Dave's Florida Villa

How to avoid sat nav rental abroad

sat-nav-rental

Sat nav rental not always needed……

Avoid sat nav rental – it’s a rip off

Most rental companies make a killing on the options list. Wary, sleep deprived travelers are easy pickings – we just want to get through the rental kiosk in the quickest way possible, and sat nav rental seems like an easy decision. Until you realise the cost of 80 USD or more, if you bother to check at all. In most cases it’s cheaper to buy a sat nav than rent it, and in extreme cases you find the car has it built in, but locked out. So you’ve already paid for it by renting the more expensive car…  So let’s look into how to avoid sat nav rental in Florida.

How do I avoid the con then?

If you have a smart phone, then there are several ways to avoid ever needing a sat nav. Almost all smart phones have GPS built in.  This allows your phone to receive a GPS signal, and locate itself on a map.  So the next question is “what map – my built in navigation needs wireless data to work?”.  This is solved by downloading an offline map navigation app.  We recommend Here WeGo:

https://here.com/en/products-services/consumer-app/here-wego-app

This allows you to navigate using offline maps, and the phone’s GPS signal only – no  roaming data needed.  To set up Here WeGo, download the app from Apple’s app store or Google Play, install, then fire it up and select “use app offline” from the menu option.  This takes you to the “Download maps” menu – simply navigate to the region you want (Florida!) and download.  When we did this in 2017 the Florida map was about 350MB in  size.

avoid sat nav rental

Here WeGo

When you are in Florida, simply use the app offline and navigate to where you need to go – just the same as using the app at home with data.  Your phone’s GPS signal tells the app where it is, and it does all the hard work for you.

This will save you endless hassle, money,  and if you are anything like us it’ll save you throttling each other before you’ve even got to your destination…

But do I really need sat nav in Orlando?

There are only really two situations where we’ve needed the sat nav – to find our villa, and to get back to the airport with a full tank of fuel.  We managed though, and didn’t end up lost or missing a flight.  We did end up spending a fortune on overpriced fuel though – so we got caught in another rip-off.

Navigation to our villa is very simple from Tampa or Orlando (I4, US-27, Tuscan Ridge are all you need to know – here’s the drive in to our home), and it is the same case for Walt Disney World, Universal, Seaworld, Nasa, and all big attractions.  Just prepare in advance, and have some dollars handy if you end up on a toll road.

So it’s easy to avoid sat nav rental with just a little prep in advance.

 

Finding a cheap Orlando flight

Struggling to find a cheap Orlando flight that won’t break the bank?

cheap orlando flight

Up up and away!

People plan their holiday in different ways.  Some will find their villa first, some may look for certain dates, and some may simply try to find the best deal on flights and then search for everything else afterwards with fingers crossed!  Whatever your approach, a cheap Orlando flight for your family usually a big factor in booking your next big holiday, so we’ve put together some tips to help you find the best deal.  It’s something we’re often asked as villa owners, but it’s important to realise it’s not an exact science and may take patience.

Flights vary in price. A lot.

flight-prices

Flight prices depend on supply and demand

All airlines try to fill their planes for the maximum price and profit.  This leads to fluctuation in prices.  Typically, a last minute deal for a long-haul flight just doesn’t exist any more and you’ll find that booking a few months in advance is the best bet for getting a cheap Orlando flight.  For USA flights Skyscanner suggest about 18 weeks in advance.  A good article examining short-haul flight prices is here.

The time of year you are shopping makes a difference.  When tickets aren’t selling, typically just before Christmas, sales appear and prices can drop.  We bought our last tickets to Tampa just 3 days before Christmas.

Do some research a year beforehand if you can – know what price to “buy” at, as if you were trading stocks.  For example if the UK to Orlando is ever close to £400 to £450 per person (prices as of 2016) then we buy.

