Is there anything else to do when visiting Orlando besides the theme parks?

What else is there to do in the Orlando area besides visit Disney World, Universal Studios and Lego Land?  Plenty!

One of our favorites spots to send people who are renting one of our Disney area vacation homes is an airboat ride to see alligators.  We always send them to Midway, which is about midway 🙂 between Orlando and Cocoa Beach or Cape Canaveral (two other great places to visit after your airboat ride).

airboat

We like Midway because you are really are out in “wild” Florida, and nothing is scripted.  Its just a fun ride through the central Florida waterways (mostly the St. Johns river).

If you are brave enough, you can hold a baby alligator before or after your airboat ride!  Either way, you will be treated to a fun ride and be able to view LOTS of large alligators sunning themselves on the banks of the river or in high spots on the marshes.

So pack the sunscreen and a good camera and head out for a morning or afternoon of fun!  Be sure and call ahead to make reservations to avoid any wait times, but if you are curious you can always stop in on your way to or from Cocoa or Cape Canaveral.

Have fun!

 

How far away are the Florida beaches from my Disney area vacation rental home?

Good question!  The drive usually takes  an hour or so if you are going to the East coast, and an hour and a half if you are going to the West coast.

So how to decide on which coast to visit?

The East coast has the famous Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral.  And don’t forget Ron Jon surf shop!  The East coast also has waves for surfers, especially in the winter time or when a storm is coming in.  There are great beaches both above and below Cocoa  – the whole coast, in fact!

The West coast is calm but the beaches are a little spread out and so harder to find.  In fact, the coastline gets marshy just above the Tampa area.  The West coast offers some more attractions like Busch Gardens, and of course you may want to visit the lovely downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Clearwater Beach west of Tampa proper is known for its large expanses of white sand, but it can take a bit of time to get from Tampa to Clearwater, so plan for some extra traffic to deal with.  We highly recommend Fort Desoto (south of Clearwater) for its quiet beaches and history lesson all in one!  In fact this picture on our website home page was taken by me at Fort Desoto!

No matter which coast you hit from your Disney area vacation rental home, be sure and pack the sunscreen and prepare to have a great time!

Quality of service?

Yesterday I was turning over one of the villas that I manage to another property management company, as the home was changing ownership.  As I was going through my checklist, I asked the new management company if they wanted me to change out the code on the key lock box and the code on the house alarm for the incoming guest.

His answer should not have surprised me! “You visit the house, do an inspection and change out the codes before every visitor arrives?  We have 60 homes and are FAR too busy to do this!”

When relaying this to my husband, who teaches business, he said “They have chosen a business model that provides a lower quality of service than you provide. This helps them maximize their profits.”

Unfortunately this “business model” usually permeates through the entire management company. Visitors to those homes will likely see poorly maintained homes, dirty pools, dirty garages, clutter, etc.  And worse yet, poor customer service when a problem arises for the vacationer.  This has been proven time and again when a poorly run management company has ruined a family’s vacation.

Unhappy Customer

So before you book that Disney area vacation home for your holiday, I encourage you to get to know the management company that manages the house, and ask a few tough questions on how they run their business.  You will be glad you did!

Happy hunting!

Don’t get ripped off when renting a vacation home!

The longer I am in this business the more scams and horror stories I hear.  Makes you wonder about our society.  Anyhow that is a topic for another time – today I want to help make sure YOU don’t get ripped off when renting a home or villa for your family vacation.  After all, I know that every minute of vacation time is precious, and the last thing you want on your vacation is a problem!

Recently I got a panicked call from someone who was promised a rental home that didn’t exist.  Luckily I was able to put her into one of my homes, and I advised she get her money back on her original rental.

Then I found out about a scam I was unaware of.  This person had paid the balance in full with a credit card over 90 days ago (a requirement to book the house she wanted, apparently).  I thought that was odd since most management companies like mine ask for 25% down to reserve the property, then the remainder a month or so prior to  your visit.  (That is the way our credit card processor wants it as well.)

Credit card

The scammers take adavantage of the dispute window timeframe common with consumer credit cards.  They know if you find out you were ripped off more than 90 days after they took your money, then you are powerless to dispute the charge.  You see, most credit card companies require you register a charge dispute within 60 days of the date of the statement the charge was on, effectively giving the consumer up to a 90 day window to dispute the charge.  By getting the full amount more than 90 days ahead of your planned vacation, the bad guys know you are powerless to reverse the charge once you find out you were scammed!

