Monday, May 11, 2009

Florida Short Term Rentals, Orlando Holiday Villas And Special Needs

When we managed a number of Orlando holiday villas (during our property management days) and actively sought renters for Florida short term rentals, one unexpected feature of the business was the joy and happiness we saw that "special needs" visitors experienced during a Disney world visit.

Whether the wheelchair-bound or disabled person was an adult or a youngster, a parent or a child, the Disney magic worked for all of them. The Magic Kingdom seemed to work it's magic on everyone - but even more so on people who had extra burdens to deal with in their day to day life.

Disney itself does a great job of catering for visitors with special needs. They have a team dedicated to making things as rewarding as possible for disabled visitors and the website expresses it this way:

Disney gets especially high marks from visitors with disabilities. In true Disney fashion, they pay close attention to details that will make people with special needs especially comfortable.

From the basics of special parking, wheelchair accessibility and the availability of electric powered vehicles through to hotel accommodation with roll-in showers, Braille guidebooks and assistance for guests with hearing impairments, Disney does a great job.

But what if you have a special needs member of your family and you really want to enjoy the added relaxation and flexibility that Orlando holiday villas offer? Can you find Florida short term rentals that give you all of the facilities you need?

Well, it may be difficult to track down the perfect holiday home and you will need to persevere, but there are at least a few really well-equipped places out there. As ever, you will need to do your homework because the hype can outstrip the reality, but have your questions ready and keep asking until you're sure what the home has to offer. You may not find a place with absolutely everything you want but give it a shot - it could turn out to be the best piece of research that you ever do.

To illustrate things more clearly, let's take a look at just one property that we are very familiar with - see Blue Skies Florida. We're familiar with this four bedroom two bathroom home because we used to manage it when it was first built and we know the current owners, Judith and Dean Hall.

It's at Grand Reserve, an upscale community that's about ten to fifteen minutes from Disney property, close to Exit 58 of Interstate 4. All of the accommodation is on one level (no stairs to navigate!) and when the property was first built, the original owner (a muscular dystrophy sufferer) had some specific modifications built in that make this home special - for example:

  • Widened doors, including the extra wide patio doors from the master bedroom and family room
  • Wheel-in shower in the Master Bedroom
  • Clos-o-mat style toilet with left or right transfer
  • extra wide pool area for safe and easy wheelchair maneuvering
  • Pool hoist to allow access to both the pool and the spa
  • Lots of equipment, including wheel-in shower wheelchair, electric and hydraulic portable hoists, a king size profiling electric bed with bed raisers if required, floatation aids for the pool
For more details, check out Judith and Dean's website and send them an e-mail with any questions you have. They are very friendly people and happy to help.

Now this home may not cater for absolutely everyone's special needs - indeed, we know from our time in managing it that, for example, it has only one master bedroom, so if you want two, this won't do. It has standard-height kitchen cabinets and worktops, so if you definitively need reduced-height counter tops for the comfort of someone in a wheelchair, it can't offer that.

However, we saw literally dozens of families, including the owners, who enjoyed the best vacation they'd ever had just because they could have a fabulous and relaxing time in a home that gave them the main features they were looking for.

We have absolutely no connection with Judith and Dean and we get no benefit for promoting this property in particular. But we do know that there are some Orlando holiday villas that can bring joy to special needs families and Florida short term rentals can be found to meet most needs - so why not give this home, or one like it, some consideration if you're putting together an Orlando vacation package?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Orlando Vacation Package Dining Choices

One of the great joys that comes with an Orlando vacation package (for most people!) is the opportunity to dine out whenever you want. When you've booked all the flights, done all the packing, made the journey by flying or driving and finally made it to your hotel or vacation home, the thought of some nice relaxing meals in quality restaurants is a great thing to look forward to.

If you're staying at one of the Disney world resort hotels and you don't want to rent a car, maybe you're limited to Walt's hospitality - but even then there is quite a choice!

However, if you're renting a room in one of the Kissimmee or Orlando hotels, you'll have a vast amount of restaurants to sample. And even if you've booked a short term rental home or condo, complete with a fully fitted kitchen, you may still choose to eat out everyday - especially if you're one of those Moms who need a break from the routine of feeding the family everyday. I certainly remember the times I used to enjoy Florida vacations - the sunshine was obviously a great attraction and Disney World and Universal and Sea World were wonderful, but freedom from my daily chef routine was a big attraction too!

But the joy of eating out can soon be diminished if the food isn't well-prepared or if the service is poor. So I wanted to pass on my experience of just a few local restaurants as a way to help you out. These are obviously totally subjective and focused on our family tastes (so for example, there are no Chinese or Italian restaurants because my husband has a very narrow range of preferences!) but at least it will give you one "user review" of each of the following:

Restaurants We Go Back To:
  • Longhorn Steakhouse - this is a new place on the 192, near to the new Target mall west of Formosa Gardens Boulevard. We've already been there twice, it was very busy both times and the food and service was excellent. Obviously it's part of the Longhorn chain and serves standard American fare, but the steaks, salmon and ribs were all good. The staff were helpful and pleasant.
  • Ruth's Chris - our favorite place to eat. More expensive than Longhorn, it offers the best steaks we've ever had anywhere. We've dined at Ruth's Chris restaurants all over the USA (from New York to Miami to San Diego) and every one has given us fantastic service and top class food and wine. The Orlando one that we visit is on sand Lake Road, just west of the Dr Phillips sign west of I4 Exit 74.
  • IHOP: For those big breakfasts or that budget meal, try IHOP. There are several along the 192 but the only one we visit is on the south side of the 192 immedaitely before Poinciana Boulevard. We avoid the others (there are two farther west on the 192) because of poor service or average to poor food or both that we've experienced there.
Restaurants We Are Unlikely To Revisit:
  • Outback - the restaurant at Formosa Boulevard on the 192 used to be one of our favorites. We ate there several times a year and my husband was happy to meet clients there for business dinners. It was always very popular. Then something changed - either the Manager, or corporate standards, or something. We took our extended family there a couple of years ago and it was a disaster - the food was not properly cooked and a couple of members of our party received their meals about fifteen minutes after the rest. Service was poor and when we complained, no one seemed to really care. We took it up with Outback in Tampa and received a "formula" type of apology along with a $50 voucher, which we used in a follow-up visit. Sadly that was just as bad and we have had equally unhappy tales from other friends who have dined there more recently - so now we use Longhorn etc. instead.
Ok, so none of these are "gourmet" places (although Ruth's Chris is as good a restaurant as we've ever been to. Maybe that shows our limited experience, or maybe it's just a really good place to eat!) but I hope that gives you just a few ideas on where to eat out and where to avoid. So give them a try, and try others as well - please remember that this is totally subjective and is based on our tastes and what you make of your eating experiences on your Orlando vacation pacakge is up to you!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Orlando Vacation Tips - Kennedy Space Center

If you're taking an Orlando vacation and you're looking for something a little different than the next Disney World ride or the joys of viewing Sea World's underwater life, I can strongly recommend a trip to the Kennedy Space Center, out at Florida's Atlantic coast on Merritt Island. I'm not a great technology or space or science fiction lover and I mostly want relaxation when I'm on my vacations, but I found the experience of seeing the history and bravery of the space pioneers a marvelous and moving visit.

