declaring ourselves completely tuckered out. Frugal Boy loved the tricky ravine hiking and slept the entire car ride home.
If you are looking for a fun place to hike in Western Indiana, then I would recommend Shades or Turkey Run. There are some fun trails.
Shae, her sister (Auntie), Frugal Boy, and myself just returned from an 8 day trip to Costa Rica. We went horse back riding in the mountains, zip lined at 50 mph past a volcano, and forded a river in our 4×4. The frosting on the cake, we did it all for just $100! * Find out how at the end of this series. See Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Part 3 here. Part 4 here.
* Auntie paid some of her share of the trip and that isn’t included in our Out of Pocket total.
Day 7 – Water Water Everywhere
Today marked our last day at the ranch. We wanted to get a short hike in before sitting in the car for four hours so we followed the monkey trail to try and see some of the resident howler monkeys. A small ranch cat came along with us as we descended into the jungle.
We didn’t see any monkeys and the trail just kept going so we eventually turned back.
I finally met the owner of the ranch, Charlie. He is quite the character and made a strong impression as he walked out of his bedroom with a parrot on his shoulder. He kind of reminded me of “The Dude” Lebowski from the cult movie The Big Lebowski. I spoke with him for some time asking about the area and the road construction. He was a wealth of information and confirmed that the trucks were improving the inside road and had made a wet crossing over the Rio Caño Negro, the biggest obstacle to taking the shortcut between Monteverde and Arenal. He talked about how all of the studies and surveys had been completed for building a bridge over the river, but the funding got pulled at the last minute to help with earthquake relief. All of the plans are still valid, so sometime in the next ten years, I would expect a bridge to be in place. He also talked about how the president of Costa Rica had visited the area and in no uncertain terms stated that the road would never be paved. The government does not want commercial traffic through this eco sensitive area.
I was eager to try the river crossing and to take the inside road, if for no other reason, that it would be far more scenic and adventurous that the long winding outside road that we had taken to get to Arenal. The plan was to drive from El Castillo to Playas del Cocos on the Pacific ocean.
Charlie sent his son Eduardo with us on his motorbike in case we got stuck and needed a tractor to come pull us out. When we got to the bank of the river, I was both impressed by the size of the river and relieved to see the road construction crew hanging out on the other side. If they made it across, surely we could too and if we got stuck, they should be able to help us out between their laughter.
I took Charlie’s suggestion and walked it first to get an idea of what I was about to get us into. Then I popped it into 4 low and trucked it across. Wheeee!!
It’s worth noting that our rental agreement says not to do this, so I cannot condone my behavior. When I walked it, the water was below my knee, so while the river looked very big, it was also quite shallow.
The road on the other side was in excellent condition, no doubt because of the recent construction. While it was still gravel, it drove like asphalt. It was only when we turned west and headed into the mountains that the road got worse. There was one bridge that we ended up crossing amongst a handful of smaller streams. It sure didn’t look very safe with its height and lack of guard rails but we made it across just fine.
The volcano faded into the rearview mirror as we drove farther up into the mountains. Along the way we passed numerous turismo buses. The inside road seems to be the preferred route between Monteverde and Arenal by people familiar with the area.
After a four hour long ride, most of that in the bumpy mountain roads, we made it to Playas del Cocos. I had reserved an Airbnb condo that was hosted by an ex-pat named Robert and his native wife Marie. We met Robert in his bike rental shop and he was another character I won’t soon forget. Just think YMCA locker room, and you’ll get the right image in your head.
After getting a strange driving tour of the beach town where we followed Robert in his truck and he gave us hand signals for different sights and destinations we arrived at the condo. It was a nice unit with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Where were you second bathroom for the rest of the trip!
I picked this particular condo because it was only two blocks away from the Pacific ocean. Frugal Boy was delighted to go play on the beach.
As we walked along the shore towards downtown he spotted a playground.
Playas del Cocos has a thriving tourist strip selling all the usual trinkets. You could buy $10 keychains or $20 t-shirts. Smarter tourists would haggle the shop owners down a bit. We skipped all of that and bought some souvenir t-shirts at the end of the trip from MaxiPali, a Walmart subsidiary supermarket in Liberia, for $8.
Now that we were at sea level, the temperature had really picked up. Up in the mountains it was pleasantly cool, but down by the ocean it was hot. We stopped at a gelato shop and got a few scoops of ice cream. That made everyone quite happy.
That night we ate at a little burger/seafood soda. It was essentially a towed trailer with a griddle and deep fryer. The food was good and cheap so that made us all happy. On the walk back to the condo we were treated to a rare sight during the rainy season, a sunset!
Day 8 – A Last Supper
This was our last full day in Costa Rica. We hit the beach early before the heat and rain arrived.
Frugal Boy learned some hard lessons about tides when the water came in and destroyed his fort. He was pretty darn cute yelling at the water to stop it.
After a few hours we had our fill of swimming and playing in the sand so we went back to the condo to cleanup and eat lunch. Robert, our host, came by with the maid because his wife and him had a flight to catch. We hurriedly packed up our stuff so the maid wouldn’t have to wait forever.