Be flexible with dates

If you don’t really care when you travel, which is rare, then be flexible.  Search for entire months of flights.  Use skyscanner.  Then check the airline sites directly.  Watch out for indirect flights because they just aren’t worth the hassle and you’ll run the danger of ruining your holiday.  Also try to book to fly out on a weekday and avoid weekends when you can.

Try fly-drive

For our last 5 holidays, 4 have been fly-drive and only one was cheaper to book flights and a car separately – and it was a cheap car as well.  We have never found a nice car and separate flight for cheaper than a fly-drive.

Watch out for hidden costs

hidden-costs

Hidden costs can be a pain

One example is Virgin fly-drive.  Their basic insurance package doesn’t include collision damage waiver (CDW).  British Airways’ does.  We ended up forking out another £70 on CDW on one trip when we got to Orlando airport and realised.  A tip for this is to opt for the daily CDW ($20) then book your own CDW through a 3rd party site (we used www.icarhireinsurance.com) and cancel the airport CDW within 24 hours.

Check other things such as the baggage allowance, and optional extras that you might otherwise have to buy separately.

Change your destination!

No, we don’t mean fly to Scunthorpe, we mean fly to Tampa, Miami, or Orlando.  Have a road trip.  Our next holiday will fly into Tampa instead of Orlando and was £200 cheaper.  It’s about 20 minutes longer to drive to from our villa on Tuscan Ridge, but it’s a quicker airport to get through and quick to get a hire car too.

Free cash through cashback

free_cash

Theres no such thing as a free gift

Cashback is always worth a shot.  For every trip we’ve booked, the flights were through quidco.  Here’s a link for £1 off your next quidco purchase!  You can do the same with insurance, car hire, and pretty much anything.

Patience

Last but not least, don’t rush into anything – do some research, ask friends, or send us an email to get some cheap Orlando flight advice.  Good luck in finding flights for your next holiday to our villa.

 

Orlando budget vacation – our itinerary

Our family holiday in the winter sun

We visit Florida every year to look after our private villa, so we often want to have an Orlando budget vacation and just enjoy the winter sun without too much stress or theme park expense.  In this post I will go through our basic itinerary so you can get some ideas for your own Florida holiday.

Step 1: Book our villa – we’re not joking!

Winter-Sun-Tuscan-Ridge

Orlando budget vacation: Fantastic morning view from your villa in the Florida winter sun

Clearly we are biased, but it’s impossible to do Orlando on a budget without having your own family base.  Renting a villa saves a huge amount of money when all types expenses are considered.  You can stay in (or pop to the community tennis courts), enjoy the pool, sunbathe, cook your own meals (when you feel like it), entertain yourself in the games room, or just laze your day away reading a book.

All of this with the same sort of costs as being at home.  Just add food and drink to your private villa’s refrigerator and cupboards!

Orlando-budget-Underwater-shot

Relaxing underwater in our heated pool and spa

In the evenings once the little ones are asleep you can turn on the spa and crack open a domestic beer or chilled wine – as long as you’ve remembered to pop in to Publix or Walmart and stock up on essentials.  If you’re all watered-out then how about winding down with your family and friends inside with a mini-party and checking out what’s on the HD Cable for a few hours?

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Say cheese – the Burton family enjoying their pool in Tuscan Ridge

We’ve had a few guest book comments telling us that their children learnt to swim in our pool.  Kids don’t seem to be able to get enough of the water and sometimes they don’t want to be at a theme park all day when they can be messing around in their own pool.  Send a pool selfie back to your friends at home to make them jealous.  Why not?

Staying in and enjoying our private villa in Tuscan Ridge: total of 4 days for free.

Step 2: Restaurants and Disney hotels are a theme park in themselves

Everything in Orlando’s Disney World is completely overwhelming and finished to an incredibly high standard for holidaymakers.  Their hotels and restaurants are a perfect example of this.

Pop down to Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs) to sample the T-Rex and Rainforest cafe menus. You don’t have to buy the biggest steak on the menu – the three of us were full up on a kid’s meal and sampler menu. There are also some little rides to sample and lots of entertainment in the form of Disney characters. You can also catch the ferry over to the Boardwalk from the top end of Downtown Disney.

