EIGHT or GREAT – one Vacation Rental’s Refresh Program

EIGHT or GREAT – one Vacation Rental’s Refresh Program

 

Bungalow Bedroom

Erehwon Retreat isn’t your average vacation rental – it’s a 1923 Arts and Craft home away from home. While AirBnB has revolutionized the way we book vacations, and TripAdvisor, Pinterest and VRBO have given the potential traveler a 360º view of every property, there’s still nothing like personal attention to detail.
 

Finding a vacation rental with the personal touch

So, what does that mean at Erehwon Retreat? To start with, as proprietor, I have a very different approach to this beautiful rental property.

Many ‘holiday homes’ are simply outfitted by somebody who’s retired to Florida and wants to find a source of income for themselves, so the quality and style of the furnishings slowly erodes yet the photos date to the opening. In our case we update with independent professional photographers every other year. AirBnB might have given consumers more choice, but actually choice is often related to location, rather than decorative arts. And worse, furnishings often are just the latest from Ikea. A recent guest reminded me that hotel rooms that are heavily discounted are designated for a ‘refresh’ but until they are taken out of service, they’re available for use at deep discount. You know – worn out mattress, dilapidated fixtures and lampshades with burn marks.

At Erehwon Retreat our focus is on timeless elegance. Working from a curators’ perspective, every aspect of the bungalow, cottage and grounds is examined to see how it can combine the historical pedigree of its era of construction alongside the very best of modern innovation in comfort and performance. That’s why I work with interior designer Nikki Couture, who confers with me annually to create a maintenance schedule that renovates or replaces the contents of both properties to keep them bandbox fresh. The cottage will commence its eighth season in November, which meant we looked at everything with an eye to replacement. Some items though, like towels and wash cloths are replaced annually.

 

Florida Vacation Rentals – how to find perfection in every detail

One of the secrets to success at Erehwon Retreat is that I spend a night in each property twice a year, giving me first-hand experience of using every aspect of using my vacation rentals, from the cutlery in the drawers, to the mattress on the bed, to sitting on the deck to enjoy the view. This allows me and my team to strive constantly to improve and ‘refresh’ so that the rental experience constantly improves.

In December 2016, this maintenance activity included:

  • Re-crowning the six dining room chairs with foam and then re-upholstering them with leather
  • The cottage’s reading chair being reupholstered by a specialist
  • Deck furniture being sent away for sand-blasting, repainting and sealing
  • Replacing the box spring and mattress in the cottage (our hotel grade beds are often favorably mentioned in our reviews!)
  • Changing deck boards where necessary
  • Adding a hand rail to cover the journey between the deck, path and parking area
  • Installing passive lighting to enhance the gorgeous tree cover in the evenings
  • New low-voltage path lighting around the property.

This fall the cottage has also received new seat cushions, bolsters and pillows to ensure perfect comfort for all vacation guests.

The period details of the property aren’t just window dressing – they contribute to the quality of every experience. The 1920s were the tipping point between craftsmanship and mass production, meaning that furniture and decorative items were made from high quality materials but with innovative and exciting design concepts – the ideal balance of form and function that makes these Florida vacation rentals lovely to look at and superb to stay in.
 

Choosing a vacation rental – top tips

Bungalow KitchenWhile looking at photographs can help you get a sense of a place, there’s a great deal to be said for looking at reviews too. It’s vital to find the perfect base for your vacation, and that means paying attention to such details as the quality of sleep that people say they get, the attention to detail that allows a kitchen to be fully supplied with everything necessary to cook a great deal, and the atmosphere of a property, which can make all the difference between a good vacation and an unforgettably great one.

Remember that the difference between a hotel (commodity industry) and vacation rentals (service industry) is entirely in the quality of the experience. As an example, if our guests take towels to the beach, we wash them overnight so they have fresh towels again the next morning.

And finally, in trying to be a great vacation rental host I love to make sure my guests are relaxed and happy because that will make me happy too!

Christmas in Florida – an Insider’s Guide

Christmas in Florida – an insider’s guide

 

tampas-christmas-tree2
RW Bridge Lighting2
Downtown at Christmas

Florida in winter is an amazing place to take a vacation – and while the weather can be variable, it’s usually warm during the day this time of year and Tampa Bay always steps it up for Christmas starting with the boat parade on the Hillsborough River in early December and taking place throughout December from Dunedin to Treasure Island, St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.

Between December and the end of February, the whole of Florida is enjoying the time when holidaymakers from around the world come for our weather, the opportunity to bask in a little winter sun and swim in our fresh water springs with year-round temperature of 72 degrees.  In fact, once Labor Day is over, savvy travelers start to book their winter breaks to get the perfect vacation rental – so this is the time to make both winter and spring bookings. For those visiting from overseas, specialist tour operators can put together tailor-made packages using scheduled air services.

 

Tampa – a relaxed winter destination

Tampa takes it easy over the high season period – there are wonderful events taking place but they are a little more laid back, giving vacation rental visitors a chance to relax and take Christmas at their own pace. Winter gets a Florida twist with wonderful weather, good old-fashioned Christmas cheer and as peaceful a vacation as you can possibly imagine. What to expect?

  • The Busch Gardens become a wonderland of wintery delights, all beautifully lit with hundreds of thousands of tiny lights – live music, holiday shopping and seasonal entertainment turn the Gardens into a true Christmas celebration.
  • Stroll into Christmas at the Henry B Plant Museum which hosts a Victorian Christmas stroll every year. Fourteen gloriously decorated rooms with antique holiday artefacts, games and activities, spiced cider and cookies on the veranda make this a delicious experience for all the senses. We also recommend visiting Bok Towers. Enjoy a peaceful retreat along with your favorite seasonal music at Bok Sanctuary where carillon music will be played during daily performances. All concerts are free with Sanctuary admission.  We particularly enjoy the Candlelight Tour of Homes in Old Northeast, one of St. Petersburg’s historic neighborhoods.