From the Disney area the quickest route is usually along the 528 Beach Line toll road and, subject to rush hour traffic, the journey takes just about an hour or a little longer. When you arrive and park your car there is an entrance that's similar to the Orlando theme park entrances and the current ticket price is $38 each. You'll be given a printed brochure showing the main exhibits and some of the best ones for me were:

1. The Rocket Garden: This is where you can see the early parts of the space program including Atlas and Titan rockets that first put NASA astronauts in space. You can marvel at the bravery of the people who sat on top of what look like very insubstantial machines and allowed themselves to be blasted into the air. It's light years away from Star Trek and the Enterprise!

2. The Apollo / Saturn V Center: I can't express it any better than the official site does - "a tribute to the Apollo astronauts and the machines that got them there – and brought them home safely." This place tells the story of putting a man on the Moon and the highlight of the presentation in the giant building is a life-sized version of the enormous Saturn V rocket. You have to see it for yourself - it is really impossible to adequately describe.

3. Bus Tour Of The Facility: Take a two to three hour ride around the Space Center in an air-conditioned bus while the driver points out the key features - including wild life in the natural reserve such as birds or alligators (if they're being co-operative!). The highlight for me was the Vehicle Assembly Building, used to prepare each Space Shuttle for flight and allegedly the second largest building in the world. You should be able to see the "crawler", the transport that moves at one mile an hour to take the Shuttle to the launch pad.

4. Space Shuttle Replica: As with the Rocket Garden, this full-sized replica brings it home to you exactly how small the machine really is and how brave are the astronauts who venture out in it.

There are many more things so see and do there including two IMAX theaters, a "Shuttle Launch Experience" attraction and a Children's Play Dome. You should set aside a whole day and a lot of energy to make sure you see it all. Unless space travel sends you to sleep with boredom, I'm sure you will find a tremendous amount to impress you - and even the technophobes in your party should be impressed!

For more information on accommodation in the Disney World area, click on these Orlando holiday villas or Florida short term rentals links.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Orlando Vacation Package Money Saving Tips

With all of the economic doom and gloom that's around, it may be more and more difficult for cash-constrained families to justify a trip to Florida - but maybe this is just the time that they need the morale boost that an Orlando vacation package can generate.

Unless the current wave of bail-out and stimulus mania is extended to include money for vacations, families will be forced to find their own ways ways to cut costs so that a vacation is affordable. So here's a few ideas:
  • Compare the costs of a complete vacation package with the total expenses you would pay if you booked the flight, accommodation and car hire separately. Research may show you that booking the items separately will be less expensive - but make sure you take into account all of the inducements in the package including discounted tickets, free breakfasts or other meals in hotels and other vouchers. Remember that packages can also have severe restrictions (for example, party size or dates available) so time spent in careful reading can be a great investment!
  • Are the "Fly Drive" packages that are popular with UK tourists really worthwhile? Some companies apparently offer cost savings by combining the air fare and car hire costs into one price that looks like it's a bargain. But check out the compulsory car hire insurance costs that come with the deal. Sometimes these are overpriced to claw back the low sticker price. We've seen some big company offerings where any apparent initial saving is more than eaten up by what looks like excessive insurance charges - so separate booking of flights and car hire would have been less expensive.
  • And on the topic of car hire - if you're planning at least some of your vacation in a Disney hotel, with travel between theme parks already included, do you need a car for the entire vacation? You may be aware that surcharges apply for cars collected at Orlando International Airport, so you could make an additional saving by picking up your car in Kissimmee instead. Fewer days of car hire and no surcharge may add up to to a substantial saving.
  • Shop around for your flights, using sites such as, and They can help with accommodation and car hire too. If you can book well ahead you can often secure the lowest prices, especially if you're prepared to be flexible about your departure times. Obviously, avoid peak times such as Easter and Christmas. Try early December or late April / May if your schedule permits it. Even if you are looking for a last minute deal, don’t despair because bargains may still be available - some companies buy seats in advance and then sell them on as last minute deals at prices well below the airline’s regular rates.
  • Accommodation: if you've read any of the other posts on this site you will be aware that the growth of short-term rental homes close to Disney has transformed the market. You can still spend your well-earned rest with your friends or family in one or more hotel rooms if you prefer and there is an enormous choice. But you could also rent a single family home with private screened pool or condo (see Orlando holiday villas for more details). Due to intense competition, the price of a four or five bedroom home can often be little more expensive that that of a single hotel room, so give it some thought and especially if your family or party is large.
  • Theme park tickets could actually be the most expensive part of your Orlando vacation package, especially for large parties. For example, the standard Disney World price is currently $75 per day plus sales tax - so a party of eight would pay $600 plus tax. By comparison, one night in a vacation home for that same party could be booked for around $100 plus tax. That should convince you that time spent in planning your theme park days in advance could give you some big savings - so think about how many days you plan to spend at the Disney theme parks and how much flexibility in "hopping" from one park to another you want and then invest some time on the Internet checking out the options.
So if you really want that Orlando vacation and you'd love to explore the Magic Kingdom but your budget is straining to keep up, shop around and look at the options available because you really can save a lot of money, and enjoy a great holiday.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Beyond The Theme Parks And Orlando Holiday Villas

Central Florida so well known for the Disney World, Sea World and other theme parks that these amazingly popular man-made entertainments attract millions of tourists each year to fill the countless hotels, motels and Orlando holiday villas.

And in between daily visits to the theme parks, taking a rest from the rigors of the Magic Kingdom and relaxing by their private screened pool is a welcome contrast for those families lucky enough to be renting Orlando holiday villas.

But some visitors who have explored the theme parks in previous vacations can become bored with Mickey Mouse. Hard to believe, but it does happen! They want ever more variety and they begin to think about other parts of Florida to explore.

