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.