Where does a career in the hospitality industry begin? When most people look for homes for rent in Florida they probably don’t start by looking at the credentials and background of their host, but it might not be a bad place to start. Like many people who retire to Florida to start a new career in, my background has little to do with my career as a vacation rental proprietor although it has everything to do with the way I approach making sure that Erehwon Retreat guests have a superlative Florida vacation experience.
As a young man in the 1970s, in the field of Arts Management, I was keen to develop both my skills and my experience – Dr. A Clyde Roller, then the Resident Conductor of the Houston Symphony stated that I was by temperament, background and personality, ideally suited to a career that required me to create an immediate good relationship with people. Some five years later, the Governor of the State of New York, Hugh L Carey, wrote to thank me for the hard work I put into the dedication of the Helen Owen Carey Playhouse named in honor of his late wife. Just four years further on, President Jimmy Carter contacted me to express his appreciation for my efforts in putting together a Performance of American Arts to honor Deng Xiaoping the Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China. I list these accomplishments not to boast, but to make clear that my entire career has been a commitment to ensuring people have first rate experiences whether in the theater, or in my Florida vacation home rentals.
Florida Vacations are all about experiences
What we all seek from a vacation is a wonderful experience – an unforgettable memory for all the right reasons. From seeing “Mickey” to a Snowy White Egret, a commitment to service means that I want my guests to have more than a holiday, I want them to have the kind of experience that makes their Florida vacation something better than just a break in the sun, turning it into the kind of event that delights on every level. For some guests I suggest going outside when it’s dark and gaze in wonder at the firmament of stars, planets, the moon and make a day trip to Cape Canaveral. Others want to see the birds during Migration. I am remembering a guest who asked for special birding suggestions while telling me Pakistan has over 786 native species of birds.
Unforgettable moments are built up out of an understanding of the hospitality industry and a recognition of what moves a vacation from ‘a trip to the sun’ to ‘an unforgettable trip’. It’s the difference between setting up a vacation rental to help pay your mortgage and establishing a vacation rental to delight visitors and support the local community. As an example, our most recent review on Home Away explains the philosophy that underpins everything we do:
Review #20506705 “Erehwon Retreat designer delight – Bandbox Fresh” 5 out of 5 stars
Super clean. Great amenities. Close to everything. Fabulous!
“Our host was exemplary – super knowledgeable about the area, great recommendations for dining and things to do. We were also property hunting and he gave us great insights into the area. Would highly recommend and return in a heartbeat!!”
Florida vacation rentals by owner can be mediocre or magnificent. I spent my entire career in Arts Management ensuring that people were enthralled by the performance or experience they had invested in. I use every aspect of those skills and training to offer suggestions. From the everglades, coral reefs, clear springs, magnificent forests, special dining and turn of the century history, I take immense pride in succeeding in exceeding every guest’s expectations.
Millions of visitors every year seek out Florida Vacation Rentals for the sun, the theme parks, and the relaxing lifestyle. But Florida offers a rich palette of experiences that aren’t covered in the usual guidebooks or TripAdvisor. At Erehwon Retreat, we always offer recommendations that move guests to the less well traveled roads and adventures. To advance this even further, we are adding a new tab to ErehwonRetreat.com which will give visitors additional opportunity to see our region through the eyes of exceptional artists and craftsmen who reside in the Central Florida area, and to give guests to Erehwon Retreat the opportunity to discover the glorious secrets of this region.
Poisonous frogs feast on insects that don’t even have names. Tropical lizards disappear into the cracks of trees whose branches spread out as wide as their trunks climb high. This is the real Florida, as it was before people, and probably will be after us, too.Nancy Pickard, author
Few artists capture the beauty and variety of Florida’s environment better than Peter Brannon. Peter lives in Seminole Heights. I discovered his work when reading of him winning the coveted Audubon Photography Award in 2015. His work draws upon the landscape of Florida which combines a varied ecosystem with migrating birds, native wildlife and plants and a year-round fruitfulness to create unmatchable opportunities to observe bird behavior. As he says himself, “…I photograph birds. There is something relaxing to the spirit in photographing them. Their variety can ensure that the love of the pursuit never ebbs, and the connection in the natural world that occurs can calm and center the mind.”
Peter Brannon’s work combines pinpoint sharpness with an understanding of the natural world that allows him to capture bird behavior, not just birds. It is this ability to recognize the relationship between the subject and its surroundings which give his photographs such resonance – they reveal the harmony of nature in a profound fashion.
Homes for rent in Florida allow visitors to discover the natural world that Peter Brannon’s photographs encapsulate so perfectly. The more relaxed pace that comes from staying in a vacation rental allows time to absorb the natural world, to enjoy undisturbed time examining the detail of a stunning landscape or, if we’re lucky, to watch a rare and beautiful animal going about its business right in front of us.