After all, the climate is great all of the year round so what about the beaches, national parks and other areas? Well, if you're prepared to take a road trip for a couple of hours (or more in some cases) you have many great choices - for example:
  • Gulf Coast beaches

    Some of my most favorite beaches are on the coast between St Petersburg Beach and Clearwater Beach. The journey from Orlando takes up to two hours, but it's completely worth it. I usually drive to St Petersburg Beach and head south along Gulf Boulevard - most of the beaches are private and therefore not accessible, but there are many public beaches with parking availability, rest rooms and nearby shops or restaurants. The sands are almost white, the Gulf of Mexico water is a gorgeous color and you will usually find pelicans, seagulls and other wildlife to amuse you. Take lots of sunscreen and something to give you some shade, or rent recliners and sunshades.
  • The Everglades National Park

    If you're prepared for a road trip of three to four hours, why not travel to south west Florida (Naples / Fort Myers) to explore the Everglades National Park. It covers more than 1.5 million acres and it a melting pot of nature and wildlife: it has more than seven hundred different tropical and temperate plants, about three hundred different species of birds plus alligators, turtles, manatees, fish, Florida panther, snakes and other animals. Take an airboat ride and skim across the sawgrass just like in the opening scenes of CSI Miami.
  • Miami

    If you're looking for a city that's teeming with life and hustle and bustle, Miami is it. It is a four-hour journey down the Florida Turnpike, at the end of which you can explore the frantic activity on South Beach, enjoy the shops and restaurants in Coconut Grove or seek out other beaches such as Key Biscayne. Stick to these tourist areas and away from some of the less desirable localities. For something different, find Old Cutler Road and marvel at the glorious banyan tress along the road and in the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens.
  • The Florida Keys

    Beyond Miami are the Keys, starting with Key Largo and going all the way along to Key West. From Miami to Key West will take two or three hours, depending on the volume of traffic. Each Key has it's own characteristics, starting with the John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo (snorkelling or scuba diving anyone?) through the developments in Islamorada and Marathon, over the Seven Mile Bridge and finally finishing at Key West. If you make it that far, enjoy the beaches and the swimming but you absolutely must explore Duval Street. Try the Hogs Breath Saloon marguerritas, enjoy the atmosphere in Sloppy Joe's but mainly just take in the sights and sounds of the laid back crowds who throng there.
So there you have it - the sea, beaches, nature and partying in Miami and the Keys. Don't go home from Florida and complain that there's only Mickey Mouse to see!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Orlando home, Florida vacation homes and other temptations

Ok, just imagine it - you and your family are sat in the sun on the pool deck of your Orlando home, one of the many Florida vacation homes close to the Disney World empire and one that has every comfort of your own home. Lots of space to relax, the pool to help you cool off when it's too hot, and the sky above is blue.

All the entertainment you need is a few miles away at the Disney theme parks or Sea World or wherever. And when you just want to chill out, your Orlando home is great, far better than a hotel or motel could ever be.

You've visited Florida regularly and this vacation home idea is a great way to deal with the accommodation part of your Orlando vacation package. How lucky the people who own these homes are!

Then you chat to your neighbor - he's from out of town but he owns the house next to your rental home. He's from Wisconsin or Michigan or Toronto and he visits half a dozen times a year, especially during Fall and Winter, to escape the cold weather and to enjoy the warm climate. When he's not in town he covers his costs by renting out the property to people like you - families who flock to Disney all year round.

And then you have a conversation in the restaurant with a guy who just happens to be a real estate expert. He tells you about the local property market - prices are lower than ever, bargains are everywhere, prices are bound to go up as the real estate market recovers and yes, you can cover your costs by renting the place out on a short term rental basis.

It makes far more sense than risking your money in a 401K that's now a 201K and could soon be a 4K. He can take you out tomorrow and find just the right place for you - a home in the sun whenever you want to use it and a great investment. Thousands of people do it, so why be dumb and miss out on the chance? You'd be crazy to miss out, wouldn't you?

Well, just hold on a minute.

Maybe you would and maybe you wouldn't.

Spend a little time considering the "pros" and the "cons" carefully and then decide. Don't be hurried into a decision because it could be costly.

And owning is not for everyone - renting may be better.

So first of all the "pros":
  • Early 2009 is definitely a good time to buy because prices are lower than they have been for many years. There is a great deal of choice in some very nice single family homes and condos. The likelihood of price appreciation is high over the next few years.
  • Owning an Orlando home is indeed a great way to enjoy a Florida vacation - more space, more flexibility, eat in or eat out as you prefer, avoid crowded hotel pools, just behave as if you were in your own home. Which you would be if you bought one!
  • You can take more frequent Florida vacations because once you buy, most of the costs are fixed. You have travel costs and maybe car hire to pay for but then it's virtually the same expenses as at home.
  • You can indeed cover some or all of the costs of ownership by renting out short-term to other Orlando vacation fans.
  • If you ever get tired of vacationing in your Orlando home, you can use it as a house exchange with people all over the USA and even the rest of the world. There are well-developed organizations and web sites who specialize in putting home owners from different states and countries in touch with each other for a mutually beneficial swap of accommodation. Orlando is a big attraction worldwide - so how do you feel about a trip to Europe or Asia in exchange for a couple of weeks in your Orlando home?
But how about those cons:
  • Yes, costs are fixed, and that's one of the problems. If you need a loan to buy the place, you're signing up for the monthly payment plus the property taxes and running costs no matter what. So don't over-extend yourself, like so many have over the past couple of years.
  • Capital appreciation is likely but not a certainty. Some experts think that we are near to the bottom of the market, but others believe there is more to go yet.
  • You can definitely cover some or all of your costs by renting out your Orlando home. The Florida vacation rentals market is large and even expanding. But it is also competitive and prices are under pressure. Understand that if you do depend on rental income to make your dream home a reality, you are taking on a lot of work and effecitively starting a new busines alongside that Orlando home.
  • Part of your commitment when you buy a vacation home is to keep up with the maintenance (unless you're not bothered about the state of decay it will rapidly fall into). That includes pool and yard maintenance as well as internal and external property maintenance. You will need someone to handle check ins and provide customer service if you rent out. All of that usually means hiring a property management company. There are lots of them, but some are not as efficient or trustworthy as others - how do you find the right one?
  • Are you able to cope with the stress of being an absentee owner and even an absentee landlord? Some families can't bear the thought of having strangers in their home and sleeping in their beds - even if it's their vacation home. Some owners find that the strain of dealing with property problems from hundreds of miles away completely offsets the joy of owning a place in the sun. How about you?
Do the pluses outweigh the minuses for you?

If they do, give some serious thought to buying your own Orlando home.

If they don't, or if you're in any doubt, then it may be that you should take advantage of the very many Florida vacation homes that are already on offer by continuing to rent as part of your Orlando vacation package.

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Update: Just in case you're still looking for more thoughts and ideas for your vacation planning, try these Orlando holiday villas, Florida short term rentals and Orlando vacation package postings.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Orlando holiday villas or a hotel - the choice is yours

If you're starting to plan your vacation and one option is Orlando holiday villas as an alternative to hotels, how do you decide what to include in your vacation package? There are literally thousands of holiday villas and hundreds if not thousands of hotels and motels. How do you decide what type of accommodation is the best for you and your family or group of traveling companions? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each of these?

