Friday, July 31, 2009

Why It "Pays" to Choose a Vacation Rental Over A Hotel

You might have guessed it. Looking at the way airlines have tried to make up for lost revenues by charging additional fees for everything that was once provided gratis, could the hotel industry be far behind?

Well, it wasn't.

It has become pro forma for hotels and resorts to charge where ever they can, however they can. This is true for both high and low end hotels, chains and independents.

Many of them are charging mandatory valet parking fees if you show up with a car. Some have upped their "resort fees," required whether or not you use the pool or exercise room. Housekeeping gratuities and bellman fees are aggressively being added to bills, travelers report. Some motels are even charging for in-room safes, regardless of whether you use them.

These add ons are making alternative accommodations look more and more appealing. Let's look at the common amenities in a vacation rental, home or condo, that come with the territory:

1. The vacation rental (home or condo) will most likely offer you a complete kitchen where you can cook in rather than eat out in the hotel or inn restaurant. This is an enormous savings for families with children as well as the option to eat healthy in rather than fast food out.

2. The vacation rental will offer you a laundry room for free instead of laundry service that comes at additional cost.

3. The vacation rental will most likely provide free internet service at no additional fee.

4. The vacation rental will, in many instances, provide digital phone service where you can make long distances calls at no extra charge.

5. The vacation rental will offer in/home/condo DVD selections. No need to "pay on demand" for movies in many VR's.

6. The vacation rental will provide books, games and other diversions meeting the needs of a wide range of people.

7. The vacation rental will not only have available free beach chairs, towels and beach umbrellas, but also offer beach toys for kids and adults.

8. The vacation rental invites and allows for family gatherings in a home like setting. Where does the family "hang out" together at a hotel or inn?

9. The vacation rental personalizes the "guest" experience if you rent by owner or through an agency. You will be remembered if you return. You are not just a number to the people in this industry, owners or managers.

10. The vacation rental offers free parking. Always.

Some hotels may be pushing room-service prices and fees higher; others are raising rates on services like accepting faxes and deliveries, laundering clothes and local phone calls, and upping penalties for early checkout and cancellation. Internet service is getting more expensive, running up to $19.95 a day. Local taxes are being pushed higher, too, as governments look for ways to balance budgets and minimize the impact on local taxpayers.

Albeit, hotel rooms cater for that one or two night stay, a rarity in a vacation rental. But if you are staying for a week or more, why would you ever consider a hotel room when you could have a spacious condo or nice home for less money and more free amenities?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Men's Journal Names Sanibel in Their Top 20 Beaches

The cover of the recent issue of Men's Journal magazine catches the eye for at least two reasons. One is the striking head shot of Lance Armstrong. And then there is the header on the top of the cover which says The Twenty Best Beaches in America.

Now, even if I were not in awe of Lance Armstrong's achievements and personal challenges, I would certainly want to know the magazine's choices for best beaches.

Categorizing the beaches by their location and best uses of what they have to offer, Men's Journal ranked the 20 best beaches in America listing Sanibel Island along with other Gulf Coast beaches including Grand Isle, Louisiana (sports beach), Padre National Seashore, Texas (secluded beach) and South Padre Island, Texas (party beach). The four top family beaches cited include Hunting Island, South Carolina, Coronado, California, Cannon Beach, Oregon and Crescent Beach on Block Island, Rhode Island.

Sanibel's Lighthouse Beach is featured as the best family beach that the Gulf Coast---and in fact, all of Florida---has to offer.

According to the magazine, Sanibel was chosen because, "the water here is warm, calm and shallow, making it ideal for the kids; the beach is perfect for sandcastles and is loaded with shells, especially when low tide exposes its offshore sandbars."

The only other Florida beach to be listed in the magazine is Key West, cited for its party atmosphere at Mallory Square.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Fifth Season on Sanibel is Turtle Season

Though subtle, Sanibel Island has seasonal changes. There's the dry and brilliant sunshine of winter, the breezy days of spring, the heat and humidity of summer, the calm before the storm of early fall. And there's the exiting and iconic loggerhead turtle season.

Perhaps the island itself does not change in turtle season, more often called nesting season, but those who live here definitely do through a bit of morphing. The culture of "do not disturb" permeates the environment from May through October, reaching its peak in the month of July.

Each day during turtle season, the 18 miles of Gulf beaches from the Sanibel Lighthouse to the tip of Captiva are checked beginning at dawn as part of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation's Sea Turtle Research and Monitoring Program. In some areas, volunteers walk designated zones of beach. On other stretches, the patrol is done by beach vehicle. Nests are identified and marked for monitoring and protection. Later in the season new hatches are evaluated and recorded. The statewide collection of data helps promote programs that improve the chances for sea turtles to survive.

Loggerheads are tough to see but their tracks are easy to spot on the early morning beach. Female turtles will make the long trek back to their nesting area and during the night will crawl to the beach, dig a deep hole with their hind flippers, lay her eggs, cover up the nest, and return to the water. The procedure, once they find their nesting beach, may take as long as three hours. Each nest may contain nearly 100 ping pong ball sized eggs.

