Discover Florida Vacation Rentals
By Emily Nipps
Why Book a Vacation Rental?
A vacation rental is your home away from home. You can wake up to sunrise on your own private deck overlooking the beach. Or, brew a pot of coffee and sizzle your own bacon on the stovetop. Or, relax in a hammock on your private garden patio, or bring home fresh produce from a nearby market and whip up a delicious dinner for the family.
Once you’ve discovered the joys of Florida vacation rentals, it’ll be hard to go back to anything else, especially if you’re staying for more than a couple nights.
“The main difference between vacation rentals and just going to a hotel is space,” said Kendra Moore-Nixon, marketing manager of ResortQuest by Wyndham Vacation Rentals. “You have more than just a bedroom. You typically have a few bedrooms, plus a kitchen, plus a living area. You can spread out. There’s [typically] more than one TV, so the kids can watch what they want in one of the bedrooms, the parents can watch in the living room. You don’t have to eat every meal out. There’s a kitchen.”
Patricia Hardiman, marketing director for Southern Resorts Vacation Rentals, concurs. The company manages more than 400 properties throughout Northwest Florida, virtually all either beachfront or within walking distance of the Gulf of Mexico. “People just want the space,” Hardiman said. “What if you want to have a party? That’s hard to do in a hotel room. With us, you have complete privacy.”
Renting a vacation house, condo or even a boathouse allows you to imagine yourself living in a whole new, relaxing environment for a long weekend, week or a month, whether you’re staying solo, with your love or the entire family.
Types of Vacation Rentals
You’ll find everything from waterfront stilt homes to urban high-rise condos to beach cottages throughout the Sunshine State, many of which have most of the amenities you’ll find at a traditional hotel, plus tons of privacy, full kitchens with cookware and other features to make you feel right at home.
Discover some of the treasures of down-home Florida life by sleeping, shopping, cooking and lounging in the comfort of vacation rental accommodations.
Among the most popular spots for vacation rentals, of course, are the beachside condos and houses, ranging from rustic to luxurious and often including kayaks, bikes, towels and umbrellas and other necessities of seaside life.
Along the coastline of New Smyrna Beach, for example, you’ll find a number of beach houses mere steps from the water and poolside condominium homes that are reasonably priced and close to restaurants, bars and shops.
Destin, St. Augustine, Amelia Island and just about every other Florida town has dog- and pet-friendly cottages or home rentals so you can bring your pooch along for the adventure, and some are close to dog beaches and parks to add to the fun.
If you’re looking for a larger house or property for multiple couples or families to share, Florida has several rental companies that cater to larger groups looking to stay together in a common area while still maintaining enough privacy with well-appointed rooms and plenty of bathrooms.
Those seeking an even more secluded and outdoorsy vacation rental can find plenty of cabins, lodges and cottages in or near state parks, rivers, lakes and wooded areas. You can choose from cute little huts that are one step up from camping, or larger homes on horse farms and ranches. Spend all day fishing, hunting or hiking and come back to a fire pit, hot tub and screened-in swimming pool.
Vacation rentals also allow you to try new styles of living you’d otherwise never get to experience back home. In Miami Beach, rent a rock-star level apartment filled with high-end furnishings, artwork, in-home pools and balconies overlooking the ocean or bustling nightlife scene. In the Keys, stay in an adorable stilt home accessible only by boat or settle in on your very own private island at Pretty Joe Rock off Marathon. And in north Florida, stay in a yurt dwelling for a truly adventurous outdoors experience that you’ll never forget.
A Few Sources for Vacation Rentals
Here’s a list of major purveyorw of vacation rentals. But there are many, many more, some of them smaller, even more personal and local. Just Google “vacation rentals” in an area you want to stay, and the choice will abound.
Airbnb: Rent one room or the entire house. My friend and I recently celebrated her 30th birthday. We stayed in a gorgeous apartment she'd found on the website for only $150 a night. The owner even gave us restaurant recommendations; it was like having a personal concierge! That was my first time using Airbnb, but certainly not my last. airbnb.com.
HomeAway: Sort properties by travel style (budget, luxury...), location type (beach, lake river...) and even whether the home is run by an owner or property manager. homeaway.com.
Vacation Rentals by Owner: Not sure where in Florida you'd like to stay? This website breaks down the best locations for families, couples, pet lovers, spring breakers and more. vrbo.com.
VacationRoost: This site also offers help for travelers who need help narrowing things down. Just call the toll-free hotline to speak with a "destination expert." vacationroost.com.
VacationRentals.com: If your travel dates are flexible, subscribe to the weekly deals e-mail for last-minute bargains. vacationrentals.com.
Looking for Deals?
It’s easy to find deals online with VISIT FLORIDA. Simply visit our Florida vacation deals page. Deals from across the state will pop up. You can then click on the “narrow it down” button to find accommodations in the Florida destination you want to visit.
Tips for Before You Rent
To help you get the most bang for your buck, here's a list of questions to ask before renting a Florida vacation home:
1) Are my travel dates flexible? Good luck finding a deal on a holiday weekend. But the days before and after can be money in the bank.
2) Is my location flexible? So you want a beachfront property. Who doesn't? But maybe you can find a less expensive rental 15 minutes from the beach with such an awesome pool that you won't feel compelled to drive to the ocean every day.
3) Can I get a last-minute deal? Look for and subscribe to e-alerts on your preferred vacation rental sites, or check the deal link on VISIT FLORIDA, above.
4) What discounts do the surrounding hotels offer? Hotels routinely offer bargains for AAA members, military personnel and seniors – not to mention packages like "stay three nights and get the fourth night free." See if the owner of the vacation rental home will match the hotels' offers. It never hurts to ask.
5) Can the owner act as concierge? For my friend Autumn's 30th birthday back in October, we were able to rent an apartment for a ridiculously low price. The owner, Cory, happily provided us with restaurant recommendations within walking distance of his apartment, info on the nearest subway lines and even his Wi-Fi password. All it took was a quick email exchange.
6) Am I comparing apples to apples? Don't be seduced by the magazine-worthy photos you see on vacation home rental websites. Dig deeper. If info is lacking about square footage, the number of full versus half bathrooms, the availability of linens, pet-friendliness or other important details, ask the owner. That way, when you're choosing between unique vacation rentals, you can make a fair comparison.
7) Does the owner have references? Request contact info for previous guests. They'll give you the real lowdown.