 

December – February Vacation Rental in Florida

 

Top tips for a perfect vacation rental include:

 

  1. Remember to pack a range of clothing, some warm socks and a lightweight fleece or gilet alongside your shorts and sandals will help ensure you have everything you need to enjoy every minute of your stay.
  2. No need to pack your stockings – at Erehwon Retreat we’ll have them hung ready for your arrival. If you’re staying in the bungalow, they’ll be over the fireplace mantel and lucky guests spending Christmas in the bungalow also have an oven, so they won’t need the recipe in our fourth tip!
  3. Many grocery stores will not open on Christmas day, so be sure you’ve either bought your groceries in advance or booked a table at one of the many hotels providing wonderful festive fare over the Christmas period. If you’re lucky enough to be spending New Year’s in Tampa, you can book a very special dinner at The Refinery, Rooster and the Till, and Ella’s American Café.
  4. Want to cook your own turkey, but staying in the Erehwon Retreat cottage so you don’t have a stove? No worries, we have a recipe for you. Buy a turkey of less 12lb or less, and Thaw it thoroughly. Heat some vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or pot big enough to hold it. Fry some onion, carrot and celery until the onion is translucent and then put the turkey on top of the vegetables, adding around two inches of stock, white wine or water or mixture of all three. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Check every thirty minutes to ensure the liquid level doesn’t drop below an inch, if it does, top it up. After two hours, check with a meat thermometer – the thickest part of the thigh should record at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Continue to cook for at least another hour, basting the turkey with the liquid each time you check the temperature which you should do every 15 minutes. Remove to a carving board, and cover with tinfoil to relax for 20 minutes before carving. While you wait you can be reducing that delicious stock to make gravy!
  5. Take time for a stroll, because there is something truly special about wandering through Florida’s lush landscapes at this time of the year. Our wonderful overhead canopy of tree growth is a century’s worth of verdant greenery. A fantastic way to start your day is to take a cup of coffee outdoors and enjoy this beautiful scenery first hand.
  6. And with all the time you spent sea shelling, remember many Floridians make their holiday unique by showcasing shells they’ve picked up on the beach. Why not add them to a string of lights or use them as decorations on your holiday tree? You’re only limited by your imagination.

 

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma

After a long day and night of heavy rains and 74 mph winds, we are very happy to report that Erehwon Retreat has suffered no damage. We’re returning to business as usual tomorrow and will be able to honor all future reservations. I thank the many former guests who voiced concern and sent prayers.  Florida took a pummeling coast to coast.  Many tears to those who perished and prayers for the thousands of families facing major rebuilding this year.

Tampa Travel – The Local Lowdown

Tampa Travel – The Local Lowdown

 

One of the great joys of vacation travel is discovering how the locals get around, and Tampa offers some of the most memorable local transportation in the USA. Here’s our guide to getting around Tampa like a local.

 

Tampa’s electric streetcars – vacation transport that doesn’t break the bank

Back in 1892, Tampa had a novelty, electric streetcars with smartly uniformed conductors. These vehicles conveyed travelers round Ybor City, Ballast Point, Hyde Park and Sulphur Springs and allowed workers to reach the cigar factories of west Tampa, as well as taking families on day trips to local parks like DeSoto and Macfarlane. They were the circulatory system of the region until 1946, making Tampa among the last cities to let go of its historical streetcar system.

The TECO Line Streetcar system has returned to Tampa, covering Downtown, Channelside and Ybor City, bringing cruise ship passengers to the city and transporting workers just as the original streetcars did. A second phase of development has linked Franklin and Whiting Streets and the Fort Brooke parking garage, unifying downtown and bringing parking within easy reach of all. Best of all, it’s just $5 to travel all day!

 

 

Coast Bike Share – vacation transport on two wheels

 

Coast Bike Share allows you to rent a public bicycle whenever you wish – simply register and then enter your pin to unlock a bike from any convenient station and then return it to any other station in the system – ideal for picnics or sightseeing trips and great for your health as well as the city’s low pollution levels.

 

The Cross-Bay Ferry – seasonal travel with added romance

 

Travelling between St. Petersburg and Tampa has never been more enjoyable. The Cross-Bay Ferry, a brand-new pilot project that everybody hopes will return this November, cruises between the two cities twice a day and it’s for foot passengers only. The $10 one-way ticket (children under three travels free) buys you an hour crossing the Bay and gives tourists and locals alike a fantastic chance to enjoy a great meal, some sightseeing and maybe wildlife spotting – dolphins regularly ride the bow waves of cruise liners out of Tampa Bay. River walks and trolley cars connect well with the ferry service.

 

Pirate Water Taxi – explore Tampa from the water

For a rollicking day out in Tampa, the pirate water taxi system is for you! A single payment allows you to travel the Tampa waterways all day cruising the Tampa Riverwalk, Harbour Island and the Channelside Districts. With more than fifteen stops, the bright yellow water taxi is bound to deliver you close to whatever tourist attraction you desire, from museums to restaurants and Lowry Park Zoo.

 

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit – take the HART around Tampa

Since 1980, the HART system has been serving Tampa. It’s our ‘local’ public bus because the HART #1 bus is a half-block walk from Erehwon Retreat and is a quick and easy way to reach all the best destinations downtown and the University of South Florida.