To begin with, let's look at hotels and particularly the costs and convenience of staying in one of the Disney World resort hotels. Some vacation packages offer theme park tickets as part of the deal. Also think about the extended hours and free transportation generally available from Disney if you stay at one of these hotels. And decide how much time you think you'll spend in the parks, because if it's a high proportion of your vacation time, this may be the best option for you. Then contrast prices with hotels outside Disney World - many offer free transportation to the parks (but not theme park tickets!).

Think also about motoring costs. By flying down to Florida and staying at a hotel that offers park transportation, you may avoid the need for a hired car. Even if you're driving down so you have no car hire cost, you can still avoid parking and gas charges if the hotel can provide you with the transportation you need.

Some families enjoy the opportunity that their children have to find playmates at a hotel pool and for some parents this takes the pressure off having to keep the kids amused all the time. It can often help to diffuse sibling rivalries and fights if there is someone else to play with. A lot of hotels also have other facilities such as video games or pool tables or ping pong and these can help to relieve some of the boredom that most children experience.

Selecting one of the most prominent hotel chains for your Orlando vacation - Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton or similar - means that you can probably count on the level of quality that you'll receive. And paying for your hotel bill with a credit card gives you some recourse if things are not as promised when you booked - you can always charge back the bill if you fail to reach a compromise.

In contrast with all of this, do Orlando holiday villas offer any advantages?

They certainly can. One big advantage with Orlando holiday villas is the cost benefit where your family or group is large. Most vacation home owners or management companies price their homes independently of the party size. So a 5 bedroom 4 bathroom home that sleeps up to 12 people could be far more economical than the equivalent number of hotel rooms. In addition, children sleep in their own bedrooms, leaving parents to get a good night's sleep in private just as they do in their own home.

Would you value some sort of eating-in facility while you're on vacation so that you're not forced to go to the fast food place or family diner whenever you want to eat or drink? Orlando holiday villas come complete with some level of dining area and a fully equipped kitchen so you can enjoy a snack or even a formal meal whenever you wish. Families with babies and toddlers can even find villas with a high chair to make eating-in more practical.

If the theme parks tire you out as much as they do most people, you will need some rest days days for relaxation. Most rental villas have a private screened swimming pool plus pool toys and towels for renters to use. Some owners of single family vacation homes have installed games rooms so that renters can play pool, darts or ping pong. And many villas contain multiple television sets and DVD players so different family groups can watch different programs at the same time. What more could you ask for?

So now you can decide for yourself and select the option that most closely matches your priorities - a hotel room or Orlando holiday villas.

Monday, April 6, 2009

For Your Orlando Vacation Package - Which Airport Is Best?

So you're planning to take the family on that dream Orlando vacation to sample the delights of Disney World, Sea World, Universal and all of the other joys that Central Florida can offer. And you're flying down, so you want to know whether you have any choice in which airport to use.

If so, which is the best match for your ideal Orlando vacation package?

Well, you have several choices, two of them in Orlando itself:

Orlando International Airport is the main hub for Orlando and it is located to the south of the city, very convenient for theme park travelers.

It handled more than thirty six million passengers is 2007, making it the busiest in Florida, and it has a wide variety of carriers that use it. Southwest Airlines is the largest single carrier (one fifth of all passenger traffic there in 2006) but Delta, Jet Blue and Air Tran also have a big focus there. It is the third busiest international airport in Florida (Fort Lauderdale and Miami are larger internationally) with direct flights from the UK (British Airways and Virgin Atlantic), Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Germany and others.

Major airports have an international three-letter identification code and Orlando's is MCO - which is humorously said by some people to stand for "Mickey's Corporate Office (in reality, MCO comes from the airport's former name, McCoy Air Force Base). From a passenger's perspective, the airport is modern, light and user-friendly. It has a good food court and a wide variety of car hire places (some on-airport and the smaller ones off-airport).

It is also the closest one to the Disney attractions and other theme parks, so if your objective is to get to your accommodation the quickest after you land, this is the one to use. In fact the Disney empire operates a bus service to its hotels, so that tells you how intertwined the two places are!

Orlando Sanford International Airport is north of the city so getting to your hotel or rental home (if you're staying close to the theme parks) will take a little longer.

But because it's a little smaller and self-contained than Orlando International Airport, some travelers find that disembarking and getting on the road can be quicker, which offsets at least some of the disadvantage. And because toll roads are now open to the west and the east of the city (the 429 and the 417), the problem of trying to navigate the traffic jams along Interstate 4 as it goes through Orlando can be avoided.

The main domestic carriers are Allegiant Air and Direct Air so if you're from Grand Rapids, Roanoke, Spartanburg or a host of other places in the USA, Sanford might be an option for you.

The major part of Sanford's business comes from UK package tour companies such as Thomas Cook, Monarch and Thomson - they operate flights from regional UK airports such as Cardiff, Belfast, Manchester and Newcastle. So when you arrive at Sanford in peak traffic times you see a lot of tour company representatives working hard to collect various groups of weary families and allocate them to shuttle buses and car hire companies - practice makes perfect and the operation generally works well. In fact, some UK travelers prefer the smaller size and slightly more personal approach of Sanford.

But what about other Florida locations, in case neither of these first two options works for you because of flight schedules or ticket prices, or if you're looking at vacation packages that take you elsewhere in Florida - how good are they?
  • Tampa International Airport is about two hours from the Disney parks, depending on how long it takes to navigate from the west of Tampa, along I275 and then I4. The airport itself is efficient, modern and clean.
  • Miami International Airport is a four-hour journey along the Florida Turnpike - not a problem if you've had, say, a two hour flight down from Washington DC but a big hurdle if you're coming off a nine hour transatlantic trip. And a word of warning; Miami is big, brash and busy and the area surrounding the airport is not one to spend too much time in!
  • Other Florida east coast options: Melbourne (about one to two hours from Disney), Daytona (one and a half to two hours) and even Jacksonville (three hours or more) are not impractical.
There's almost too many choices! So match your budget, price and convenience preferences to all that's on offer and pick the one that matches your Orlando vacation package planning the best.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Florida short term rentals - the benefits

If you're starting to plan your Disney World vacation and you've read every travel blog that you can find in order to build your own Orlando vacation package, did you see anything about the advantages of Florida short term rentals? Instead of a plain and simple hotel or motel room, you could rent a a single family home or condo and get so much more for just about the same cost.

Hotel and motel rooms are fine but unless you spend a fortune they provide only the basics in terms of space and convenience. When the whole family shares one bedroom and time in the single bathroom is strictly rationed, that's not a recipe for most families' ideal accommodation! And if you have young children, you can forget any lazy nights watching the television if you want them to sleep.

Florida short term rentals are a way to get rid of that stress. By choosing to rent a home, everyone gets more breathing space and is therefore more relaxed and able to enjoy their vacation.

