Vacation Rentals for the Whole Family
Vacations are the things we look forward to and we all want to get the most out of them. We all know how stressful it is to find a place to stay. And it gets more stressful if we want to take our furry kids with us. Well, we are here to help make it a little easier.
On a recent family vacation, we decided to take a little detour to visit the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Because of this, I found myself in the unique position of having to find accommodations for two nights in Huntsville, one night in between that (which ended up being Port St. Joe, Florida), and our final destination, and our vacation home on St. George Island, Florida. Because finding vacation rentals is so challenging right now I ended up using three different rental places – AirBNB, VRBO, and a local company on St. George Island. There were a few differences between the options.
One of the biggest complications came from the fact we like to bring our dog on vacation with us. Each of these sites allows you to look for pet-friendly places, but it’s important to note that just because one place *allows* dogs doesn’t mean they are completely pet-friendly. There are a lot of places that are pet friendly only if your pet never touches any surface in their rental, so always read the fine print and ask questions if you aren’t sure.
For the first and second nights in Huntsville we stayed in an AirBNB that was about ten minutes away from the US Space and Rocket Center. It was close to Costco and had pizza delivery options. Most importantly, it had a large completely fenced back yard for our dog (when we travel her outdoor visits are strictly supervised because she is a convicted fence-jumper).
For the third night we stayed in a house that was both on AriBNB and VRBO, and for whatever reason I found it was like $5 cheaper to rent it through VRBO. We all really liked the house, which was basically a fishing cottage on a street full of lots that alternated between cottages and pole barns with RV hookups.
For the bulk of our vacation we rented a place on St. George Island, Florida from a local company there called Resort Vacation Properties. I’ve rented from them before after switching from VRBO rentals there so I could find more rentals.
Each of these options can help you find a rental for vacation travel. Airbnb and sometimes VRBO can also help you find rentals for business and other travel reasons. I use these sites instead of hotels or other resources because it’s easy to sort by amenities, such as dog friendly, WiFi, pools, etc.
I had been looking at a website called BringFido, but I found it wasn’t always accurate. I ended up having to call several hotels to determine whether they allowed dogs or not. In any given locale I’d say about 10-20% of hotels will allow pets accompanying travelers. It makes it difficult.
Airbnb was a great way to find a dog-friendly place to stay for a couple of nights while we visited the US Space and Rocket Center. The nice thing about Airbnb is that the ratings for both the host and the house are right there. There was one place that looked “too good to be true” and when I went to check the reviews there weren’t any yet. Sometimes folks will have to drop the price of their rental to entice those first few stays, but I wasn’t comfortable with that. Always looks at the reviews and make sure there are more than about five reviews – less than that and it could easily be friends and family leaving positive reviews.
The communication with our AirBNB host was fast and easy. I had a question for him the night before we were leaving because I wasn’t super familiar with the AirBNB platform and didn’t want to be trying to figure it out on the way and he was super responsive. Staying in an AirBNB instead of a hotel for two nights cut our cost in half.
VRBO has been around a lot longer and I’ve used it for several trips. With the popularity of new platforms it’s not always easy to find places on VRBO anymore, and oftentimes depending on where you go there will be a lot more options elsewhere.
Like Airbnb, reviews are posted after a review period to ensure you aren’t posting anything inappropriate, but a host can’t delete your review, even if it’s bad. You can generally believe that reviews are legit, so spend some time reading through them to determine whether it’s a good fit. When I read reviews I like to think about why folks would say certain things and make a judgment for myself, so even if the reviews aren’t great the place can still be awesome. One place I stayed years ago had a one star review saying that the refrigerator was broken, but the owner explained that when you put food into an empty refrigerator it takes about 24 hours to cool down, something that I often see taped to the front of vacation rental refrigerators. Use your best judgment and don’t just go by the stars.
VRBO can hit you with a lot of surprise fees, which I did not experience with Airbnb. The cleaning fees and pet fees stacked up pretty quick for a one-night stay. The communication isn’t always super fast on VRBO since a lot of folks just own one unit and it’s not their main job, unlike Superhosts with Airbnb. One kind of irksome moment I had with my VRBO was receiving communication a couple of weeks after booking and just days before my trip about the “dog rules” which were not posted on the listing or provided before my booking was approved. I will not tell a lie, if I had been in a situation where I was staying more than one night and didn’t get “the rules” until weeks AFTER I’d paid, I would not have felt bad about ignoring them altogether if the need arose. Fortunately, it was a great little house with a great little yard that got the job done for one night. The neighbor’s roosters giving us a wake-up call was just an added bonus.
Lastly, the local rental company Resort Vacation Properties has always been great to work with, though there are drawbacks. The two biggest benefits to using a local company, outside of giving more money to that local community, are that they will often have more rentals to choose from and, in the case of this rental company, your rental will also include credit for beach gear/vacation gear. We rented beach chairs, umbrellas, a kayak, and bikes and paid about half the sticker price thanks to the credit. You can also call and ask questions and find out about last minute deals and cancellations. For this rental I had to call because someone had booked the property an extra day and threw off the rental calendar, so it wouldn’t let me rent online. I spoke to someone there and asked if it was ok to bring a dog larger than the stated arbitrary 25 pounds and she took care of all of it right there on the phone. Easy peasy.
The downside of the locally-owned company is that it may not be realistic to trust the reviews. I noticed that one of my reviews for a stay a few years back never got posted even though it was a great review. Maybe they never got around to it, maybe I said something they didn’t like. But the reviews are not automatic with the locally-owned companies, so caveat emptor.
Out of the three options which would I recommend? They each have their own use cases. It’s nice to have options.
By: LouFamFun Maggie K.
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