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.