Myrtle Beach on a Budget: Family Vacation for Under $1k

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How we did Myrtle Beach on a budget for under $1,000, including our hotel, food, transport, entertainment and souvenirs, for our entire family at peak season.

I’ve been wanting to take a family vacation to Myrtle Beach for quite some time now.  I used to live close enough that it was a day trip, and I remember always thinking, “Wow, this is awesome.  It would have been so cool to come here when I was a kid.”

I had a blast there in my early 20s.  There were concerts and restaurants and crazy entertainment.  But there were also kid-focused attractions that channeled my inner-child.  Since I’ve had my own children, I’ve wanted to take them to experience it, but in previous years it was kind of cost-prohibitive.

What changed this year?  We got creative. We got so creative that we were able to do an entire 6-day vacation for our whole family, plus baby-sitter, for under $1,000.  That includes lodging.  That includes food.  That includes gas.  That includes everything.  We didn’t stay in some shady hotel and only hang out on the beach all week, either.  (Though we could have.  We had such gorgeous weather the week we went!)  We lived it up.  We had the trip of a lifetime.  And we didn’t come home broke.

Here’s how we did Myrtle Beach on a budget (all prices are rounded up to the next dollar):

Transport/Gas- $190

We really wanted to make the trip in our smaller vehicle and save even more on gas, but when we decided to take a babysitter along at the last minute, that became impossible.  We used our gas rewards locally when we filled up, and the price per gallon just kept getting cheaper the further south we went.

Lodging- $120.00

I got our hotel for free!  It wasn’t a roach palace, either.  It wasn’t five-stars, but it was a nice, mid-grade resort right on the beach.  Every room had a full ocean view with at least one balcony.  It was ridiculously clean.  It had a full kitchen, and so many pools I don’t think we even saw them all. It was the Patricia Grand.

We got it for free using two methods.  Half was paid for through credits I had earned at a booking site through referrals.

The other half was through credit card rewards.

The entire week would have been free, but we were having so much fun we decided to stay another night.  The hotel staff gave us a decently low rate, I had some rewards points leftover, and we got to stay to have another day of vacation bliss.  Hence the $120.00.  That’s all I paid out of my bank account.

ripley's aquarium myrtle beach

Entertainment- $205.50

SO. MUCH. TO. DO.  Six days didn’t feel like enough.

Ripley’s Aquarium

We went to Ripley’s Aquarium.  I thought about using a promo code to purchase my tickets, but buying online “anytime” tickets was $6 more and let us dodge standing in line twice or being stuck to a strict schedule, so I splurged.  This was the priciest thing we did, coming in at $98.  It was so worth it.  The aquarium is built for kids.  We pet rays and horseshoe crabs.  We took pictures with mermaid actresses.  We went through their shark tunnel where they swim above and all around you.  We crawled into a dark tunnel with a surprise of luminous fish at the end.  We saw so many jellyfish, displayed with brilliant, multicolored lights.  We made $98 worth of memories and then some.


Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center

We also went to the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center.  This was crazy fun, and we got free tickets for it through one of the blogging networks I belong to.  I’ll write more about this next Wednesday, so check back!  You can get discounted tickets here.

See how we went here for free!

Mini Golfing

We went mini golfing for free as our resort had partnered with a place down the road.  Two of us got a hole in one!  We also could have gone to a water park for free, but didn’t quite find the time.  Besides, we had  the entire beach and the numerous pools at our resort.  A water park visit felt like overkill, but it was a nice option to have.

Medieval Times

Just the husband and I went to Medieval Times.  Our kids are too little…I don’t think they all could have handled it.

But we had a great time!  Our knight won!  We only paid for one ticket.  We went during one of our birthday months, so we joined the birthday club and got a free admission.  Since we didn’t have the kids with us, we indulged in some adult beverages.  They were over-priced, but they were also very generous.  After all was said and done, we ended up spending $102 on the entire thing, which is less than what 2 adult tickets normally cost you after taxes and fees.