T-Rex-Downtown-Disney

Enjoying the T-Rex cafe surroundings

Rainforest-Cafe

Outside the Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney

With a full stomach it’s time to whizz off to some of the better Disney hotels to enjoy the surroundings and extreme scale.  We recommend the Art of Animation (full of the Cars cast including Lightning McQueen) and Animal Kingdom Lodge, complete with it’s own safari viewing area.

Enjoying Disney hotels and restaurants: total of 2 days for less than $150 worth of food between three of us.

 

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Lightning McQueen at Art of Animation

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Outside the Yacht club hotel in Disney

Step 3: Enjoy the theme parks and attractions that are better value

You don’t have to blow the budget on the Disney and Universal theme parks all the time.  There are plenty of areas to enjoy that aren’t $100 a pop.  Try Gatorland for a unique view of Florida’s alligators, or the Florida state parks for an adventurous day out in the wild.

One of he biggest Aligators in Gatorland Florida

One of the biggest Aligators in Gatorland Florida

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Riding a Gator at Gatorland – great parenting!

Enjoying Gatorland and other lower priced parks: total of 2 days and less than $100 for a family of three

Step 4: Take advantage of Seaworld’s return visit offers

Personally our family enjoy Seaworld, despite the ongoing controversy surrounding the park.  They have a wonderful Christmas theme in December and if you take advantage of their return visit for $10 a person you can spread out the park over a couple of visits. There is easily enough to do in Seaworld to last two full days.

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Shamu’s Christmas show

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Dolphins at Seaworld

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Our boy Rowan meeting Shamu at the Christmas themed days

Seaworld: total of 2 days and $150 for the three of us

Step 5: Hire or rent the biggest car you can (maybe not an Orlando budget vacation)!

OK, maybe this is contrary to the idea of an Orlando budget vacation, but sometimes you can get a lot of fun out of having the biggest and best car you can get from your car hire company – and just enjoying the driving out in Florida. Sometimes you can drive a bargain at the Airport, so hold out and negotiate for a Cadillac Escalade next time!

Escalade-at-Tuscan-Ridge

Cadillac Escalade in front of Dave’s Florida Villa

Orlando budget vacation - car hire

Car rental – Little and Large

Step 6: Get out and about around the Four Corners area

Shopping at malls (it’s easy to get carried away with the shopping in Florida – we prefer the Mall At Millenia), enjoying the picturesque Celebration, travelling out to see the classic American cars at Old Town, Historic Kissimmee, or even further afield at Florida’s gorgeous beaches, it’s all completely free apart from the cost of the fuel to get there.

Celebration, Kissimmee, Malls, Old Town: total of 4 days and less than $40 for the bike hire and fairground rides!

 

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Old Town Cruise night

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Splish splash in the public fountains at Celebration

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Enjoying a 2 seater bicycle in Celebration

We hope this has given you inspiration for your next holiday to Florida – just make sure you contact us first to book our Florida Villa.

Florida toll charges

How much does a toll road cost in Florida?

Florida toll charges are one of our frequently asked questions for vacationers traveling from Orlando International Airport to Disney and our Florida Villa.  There are a couple of routes you can take on the toll roads.  The first is the 528 (Martin Andersen Beachline Expressway) which leads from the north side of Orlando Airport to the I4.  The cost of this (correct as of 2014) is $1.00 for cash and $0.78 if you have a SunPass.

Alternatively you can head south from the airport and opt for the 417 Central Florida Greeneway which leads west and joins the I4 further south than the 518.  We would choose this route to avoid the majority of the I4.  This route’s Florida toll charge is $1.00 cash and $0.78 for a SunPass member.

florida disney tolls

Florida Disney toll costs

To confirm your Florida toll charges at today’s current rate you can use the Florida Online Toll Calculator.

