From the Start – Commitment to Hospitality

From the Start – Commitment to Hospitality

From the Start - Commitment to Hospitality Florida Vacation HomesWhere 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

From the Start - Commitment to Hospitality Florida Vacation HomesWhat 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.

Book Direct with No Service Fees. Ever.

Never Pay Florida Vacation Rental Service Fees Again

Book Direct with No Service Fees. Ever. Florida Vacation HomesNo 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.

Read reviews

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.

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation HomesTampa is rich in history, geography, weather and cuisine, so here are a few of our insider tips to help rental vacationers make the best of their Tampa trip.

1. Tampa’s got history

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation HomesBest kept secrets in Tampa include the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders mustered here before heading to Cuba – Remember the Maine. Tampa’s exotic history may not be obvious to a vacation rental visitor but 150 years ago it was the railhead for cattle shipments to Cuba. This influenced almost every aspect of Tampa life, and today visitors can take a trip on an electric streetcar from Tampa to Ybor City whose architecture reflects the area’s Spanish-Cuban roots, with a style reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Beautifully renovated cigar factories make clear the strong links between the two nations.

2. Sandwiches and Coffee

Ybor City was once known as the “Cigar Capital of the World” – it boasted 200 factories with 12,000 cigar-makers who rolled 700 million cigars a year, outproducing Havana. Difficult to believe? Not if you try Tampa’s strong coffee and satisfying pressed sandwiches – both part of our Cuban heritage.  Where do you find the best of both? That depends on who you ask, but the family-run Aquila is a great start; fabled for their delectable roast pork. In nearby Seminole Heights Jet City Espresso (5803 N Florida), just half a mile from Erehwon Retreat, is hosted by Jessica Conlan and her cozy bungalow dispenses coffee, espresso, chai latte and her signature Cafe Borgia, a honey-and-orange-infused latte. For pure Cuban coffee, kick it old school at El Molino, a simple café attached to Ybor City’s Naviera Coffee Mills, which has been in business for nearly a century (2012 E. 7th Ave.).

3. Beer city

Recently rated one of “America’s Top Ten Emerging Beer Towns”, Tampa has a bounty of brews to tempt vacationers. Cigar City Brewing (3924 W. Spruce St. an industrial estate near the airport) salutes its hometown by brewing up some very Tampa beers: a bright, fruity Guava season (the city’s nickname is the Big Guava) and the rich Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout -it’s what makes Cigar City famous.  For more of the local good stuff, head to Seminole Heights where The Independent was one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement in the Tampa Bay area and continues to offer rare and unique beers and wines from around the world. In the same neighborhood, Angry Chair has a unique tasting room with diverse offerings. Folks love C 1949, a quaint, dog-friendly little hole-in-the-wall beer garden with plenty of seating, live music and rotating food trucks outside. Finally, take in America’s oldest beer-brewer, which has a home right here in Tampa Bay. The Yuengling Brewery, complete with a “biergarten” where you can sample Yuengling’s rich heritage, offers free tours of the facility Monday-Friday.

4. Manatees, the cutest animals on the planet

So, you might not think a giant power plant is the best vacation spot, but the adorable manatees who winter in the warm waters adjacent to the gargantuan Tampa Electric facility (6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach) think it’s just perfect. The utility company has constructed a popular Manatee Viewing Center, with exhibits that teach visitors more about these friendly beasts, surrounded by other delights including butterfly gardens. Winter vacation rentals are the lucky ones because the manatees tend shove off around mid-April, once the weather gets warmer and return by early December.

5. The great food offerings of Seminole Heights

Make tracks for the neighborhood’s Taco Bus, a hipster-junkyard set-up with a very good food truck and outdoor seating; it’s open weekends all year round (913 E. Hillsborough Ave.) For something more elegant dine at the James Beard nominated ‘The Refinery’ (5137 N. Florida Ave.) Finally, drop into Ichicoro, a unique fusion of Asian and Cuban ramen (5229 N. Florida Ave.) or a check out Ella’s Folk Art Cafe on Sundays (they’re known as “Soul Food Sunday”) for chicken, waffles, live music and fun cocktails like the Po-mosa, combining Narragansett beer and Tang (5119 N. Nebraska Ave.). 

6. Key Lime Pie

So, it might be a staple of the whole South but it began in the Keys. The key lime tree arrived in Florida in the 1500s and recipes for the pie began appearing as early as the late 1800s, though it became really popular in the 1930s. Some restaurants make it with graham cracker crust, others with pastry. Either way, it’s a must-have several times over and in Seminole Heights we love Trips Diner for this very special confection.