So how to protect yourself? Next time you book a Disney area vacation rental (or similar), make sure you don’t provide final payment until a month or so from your visit date.  If the company or homeowner you are working with refuses, find another vacation home to rent!

Happy and safe hunting for that perfect vacation!

 

Wow this Disney area vacation villa is SO CLEAN!

Ah, music to my ears!  Wish I had a penny for every time I made the welcoming phone call to my newly arrived guest and heard that phrase!  It may be an indicator of their experience at my competitor’s properties, or it may be an indication that the cleanliness standards of their own home are more like mine :-).  But in any event, guests really appreciate the experience of walking into a clean villa they are going to call home for a week or more, and I strive to make this a reality for all of our guests.

rear view of woman with yellow gloves in kitchen doing housework

How do I do it?  First off, I have a top notch maid service that I work very closely with.  This includes meeting with any new cleaning person assigned to one of my homes to make sure this new person understands my expectations.  In this digital age, there is still nothing like a face to face sit down to make sure two people are on the same page!

Second, my husband or I inspect each and every home before a guest arrives.  We also clean the places the maids don’t, including the garage (which sometimes houses a games room and is used heavily by the children), and the pool.  While the pool and pool deck are cleaned weekly by a separate vendor, if the guest left things a mess and the pool vendor has not been there recently, there may be some  issues to address on the day the new guest arrives.  This is especially true of “back to backs”, where one guest departs at 10 am and the new guest arrives at 4 pm.

Third, I have the carpets steam cleaned as often as possible and spot treat when necessary.  I wish I could steam clean the carpet between each guest (I can’t), but I do have it done as often as I can.

So, come stay with us and see if one of my Orlando area vacation homes meets your cleanliness standards as well!

Overwhelmed by search results while using VRBO and Home Away?

I was talking to a vacationer the other day who found one of our Disney area vacation rental homes using VRBO and rented the home directly from the owner.  While his result was excellent (he found one of our great homes, after all!), he mentioned that using VRBO to find the perfect home was a lot of work and a bit overwhelming!

tablet

For example, a quick search today of VRBO Orlando vacation homes yields almost 8,000 listings.  So I put in the sample travel dates of the first week in August 2014 which narrowed it down to 4,000 homes.  By using a filter for 4 bedrooms, I cut it down to 1300 homes.  Still a lot to sift through.  If you click “advanced search” a dashboard of filters worthy of launching the space shuttle comes up!  While useful, I still won’t know the actual community the homes are located in without some additional work.  (If I know enough to click on “Davenport”, “Kissimmee” or “Clermont” I can see the actual community near Disney I might be interested in.)  If I simply scroll through the listings, as the vacationer I was talking to mentioned, every home says “close to Disney” so that location description really isn’t useful!

So is there an easier way?  Sure!  Call me!  While VRBO and HomeAway are great for homeowners who want to advertise their properties, it is not really “easy one stop shopping” for the consumer looking for an Orlando vacation.  By talking to a property manager who has dozens of homes that they oversee, you can learn first hand about all the pros and cons of particular communities, floor plans, and amenities such as pools, spas and game rooms.  And we can tailor your search very quickly to what is most important to you (proximity to Disney, West facing pool, etc).

As a bonus, by talking to me or a similar property manager with many homes under management, you can save time by booking a property or getting pricing and availability on the spot.  Most homes listed on VRBO and HomeAway do not have “live” calendars and bookings, meaning you have to go back and forth with the owner via email to find out if the home is available for your dates of travel.  And those that do have online booking still make you wait up to 24 hours to confirm that the vacation home you selected is definitely booked for your requested dates.

So, next time you are frustrated with your online search for a Disney area vacation rental, give me a call!

What is the best time of year to visit Orlando?

While the kids schedule usually runs the family calendar, including vacation planning, you may want to give some thought to jumping out of the normal vacation cycle of summer, Christmas and spring school breaks.

With high temps in the 70s, and little to no crowding at the theme parks, January is a wonderful month to visit Orlando.  You will also save on Disney area vacation rental homes and enjoy a better selection of homes.  You can order pool heat so the water is still nice and toasty, or jump into the spa that heats up to 104 or so!  Oh, and winter is our dry season so leave the umbrellas at home!

sun

February has similar temperatures and is fairly quiet unless you hit a northern secondary school break week.  Even then, things are not as crazy as March when we have the Canadian secondary school break,  lots of U.S. college breaks, Easter break for many U.S. secondary schools, etc.

The “shoulder” months of April and October have lovely temperatures, low humidity and less than normal crowding at the parks.  A lot of Europeans come in October (school break) but the parks are still relatively quiet.  And did I mention the weather is fantastic?  Sunny, 80s and low humidity – perhaps my favorite Central Florida weather month of the year!

So whip out those planners (or smartphones or tablets) and get planning!  Find your spot in the warm Florida sun!

Do I need to worry about hurricanes when I book my Disney area vacation rental home?

Of all the things in life to worry about, worrying how hurricanes could affect your Disney area vacation should rate towards the bottom!  First, you can’t control the weather.  Second, Orlando is so far inland that hurricanes are rarely a problem.  In fact, in its 42 year history, Disney has only shut its doors TWICE due to hurricanes!  That is 2 days out of 15,330 days.  Most people would take those odds!  

Compare that with 1.5 million U.S. car crashes a year (according to the USG) caused by snow, and sunny Orlando seems like a great place to be!  And if immortality is your thing, despite the impression you get from media coverage, (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods – oh my!), according to meteorology professor James Koermer, most weather related deaths are from car accidents (about 7,000 a year), not heat, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods (about 200 a year).

For the truly paranoid, however, you can drop the  risk of dealing with a hurricane to almost zero by avoiding hurricane season, which runs from June to November every year.  And, to be fair, although Orlando rarely gets a hurricane, we do get the bands of rain associated with hurricanes that move up either coast, so that can dampen things a bit.

Hurricane forecasting has gotten so good, that you will have a good idea if the Disney area is in for a good soaking days in advance of any arriving hurricane or tropical storm.

noaa

So, relax and book that Disney area vacation rental home!  We’ll leave the lights on!

Are taxes much of a factor when I book my Disney area vacation rental home?

As anyone who has visited a tourist town has discovered, you will find tourist taxes do take a bite out of your vacation funds.  With a bit of planning, however, you can minimize this expense.

money graphic

First off, Disney area hotels (and Disney area vacation rental homes which are regulated like hotels) are required to collect State sales tax and county tourist development tax.  The total tax depends on the county where the property is located.

First off, the State of Florida collects a 7% sales tax.

Lake County collects an additional 4% tourist tax.

Polk county collects an additional 5% tourist tax.

Osceola and Orange counties collect an additional 6% tourist tax.

Thus the total tax collected on your hotel or Disney area vacation rental home bill will range from 11% to 13%, depending on the county you stay in.  Note that any items you purchase at the time of booking (pool heat, grill rental, etc) will also be subject to this tax, but as you visit the local stores and attractions you will generally only be subject to the 7% State sales tax.

You may also want to consider renting your car from a rental facility well away from the Orlando airport, as the airport rental locations are required to collect additional taxes that you won’t find at rental car locations elsewhere.

So, while you cannot avoid tourist taxes, you can, with a little planning, minimize them!  Now plan that Disney area vacation!

So how many Disney area vacation rental homes are there to choose from?

Good question!  Believe it or not there are something like 15,000 vacation homes in the Disney area to choose from!  Really!  The Brits basically started this industry just outside of Orlando two decades ago.  Most U.S. vacationers are still unfamiliar with the vacation rental home market and tend to gravitate to hotels.

In the Disney area, scores of communities bordering the Disney property were built to satisfy the demand for Brits looking to own a piece of Florida.  Many of them rent them out to vacationers to help cover their operating costs.  Property managers like Our Florida Concierge maintain the homes and some help with marketing the properties as well.

American vacationers are starting to catch on that this industry exists, however, and have started saving themselves money (and getting nicer accommodations as well) by skipping the hotel and opting for one of the 15,000 Disney area vacation homes instead.

With that many choices, we realize that your research on finding the right property for your needs can be daunting!  Of course we recommend that you consult with a property manager like Our Florida Concierge who has a nice inventory of Disney area vacation home properties and can steer you in the right direction, either online or via the telephone.

So surf by or call us and start planning that dream Disney area vacation!