Short term rental homes are equipped with everything that's required to provide a great vacation. The owners of these homes and condos are mainly out-of-state and even overseas fans of Florida who make sure that their property is ideal for their own regular visits. Renters then benefit when the owners offer their place for short term rental periods to cover the expenses of ownership.

Home and condo sizes vary widely: two bedroom one bathroom condos are generally the smallest but there are single family homes of six bedrooms and more, some with four or five bathrooms. As the short term rental concept has developed, floor plans with more than one master bedroom have become common - there are even three bedroom / three bathroom homes now! Towels and linens are included so you don't need to bring your own.

A lot of families choose to eat out during their vacation but short term rentals have a fully equipped kitchen with all the appliances you could ask for - fridge, freezer, microwave and stove - plus pots, pans, cutlery and so on. If you need to take care of any laundry, just use the washer and dryer available in the home and if you're really insistent, find the iron and ironing board to finish the job.

A lot of owners have now started to focus on home entertainment for those times when you need a break away from Mickey Mouse, so expect to find televisions and DVD or VCR machines, not just in the living area but in bedrooms too.

All of the newer single family homes have a private swimming pool and some have added hot tubs or spas. Games rooms are becoming a standard feature (foosball, darts, pool, ping pong are some of the options) so that a relaxing day away from the theme park doesn't mean a lack of entertainment. Condos have access to one or more communal swimming pools, many offer club house and fitness rooms for visitors and some have play areas for children.

Florida short term rentals are therefore a much more attractive option than a hotel room:
  • Everyone gets to sleep in their own room, even the parents!
  • Pricing is very competitive. Home or condo rental is often no more expensive than a hotel room, especially if your family or group is a large one.
  • Renting a place that enables everyone to have their own space makes such a difference to family relationships and is so much more relaxing.
  • There's more flexibility - you don't always have to eat out.
  • Everything you could possibly want is provided.
  • Laying by the television or DVD player can be a great option for those day when you just don't have the energy for another theme park tour.
Are you convinced yet or do you need more information? Well, do your Orlando vacation package research and give Florida short term rental homes some serious thought.

Friday, March 20, 2009

More Orlando Vacation Rental Tips

For many millions of families, an Orlando vacation can be the trip of a lifetime: each year around fifty million people travel to Central Florida, drawn by delights such as Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World. And what is on offer can be really magical of course.

One key part of the package is accommodation. The traditional approach is to rent one or more hotel or motel rooms, depending on the family or party size, and that approach works fine for many groups. But over the last twenty years an alternative has emerged that lots of families increasingly prefer.

There are now literally thousands of single-family homes and condos in the Disney World and Orlando areas that are rented out by their owners on a short-term basis, just like hotel or motel rooms. So families and groups who want to enjoy more space and the comforts of home have a definite alternative.

Most of the properties are situated within just a few minutes' drive of the Disney theme parks. There is an enormous variety of property styles and sizes, ranging from two bedroom condos to six bedroom single family homes or even larger. Some communities include additional facilities such as a movie theater, a club house and a gym for those moments when Mickey isn't capturing your attention.

The vacation rental industry has grown in popularity so much that few families want to return to the restrictions of a hotel once they've sampled the extra freedom and flexibility. But like any purchase, there are hidden aspects to think about.

With the rise of the Internet, vacation rental companies and even individual owners have developed professional-looking websites that provide pictures and descriptions of the properties on offer. But as with much of the information available on the Internet, sometimes not all is revealed up-front. Before reaching a decision there are some very important questions to consider:

  • What is the minimum number of nights I can book?
  • What do I have to pay you before a booking is confirmed?
  • Do I pay the full amount up front and if so, how much in advance of the booking?
  • Will you repay any deposit or rental payment if I decide to cancel before the booking starts?
  • Does the rate you've quoted include everything - there are no extras are there?
  • Will I be staying in the property that I've seen online?
  • How soon can I get into the home on the day I arrive?
  • What's the latest I can check out on the day of departure?
  • Do you accept credit cards and if so, which ones do you accept?
  • When and how do I pay any security deposit to cover any damages?
So the overall message is: just like making any substantial purchase, get the answers you need before you commit to a booking.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Need a car for that Orlando vacation?

If you're one of the many visitors for whom an Orlando vacation means spending all of your time at Walt Disney World, and you're booking a Disney hotel or villa and everything you need can be taken care of by Walt's people without you having to set foot on any other Orlando soil for the duration of the holiday, then you're probably not too interested in thinking about the best way to hire your car.

But if you have ideas about something a little more varied and adventurous, or if you just need to explore Florida beyond the confines of the theme parks, then the only practical way to do it is by driving yourself.

Oh sure, you can use a taxi for one or two trips, but the expense is likely to be greater than hiring your own car. And when you've been ferried to the Mall by taxi and had a tough day working your way through all of the delights on view there, do you really want to wait around for that guy who promised to pick you up but who has now found a better deal taking a new client to the beach for a bonus fare?

That's not a relaxing vacation in our view!

So let's assume that you're in the market for a hire car. Which company should you choose, what choices do you have and what meets your needs the best?

Well, what we can't do here is to give you the definitive course of action for every circumstance and for everyone taking an Orlando vacation because each family's needs are different. And because car hire prices and services change regularly, you can only get the latest information from Expedia, Travelocity or other online sites that give an excellent comparison of prices.

But a vacation is about more than just price for many people, and what we can do is to give you the benefit of our experience so that when you come to plan your Orlando vacation package you can balance price and quality and get just what you want. So here's a few notes for you to bear in mind.
  • Not all car hire companies are located "on airport"
What that means is that if you get one of the "off airport" companies (often the lower priced ones who save money by avoiding the expense of an in-airport desk, but note that Hertz is in this category at Orlando International Airport surprisingly) you will need to call up a shuttle bus (or wait for the routine stops they make at the airport) and then clamber on board. You will then have a short journey to the car hire company where you have the privilege of standing in line to get your car.

We were usually too impatient to tolerate this, especially after a long transatlantic flight, but if you can make a saving by using one of the off-airport companies and you're ok with the delays and inconvenience, then why not go for it?

  • Some companies are better than others (believe it or not!)
We've used all of the large companies at Orlando International Airport and many of the smaller ones. Our experience is that in the main you get what you pay for. They all have their off days of course (don't we all!) but Avis and Hertz were usually high-quality customer service, National and Enterprise worked out fine most of the time and Dollar and Alamo were good but sometimes left a little to be desired.

We had one car from one of the smaller off-airport companies one time that felt unsafe almost from the beginning and we were pleased to hand it in after a day or so. So how much is your time and safety worth? How much are you prepared to risk that dream vacation of a lifetime for the sake of saving a dollar or two? It's your choice!
  • What size car?
Driving around Orlando in the latest Mustang convertible may add to the joy of your vacation, in which case, book it! But if you're just looking for a basic transport between theme parks, restaurants and the Malls, are you wasting the extra cost that the convertible will cost?

