Summer is just around the corner, and for many families that means a trip to Fabulous Florida and one of the gorgeous beaches that cover more than 660 miles of the Sunshine State’s coastlines. No matter where you are in the vacation planning process, we’ll start at the beginning and work forward. If you have already covered some of the steps below, maybe these tips will come in handy next time!
PICKING A DESTINATION:
First things first, of course, and the most basic decision you have to make is where in those 600-plus miles of beaches do you want to spend your precious vacation time? There are many factors to consider — distance from your hometown and travel time involved, vacation rental price, features and availability; activities that are important to your family, such as boating, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, hiking, etc.; and for some, pet-friendly beaches and accommodations. Some beaches are bustling and busy, like Panama City, Clearwater, Siesta, Destin, Miami and others. Accommodations vary as well — some have lots of high-rise condominiums and therefore a lot more rental units as well as a lot more guests. Other vacation spots tend toward lower density and smaller number of units, like Cape San Blas, for example. There are about a dozen areas of the state that have a pet-friendly beach. Read the restrictions for the various destinations so you fully understand what limitations, if any, there are to bringing your dog. For example, at Cape San Blas, dogs are welcomed on leash on the beaches of Gulf County with the exception of within St. Joseph’s Peninsula State park, where they are not permitted. Some beaches have limited areas where dogs are permitted or certain hours.
The wonders of the Internet make narrowing your choice of location a lot easier than it once was! Using a Google search for phrases that describe what you are looking for can give you a list of locations to begin researching more carefully. Try searches like “Pet-friendly Family Florida Beach Rentals” or “Uncrowded Florida Beach Rentals” or other search strings that appeal to your family. Ask for recommendations from others who have had positive vacation experiences. Many counties or cities will have tourist forums, where you can log on and ask questions. If someplace is a serious consideration for you, visit their forum and see what people have to share.
Everybody has a “perfect” beach destination they love. Just like some folks prefer chocolate and some vanilla, I am not going to try to tell you what I think would be your best choices. I can tell you what beaches I like, but that’s about it. My current favorite is Cape San Blas, where we have our rental business and two homes. Why do we love the Cape? We like the low density, the gorgeous sunsets, the fabulous beaches, the fishing and scalloping (St. Joe Bay is considered a Pristine Florida Water, and the oysters, fish and scallops are amazing). We like hiking in the State Park and riding horses on the beach. We love that our dogs are allowed on the beach as well. But again, there are many wonderful beaches in Florida. Just find the best fit for your family and go for it!
PICKING A RENTAL UNIT
Okay, you’ve picked a destination. Good for you! Now you need to select a vacation rental unit. Just like there were lots of factors to consider when choosing a beach that fits your family’s needs, the same is true for picking the right property. Finding the right combination of bedrooms, amenities, views, features, and price can seem daunting at first. It’s best to decide your priorities before you start making inquiries on rental sites or calling vacation rental companies or hotels. Why? If your budget is $4000 for the week, stumbling over that $10,000 a week mansion with use of your own motorboat is just going to leave you feeling deprived. My tips for you when considering your rental options:
1. The closer to the gulf and the beach, the more expensive the unit will be. If budget is a big factor, accepting a walk of even 125 to 200 steps (about 2 minutes’ walk) can save you big on the bottom line for your home or condo or hotel room. But if it’s beachfront or nothing, baby, well, just know you will pay a little more. I always insisted on gulf-front for my family’s one week in paradise each year too, and it was worth every dime extra we paid to hear those ocean waves, feel that sea breeze and watch the sunset from the deck every day.
2. Amenities come at a price tag. If a private pool is a “must” for you, know you’ll pay more for that rental home than one with a community pool or no pool at all. An elevator may be great for the loading in and loading out, but if everybody in your party is able-bodied, you can save a few bucks bypassing the homes with the elevators — and get some cardio during the week taking the stairs, too. More basic amenities like free Internet don’t add much to the price these days, but they can be important to traveling business owners or students with papers to turn in during vacation.
3. Maximum occupancy and bedding configurations. I always counsel my guests if you can avoid using the sleeper sofa, do it. One of my personal vacation rentals offers a sleeper sofa in the loft, and it gives you more privacy and can be a good option for teenagers especially. But if you have no option but to use the sleeper in the main living room, so be it. Also look at the various bedding configurations. If you need 1 king bed and 2 queens, you’ll narrow down your search and eliminate rentals with twin beds and bunk beds.
4. What’s supplied? In our vacation community, there’s a vast difference from unit to unit on what’s included in your rental as standard options. Some provide linens and towels as part of the rent. Some provide them for an additional charge. Some don’t provide them at all, and you have to bring them from home. Same is true for things like beach chairs, beach cart for a unit that is a distance from the gulf, gas grills, games, puzzles, movie libraries, starters of kitchen and laundry supplies, pet towels and sheets in pet-friendly units and much more. When you compare Rental A to Rental B, be sure that they’re comparably appointed. If not, consider if there is a price savings to “tote your own” and whether it’s worth it to you to have the savings, if any, or the convenience.
Whew, that was hard work. Now it’s time to get ready to go, finally! More to come in my article, Your Florida Summer Beach Vacation – What to Bring & How to Pack for the Best Family Fun in the Sun!