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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.

Rebuilding a 1920’s treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida

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.

Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes
 

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.

Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes
 

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.

Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes

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.

Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes

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.

Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes

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

Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation HomesThere 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

Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes

 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.
Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes

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.

Rebuilding a 1920's treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida Florida Vacation Homes

* 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

EIGHT or GREAT – one Vacation Rental’s Refresh Program

EIGHT or GREAT – one Vacation Rental’s Refresh Program

 

EIGHT or GREAT - one Vacation Rental's Refresh Program Florida Vacation Homes

EIGHT or GREAT - one Vacation Rental's Refresh Program Florida Vacation Homes

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.

EIGHT or GREAT - one Vacation Rental's Refresh Program Florida Vacation HomesAt 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

EIGHT or GREAT - one Vacation Rental's Refresh Program Florida Vacation HomesWhile 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

 

Christmas in Florida - an Insider's Guide Florida Vacation Homes
Christmas in Florida - an Insider's Guide Florida Vacation Homes
Christmas in Florida - an Insider's Guide Florida Vacation Homes

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

Christmas in Florida - an Insider's Guide Florida Vacation HomesTampa 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

 

Christmas in Florida - an Insider's Guide Florida Vacation Homes

Christmas in Florida - an Insider's Guide Florida Vacation Homes

Christmas in Florida - an Insider's Guide Florida Vacation Homes

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.