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation Homes 7. The world’s longest continuous sidewalk

Tampa is a record breaker. Bayshore Boulevard, which runs along Tampa Bay through the city’s pleasant Hyde Park neighborhood and on to points south, isn’t just the city’s most scenic street, it’s also a four-and-a-half-mile linear bay-front park favored by local joggers and walkers. It’s a fantastic way to work up an appetite for lunch. On Sunday follow the in-the-know local foodies and make a beeline for lunch at the Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida (a.k.a. the local Thai Buddhist temple). Here, food vendors set up mid-morning every Sunday, dishing out authentic Thai eats (cash only) to a hungry audience. Stick around to enjoy the riverfront grounds (5306 Palm River Rd.)

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation Homes8. The kids will totally dig it

With exhibits that combine the educational with the awesome, the Glazer Children’s Museum – a 53,000 square-foot spa which opened its doors in 2010 – has been a hit with the younger set from day one, featuring climbing structures that teach about water, a firehouse with a working pole (and a “fire truck” you can drive), plus many more items that make learning fun. The nearby Florida Aquarium offers exhibits that range to the dramatic (anyone want to swim with sharks?) to the educational. Still got energy? There’s always Busch Gardens, Tampa’s most famous family attraction.

9. Life’s a beach

It certainly is in Florida which might be the third most populated state but still has miles of beach not covered in footprints or fishing lines. One of Florida’s greatest beaches and hiking areas is at Ft. Desoto State Park, with its nearby historic beach community of Pass-A-Grille. Travelers from St. Petersburg and Tampa began visiting Pass- A-Grille as long ago as 1857 and have never stopped.  Great beach-combing, quaint shops, sunset dining, it makes for a perfect day. And talking about perfect days – according to the National Weather Service, the sun shines, on average, 361 days a year in Tampa Bay.

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation Homes10. Perfect vacation rentals

There are 2,000 restored Craftsman and Mediterranean bungalows in Seminole Heights where you can find well reviewed Arts and Craft vacation rentals like Erehwon Retreat (5801 N Suwanee Ave).  Proprietor owned vacation rentals give their guests the lowdown on all that’s best in the local area … so your trip is unforgettable and your memories are wonderful.

We have a comprehensive listing of Area Attractions & Events where you can find details, maps, addresses, and links to the area’s entertainment.

Native planting – a gift to the planet and the vacationer

Native planting – a gift to the planet and the vacationer

My childhood encounters with nature were limited to New York’s Central Park – a manicured sense of the native environment to say the least, and as an adult, first serving in the US Navy and then living aboard my Rhodes Offshore 40 cruising from Duluth to the Bahamas, my understanding of the natural world was that of an ocean dweller gazing at the shore.

Native planting - a gift to the planet and the vacationer Florida Vacation Homes

So, when I moved to Florida I had only principles, rather than any gardening experience, to bring to bear. My primary focus was to ensure that I created a living environment that let everything live – not just me and my vacation rental guests, but every native creature, great and small, that belonged in the same space and that meant ensuring there was space, air, food and water for all. It sounds laudable – but how to put it into practice?

When I began designing Erehwon Retreat, a historic vacation rental in Tampa, my objective was to include the maximum number of plant species that are native to central Florida. In other words, to avoid the kind of landscape design that ‘Big Box’ nurseries sell to their clients. The picture most visitors have of Florida is very simple: ‘gators and swamps, but in fact the central Florida native plants are both varied and complex – for over 5,000 years they have created an ecosystem that supported varied wildlife and renewed resources as they were used and this natural adaptation to climate and water, to cyclical ‘disasters’ and to the local geology is something Florida ignores at its peril.

Working with Wilcox Nursery from Largo, Fl meant that in combination with excellent landscape design and a native plant nursery, I was given a ground up education in the value of native plants which would make my investment in a native planting worthwhile. Working over three seasons we implemented a vacation rental garden design that would preserve and promote native species – but this garden plan wasn’t just an idealistic notion; native plants cost less to purchase, need less maintenance, reduce fossil fuel use (no lawn mowing) and make fewer demands for water or fertilizer.

Not only that, but a native garden fits perfectly with the design imperatives of 1923, when Erehwon Retreat was built. America was seeking an alternative to Victorian architecture and had a fascination with utility, beauty and artisan design. The idea that living in harmony with nature was both sensible and rewarding was burgeoning and so our native species landscape is a harmonious outgrowth of the surrounding world.

Of course, we can’t control every aspect of the garden and it does contain one ‘exotic’ variously known as the Cup and Saucer, Chinese Hat, or Mandarin’s hat – the Holmskioldia, and one invasive species that arrived from China in the late 1800’s – the Camphor which was much used in incense and medicines as well as being a popular insect repellent. To balance these ‘non-natives’ who have protected status due to their age and environmental value, we’ve planted new native trees; Long Leaf and Slash Pines to help restore the original habitat.