Upon hatching, the little turtles make a mad dash for the water, following the light of the horizon. Because this light is so essential to the hatchlings survival, there are no street lights on Sanibel less they distract and disorient the hatchlings. Despite this mandated caution by human beings, this short trip is filled with other hazards including dehydration as well as raccoons, birds and crabs that may snack on them before they hit the water. Once in the water, they are just bite size morsels for larger fish, including sharks. Only about 1 in 100 eggs will become and adult turtle which takes at least 16 years.

Last year, there were more than 330 nests on Sanibel and Captiva, 150 more than the year before. The nesting outcomes were considered a tremendous success over previous years in Southwest Florida and has heightened the excitement and anticipation for this year.

For those interested in a true nature exploration and the opportunity to see a wondrous process of re-population, turtle season offers an up close and personal view of what Sanibel Island is all about.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Great Summer "Companion" Reads on Sanibel

It's that time of year when those of us heading to the beach are looking for a good companion.

Books make great companions, or at least their authors and characters do. Maybe they don't communicate with us, but they do communicate to us.

And, on Sanibel, as with all travels, it's a nice environmental enhancement to have a good read that really makes you not only know, but feel the place.

Anyone with a yen for a good book that helps to put them on the Island has several choices.

There are dozens of great reads out there by the now famous Randy Wayne White. White, who began his literary career as Randy Striker and also used the nom de plume of Carl Ramm, has brought to life a very interesting literary character by the name of Doc Ford. Doc is an ex-NSA officer that has returned home to SW Florida to start a new life. He is a marine biologist (his front while being an NSA operative) and the owner of the one man operation Sanibel Biological Supply. He lives in an old stilt house on fictional Dinkins Bay that also serves as his lab. Close by, at Dinkins Bay Marina, are his neighbors and friends. And, it's nice that the Island has paid homage to Doc Ford in having a really delightful eatery in his name.

Doc is an interesting guy and has been featured in 16 novels by White who is every bit as interesting as his Doc character and worth knowing about before you plunge into his writing. White has traveled extensively and participated in a wide variety of adventures, including dog sledding in Alaska, helping to re-establish Little League baseball in Cuba, and ferrying Cuban refugees to safety during the Mariel boatlift. His writing certainly reflects his spirit of adventure, a helpful background in knowing he is not just an armchair traveler.

Lesser known, but arguably no less talented, Christine Lemmon writes about Sanibel in a way that is provocative and inspiring. Her two novels based on life on Sanibel, Sanibel Scribbles and Portion of the Sea will put you on Island where ever you are. A Sanibel resident, Lemmon also had an interesting background with her loving family who moved about and lived life out of the box.

If you are not the fiction reading type, there are many great books that are based on actual events and history. One of these, renowned for its poetry of language and insightfulness is A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the widow of aviator and conservationist Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., was a noted writer and aviation pioneer.

Her novel, written on Captiva, A Gift From the Sea, has transcended generations and inspired millions. Her words, written at Gulf side, present a calm vision "...I want first of be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact - to borrow from the language of the saints - to live "in grace" as much of the time as possible...By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony...I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God..."

Are you looking for a calm introspection on your Sanibel beach blanket? Then take Lindbergh or Lemmon with you!

And if you want more action than thought, grab Randy White!

Whoever you choose, you will not be alone and your beach experience will be the best one yet.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Staying Close to Home: Sanibel Is the Ideal Staycation

Each summer we see an influx of new birds on Sanibel Island. I call them sunbirds. Unlike the snowbirds who escape the cold and frost of northern climes in winter, the sunbirds are Floridians who want to completely change their environment for a week or two, yet stay close to home.

I don't know the official percentage, but I would guess that 50 percent of tourists coming to Sanibel Island in summer are coming from such locales as Miami, metro Tampa/ Clearwater as well as many of the inland towns such as Ocala, Gainesville and Kissimee/Orlando.

Obviously, escaping the traffic and noise of a larger city for the quietude and relaxation of a barrier island is one of the reasons for this migration.

And, having the emerald colored and calm gulf at your door step is another.

For nature lovers, the wild life is a big attraction.

But there are many other reasons--- not so obvious--- that bring Floridians to the tropical paradise of Sanibel.

During summer, Sanibel Island often offers accommodations that have a more flexible price and arrival/departure than they do in high season. Many condos and homes offer discounts in general, and especially so to "local residents".

In addition, and this is something we see quite often, a family may only have a week or two of vacation, but they can get away for long week-ends. This kind of flexibility in a rental guest's vacation stay frequently encourages mom and dad to rent a house for a whole month and go back and forth to their residence. Private homes are usually offered for a better price point because of the nature of supply and demand. A three bedroom home, if rented for the month of August as example, will generally price out lower per week than a three bedroom condo.

Aside from the appeal of more affordable lodging, summer on the Island holds the allure of better fishing than many other good fishing points throughout the state. And, sailing from Sanibel's marinas to other locations is also of great appeal as the waters are not crowded with boats in summer.

Sanibel blends the best of nature with a wide range of lodging and restaurants. It's no wonder it is the get-away of choice for so many of the state's most educated consumers!