Did I say Ripley’s was the most expensive?  I was wrong, I guess.  By $4.  Alcohol will get you like that.

Feeding the Fish and Popping Balloons

We went to Broadway at the Beach for a couple meals, and the aquarium, and spent 50 cents feeding the massive fish and ducks.  The kiddos loved it.  They also insisted on playing a balloon popping game where we spent $5 and won a stuffed dog.  The smiles were worth every penny.

The Beach & Pools

We spent hours upon hours outside playing and swimming.  All of that was free.  All of that was so rewarding for the memory bank.

We joined this guy for dinner one night.

We joined this guy for dinner one night.

Food- $418

This is where our budget got out of hand.  Because we had a kitchen, we bought food at Piggly Wiggly.  I was reminded of how high our food prices are in Pittsburgh.  We were able to get enough food for everyone for the week for $71.  Usually we’re at around $100/week without buying food for the sitter, too.

Why, oh, why did we spend so much then?  The long drive was part of it.  We packed a lunch, but had to catch another meal on the way in at the drive-thru window.  On the way back, too, coming to $61.

We also preemptively gave our leftover food away (we had a lot!) before we had decided on spending another night.  We had found someone who wanted it, and we didn’t want to see it go to waste.  So Day 6 was a mess.  But such a tasty mess.  We had really good seafood for lunch that ran us $150 for everyone.  You just can’t get seafood that fresh in Pittsburgh, so I’m really not upset about it considering how many people we had. Plus we had a great time.  The $30 we spent on pizza that night was starting to stress me out, though.

We also ate out at Shoney’s before Day 6.  Because I love it.  And it’s crazy cheap.  And the best diner food ever.  And little kids eat free.  And it’s not up North.  Thirty-five dollars for everyone. We also ate at one other pretty nice restaurant before Day 6 that ran us $101 for everyone.

All of these numbers include tips.

 Souvenirs- $37

Every family trip we go on we pick up an ornament for the Christmas Tree.  This one was a glass octopus from Ripley’s.  The kids also convinced us to buy them each a little toy while we were in there.  Darn them for forcing you to walk through the gift shop before exiting.

Total after tax to the next dollar was $37.


 Trip Total- $970.50

I was extremely pleased with that number.  I honestly thought we’d spend a little bit more while we were down there, and the fact that most of it was added because we decided to stay an extra day at the last minute just makes me happier.  Because we had so much fun doing instead of buying during the week, we had the choice to stay another night.  If we had been blowing money left and right that wouldn’t have been an option.

Here is the applicable take-away you can use next time you’re planning to go to Myrtle Beach on a budget:

  • Eat at Shoney’s. (For real.)
  • Utilize rewards points (if you can use credit cards responsibly, that is.)
  • Check out discounts or promotional offers some of the pricier places you want to go may have. (Birthday clubs are awesome!)
  • Be sure to find out if your hotel has any affiliations in the area.  You can find free entertainment like we did with mini golf, or even discounts at local restaurants.
  • Don’t give away your store-bought food until you’re stepping out of the hotel lobby. $180 mistake, plus sunk costs on the food I had bought.


40 thoughts on “Myrtle Beach on a Budget: Family Vacation for Under $1k

  1. Ali @ Anything You Want

    $1000 for a weeks vacation is a deal! Sounds like the credit card points were key. I’ve had great success going that route in the past too. And I think that $400 for food for the week is pretty darn reasonable. You have to splurge a little on vacation!

  2. Andrew@livingrichcheaply

    Sounds like fun! I will definitely considering taking the family down there too at some point. How are your kids on long road trips? The longest car ride we’ve taken with our toddler is about 4 hours (with one stop)…plus he slept half of the way. Otherwise, I don’t think he wants to be stuck in his car seat for too long.

    1. Femme @ femmefrugality

      One struggles, honestly. We made sure to pack a bunch of distractions for the drive, and stopped at least once a state at a rest stop to give them time to stretch and get some energy out. Made a ten hour drive take fourteen, but kept us sane. Same one doesn’t do well on airplanes, and while we still do it sometimes, it makes the savings on going by car extra valuable. Less freedom to accommodate them during a meltdown on a plane.