Native planting - a gift to the planet and the vacationer Florida Vacation Homes

We’ve also reduced impermeable surfaces such as concrete, by replacing cement with bricks, stone, pine-straw mulch and bark chips. Rainwater is able to penetrate these porous surfaces and not only irrigate the soil but remove pollutants – by combining good planting and imaginative materials we have increased the oxygen production, pollution reduction and water retention 30% more than the previous lawn could achieve.

You might think that all this makes little visible difference and it’s true that the microbes, fungi, 200 wild bee species and countless insects who support, and are supported by, our vacation rental landscape aren’t evident. But in spring and fall our rental guests are wowed by the bird migration visitors we receive at Erehwon Retreat – all that invisible activity makes us a beacon for beautiful indigenous and migrating birds who would otherwise struggle to find food and shelter in Florida’s massive urban sprawl.

For those who love horticulture, a complete list of every plant in the garden can be found below. For those who love sensitive restorations and seek a vacation rental that calms the spirit, rewards the eye and benefits the environment, Erehwon Retreat awaits you! And thrilled to announce the Natl’ & Fl Wildlife Federation designated our garden as a Wildlife Habibit in August 2019.

The Florida Dream

The Florida Dream from 1923 to today

Florida is the dream vacation for visitors from all over the world … and since the turn of the century, it’s been the winter break of choice for many Americans. Today international travelers can make it to Florida from almost anywhere on the planet in less than 24 hours – but that wasn’t always the case.

What compelled these earlier generations to make such a journey? Many things: Florida weather, vacation rentals that offered grace, style and comfort, the unspoilt natural beauty of the Florida Keys, the new craze for ‘sunbathing’, freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast … well, all the same things that draw today’s visitor, come to think of it.

The Florida Dream Florida Vacation HomesBut the way they traveled was very different. Before the 1890s, only the rich could afford vacations and they traveled with an entourage of servants, staying in grand hotels that were often constructed by the very railroad companies that transported them to their destination. It wasn’t until 1896 that the rail line actually got as far as Miami and 1912 for Key West. Even then, once you got to Tampa, you had to transfer to a steamer to travel to other west coast such as Sarasota and Fort Myers.

The Florida Dream Florida Vacation HomesBeginning in 1908 the Model T (tin lizzie, leaping Lena) generally regarded as the first affordable automobile, the car that opened travel to the common middle-class American was rolling off the line and soon the first two national highways (1911-1915).  The Dixie Highway S and the Lincoln Highway W brought tin canners – people taking their first ever vacation, in a car packed high with bedding, books, clothes and canned food to sustain them during their days and nights of travel. At the same time, the short-lived St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line became the world’s first scheduled passenger airline service.

Now that vacationers were arriving, they needed places to stay. Florida’s natural abundance of slash and long leaf pine meant that it became the obvious building material, today the Heart Pine floors of Erehwon Retreat always astonish our guests.

The Florida Dream Florida Vacation HomesFinally, by 1928, it became possible to drive from Tampa, via the Tamiami Trail, to Miami but in the weeks ahead, we’re going to tell you why this road shaped the future of Florida.

By the 1950s Snowbirds were common. These weren’t migrating flocks of exotic birds but affluent people who could afford to rent a property for the whole winter – they often picked their vacation rental from a brochure that had been mailed to them – the precursor of browsing online today! After that things moved rapidly.

The Florida Dream Florida Vacation Homes1995 saw the next huge leap – Vacation Rental by Owner or VRBO. Individual vacation property owners began to move into the space that had previously been occupied by the real estate firms. Personal bookings of winter vacation rentals became possible, and popular. In 2008 Airbnb disrupted the market again and the ability to book short term stays (average 5.4 days) through their site became possible. But by 2016 many vacation rental owners were recognizing that some things had been lost along the way – the personal communication between renter and property owner, the ability to communicate little details that turn a vacation into an unforgettable experience for example. Booking direct from a vacation rental owner’s website has brought back some of those personal touches and also cuts some costs!

Erehwon Retreat aims to offer the best of both worlds. In decor and ambience, we hark back to that earlier, simpler time when the economy boomed and women bobbed their hair, when a scandal was the sight of a lady’s ankle and a box office success was Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But today’s vacation rental pros require very different things to their forebears, so instead of offering tennis lessons or tea dances, our Florida getaway provides luxury, elegance and style. Vacation rental by owner means our visitors walk into a property that is as loved, and lovely, as a home and our vacation rental website means that we keep our visitors in touch with all the great activities that Tampa Bay and Seminole Heights has to offer, whilst ensuring that they don’t miss out on a single aspect of Florida’s amazing tourist economy from theme parks to food festivals.

Whether they come from Denver or Denmark, Austin or Australia, our visitors delight in the personal touches that make Erehwon Retreat into much more than a home from home – it’s the ideal base for a dream holiday, and the perfect place to come back to at the end of the day.