As far back as the 1890s, people were moving to Florida to make their dreams come true. Rock Scott, Florida Governor
Some places seem to have a knack for concentrating migrating birds in larger than normal numbers. These “migrant traps” often become well known as birding hotspots. This is typically the result of local weather conditions, an abundance of food, or the local topography. While Florida may literally be a dream come true for birders, and the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail offers 2,000 miles of opportunity to spot rare species, we can easily make recommendations within a 40-mile radius of Tampa. The stunning diversity and power of the Florida landscape cannot be better captured than in Peter Brannon’s work – a permanent memorial to the glorious secrets of Florida that go unseen by the majority of visitors.
Visit Tampa and discover more about the lives of birds. Many of our guests tell us that the thing they remember best was developing some birding skills and how when they returned home, they now think about making their neck of the woods a better place for wildlife.
Never Pay Florida Vacation Rental Service Fees Again
No matter if your Florida vacation is a lifetime’s dream or an annual family ritual, there are many changes to keep in mind this year, first Hurricane IRMA’s impact. Slightly more than 2 million homes were impacted with heaviest FEMA filings in South Florida. So, resist Instant Book and ask the property owners about their home, homes in the neighborhood etc.
Since last February there has been massive consolidation in Online Travel websites and vacation rentals have multiplied. But more than a few permanent residents don’t feel very welcoming to this ever-revolving door of new people week after week in their tight-knit neighborhoods. Along with that, service fees. Select communities’ and city leaders feel many new listings run afoul of residential zoning rules, and many post properties that may be dodging sales and bed tax, condo rules, or apartment leases, and guests are irritated with Service Fees imposed by the travel websites.
To help you find the ideal vacation, consider my 2017 top tips for finding the perfect vacation rental at the best price. As over 60% of American vacationers have yet to try a vacation rental, if this is a new idea also look at my 2015 top tips.
Lowest cost per night may not be cheapest
All properties advertised prices are pre-tax and usually without consideration of cleaning charge and often come with a whole host of ‘optional extras’ that you can’t avoid paying out for. When planning your trip, it’s good to remember that High and Peak Seasons are the time you’ll can expect a Florida vacation home rental will be 45-55% less compared with area hotel rates. With a vacation rental you’ll often be living in 2 to 5 times the space of the average 450 sq. foot hotel room. In the Off Season, hotels with rooms to fill are much keener to match vacation rental rates. Remember also that a hotel isn’t the same as a vacation rental home. Vacation rental properties are increasingly seeking to offer a unique experience, where every detail is designed to complement their locale and the kind of break their guests are seeking, whereas hotels focus on giving a standard experience wherever you are in the world.
Use trusted travel sites
When looking for a longer stay, HomeAway or Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO) may have the ideal place for longer stays – for example if you search on ‘Tampa FL’ you’ll find Erehwon Retreat listed. If your trip is a last-minute getaway AirBnB often offers excellent options particularly home shares in which the owner is present.
Trust your instincts, and your host’s instincts
Travel portals can be great, but remember algorithms rob us of the opportunity to be exposed to things we haven’t already endorsed. They place us within a prison of our own predetermined desires. We only get what we have wanted previously and nothing else. This is a limiting way to travel. Further, they increasingly are making changes that remove your email and phone number and don’t provide guests the property owners phone number or give the property owner any information about you. Many proprietors have set up their own websites to let you book direct and avoid the 9-16.4% service fees now being charged and in many sites offer a discount.
Whichever Online Travel Agency your potential vacation rental is listed on, reach deep into the review process and see what people have to say. Many properties are also reviewed on YELP, FOURSQUARE, TRUST PILOT, Google. It’s a disaster to discover your property changed hands and the new owners didn’t earn the rave reviews you read online. It’s also good to look at photographs taken by guests and ask the owner for more photos than are shown online to get a real sense not just of the property but of its location and the neighborhood. Google Street View can help give you a sense of what you’re renting. Keep in mind, Street Views are updated every three to five years. While OTAs make it easy to set up as a vacation rental owner, it takes a real commitment to become part of the Hospitality business. For example, I look five years ahead when planning for Erehwon Retreat and call upon eight years of successful vacation hosting to ensure that guests have a unique experience. That’s why at Erehwon Retreat our refresh program ensures every tiny detail makes your vacation special, as our Eight or Great post makes clear.
Rebuilding a 1920’s treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida
Many boats meet undignified ends, scuttled, wrecked or just abandoned. Some though, are restored to life. In the summer of 1979 I was wandering through the storage field of Essex Isle Marina in Connecticut when I came across a long-abandoned gaff rigged Wianno Senior Knockabout Sloop named Simba. Built in 1923, at some point she’d been left to rot in storage, but immediately her lines appealed to me. It was the beginning of a long relationship, and the foretaste of how much her launch year of 1923 would influence my life and restoration of my vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Erehwon Retreat.