There are numerous coves along the Pacific coast and we wanted to see how the other beach towns compared to Playas del Cocos. I had heard that Cocos was the party beach and its northernly neighbor Hermosa was the family friendly beach. We drove up and around to Hermosa to check it out.
Hermosa had more beach goers and picnickers, but barely any shops and only a handful of restaurants. It definitely was the tamer of the two. The rain moved in and Frugal Boy didn’t seem to care, but the rest of us were ready to call it quits.
We drove back to the airport hotel where we could repack our bags and clean out the car. I was reminded of how ugly American tourists can be when I was waiting in line at the hotel to check in. There was a large group of Americans in front of me and they were just so loud and pretentious. They didn’t even bother trying to speak in Spanish to the desk clerk. I get that not everyone is bilingual (heck I’m not), but everyone should at least have hola, como estas, and gracias in their toolboxes. Shae and I always tried to start interactions in Spanish and we felt that we got better treatment because of it. I made it as far as asking for a crib in our room for Frugal Boy when she mistook me for someone who actually speaks proficiently and rattled off the answer at supersonic speed. My puzzled look tipped her off that I was still an American, just not quite as obnoxious as the previous ones.
We still needed to gas up the car, eat dinner, blow whatever colones we had left, and return the rental that night.
Gas stations in Costa Rica are like the ones in Mexico. They are all full service and the prices are the same regardless of what station you stop at. It cost about 20,000 CRC to take the SUV from 1/4 to full. So prices were comparable to US gas prices if not a little more.
Shae found a great restaurant in the heart of Liberia. I think it was called Café Liberia and it had a very colonial vibe to it. Again, I think we got better treatment from the waitresses for ordering in Spanish. They asked if we wanted bottled water or house water. By this point of the trip, I think our guts had built up an iron lining, so we earned extra brownie points by taking the house water.
Shae thought this was her favorite meal of the trip. She had a ceviche which is a raw seafood dish cured with lemon or lime. It was presented in a very appealing way. I aimed for something a little easier on the stomach. The one dish in Mexico that was a bit off for me was ceviche. Maybe next time I’ll be ready for it again.
Day 9 – The Not So Fun Day
This day was all about getting home. We had two flights. One from Liberia to Houston and then one from Houston to Chicago. The Liberia flight left at 6:50 am… at least it was supposed to.
What really happened, was they loaded up the plane and then we all sat on the tarmac to wait for it to stop raining. Did I mention that it was the rainy season?! It just seemed so ludicrously stupid to be sitting around in the tropics waiting for it to stop raining. After an hour and no apparent change in the weather they went ahead and took off. That little delay pretty well botched everyone’s connecting flight plans. So instead of eating lunch in Houston like I had planned, we instead waited at a ticket line with a hundred other stranded passengers to get onto a different connecting flight.
United put Shae, Auntie, and Frugal Boy on the next Chicago flight with me on the standby list. By some miracle I managed to get on at the last second. There were around 30 people on the list.
Arriving into Chicago we ended up sitting on the taxi way for 30 minutes because there was still a United plane at the gate we were supposed to disembark at.
In the future, I will pay a bit more to fly a better airline that doesn’t routinely overbook their flights, gates, and other resources.
We bid our adieu to Auntie at the baggage carousel before finding out shuttle van to the private parking lot where we had left our car for the week. After sitting on planes for almost 9 hours, only eating snack food, and not being able to do what he wanted, Frugal Boy lost it. I have to say that the driver was very professional for the 10 minutes that it took to get from the airport to the lot. It sure felt like a lot more than that.
With our own car, we were able to hit up a burger stand and everyone was happy again. Hangry is a very debilitating condition that affects people of all ages.
Despite the gastrointestinal distress that plagued 75% of us and the crummy trip home, we had a good time. Zip lines, horse back riding, hanging bridges, howler monkeys, tasty food, extremely friendly Ticos, and disconnecting from work for a week were all great experiences.
Costa Rica is a very modern Central American country with many of the creature comforts and conveniences that we enjoy here in the States. It would have been interesting to see the capitol San José as I think that would have a very different feel to it than the more rural areas that we saw on our trip.
We were a bit surprised at the USA level prices on items like grocery staples, to restaurants, to tours. I am not convinced that retiring to Costa Rica would save any money over retiring to a low COL area like the rural midwest.
I am glad that we went and now Shae and I are thinking about the next place that we’d like to see. Perhaps Cuba.
Okay, so the big question that you most assuredly have. How the heck did this trip cost us only $100? The answer boils down to credit card and bank account sign up bonuses. I have written before (here and here) about how we were ‘churning’ or ‘travel hacking’ this trip by signing up for big reward bonuses and playing the system.
The total trip cost was $4776.51. Of that, we were reimbursed $4683.12. That makes our out of pocket, OOP, cost for a week long trip to Costa Rica just $93.39. Auntie ended up paying $590 + whatever her bus fare was to and from the airport and any other incidentals.
Below is the spreadsheet that I kept. Some of the credits are still estimated because we haven’t finished collecting them yet.