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 About.com 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.