From the opposite perspective, bear in mind that too small a car can make it tricky to get everyone and their luggage crammed into for that airport transfer!
  • The gas tank decision
"The tank is full when you collect the vehicle - would you like to pay for the gas or bring it back full?" is one question to prepare for. We've always opted for bringing it back full, otherwise we would be handing back a part-filled tank of gas when we turn the car in. There is the slight inconvenience of finding a gas station close to the airport, but that's our preference. Yours may be different.
  • Upselling pressure
We suspect that car rental counter clerks are incentivized to persude you to to move up to larger or more expensive cars. "For an extra five dollars a day, you can have that bigger car and be more comfortable - wouldn't you like that?" is a common ploy. If you would be more comfortable with the larger car, fine - but if you are quite happy with what you've booked, be prepared to stand your ground.

Another question is "We have nothing available in the grade of car you booked - would you like to upgrade?". Our experience is that answering "no" to that question normally gets you the bigger car anyway, because the hire company is required to fulfill its contract and can't downgrade you without breaking the terms of the contract - so the only way is up!
  • Alternatives
You don't have to pick up the car at the airport. In fact, arriving after a long flight and getting out onto unfamiliar roads can be exactly the wrong time to drive. One alternative is to get a taxi from the airport to your hotel or vacation home and collect a car the next day. Some companies such as Entreprise will deliver the car to your hotel or vacation home. Some hotels have car hire desks located in their foyer.

And failing all else you can get a taxi to the car hire company in Kissimmee or wherever (there are several on Highway 192 or close by). Any extra cost is likely to be offset by a reduction in taxes, because you will avoid the Airport Tax (9% or more) added to on-airport pick-ups.
  • More alternatives
Do you need the car for the whole time you're in Orlando? If you're chilling out for the first few days around the hotel or vacation home pool and you're within walking distance of a choice of restaurants, how about signing up for the car only when you need it? It is more restrictive because you can't go off to the Mall or explore the area - but it may be an option for you.

So the choices are yours. Think it through and pick the car and company that's going to make your Orlando vacation as perfect as it can be.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

For UK to Orlando Vacation Packages - How do I get from the airport?

UK tourists are an important part of the Orlando economy and most book their Orlando vacation packages through a travel agent or via the internet. It doesn't matter where you booked or what your package includes, flight only; flight and car hire; flight accommodation and car hire; or flight and accommodation only, you know you are in for a transatlantic flight. If it is the first time you have visited the area I would like to give you some idea what to expect when you arrive at the airport and how best to get from the airport to your accommodation.

If you are on a direct flight with either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic you will arrive at Orlando International Airport. When you get off the plane you will go through immigration where they will check your passport, landing forms or visas (if you have one). You will then collect your luggage and pass through customs handing in the form you will have filled in prior to landing. Once through customs you will give your suitcases up again and board a shuttle to the main terminal building where you will re-collect your suitcases and collect your hire car or access shuttle buses or taxis for transfer to your hotel.

From Orlando International airport most of the "Resort Area" hotels and holiday homes are west of the airport so the quickest route is to take the North exit to the 528. This is a toll road so you will need to have some small denomination dollar bills or coins handy. You will pass through 2 tolls before reaching Interstate 4, I 4. If you are staying in any of the Disney resorts, Sea World or in the Kissimmee area you will exit 528 heading West (signposted Tampa) or if you are staying near Universal you will exit East (signed Orlando). The road signs are very easy to read but obviously you will need to pay careful attention to them.

Many Orlando vacation packages use charter flights which land at Orlando Sanford International Airport which is north of Orlando. This is a smaller airport and some people prefer it to Orlando International although your journey to where you are staying will be a slightly longer journey. Again when you get off the plane you will go through immigration and customs and then collect your transport to your destination. Probably the shortest and cheapest route to the Resort Areas is via Interstate 4 West. However, you may not find it the quickest or most stress free route as you will be contending with a lot of heavy traffic through the downtown areas of Orlando much like the motorways at home during rush hour. Having just got off a long haul flight and if you haven't driven an automatic car and in the USA before you might prefer to take either State Road 417 or State Road 429. Both of these are toll roads so you will need some lower denomination dollar bills and or some coins but these roads are generally less congested than Interstate 4.

Whichever airport you are traveling from it would be a good idea to have a map and written directions of how to get from the airport to your accommodation. This will save you having to stop and ask for directions and save you a lot of stress. If you do need to ask for directions you will find most people are willing to help and are very friendly.

Obviously if your Orlando vacation package does not include collecting a car at the airport you will find there are hotel shuttle buses, transport laid on by your tour company or taxis to take you to your destination.

I hope this has helped to give you some idea of how to get from the airport to either you holiday home or hotel. If you would like some more information on Orlando vacation packages please feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Our Orlando Florida vacations - what memories we have

Orlando Florida vacations have been focused on the magic of Disney World since the theme park started up in the 1970s. They still are even today, despite competition from Universal, Sea World and other attractions. But if you've ever experienced a Florida vacation, you know that the magic extends far beyond the Disney empire and lives on for a long time afterward for many reasons.

Out of the many Orlando Florida vacations I enjoyed before we eventually moved here ten years ago from the UK, one of my fondest memories was from December 1990. That was the first time we ventured into renting a vacation home instead of hotels or motels for our holiday and it made a tremendous impression on us - a favorable impression, that is! At that time the short term rental industry was a lot less developed than in is now and I had no idea how much more I'd get involved in the business within a short space of time. But in 1990 there was no Internet, no online virtual tours, no instantaneous booking based on vast amounts of data. It was something of an adventure when you lived 3000 miles away in the UK to take a chance on that sort of unknown, but it worked out just fine.

At the time, my children were in their early teens and my parents were still active and mobile. During the planning stage, my children were excited at the prospect of another US trip because they hadn't been there since a California holiday three years before. They were in love with the USA fly/drive lifestyle, either in Florida or California, where we'd hire a car and just book hotels or motels as we chose from day to day. Breakfasts in McDonalds, hot fudge sundaes in Howard Johnsons and dinner in Dennys, Big Bobs or even KFC was a teenage wonderland for them. Who cared about healthy eating in those days? Added on to that were theme park visits, hotel or motel swimming pools and lots of sunshine, which made that life ideal as far as they were concerned.

My parents on the other hand were a different story. Although we had tried to entice them to visit the USA with us before, they had always refused. Eventually we began to understand that my Dad was the problem, because he had all sorts of worries about the USA gun culture and the likelihood of getting caught up in robberies or violence. This time, though, my Mum came to the rescue: we went for dinner with my parents, asked them if they wanted to join in with our vacation, and she said "yes" before my Dad could say anything. They were committed.

