Tuscan Ridge Minecraft style

Our villa hits the digital age

Minecraft was created over a decade ago back in 2009, so it’s about time we created a digital version of our villa, blocks and all. We’ve gone a bit Minecraft crazy in our house thanks to my resident seven year old, so the writing has been on the wall for some time. Check out the video at the bottom of the page!

Tuscan Ridge in Minecraft blocks
Dave’s Florida Villa, without Minecraft

The Minecraft video result

Bored on our return journey from Tampa to Heathrow, we decided to recreate our villa in Florida – pool, hot tub and all! Taking around 4 hours to complete, we think it’s worth it. Even a Minecraft pool guy randomly turns up to keep things clean.

Once created I downloaded a screen capture app on our Kindle Fire and somewhat butchered the end result. Let us know what you think of our Minecraft creation.

Tuscan Ridge recreated in Minecraft

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!


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!


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?


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.


Enjoying the T-Rex cafe surroundings


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.



Lightning McQueen at Art of Animation


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


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.


Shamu’s Christmas show


Dolphins at Seaworld


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!


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!



Old Town Cruise night


Splish splash in the public fountains at Celebration


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!

South facing pool benefits

Why buy or rent a villa with a south facing pool?

In this blog entry I’m going to try and explain why a villa with south facing pool is essential when you are creating your shortlist for a villa purchase or vacation rental in the Orlando Florida vacation regions, or any northern hemisphere accommodation (reverse the logic for a southern hemisphere property).  Here’s a Dave-special diagram:


Simple diagram explaining the length of a shadow case by the sun in Florida

As sure as the day is long, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, but depending on how far north and south of the equator you are (known as latitude), will add a north/south dimension to the angle of the sun’s light, and therefore a length, to the shadow a building casts.

If we take the simple example above of the midday sun to remove any east-west shadow angle, the diagram above explains why latitude adds an angle to the sun and subsequently a shadow at midday when the sun is directly overhead on the equator. This is the exact reason you need to rent a villa with a south facing pool.


Our villa shadow profile in December

The further north you travel, the longer this shadow is.


Do you want your pool to be in the grey shadow the building and the sun create at midday? No! To find out exactly what the shadow looks like in Florida, I put in the latitude and longitude of Dave’s Florida Villa into the coordinates on a shadow plotting site, then selected the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere.  December 21st.  The results are in the time-lapse picture view to the left.

I then put in the rough dimension of our single-storey hip-roofed villa, because the height of the building increases the length of the shadow.  A two-storey building will cast a much bigger shadow than a single-storey villa.

It’s very clear to see why you want your pool to be in the area not affected by the shadow throughout the entire day.

A pool on the north-east of a building gets lots of sun in the morning.  One on the north-west would get the evening sun.  However one facing south gets a lot more sun than both.

It’s not just the fact you can sit in the sun all day by the pool, the south facing lanai remains dry all year, so less mould exists naturally, and the water dries quickly, so generally it’s a much nicer and warmer place to be than on the north side of the building.

You can see that by looking at any of the buildings in Florida – the north side of the villas are always a little greener and dirtier than the south facing aspects.   Have a look on Google Street View and take a look for yourself on Tuscan Ridge.  We rejected many houses in Florida because the pool deck was so dark and dirty because it was north facing.

Extreme survivalists use this technique when navigating in the wilderness, just not on buildings but on the vegetation!  Not really much need for this in Tuscan Ridge!

Many thanks to the website Find My Shadow which allowed me to use the efforts of someone else to help explain what our villa shadow profile looks like in the winter months.

But where’s the proof?  To put all this theory into action I downloaded our villa aerial view from Google Maps and guesstimated when it was taken.  See the image below.

This aerial photo was probably taken in the winter, early afternoon, I guess at around 1pm.  The pool is still completely bathed in sunlight after being exposed all morning.  Our south facing pool will remain mostly in the sun until around 4pm.  Even during the shortest day of the year!

Tuscan Ridge Barbera Drive Villa

Google maps satellite view of Dave’s Florida Villa – with the south facing pool


In September we have sun easily past 4pm, but at 4pm you can tell that the shadow in September is much shorter than in December, so more of our lanai is exposed to the sun.  Great for evening dining and relaxing.

The last example I have is when the building has a gable-ended roof.  This roof design results in a much higher roof but one that is structurally weaker to hurricane force winds.


Hip roof (left) and a Gable roof diagram

The only benefit is more storage space which we don’t care about in Florida when we want the most sun available.


Gable end roof and the resulting shadow in December

This shadow plot is also in December, so compare it to the first of our diagrams and you can very easily see just how much longer the shadow is cast with a gable roof.

Click to open full size.

In conclusion, a vacationer or house buyer should always consider the benefits of a south facing pool or garden.  How much sun do you want to get?  Also factor in the height of the building, roof design, and latitude, which all impact the size of area of shadow cast by the sun.

If you have a choice you should always without exception get the south facing pool.  South east for the morning sun, and south west for evening sun.  Exactly the same when buying houses with gardens in the UK.

Package Hotel Holiday vs Private Villa Rental

Is a Villa better than a package hotel holiday?

This is a question we have been asked many times and it’s even gone through our own minds before, but you only have to think about the luxury of your own private pool and not having to get fully dressed and join a hustling queue for breakfast (at 8:00 am!) to see why a private villa in Florida is a much more appealing way to spend the holiday of a lifetime with your family!

Spa Jacuzzi and Pool

Would your hotel be this private?

With flights shooting up in price over the school holidays, we have just done our own search on package deals compared to booking everything separately.

OK, we admit we did find one or two hotel packages that were cheaper than booking our villa for a family of 4, but the packages we found meant that your family would be spending 13 nights of their 2 week stay cooped up in a single 900sqft bedroom!

Factor in the costs of eating meals out compared to one or two self-catered meals in a villa, and already the villa is winning hands down.

How about a beer? Pop to the mini-bar and it’ll cost you 5 times more than if you stock up the fridge in a villa.  Forget about the cocktails!

How about a beer as soon as you want it?  Compare the thought of queuing up at the hotel bar with walking to your own kitchen and just getting one whenever you fancy.  Take it to the poolside if you want.  We don’t care, but a hotel would throw the rule book at you.

Just to prove we’re not obsessed with alcohol, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that our spacious 4 bedroom villa would offer loads more space for your money.  More than enough space for all the family to rattle around in, Mum and Dad can have their own King room with en-suite and his-and-hers sinks, and the children can be safely tucked away on the other side of the house.  Or Mum and Dad can have the Queen room next to the children if they want to be nearby.

Early morning trips to put pool towels on the hotel sun loungers?  No need!  Just step out onto your shaded lanai area next to your own private south facing pool to enjoy a drink together whilst the sun sets.

Villa and Pool by night

The sun has set, but who cares?

Forget about just 4 people sharing a hotel room – most Florida holidays are spent with your extended family and friends so you can all have fun together. With a much bigger group you won’t have to be parted into separate hotel rooms if you have a villa – and the cost of renting our accommodation can work out to be as little as £6 per person per night!

We’re biased of course, but we speak from the experience of staying at a lot of American hotels before buying our villa in Tuscan Ridge.  A quick recap of the benefits of our villa over a package hotel holiday:

  • One 900 sqft hotel room to share vs. a spacious 2000 sqft house
  • Shared hotel pool vs. private pool and jacuzzi
  • Coin operated arcade machines vs. your own private games room
  • Busy hotel queues vs. a quiet and relaxing Tuscan Ridge neighbourhood
  • Restaurant times vs. pick your own time to eat
  • Fight for a lounger vs. not a care in the world


You decide!