SunPass – save on Florida Toll Charges

If you are travelling further afield from Orlando International and plan to use the tolls on your hire car, then you can purchase a vacation SunPass or arrange the transponder in your rental car to automatically bill you the standard SunPass rate.  Rental companies normally charge a flat fee per day for your transponder to be used.  The savings are close compared to paying cash, for example if you use the toll roads from Orlando to Miami the current rate is $17.95 cash and you can save $3.85 using SunPass.  Avis charge $3.95 per day up to a maximum of $16.75 a month, so you won’t save money unless you do a lot of miles on the tolls.  It does, however, let you use the fast lanes on the freeway toll roads which is more convenient.  If you travel from Orlando down to Key West and back then your Florida toll charges would be approximately $44.  The Key West road is free to use (Interstate 1).

In summary, for getting from Orlando Airport to Disney or our villa, we recommend using the 417 toll road at the cost of only $1.00.  The last three times we have visited we have landed in rush hour and didn’t use the toll roads when all we wanted to do was just get to our villa and jump in the pool and spa!

 

Orlando alternative days out

Fun for under $25?

It’s not difficult to get Orlando alternative days out for your family and our latest blog post tells you how.

Its not all about Mickey Mouse and fairy dust with an expensive park entrance fee in Orlando, here are our top ten attractions and activities to do for less than $25 per person! Starting with number one, and in no particular order….

1. Boat tours

Winter Park Boat Tours. Located on Lake Osceola in the quiet suburb less than 10 minutes from downtown Orlando, the boat tour offers hour-long, guided cruises through three of the seven lakes and two, narrow man-made canals on the tranquil Winter Park chain.

2. West Orange Bike Trails

Located directly on the West Orange Trail. Rentals start at Mile Marker 0 of this beautiful trail, which now stretches 22 miles along the edge of Lake Apopka and through the quaint downtown of Winter Garden. Some of the best rides on this trail are broken up by lunch or Ice Cream from one of the downtown shops.

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West Orange Bike Trail Map

3. Florida Zoo

Besides seeing over 400 animals (that doesn’t even include the bugs in the Massey Services Insect Zoo), you can take to the sky and enjoy our aerial adventure course, ZOOm Air Adventure Park or bring your flip-flops and swimsuit to cool-off in the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground. – See more at: http://www.centralfloridazoo.org/visit#sthash.xAscSNpq.dpuf

4. Orlando Science Center

The Orlando Science Center has been a place that inspires curiosity and exploration. Truly one of the great activities for Orlando families, the Science Center encourages learning in a fun way.

5. Kings Bowling Orlando

Bowling should always be on the list for Orlando alternative days out (or nights).  Fun for all the family to eat, bowl and just chill out any time of the day or night.

kings bowling

Kings Bowling Orlando

6. Pirate Cove Adventure Golf

Not one but two 18-hole miniature golf courses in a pirate-themed setting (locations in the Lake Buena Vista and International Drive areas).

7. ACM Dine in Theatre

One of our favourite places to visit, not only does Downtown Disney offer various shops and places to eat, you can combine dinner and a movie with seat-side service.

8. Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Amazing Exhibits, Unusual Art, Unbelievable & Genuine Artifacts from Around the Globe! The Orlando location of Ripley’s is a good way to spend half a day on a budget.  Although it is not for the faint hearted – you have been warned!

9. Co Co Key Water Resort

Escape for the day and purchase Orlando water park tickets for CoCo Key Water Resort, where kids can play on our 14 slides and rides and parents can relax under the Florida sunshine. Our day passes are available for purchase 7 days a week and children less than 3 feet tall are free. Non-Resident Pass: $22.95 per person per day

10. Harry P. Leu Gardens

Explore an amazing 50-acre botanical oasis minutes from downtown Orlando.  One of the more relaxing days out in Florida for when you want to take it easy and lower the pace.

We hope this gives you some great ideas for Orlando alternative days out, no more expensive family tickets every day of your holiday!