Orlando Basics

Drive south of Walt Disney World just a short bit and you'll see a puzzling sight: one gated community after another, filled with well-constructed, two-storey McMansions, each with its own private pool. That might not sound strange but look a bit closer: electronic keypads take the place of traditional locks on the doors, no mail fills the mailboxes, the doormats are free of newspapers and every single car in the driveways is a rental.

Nobody lives in these very cushy homes for longer than a week at a time (on average). Though these complexes were originally built to house permanent residents, Orlando's locals, it turned out, didn't want to live in this touristy part of town. And that's a key difference from most rental communities geared to tourists. It means that the homes are more spacious than usual, set farther apart from one another, with thicker walls, more solid construction overall and better amenities.

And compared with many of the hotels in the Orlando/Kissimme area -- and I'm including those within the confines of the theme parks -- these rentals are meccas of comfort and affordability. Stay at the cheapest of DisneyWorld's hotels, the converted cinderblock motels called the All Star Resorts, and you'll pay an average of $99 a night to cram your entire family into one small room. Compare that to rental home rates, which often dip to as little as $59 for entire two-bedroom apartments, with separate living rooms and kitchens.