After that it was all down to planning. We knew that we would be more relaxed in a vacation rental home rather than separate hotel rooms. We decided that we wanted to divide our time between Orlando and the Gulf Coast, so in that pre-Internet era we scoured the classified ads in the Sunday Times and eventually booked: first of all a house in Orlando for one week and then a condo in Treasure Island, on the Gulf Coast between Clearwater and St Petersburg, for the second week.

I can't now imagine how it could have gone better. The four bedroom two bathroom house was in Indian Wells, a community in Kissimmee and about ten minutes from Disney. Of course it took us longer than that to get anywhere because of our ability to get lost regularly, due to confusion about road signs and conventions. The house itself was great - even though it didn't have a swimming pool (unlike now when a pool and spa are more or less essential). We were out at the theme parks for most of the time and virtually used the house for sleeping only. It was great to have separate bedrooms for all, unlike the motel experience when a family of four crams into one room. The lounge was perfect for relaxing in during the short time between leaving Disney or Sea World and retiring to bed completely exhausted. The availability of a kitchen meant that we didn't need to trek off to a restaurant every time we wanted a snack or a drink.

The Treasure Island condo in the second week was equally as good. We were on the fourteenth floor overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and right on the beach. We all enjoyed both the sea and the community pool. The condo was spacious and we could spread out even more than in the Indian Wells house and after using up all our energy at the theme parks, a lazy week was very welcome! We spent Christmas Day in and around the condo after we had figured out how to make sure we could enjoy a Christmas dinner. We found out shortly before Christmas Day that restaurants were closing then, so we had a last minute hustle to find food that we could cook using the limited pots and pans that the condo boasted. Other than setting off the smoke alarms while cooking the dinner and having a quick panic about what was going on, we had a lovely time and even got to spend some time on the beach that day.

Looking back, it was all a bit of an adventure but one that all six of us remembered with such fond memories forever. My parents' instant fascination with Florida was balanced by the ability of their grandchildren to teach them all they knew from four or five previous visits. And one of the things that made it such a great success was the accommodation - hotel rooms would just not have been the same.

I often think back to that holiday when I hear many people, even nineteen years on, planning Orlando Florida vacations and preferring hotel rooms to vacation homes - the don't know what they're missing!

Orlando vacation homes - questions to ask

Orlando vacation homes have some great advantages compared to hotel accommodation (more space, flexibility and privacy) and that's before even considering value for money - for example, a four bedroom three bathroom single family home with a pool can cost no more that the price of a single hotel room. But you definitely need to do your homework before making a decision on what to rent and where. Just as in any service or industry, there are good suppliers and some not so good ones.

For most families, an Orlando vacation represents their one big break of the year. For some it's one big break that must last for more than just one year, given the costs involved and the time taken to accumulate the savings. So if you're choosing a vacation home as your accommodation, in preference to a hotel or motel, you owe it to yourself and your family to get the best place you can.

How do you do that?

At least part of the solution is to get answers to the following questions:
  • Rental costs: Price is important but how secure is the booking?
    The lower the price, the bigger the risk that the property could be unavailable by the time you arrive. Some management companies work on filling their properties to capacity and so they over-book to allow for cancellations - then scramble around at busy times like Easter when cancellations are low and they have more renters than homes. Some homeowners fail to charge economic rents and just go out of business. So check out booking policies and try to get references from past renters. As the old saying goes, cheapest isn't always the least expensive. Do you really want to save $50 or $100 so much that you'll take the risk?

  • Payment method: Can you pay by credit card?
    If you stayed at, say, the Radisson and you had a bad experience, you're protected by the credit card company's charge back facility. However, some Orlando vacation homes are owned by individuals without any credit card facilities. Paypal and other options are reducing the number of these, but some owners still refuse to take the risk of fraudulent chargebacks so they only accept payment by cash, check or bank transfer. That's their right - and it's your right to book only with someone who will allow you to use your card! It's about risk again - it may limit your choice but if it were me, it would certainly give me peace of mind.

  • See before you pay: Have you seen the property you'll actually be renting?
    If you're renting directly from the homeowner, you should expect him to have photos and maybe even an online virtual tour of his home. However, if you're booking through a rental company, you need to know that some allocate a specific home when you arrive. If you're lucky, you'll get a top of the range place, if not you could be disappointed. To avoid that disappointment, make sure you're going to see photos before you book - not just "typical" properties, the actual one you'll be staying in.

  • Don't overcrowd: How big a home do you need?
    Florida State limits and licenses the occupancy levels in all Orlando vacation homes so match your party size to the right home size. For example, most 3 bed properties sleep up to a maximum of 8, most 4 bed 10, and so on). Reputable owners and management companies stick to these limits but some do not. If they don't respect those laws, what else don't they care about? Do you really want to save a few dollars and take that risk?

  • Condo or single family home: What's your preference?
    You can normally save money by renting a condo and if you don't mind community pools and neighbors close by, go for it. If you prefer a private pool and a little more privacy, and if you intend to spend some time relaxing in the home, a single family home may be worth the extra.

  • Community Type - What facilities do you want?
    I once had one rental enquiry from a lady who insisted that she didn't want to stay in the single family home in the upscale community I offered her because it had no facilities. Instead, she needed a "resort" type community with a community pool, a club house and a gym, so that her children could mix with other children. That was just the opposite of what I'd wanted when my family was younger so I asked her why. The answer: "Because my kids will fall out all the time unless they have other things to do and other children to play with". The point is: every family has it's own priorities - what does yours want?

  • The theme parks: How close do you need to be?
    If one main focus of your visit is the theme parks, you won't want to spend a lot of time getting in and out of them. If you're within fifteen minutes of the park gates, you're probably going to be fine. However, be skeptical of all claims: “5 minutes to Disney from our home" may be true at 3 a.m., but at Christmas when the roads are jammed it could be 30 minutes, an hour or more. Check it out carefully. Convenient access to Interstate 4 is probably a more valuable measure.

  • Parking: how much space do you need?
    Whether it's a condo or a single family property, most Orlando vacation homes have very short driveways. If you will have an RV or more than one vehicle, check out parking arrangements to make sure they are adequate for your needs.

  • Checking in: how you you gain access?
    It's not like a hotel - you're probably going to arrive after a long car or plane journey and then have to find your own way to the property. In most cases there is no central check-in desk with readily-available staff and even if there is, do you want to be driving all over town to find the check in and then find the property? So is it clear how you gain access on arrival and it it set up for your convenience? Is there a backup in case you have problems finding the place or getting in?

You may have many more questions but if the least you do is to work through answers to the above, I think you'll be able to produce a short list of suitable Orlando vacation homes and then find the one that matches your budget and your family priorities.

