For value, renting a home is without exception the best way to go. You can stretch out on a leather sofa, watching a TV as big as a lap pool, speaking as loudly you want and firing up the grill beside your screened-in pool—why pay for the battery hen arrangement of a hotel ever again?
The zone pressing up against Walt Disney World's southern border is almost exclusively built with new housing developments. There are dozens of gated communities packed with shiny new two-story McMansions, most owned by people who are here maybe 2 weeks a year. They contract with managing companies who keep them spotless and rent them to visitors. Each management company requires the homes it rents to meet a certain standard, which usually means cable TV in every room, irons, vacuums, fully equipped kitchens, and laundry facilities. And every management company takes care of the nitty-gritty for you, such as making beds before your arrival or wheeling out the trash bins on garbage day. You will also find computers with high-speed Internet, video games, billiard rooms, and heated pools and hot tubs—it's like home, but nicer.
Most rental companies promise homes within mere miles of Disney (but ask, just in case) so they take about as long to reach by car as Disney’s cheapest rooms—except for the same price, you get an entire home instead of a single room packed with two double beds. A smaller number of condo-style properties are available near Universal and SeaWorld (the main development there is called Vista Cay).
There are generally two kinds of homes. Condos are attached to other units; these may have their own pool, but more often they share a communal, hotel-style pool at a clubhouse. Houses are free-standing and are generally about 30 percent more expensive than condos. They will almost always have private pools, usually screened to keep out insects. Occupancy is governed by law, so don’t lie about your party’s size.
In most destinations, the main way to obtain a vacation rental is to contact the owner directly. This is an option in Orlando, and the prominent online databases operate here, including Airbnb.com, FabVillas.com, FlipKey.com, HomeAway.com, Housetrip.com, and Vacation Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com).
But there are also accredited companies that take the risk out of a rental—ones that actually inspect your potential home and give you support on the ground. In addition to being selected for their reputations, longevity, and inventory, these companies have satisfactory listings with the Better Business Bureau of Central Florida. Check on any company’s background for the past 3 years at www.orlando.bbb.org.
A good rental agency will matchmake your needs and budget to the most suitable property. Your credit card will usually be charged a deposit ($200–$300 or 1 night's rent is standard) a month or two ahead of time, and if you cancel, you're unlikely to see that again. You’ll also have to pay a one-time fee that goes toward insurance or cleaning; $50 to $80 is normal, which makes stays of a single night less economical. Perks like pool heat or grills may incur a surcharge, which is normal. Also ask your rental agency what it supplies and what you’ll need to buy. Typically, you’ll be given a roll or two of toilet paper per bathroom, a starter garbage bag, and maybe a packet of detergent, and you’ll be expected to buy your own after those run out. Clean bath towels and sheets are supplied, but maid service won’t be unless you pay extra. Many rental agencies no longer require you to pick up keys. Instead, front locks are equipped with keypads.
Alexander Holiday Homes
The family-run outfit has been renting since 1981, when the industry was in its infancy. It reps some 250 properties, most of them within 10 miles of Disney. Using its website's Hot Deals, prices go as low as $65 for a two-bedroom condo, and you stay for less than a week. Annoyingly, its website doesn't reveal availability windows; you have to call.
1400 W. Oak St., Ste. H, Kissimmee. [tel] 800/621-7888 or 407/932-3683. www.floridasunshine.com. Wi-Fi $25. Pet-friendly.
Award Vacation Homes
Award's inventory is thickest around Hwy. 27, a newly developed corridor 15 minutes west of Walt Disney World via U.S. 192 (via Disney's Western Way back entrance). That distance is a price advantage, as its neighborhoods are serviced by grocery stores that are not as overpriced for tourists as other ones are. For three-bedroom, two-bath places, rates start at $118.
1536 Sunrise Plaza Dr., Clermont. [tel] 800/338-0835 or 352/243-8669. www.awardvacationhomes.com. No pets.
Florida Sun Vacation Homes
Another upfront business, it rents homes ranging from two to seven bedrooms in the Disney area (the Windsor Hills development in particular), with three-bedroom starting prices of $69 in low season and popping to $149 in high season. All of its properties have a pool or a spa (or both). Minimum stays of 3 nights are common, and like many companies, it asks that you reserve and pay at least 6 weeks in advance.
7802 W. Irlo Bronson Hwy./U.S. 192, Kissimmee. [tel] 800/219-1282 or 407/938-0228. www.floridasunvacationhomes.com. No pets.
IPG Florida Vacation Homes
IPG began by serving British vacationers before branching out into Florida, and now its inventor is among the largest, dealing in dozens of home developments south and west of Disney, particularly Bella Piazza, Highlands Reserve, Windsor Hills, and the Villas at Island Club. Two-bedroom condos run from $120 to $160, often less; even something as big as six bedrooms can cost a mere $288.
9550 W. U.S. 192, Clermont. [tel] 800/311-7105 or 863/547-1050. www.ipgflorida.com. Pets w/$400 fee.
Lowery’s Vacation Homes
Around since 1985, Lowery’s reps plenty of inexpensive, tasteful properties in the usual developments, and its website includes 360-degree tours of each property. It’s a good fallback in busy seasons. Rates here can be sensational—how about $95 a night for a three-bedroom condo? The largest home available has seven bedrooms.
7864 W. Irlo Bronson Hwy., Kissimmee. [tel] 800/569-3797 or 407/397-0088. www.moremouse.com. Pet-friendly.
Founded in 1998, it manages some 350 Orlando-area properties in a hodgepodge of styles and quality levels. Condos sleeping six start around $62, although prices in the $80s are more common. Its office is open 7 days, and a majority of its inventory is near Animal Kingdom, but it also has a few near SeaWorld. Helpfully, its website posts videos for each of its vacation home communities.
6129 W. Irlo Bronson Hwy., Kissimmee. [tel] 877/259-9908 or 407/397-9818. www.villadirect.com. No pets.