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.