Orlando vacation rental - an insiders guide on what to look for

Until a couple of years ago, I owned and managed an Orlando vacation rental company, taking care of single family homes and condos for absentee (mainly United Kingdom and Canadian) owners. The business was in the short-term rental market, which meant that renters came to Orlando and wanted a place to stay for time periods varying from four days (our minimum rental period) to three months. One or two weeks was the normal time. We set up a successful bookings website and most of our renters were from the USA and the UK, but we covered the world: I had rental clients from Canada, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Norway, Sweden , France, Switzerland and more. It's quite an international business!

One key objective was to make sure that every vacationing family who rented a place of ours, no matter where they came from, had the very best Orlando vacation possible. Whether the renter came through our booking system or had rented the property directly from the owner, we recognized that repeat bookings were the most effective form of marketing. Not only that, happy renters equaled good feedback to homeowners and they in turn recommended my company, so the business grew rapidly. We managed expensive luxury homes and basic condos and all types of property in between, but the aim was always the same: make the home as enjoyable for the renters as possible (plus, keep the costs down and the property in good shape so that the home owner is happy!).

We had some fascinating experiences dealing with all sorts of renters: 95% were polite, courteous and a pleasure to meet. A tiny minority were unbelievable: some could not follow even the most basic of instructions such as how to turn on the television, how to keep the air conditioning set to the right level and even how to use the key lock box to get in and out of the place. Some left the place cleaner than it was when they arrived. Others treated the home they stayed in like a trash dump and left us wondering whether they lived in such squalor at their own home. More of that in other blog posts, let's just note here that you meet all sorts of people when dealing with the general public!

But as a potential renter (because I'm guessing that's why you're reading this) you need to understand that the same "some are a pleasure to meet / some are unbelievable" scenario applies to property managers and vacation homeowners: there are all sorts of companies and homeowners out there who have different views on what they need to do to make an Orlando vacation rental home a pleasure to stay in. Some of them will have standards and expectations very different from yours. The odds are that, if your Orlando vacation is a family trip, it represents a high part of your annual spending and unless you're very unusual, you want to get the best value for money. So how do you make sure that you get exactly what you want? How do you find a rental property that's matches your budget and specification?

Well, first of all, make sure you understand the difference between renting a hotel room and booking an Orlando vacation rental home. With a hotel (or motel) you probably know the company involved: Disney has it's own hotels of course, but if you go for a Marriott, a Sheraton Hotel, a Quality Inn or Travelodge, you're putting your trust in the brand name. For example, standards vary from one Sheraton to another, but you know there's an organization behind the brand so you have some reason to believe that what you're promised is what you'll get. You can have some confidence.

With an Orlando vacation rental home, though, you're in an entirely different situation. You're most likely to be using a property that belongs to an individual so the branding doesn't apply and backup and integrity are more of a concern. Ultimately you're dependent on two things and each has a high degree of variability: the homeowner's standards and the professionalism (and standards!) of the property management company. Unless you're a risk-taker and you don't care how the vacation turns out, you need to do your homework and evaluate these. You need some idea of the questions to ask and some way of evaluating the responses to make a judgment.

I'll be covering all of that in later posts, so please check back soon for more Orlando vacation rental details.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Orlando vacation package - what's included?

For anyone planning an Orlando vacation package, whether you've visited the area previously or whether it's your first trip, you should understand that the tourist industry in Central Florida is big business and you have an enormous number of choices. It's a highly competitive industry and according to the Orlando Tourist Information Bureau website:
Orlando is one of the world's premier travel destinations. More than 50 million people visit our area every year, enjoying the many attractions, beaches, and events that make Central Florida a great place to visit and live.
So the biggest problem is frequently which of the many available options you should go for. Often it is very difficult to figure out what represents the best value for money. Do you want to spend the least amount possible but risk family disappointment on what should be the holiday of a lifetime? Or should you go for the luxury options - but how do you know they will live up to expectations?

Let's begin by setting the scene and giving you information so that you can begin to make informed choices about where to visit, where to stay and even how to travel here.

It's important to realize that the term "package" means different things to different people, so bear in mind that any advertisements you see may include all of the following or just one or two - it's up to you to do your research and be clear about what you're buying:

  1. Accommodation: The website shows that Orlando has the second largest number of hotel rooms in the USA (27.2 million, beaten only by Las Vegas with 40 million). The difference is probably far smaller than that and in fact Orlando may have more visitor accommodation than "Sin City": one phenomenon virtually unique to Central Florida is the "vacation home" concept, where single family homes and condos are rented out on a short-term basis (which could be from just a couple of days up to weeks or even months).

    Some estimates put the number of short term rental homes at more than 10,000, each property with at least two (and in some cases up to seven) bedrooms. Opting for a short-term rental home as part of your Orlando vacation has many advantages, as well as some potential pitfalls, so we'll be covering this in more detail.

    But just to finish off this Accommodation section by getting back to Orlando hotels and motels, let's just make it clear that you can find every sort of standard of accommodations you've ever imagined and more besides, and price is not always a guide to quality - so you need careful research before picking the one that's right for you.

  2. Air Travel: US travelers represent approximately 95% of the 50 million annual visitors and the majority of those arrive by plane using either Orlando International Airport (34.2 million in 2007) or Sanford (0.4 million). International traffic added 2.7 million and 0.4 million respectively. That's an enormous number of flights and it indicates the choice you have - even without considering flying into Tampa, Miami, Daytona, Fort Lauderdale and even Melbourne (the Florida one, that is!).

  3. Airport to Hotel / Motel transfer: every Orlando vacation package we've seen that combines air travel with local accommodation provides basic transport (bus, minivan or even taxi) to get the weary travelers to their hired rooms. There may be exceptions, though!

  4. Car Hire: Public transport is not an option in Orlando, so if you don't want to limit your flexibility, make sure you have a hire car. If you're staying at one of the Disney World Orlando vacation places and you're happy to spend all your time there, that's fine - and there's always a taxi for the occasional excursion. Otherwise, bring your driving license!

  5. Theme Park Tickets: for most Orlando visitors, a lot of days will be spent at one or more theme parks. Some packages include tickets (or ticket discounts) but check on ticket limitations and expiry dates.

  6. Discount vouchers: there are some highly creative schemes with all sorts of discounts, some worthwhile and some with too many strings attached for most people's liking, but if what's on offer is useful to you, go for it!

  7. Sea Cruises: As the number of cruises has expanded, Disney and other companies have combined local accommodation and theme park entry fees with a short cruise leaving from Port Canaveral, not far from the Kennedy Space Center. We've had reports of excellent value for money and wonderfully enjoyable cruises, often low cost last minute bargains, so if seafaring is your thing, maybe you can find what you're looking for.

Ok - so there's the basic menu for your Orlando vacation package and we'll cover each one in more detail in future postings, so please check back later.

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Orlando Vacation Package

Welcome to the Orlando Vacation Package blog. This site provides tips and information on how to get the Disney World Orlando vacation package of a lifetime. If you have questions that are not covered here, please feel free to use the contact us form.