Wianno Seniors – a brief pedigree
Since 1914, Wianno’s have had a reputation for rounding the mark and slicing past in a flash of brightwork, canvas and speed. Their ease of handling and seaworthiness made them popular both as racers and coastal voyagers. Fantasy #11 can be seen at Mystic Seaport Museum and Victura #94 – the boat purchased by Joseph P. Kennedy and sailed by his children and grandchildren – is on show at the John F Kennedy Memorial Library.
I found Simba to be able, safe and challenging – as did the many friends who sailed her – and for me, learning to get about without the fallback of auxiliary power allowed me to develop patience and a sensitivity to wind and tide that served me superbly when I moved, a decade later, to a Rhodes Offshore 40.
By 1986, the Wianno Association members were considering a fiberglass version. A few years earlier, Sparkman Stevens had hauled in five wooden Seniors at mid-season, weighing and electronically measuring each one. Using that study to determine the ideal characteristics of a Senior, the vessel was re-created as a three-piece fiberglass hull, deck and interior. The fiberglass Seniors look great and sail well, but as a veteran of the wooden sloop, I notice that the sound of the boat has changed.
Wooden sailboat restoration – love affair and learning curve
Simba, originally Hull 51*, was a leaking bucket when I bought her; years of hard racing on Nantucket Sound had put enough leaks in the bottom that just keeping her bailed would have exhausted a strong man and the cabin seemed only to filter out leaves. She was valued at no more than her unpaid yard bills – $500, so when I’d paid off her dues, I had her carefully loaded onto an overland boat carrier and moved from Essex to East Haddam, CT.
Her new home was the back yard of the wood boat repair shop run by Robert K. Wilmes whom I hired to serve as consultant for her restoration. Included in his consulting fee were storage rights on his property and the use of his tools, so, in season, we would meet every Friday evening for dinner before, on Saturday morning, list in hand, he would indicate exactly what I would need to accomplish in the next two day’s labor. I would leave NY City center with sufficient time to make the 15:30 Amtrak Boston train arriving at Old Saybrook station at 18:04 and then would come 48 hours of patience, practice and learning because, at least for the first few months, it was less accomplish than re-do. Getting the cut right was a literally painstaking process – winching in the curve to the right fit caused a beam to break and the wood flew back to within three inches of my head – a fraction further and I’d have been dead.
Wianno Seniors were constructed from native white oak which was used for framing the stem, keel, deadwood, sternpost, knee and horn. Simba, whom I renamed Corsair, was carvel planked using 13/16-inch cypress. This was standard until 1932, but Wiannos from that date onward had planks of Honduras mahogany. They all had 600 lbs. iron on the keel as external ballast.
Bob Wilmes directed me to start with the deck, deck beams, demo the cockpit, cockpit staving, so that I could inspect, repair or sister her frames, which were 1 1/2 inches square, spaced 9 inches on centers. The original frames were dovetailed and wedged in the keel.
Then, under his tutelage, I moved onto deck beams – oak spaced 10 inches on centers – and added a watertight cockpit floor made of fir plywood 5/8-inch-thick, before fiberglassing the surface. The cabin trunk was the steam bent white oak that had nearly cost me my life.
The new cabin deck was 3/8-inch marine plywood, canvas covered, glued and ironed, the same for the process of fixing the deck canvas, covered with white oak rub rails I had fashioned. The hull itself was wooded – removing all paint and exposing the bungs. Following their removal, I drew out as many of the galvanized fasteners as I could, replacing each with a new stainless steel one.
The hull above the waterline received a coat of Penetrol followed by a primer and then Interlux French Gray with white intrusion line. The decks, received three coats of buff. The outside bright work was given two sealers and eight coats of spar varnish. Below the waterline, after the garboard and shudder planks had been replaced by Bob himself, she received one prime coat followed by two coats of antifouling green.
By the time she was ready to launch in June 1982, I was ready to move from the NY City Centre Joffrey Ballet and accepted a position at the Guthrie Theater. It was, as people say today, a no-brainer; a new wood Wianno Senior would cost me $40,000 and anyway, I had thousands of hours literally grained into the wood of the boat, so I negotiated her transport to Minnesota as part of my relocation costs.
In Minnesota, I changed Corsair to Kirby paint, after consulting with the restoration team at Mystic Seaport. They advised me to move away from paints that contained modern acrylics as these would harden the wood. Acrylic-free surfaces definitely made prepping the topsides much easier each spring. Another advantage of moving to Minnesota was that some of the many talented craftsmen in the Guthrie scene shop were available to hire for boat work on the side. The Wianno’s new tiller, fashioned as a copy of the original, was the result of one such collaboration.
