You can get some great deals on package holidays, but I’ve found they can be slightly restrictive. If you fancy more freedom, then booking your own holiday is the way to go. And why not go for that ultimate freedom and book yourself a villa?
Booking your own holiday to Florida
Why Florida villa holidays are best
I have stayed in hotels in Europe, UK and America. Yes they come with the advantage that you don’t have to do any cleaning and food is just a telephone call away, but they also come with quite a few disadvantages. My main gripe is noise. My last stay in a hotel in Florida wasn’t pleasant. I’m sure in the room next to us, there must have been at least 20 people who all loved to be up at 5 am!
A villa comes with so many plus points. Most have a swimming pool, free WiFi, a games room and lots of TV channels. Best of all, you don’t have to listen to your neighbours stomping around in their bedroom.
If you really want to have some time to relax after a day of walking around the parks, then a villa is the way to go.
Where to find a villa
There are plenty of places to choose a villa. Major sites such as James Villa Holidays have some great choices but generally charge more. You can find some much better prices if you approach villa owners directly. Our last villa we found on a Facebook page called It’s Orlando Time Villas.
The page states:
Every villa is verified for ownership, taxes paid up to date and also that they have a State Licence so all our members can feel assured that they are booking a genuine villa.
The villa we stayed at was excellent and the owners were very helpful. We will certainly be using the page again when we return to Florida.
The roads around Orlando are great, so it’s fairly easy to reach the major parks no matter where you are. As a rule of thumb though, when somebody says it takes X amount of time to drive to a park, I would add at least 5 minutes to that. The majority of villas are based around Clermont, Davenport and Kissimmee which are around a 20-minute drive to Disney.
More tips for Florida villa holidays
It’s all very well booking your accommodation, but there is so much more to consider when booking Florida villa holidays. Take a look below for more ways to save money and some important tips you don’t want to forget!
Choose a date
A great start is to figure out what time of year you go. Visit in the summer and expect daytime temperatures to average 33 degrees. However, the parks and attractions will be very busy. If you prefer cooler weather, October/November reaches the high to mid 20’s. The parks will be much quieter too. Take a look at average temperatures in Florida.
You can also take a look at this site to see when to expect the theme parks to be quieter.
Check that your passport is valid for the dates you travel. If you’re British, contrary to popular belief, your passport only needs to be valid for your length of stay in the States and not an extra six months. Check out the government website for the latest guidance.
An essential item that can be easily overlooked. The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) replaces the little green card you used to fill in before landing in the US. If you qualify under the Visa Waiver Program (us Brits do) you need to complete an online ESTA. It will cost you $14 per person and is valid for two years or until your passport expires (whichever is sooner). You can apply here https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Booking a flight
Take a look here at booking cheaper flights. Check regularly and check often and you’ll see ticket prices fluctuate. Generally, the earlier you book, the cheaper the price. Also, consider that you may have to pay extra if you’re travelling as a family and want to sit next to each other. This can be around £25 for each seat but can vary.
When you’ve found an idea of prices, take a look at cashback sites to see if your provider is on there.
Also, check any offers on your credit or debit cards. I have Nationwide, Santander and Halifax cards and they all have specific special offers. Check your bank’s website or your online account for more details. You can usually combine cashback from these cards with the money received from cashback sites. I found a space with APH for £66.91 for my two weeks in November. APH was listed on TopCashback and I also found I had an offer on my Nationwide credit card for 12%. In total, I received £13.18 from TopCashback and £8.03 from Nationwide, taking the grand total to £45.70 for the two weeks.
Take a look at some travel insurance comparison sites such as https://www.moneysupermarket.com/travel-insurance/ to get an idea of prices. When you’ve found some good prices, pop over to a cashback site and see if the best value providers are listed.
For example, I booked a car through Affordable Car Hire for £355. I received £35.50 through TopCashback and £53 when I used my Nationwide card. That meant I paid just £266.50.
If you have a family with young children, you may need to hire children’s car seats. Take a look at the current laws in Florida. Some rental companies will charge you a set rate of between £50 and £70. Others charge £11 per day, which would cost almost £150 for two weeks! If you really must hire car seats, take a look at Alamo and Avis. They have the lowest set price, although their car rental may be more expensive. Some airlines allow you to take car seats on the plane, so check if this is a possibility.
You could also hire a car seat for just one day. There are plenty of Walmarts all over Florida and it would be cheaper to buy a seat from there compared to two weeks rental.
I get easily confused by maps, so a SatNav is a must for me. I would avoid hiring one from a car rental company though as it will set you back between £120-£150. Enough to buy your own.
Your final option is to buy one when you arrive in Florida. Walmart sells them for around £50 and you could always sell yours on eBay when you return to the UK. Your only issue is finding Walmart in the first place!
Don’t be sucked in by the “get 14 days for the price of 7” – that’s pretty standard. I’m sure you’ll want to visit the majority of parks, but that won’t be cheap. Take a look at my post on where to find the cheapest tickets. We paid £1830 for tickets to all the Disney parks and Legoland. If you wanted tickets for Universal and Disney, expect to pay close to £2800!
Check how much your company will charge you when abroad. If you don’t plan on using your phone much and want it just for emergencies, make sure they know you’re going away so your phone can be activated to work in the States. If you’re planning to use your phone a bit more, for best value, check out 3. They offer SIM cards with just a one month contract. Many of these cards come with “Feel At Home Around The World.” This means you can use the internet and phone or text the UK at no extra cost. However, if you were to call a US number, you will be charged.
If you want to call numbers in the US, then one of the best options would be to purchase a SIM card when you arrive at your destination airport. Expect to pay over $30.
Never change your money at the airport as the exchange rates are terrible. Withdrawing dollars from a cash machine (ATM) using your debit card will often come with a charge. The best options are either to take a look at a prepaid card for spending abroad or my favourite – the Halifax Clarity Card. This card allows you to withdraw money without fees.