  3. donebyforty

    Myrtle Beach is definitely one of my favorite childhood memories. Building castles on the beach and body boarding in the waves and begging dad to take us to the mini golf course, yeah, that one, with the dragon that breathes fire.

    It makes me smile to think you’re giving these sort of lifelong memories to your kids. Good on you.

    1. Femme @ femmefrugality

      Oh, was that the one at Broadway at the Beach? The pyrotechnics made us jump, if so, and it is still there! We went to a different one without dragons, but still super fun.

      I’m glad we have similar memories though on different sides (I’m the parent, etc.) A lot of Pittsburghers go to Myrtle Beach! So much Stillers great down there. 🙂

  4. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    Sounds like a whirlwind. But a fun one.

    I’ve actually never been to Myrtle Beach. I’d like our next trip to be to California for a couple of theme parks. We know at least one person there, so we’re hoping we could avoid hotels.

    We went to Medieval Times on our honeymoon. My husband really wanted to, and we got either BOGO tickets or 50% off each one. Amounts to the same thing. It was cheesy fun. And who doesn’t want to drink out of a stein?!

  5. Hannah

    Dirty Myrtle is where I spent my super cheap summer! These are my tips:

    1. Kangaroo station allows you to buy re-usable soft drink cups for $6- free refills all summer long!
    2. Many of the resorts allow bracelet share passes- basically you can just walk into any of the resorts as long as you have a bracelet. My employer gave us a day pass, and we spent went into every resort for over a mile, and all the desk attendants let us in.
    3. Pelicans Games are so Fun, and you can often find $5 tickets on dollar dog nights.

    Please note, these are 2009 prices.

    1. femmefrugality

      Awesome! I had no idea about Kangaroo! There were lots of talks about sister hotels, but I didn’t pay much attention as we were pretty dang busy at ours. Good to know, though! And I’m pretty sure that’s minor league, right? Sounds like a good time! Not a bad drive from Raleigh for you at all!

  6. kay ~ the barefoot minimalist

    AH, Femme! That was FABULOUS! I haven’t been to Myrtle Beach in such a long time. I always wanted to live there. You really $$ figured it out! Less than a grand for a vacation like that with the whole family PLUS a babysitter. You vacationed like a rock star! 🙂

  7. Prudence Debtfree

    Sounds like a great vacation. “Other kids and water.” – that’s what my mom always said was important on a trip for kids. And yours had both : ) Brilliant to bring a babysitter along with you! I think she (I’m assuming a girl?) would have loved it. I sure would have in my babysitting days.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      It was! It was 14 hours… Shouldn’t take more than ten, but we had to make quite a few stops to keep the little ones happy. 🙂

        1. femmefrugality Post author

          Might be a good deal quicker from where you are. We have to cut pretty far east from Pittsburgh. Especially if you have quick access to I-95? We avoided it all together and cut through the mountains, but that was largely because we would be getting on it around DC. Starting that part of the trek on the beltway was not my idea of fun, but it’s probably worth it coming from the other side of the state.

  8. Hayley @ Disease Called Debt

    This sounds amazing, you did a great job at saving money on this trip! I love how you combined travel pony credits with credit card rewards to get your hotel for free. I really should do more about sorting out a decent credit card with reward points.

  9. Esther

    Wow! Loads of fun for $1000. That is record breaking. I really loved the idea of a free hotel which makes it much easier to save money and have fun under budget.

  10. vmorgan456

    I love your descriptions of your food bill…so much like things that happen to us! Sounds like a great place to visit and I know the kids loved the aquarium. Have a great day!

  11. Mel

    I was just in Myrtle Beach! We went to Broadway on the Beach too, but checked out Wonderworks instead of Ripley’s – that weird upside down building – it was full of hands on science experiment stuff.

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