Boat restoration – a bug you can catch
There was another unexpected outcome to the Minnesota move. Boats are one of those places that great friendships spontaneously and naturally develop, and it gives me great pleasure to recall teaching my boss, Ed Martenson, to sail. He caught the bug, has restored two boats of his own, and we’ve crewed on each other’s boats for over a quarter of a century.
The history of Hull 51
I sold Corsair following the 75th Anniversary of the Fleet at Osterville in 1989, where she won Best Prize for Restoration. But she wasn’t done with me. One evening I found myself wondering how many fiberglass Seniors had actually been built? Going through the Wianno Senior Class Association‘s members list by hull number and comparing that information with a page from the 75th Anniversary book revealed who had owned a Senior in 1935. I discovered that, at that time, Hull 51 was named King Tut and owned by Lawarson Riggs Jr of Woods Hole. A Google search later I had turned up a letter from his law office written, as Treasurer of the Woods Hole Institute, to the Rockefeller Foundation. Riggs was born in St. Louis, where I went to college at Washington University. He attended Columbia Law School and lived at 70 W 11th. When I was a similar age, I lived at 20 E 8th. His law focus was Estate and Tax, an area I follow intently as a career fund raiser. The parallels intrigued me.
In 1989, Victor M Tyler purchased Corsair through my boat broker and renamed her Hilda. Several months later I received a registered package containing her name board and brass letters along with a note asking if Corsair had ever been moored off of Bracketts Point? I called him to confirm – George and Sally Pillsbury had indeed been gracious enough to invite me to place a mushroom anchor off their property. His response was a deep sigh; he had visited his cousin Ella Pillsbury who lived right next door and Corsair was part of a boat class he had long known.
1923 – a year that has come to dominate my life
With Corsair gone, my awareness of 1923 slipped from sight, but it was simply waiting under the surface. When I retired to Tampa, Florida, I purchased a bungalow and cottage built in … 1923. It took me a year of restoration to achieve the 1920s ambience I wanted for the properties and when I’d finished, I named them Erehwon Retreat – vacation rental properties in Tampa that are lovingly crafted reminders of the glories of the Roaring Twenties.
* For those who love the genealogy of boats as well as people, Hull #51’s name history is: 1. King Tut 2. Golden Fleece 3. Simba 4. Corsair 5. Hilda
November kicks off the winter cruise season, which is the busiest time of year for Port Tampa Bay and Erehwon Retreat’s more complicated booking season. Each season we host a few cruise line passengers for a week’s visit preceding or following a cruise out of Port of Tampa.
From our historic perspective, the Port’s single largest embarkation took place in 1898 when Tampa received 30,000 troops bound for the Spanish American War. The initial wave, which included Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, departed on June 7 with 16,000 troops bound for Cuba. The Tampa Bay Hotel was used as the Officer Quarters. The Rough Riders were recruited mainly in the Menger bar in San Antonio and trained in front of the Alamo. Coincidentally, in my prior life managing the NY City Joffrey Ballet, whenever the company played San Antonio we stayed at the Hotel Menger next to the Alamo. I knew the story that they departed for the east by train, but that’s where the story stopped until I opened Erehwon Retreat. But that’s another blog post.
Port of Tampa Cruise Services
Carnival’s ships operate year-round four- and five-day cruises to the western Caribbean, including the popular destination at Mahogany Bay. Currently, the line also sails seven-day itineraries during the winter season and these will be offered year-round commencing January 2018.
Royal Caribbean’s two ships will provide four-, five- and seven-day cruises in the winter. And, for the first time, Royal Caribbean will operate four- and five-day summer cruises when Empress of the Seas begins sailing from Tampa on 30 April.
Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jade, will offer itineraries ranging from four to 12 days that will include a stop at its new island destination, Harvest Cay in Belize.
Rounding out Port of Tampa’s passenger offerings, Holland America has increased its passenger capacity by replacing a long favorite among Erehwon Retreat guests, the Veendam, with the Oosterdam.
2017 saw a 6% growth in passengers to a total of 813,934 over 188 sailings.
Unique Accommodations for Cruise Passengers
Erehwon Retreat is located just 4.6 miles from the Port of Tampa Cruise Ship Terminal; we coordinate our two properties during winter cruise season to turn over the same day arrival/departures of Saturday and Sunday. This allows cruise ship passengers to easily enjoy an evening show at The Straz Center for the Performing Arts, visit Ybor city, the historic Cigar District.
With a host who is a sailor and also ex US Navy, one of the subtle differences of staying at Erehwon is having special amenities for guests preparing for sea or returning to land. There are adjustments to avoid land sickness for some, and we know how to prepare our property so that guests rest peacefully in our 1920’s environment. Old Seminole Heights is Tampa’s first suburb (1911) and has been designated as a National, State and local Historic Landmark District.