Happy Hous - Vacation Homes Offer a Respite From Disney Vacations
By Jennifer Marx
Each winter I escape from the frozen tundra of Michigan to the warm, sunny climate of central Florida. For the past three years, I've chosen to stay at a vacation home in Kissimmee (very close to Walt Disney World) rather than my usual Disney resort hotel. Why? Because a vacation home feels like a retreat and allows me to really relax, rather than run myself ragged. I still go to the Disney parks (of course), but my day starts with an inexpensive breakfast made in my home's kitchen and possibly a dip in the pool, and ends with a movie on my home's big-screen TV and a soak in the hot tub. This is a REAL vacation ... I get the Disney parks for fun and the vacation home for relaxation.
This is not to say that I dislike or discourage others from staying at Disney resort hotel -- quite the contrary. But each vacation is different, even those taken by the same person. Disney resort hotel stays are great when you want to be in the middle of the magic (and avoid seeing International Drive or US-192), take advantage of on-property perks like Extra Magic Hours, and have easy access to the services of a hotel. But when you want (or need) to relax, it isn't always the best choice -- when you stay on-property, there's often a sense of urgency to get to the parks early and stay late (especially with evening Extra Magic Hours), and the resort hotels are not usually quiet, calm places, what with their popularity. So what makes a vacation home so relaxing? Read on...
Probably the single most compelling reason that I stay at a vacation home is the space it offers. My family can spread out without stepping on toes. Depending on the vacation home you choose, you can have separate bedrooms for adults and kids -- including separate bathrooms -- plus dedicated kitchens, living rooms, game rooms, TV rooms, and even a pool and hot tub. There's nothing quite so luxurious as being able to take a dip in your private pool before breakfast, or to watch the morning news (or, in our case, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse") on a big-screen TV while you fix breakfast in a full-size kitchen with full-size appliances.
On my latest vacation home visit, my family and I returned to the exact same house that we used the previous year. I already knew I loved the house from our previous visit, and the home was now familiar to me and my family. The vacation home has several bedrooms and bathrooms, living room, kitchen, game room, home theater room, computer with Internet access, washer/dryer, a screened patio with a pool and hot tub, and even a kids' playset in the backyard. It was nice for my husband to be checking mail on the computer upstairs while my son played with Legos in the living room and I enjoyed a cup of coffee at the dining room table.
I should note that housekeeping is not generally included in vacation home rentals, though you can often purchase the service for an extra fee. Honestly, I don't need it -- I have no problems hanging my towels up to dry or popping my dishes into the dishwasher. I must also admit that I like the lack of interruptions from a housekeeper -- I always find it a bit annoying when the housekeeper knocks on my hotel room door too early, or I feel pressured to leave the room so s/he can clean. But if housekeeping is important to you, do keep this in mind.
Not only does all the space give us some separation from each other when needed (hey, when you live and work together 24/7 like my husband and I do, you need some space once in while!), but it offers separation from the hustle and bustle, too. When I came "home," I left behind the frenzy of the parks and the glare of the tourist traps. It's quiet and peaceful at a vacation home. No kids running along the corridor outside your room; no loud TVs or alarm clocks in the room next door.
On my most recent trip, I really appreciated coming home at night to a quiet house. Putting my son to sleep was easy as he had his own room (he likes it dark and quiet). After he was in bed, we had the run of the house and didn't need to worry about waking him up. When I was in the mood for some magic, I looked out the back window -- I could see "Mt. Everest" (Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom) in the distance. I really felt like I could breathe easier at this vacation home.
It's easier to relax when you're saving money, and vacation homes can offer excellent savings over Disney resort hotels. You'll find the savings are especially good when you travel with a large family or a group (but, of course, with all those people it might not be quite as relaxing!). Rates for Orlando vacation homes generally start at around $100/night for condos/townhomes and around $200/night for vacation homes with their own pool and spa. You can stay at a motel or (occasionally) a Disney value resort for less, but that's it -- everything else is more expensive and usually offers FAR less room (and beds) than a vacation home.
When you stay in a vacation home, you do need to rent a car -- if you don't normally do this, you need to factor it into the cost comparisons. You may be able to get a free rental car with your vacation home rental.
The most telling factor is how I felt AFTER my vacation. Unlike most other trips when I return home feeling like I need another vacation, after a stay at a vacation home I always feel well-rested.