I used to have pretty modest space requirements when I travelled. A bunk in a dorm, somewhere to stuff my backpack, maybe a bit of stove space and a spot at the table in a communal kitchen and I was pretty happy. I really only needed a bit of space that was safe and warm so I could get a few hours of sleep and get back to exploring. The less I spent, the longer I could stay on the road. Cheap and simple was good.
Then as I got older, my tolerance for noisy, crowded dorms began to decrease. I started to spend a bit of money for the more deluxe hostels (yes, there is such a thing!) or even for a real hotel room once in a while. And after I got married, hotels became the norm, although we have stayed in youth hostels together a few times and enjoyed them.
But then the kids came along and suddenly this girl who used to be quite content with a single bunk space found a standard hotel room to be impossibly cramped. We would find ourselves sitting perfectly still on the bed, waiting for the mumbling and rustling from the portable crib to quiet down to rhythmic breathing, then oh so quietly sneak up only to have a toddler sit up and say, “Hi Mommy!”. I would find myself trying to scrub out kids clothes in the bathroom sink and dry them with the blow dryer after one of the kids had managed to spill food on every single shirt we’d brought. Or filling the sink with ice in an attempt to keep a carton of milk cool enough to last until morning only to realize that it was the only sink we had and we still hadn’t brushed our teeth yet. I don’t care if it’s the Motel 6 or the Four Seasons, the standard one bathroom, two beds hotel room just doesn’t work for this travelling family.
As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve grown to love all suite hotels. Chains like Homewood Suites and Springhill Suites are an excellent compromise for travelling families with the amenities of a hotel and the space of a one bedroom suite. But last spring we tried something for the first time for our Orlando vacation; renting a condo from an independent agency. There are many websites out there that do vacation rentals. VRBO, Homeaway and Air BNB are three that I often check. For Florida we went with an Orlando area specialist, FloridaSunVacationHomes, and we were very pleased with them.
I found the rental process to be simple and straightforward. I went on the website, put in my dates and was able to browse through pictures and floorplans of the available properties. Once I had selected one I put in a rental request which was forwarded to the owner. I received an email with a copy of the rental agreement which I sent back along with a deposit which I paid with my credit card. 90 days before our arrival I payed the balance and then a week before the trip I received an email with detailed directions, a form to give to the guards at the front gates to make us a temporary parking pass and gate entry pass and keypad codes for the front door, pool and clubhouse. I was a little nervous since I had never done this before, but it all worked out beautifully and everything worked exactly as it should.
The entire cost for the condo worked out to $130 per night. What did this get us? Well, we could spread out in a 1200 square foot home with a full kitchen, a washer and dryer, a dining room with seating for six, a living room and a screened in deck area. There was a cute Mickey Mouse themed twin bedroom for the kids which shared a full bath with a queen bedroom. My parents, who were travelling with us had a huge king bedroom with it’s own bathroom. We also had access to a large zero entry pool and hot tub as well as a playground. And it was all only a ten minute drive from the front gates of Disney World. I remember looking around at all the space we had and thinking, “This changes everything, folks.”
Is renting a vacation property the perfect choice? Well, there are a few risks. There is a level of trust with the owners and the property companies. I’ve heard stories about misleading photos, poor cleaning and withheld information. You also have few options if your plans change after the paid in full date, usually 60-90 days before arrival. Many properties have a five or seven night minimum stay and some may even only rent from Saturday to Saturday. There are no regular cleanings provided and most places charge a cleaning fee at the end of the rental, usually about the equivalent of a night’s rental. This obviously makes it less economical for a three night stay than for ten nights or more. Linens are usually provided, but not changed during your stay and kitchen’s are stocked with basic dishes and utensils.
For some families, staying in a hotel room is part of the fun of the vacation. Eating out every meal, not worrying about laundry, coming back each day to a freshly made up room, cute little soaps and shampoos and sleeping all together in one room is a big part of the experience. The last thing some people want to do is plan meals and cook or wash their own towels. This type of family would probably not be happy with a vacation rental.
But for families that like to spread out, especially families travelling with the grandparents like we sometimes do, a condo or house rental is ideal. And it can also be great for families that like to eat out occasionally, but quickly get tired of restaurant food after a few days on the road. We spent about $200 on groceries our first day there and had all our breakfasts, most of our snacks and almost all of our evening meals at the condo. We spent more than that on just the lunches we had at the theme parks every day!
So vacation rentals are definitely on our radar from now on. We are planning to use one for our spring break trip this year and we will also be staying at a much larger rental property with extended family this summer. So far the booking process for both has been smooth and easy and I’m hoping I can report back an equally positive experience with these rentals. Who knows, maybe some day I’ll be able to convince my husband to sell the house and just skip around the world one week at a time in a series of vacation rental properties! Then again, maybe not. We’ll see how the next few rental experiences go.
What would you prefer? This: