Owners Should Get the Guest Experience

teaching new renters to trust
Every year I go to a vacation rental with my husband, son and daughter-in-law.  This year we added a grand-daughter and there will be another next year so as you can imagine the experience is different every time as the family grows.  We are owners of vacation rental properties ourselves so it’s always interesting to see how others do it as we search, make our inquiries, book, travel to the property and enjoy our vacation.  Although we are familiar with all the processes, we’ll always come away with some learning points and AHA moments. In fact we have incorporated new procedures, replaced items and bought new products based on what ‘wowed’ us on our last stay. The guest experience can be very educational.

Search – Of course the search is where it all starts and we begin with a criteria of location, budget, property size, that is pretty much fixed, but after that it comes down to what captures our attention the most.

Learning Point 1 : Images must be spectacular, showing great looking bedrooms, immaculately clean kitchens and bathrooms, and attractive exteriors.  We have rejected properties that had bedrooms with ugly bed coverings and only two pillows; or a photo of a deck taken on a rainy day.  We’ve been swayed by an image of a table laid up for a meal, or a photo of a bookcase packed with paperbacks.  It’s interesting what will move us (an ordinary family) to book one place over another.

Communication – I tried to book a beautiful villa in Orlando for this past summer and sent an email to the owner asking about availability as it showed open on the listing.  I got such a curt response saying it was already booked – it felt like I had been told not to bother the owner – I would never think about booking it even if it became available. This guest experience opened my eyes to the value of great communication.

Learning Point 2: Make a point of being as helpful and friendly to everyone who inquires, even when you are fully booked.  These are the folks who may come back to you in a lean year so deserve as much attention as the ones who got in early.  Be polite, welcoming and encouraging, and you could get a customer for life.

Booking Process – We don’t really care how we book, as long as it is streamlined and doesn’t take effort.  We don’t want to be wiring money or going to the bank for a check to be sent in a different currency.  Credit cards, or Paypal works best for us.

Learning Point 3 – Either use a third party booking process or make sure your home-grown one is effortless for your guests.  Don’t make your guests do things they would not normally do such as faxing documents, going to the post office or bank etc.

The vacation:  We have been so fortunate in the past three years going to Maui, Costa Rica, and the Bahamas in that every place we have stayed has lived up to and mostly exceeded our expectations.  Each place has supplied a ton of information on the local area and offered contact with local people who could answer our questions.

Learning Point 4:  The people staying at your vacation rental probably don’t have any idea of what to do and where to go when they get there.  Help them plan by providing plenty of information before they go so they can book activities and events well in advance.

Have you been a guest in a vacation rental and used the guest experience to improve what you offer your guests?  What did you learn?  Let us know in the comments.

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Get to Know Geronimo!

Geronimo
It’s the ‘Giving Season,’ right? So we couldn’t think of a better time to introduce you to our friends at Geronimo! Geronimo provides a service that helps travelers, help property owners and benefits the community all at the same time.

Geronimo provides a platform where property owners and managers with vacant weeks can advertise their rental(s) at a discounted rate to travelers looking to save a few bucks on their next vacation. At least 50% of the rental costs will be donated to a charity of the traveler’s liking. Geronimo is calling this approach a ‘Win, Win, Win'; the property owners ‘win’ by filling vacant weeks, the travelers win by getting a discounted stay, and the charities win by receiving a donation. What a great concept!

Geronimo is the brainchild of Mike Last and Michael McFadden. McFadden is a veteran of the vacation rental industry, and he wanted to fill a void that he had identified long before. Mike Last had been working on a similar idea with Charity Helpers, LLC and when the two connected Geronimo was born.

Today Geronimo has a bunch of great vacation rentals all over the world. All the listings are free for owners, and there’s never any commission costs! Geronimo first makes any payments to the owners to account for the operational costs (cleaning fees, taxes, etc) and then the agreed-to percentage is sent to the receiving charity. Hassle free and heart warming – what a great combination!

Helping your favorite charity is a great way to start 2014. So, if you’re the owner of a vacation rental, and the idea intrigues you check out Geronimo.com and start giving back today!

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11 Best Vacation Spots To Escape Winter

beach

photo© Dottie Day

Winter in the north can make for a beautiful painted white landscape, but it comes with a price. It is cold! Even while wrapped up in blankets and snuggled up against the fire, the cold still manages to seep to your bones, leaving you begging for the warmth of the sun. Escape the snow and enjoy the tropical breeze on an island or beach. Soak up the sun for a few days or even weeks, so when you return you will be warm enough to make it through the rest of winter. It may not always be greener on the other side, but it certainly is sunnier! Grab your sunglasses and a bottle of sunscreen and book your trip to one of these 11 best vacation spots. You can even save money on your vacation if you plan ahead of time, stay in the state, and make it a road trip.

1. U.S Virgin Islands

I love traveling, but I have to admit that foreign places can make me a little uncomfortable at first. That is why the U.S Virgin Islands are the ideal place to visit if you want to leave the country and enjoy a tropical paradise while still enjoying the luxuries of paying with US dollars. The beaches and service will have you living like a king.

2. Los Angeles, California

With sunshine year-round, the Hollywood flair, and beaches all around, it is an easy and affordable place to escape the cold for a few days. Don’t expect it to be hot though! Los Angeles has a slight breeze but combined with the ocean air, it is the perfect temperature to keep you comfortable and not too hot.

3. Jamaica

The first words that come to mind when I hear “Jamaica” are energetic and sunshine. Jamaica gives off a warm energy the winter is truly the best time to enjoy the beaches, blue waters, and scenery. Many people start to get the winter “blues” after the holidays and need to escape the cold; Jamaica weather is ideal from December to April.

4. Orlando, Florida

Three words: Walt Disney World. It is the place where dreams come true for young and old. If you are a family hoping to have a week or two of fun together, then Orlando is the perfect place to fill up every minute of your days off without having to leave the country. Even if you don’t visit Disney, you still have an amazing, sunny, and adventure filled city for everybody to enjoy.

5. Sydney, Australia

The wonderful thing about Australia is their summer weather is during our winters. Take a visit to the famous Sydney Opera House located right on the harbor and snap some photos with your friends or family. Stroll the beaches and splash in the warm waves, or rent a boat and go sailing. Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and be awed by the ocean views.

6. Honolulu, Hawaii

Welcome to paradise! Millions of people travel here every year to enjoy the year-round perfect temperatures, the pristine beaches, crystal-clear water, and scenic volcanoes. A plane flight across the ocean and you will be enjoying a dream vacation, or at least my dream vacation.

7. Dominican Republic

Take a visit to Santo Domingo, the capital, and experience an entirely “New world.” I mean that literally; Santo Domingo is thought to be the first Spanish city ever built in the New World. With ancient buildings and architecture it truly is a fulfilling experience.

8. New Orleans, Louisiana

If you are looking for a place to sit back, relax, soak in the sun, and indulge in delicious food, well you found it. After hurricane Katrina the city is stronger and more alive than ever. Bourbon Street, museums, art, and the vast culture are just a few of the reasons to visit New Orleans.

9. Las Vegas, Nevada

If you are looking to have fun, well you definitely found it here! Las Vegas is a city built to entertain people. From magic and music shows, to gambling and sight-seeing, Vegas has it all.

10. Miami, Florida

The best time to visit Florida is during the winter months to enjoy the sun but not be completely boiled by it. The beaches are silky, smooth, and white, and the water is comfortably warm. Between the beaches, Cuban food, and friendly people you can relax and have fun.

11. Costa Rica

The beaches are like nothing you have ever seen before. They aren’t just tan or white grains of sand, they are black, gray, and even orange. The peaceful ocean along the jungle makes a beautiful backdrop to enjoy while you indulge in some delicious food. It is a great vacation for the traveler who wants to fit in as many exciting activities as possible, and the one who just wants to take a break and relax thanks to the many places to explore, relax, and discover.

 

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Spending New Year’s Eve In New York City

NYConNYE

photo© Anthony Quintano

New Year’s celebrations are always something I look forward to, even as a child. Before I could drive, I spent New Year’s Eve ripping up colorful paper into tiny little pieces with my cousins. After several bowls had been filled with paper, we waited for the countdown to begin. When midnight finally came, we would throw the paper repeatedly in the air. Once the paper had covered the floor, we would march around the house banging pots and pans with spoons while screaming. The entire day was spent preparing for those exciting ten minutes of fun. As I have gotten older, I no longer spend hours tearing paper up, but I do continue to celebrate. It is a fresh start to another year and the beginning of new adventures. To celebrate in the biggest way possible, I can’t imagine doing it anywhere other than New York City.

Watch the ball drop in Times Square

When I was little, and my parents would let me stay up late on New Year’s Eve, I remember watching the ball drop on the TV. There were thousands of people huddled together as they counted down the seconds to a new year. I wanted to be right there with them cheering and shouting with excitement. Watching the ball drop is on millions of bucket lists, and it is an exciting adventure that lasts for more than a few minutes. Before and after midnight, the streets are filled with live music and amazing performances. While the smiling people I watched on TV were joyfully cheering, the TV doesn’t show how much work they put in to get there. It is no easy thing to watch the ball drop, but if this is something you must do, then be prepared for lots of crowds and no bathrooms. Get there as early as possible because it is definitely overflowing with people.

Watch a Broadway Play

I have always had a soft spot for plays of all kinds, but there is something about a Broadway play that literally gives me goose bumps. The singing is phenomenal, and I will admit there have been very brief moments during a song that my eyes get a bit teary. If you are in New York City for a week or just a few days, you cannot leave until you have seen a Broadway play. One of my favorite family-friendly and upbeat performances is The Lion King.

Visit a Museum

New York has a strong history. Take a stop by Ground Zero Museum Workshop to remember the lives lost that very tragic day not too many years ago. You get to see pieces of the wreckage along with heart-wrenching photographs. If you love art or simply want to go to a museum that will dazzle you, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As the second most visited museum in the world, yes I said world, it will keep you busy gazing for hours.

Eat Yummy Food

I love to eat! I would eat all day long if I could. Whenever I plan a vacation, I always try to plan at least one meal to a completely new restaurant. The problem is New York City is not only huge but there are so many places to eat. A fun thing you can try out is a food tour. It sounds strange, but it is a great way to truly experience all of New York and the foods New Yorkers love. “Food on Foot Tours” is a guided tour that takes you around the city through subways and foot to some of the best food places around.

Planning and Safety First

As I said before, watching the ball drop is on millions of bucket lists and that means it is going to be very busy and crowded. The streets are packed around Times Square and it is best if you eat around where you are staying and don’t venture out too far. Read tips and advice on what to expect and how to plan your New Years before you write anything in stone. While planning out your trip to New York, don’t forget to plan for safety too. Before going anywhere, make sure your purse or wallet are safely by your side. Pockets inside jackets are great to keep unwanted hands off. Side purses that swing over the head and where you can keep your hand protectively over it will work great too. Never open your purse or wallet in a crowded place and don’t carry large amounts of cash. ]Avoid all public transportation on New Year’s Eve. It will be overpriced and hard to find. Plan out your day so you don’t get lost and always have a safe bathroom to use. There are plenty of things to to do or don’t do, but remember to have fun and enjoy the last moments of 2013.

 

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How to Travel like Santa

‘Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus…’ Yep, it’s that time of year when Ol’ Saint Nicholas makes his annual trip around the world delivering joy. But he won’t be the only one hittin’ the roads this holiday season. Santa’s travels are a bit different than ours. He never gets caught in a traffic jam; Santa never has his flight delayed; and Santa is most certainly never provoked into flashing an angry single-finger gesture out of his sleigh window towards fellow commuters. Nope, Santa’s travels always seem to go off without a hitch.

Let’s take a closer look at Santa’s holiday travels in comparison to ours.

How to Travel like Santa

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15 Must See Attractions In Myrtle Beach

myrtlebeach

photo© Perry Quan

Like most people, I love a good vacation. Once I have chosen the place to go, I begin planning my trip with activities, restaurants, site-seeing, and shopping. Many times I have returned from a trip to be told about attractions I missed out on. With a palm to my forehead, I promise myself the next trip I plan will involve the top places I didn’t know about before. I don’t want to miss out on the best museums in the country, or charming shopping strips, and I certainly don’t want you to miss out on them either. Knowing where to go and what to do in Myrtle Beach is the first step in preparing for your vacation. Don’t stress out about hitting every single spot; you can always visit again. Here are 15 attractions you and your friends or family can enjoy.

1. Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade

During the summer you can walk along this 1.2 mile boardwalk and experience the spectacular ocean view while stopping at restaurants and shops along the way. This is definitely the first place I would go to dive in and truly experience Myrtle Beach.

2. Broadway at the Beach

This is somewhere everyone must stop and spend a few hours. Although it is not by the beach, there are rides, restaurants, shows, and an aquarium all centered around a gorgeous lake.

3. Myrtle Waves Water Park

One thing is sure about South Carolina summers, they are hot! When it is hot outside, there is nothing like spending the day at a water park to keep cool while still enjoying the sun. With 30 rides spread out over 20 acres there are plenty of slides and pools for an entire day of entertainment.

4. Valor Park

If you have a family and need a place for the kids to run around and get out their energy, this park is full of fun playground toys.

5. The Market Common

After spending some time at Valor Park, walk on over to Myrtle Beach’s Market Common. Yes, I said walk! There are tons of unique places to shop, and if you love food like me, there are delicious dining spots too.

6. Brookgreen Gardens

This garden was named one of the top ten in the entire United States. That means it is definitely worth visiting. As an outdoor museum, the flowers, art, trees, and 1,500 sculptures are all worth seeing; especially during the summer on a jeep ride.

7. Barefoot Landing

This is a fun little spot filled with unique shops and restaurants. As a beautiful place to visit at night, you can grab some pizza and admire the lights striking off the water.

8. Ripley’s Aquarium

There are aquariums throughout the country, but this is one you must visit at least once in your life. Kids, and even adults, will enjoy petting the stingrays and watching the sharks swim right above your head.

9. Dunes Golf and Club Beach

If you golf or just want to try it out, this place is absolutely perfect with a challenging course and superb service. Even the scenery makes it worth playing a game or two.

10. Family Kingdom

This is a small but fun seaside amusement park that is open late and full of life. With old-fashioned rides, music playing, games, and carnival food, it is an experience kids and adults will enjoy.

11. Children’s Museum of South Carolina

Children’s museums are fun for kids from the time they can walk to when they are in their teens. If your family needs to escape the sun or rain, this is a safe, cool, and exciting place for a family to come play and make-believe.

12. Huntington State Park

If you want to spend an entire day outdoors, this is the place. The beach is clean, the water crystal clear, and the views are stunning. There are also bathrooms to clean-up in after playing in the sand.

13. T.I.G.E.R.S Preservation Station

To experience something you never have before and certainly won’t ever forget, this is the place to go. Although it is pricey, holding a baby tiger and being hands-on with the animals is worth every penny.

14. Carolina Safari Jeep Tours

This is a delightful tour to get you exploring Myrtle Beach on a thrilling jeep ride. You will see parts you wouldn’t see normally and even get some glimpses of alligators.

15. Carolina Paddle Company

Whenever I go on vacation, I always want to do something physically active and different. Paddle boarding is easier than it might look, and with the right guide, you can learn quickly.

Now you have a list of my 15 must see attractions in Myrtle Beach. Is there anything you think I missed?

 

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Holiday “Re-Charge” With Family Contest

It’s that time again! The Holiday Season is upon us, and that means there are plenty of gifts to be wrapped, meals to be cooked, and parties to be attended. The Holiday Season is magical, but it sure is tiring, too!

Let VacationHomeRentals.com help your family get “Re-Charged” after this Holiday Season, so that 2014 starts off fresh!

In the comment section below, just share the property type and/or number that would be your family’s top choice for post-holiday relaxation. The winner will be awarded $500 to start the New Year with!

The winner of the contest will be randomly selected, and announced December 31, 2013.

UPDATE! We Have a winner!!!!! Ginger W. of Austin, Texas was randomly selected as the winner of our Holiday ‘Re-Charge’ with Family contest :) Thanks for all those that entered. Please feel free to congratulate Ginger in the comments below!

Snow Bunny Escape Disney Lovers
A Taste for the Finer Things Out-of-the-Box Adventurers
Nature Explorers City Slickers
Beach Combers Log Cabin Living
Globetrotters California Dreamers
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Essential Information for Your Guests

teaching new renters to trust
When we become so familiar with a place and its individual quirks it’s easy to forget that guests may become confused over what seems like a very simple activity or procedure.  For example, lighting a barbecue when the automatic starter refuses to work, or flushing a toilet during a power outage when the electric water pump fails to start.  As vacation rentals become more popular with people from around the world we need to be aware they will not be as ‘at home’ and comfortable with systems and amenities as you probably are.  Here’s a few areas where it’s worthwhile delivering some extra information in your Welcome Book.

BBQ operation – most up to date barbecues have automatic starters and are easy to use, but they are prone to breakdown which can put some guests in a difficult position if they don’t know how to light them manually.  You could have guests who have never used a BBQ – you may be surprised how many there are – so having instructions on how to operate it is essential.  If your Welcome Guide is in a PDF downloadable format, you could include a link to a YouTube videos demonstration.

Entertainment systems – Of course you know your TV/DVD/DVR system like the back of your hand.  In fact your nine year old daughter or grand-daughter can probably zip through every part of the operation of the system, so why shouldn’t your guests be able to turn the TV on and off without disengaging the satellite?  After all, doesn’t everyone have this system at home?  Well no, they probably don’t – at least, not your set-up.  Giving guests an easy time to settle into your home means creating a quick start guide to all your entertainment systems.

Garbage separation – here’s another one that seems like a no-brainer, but every area will have different requirements for segregation if there is anything at all.  This is one where it really pays to lay it out clearly and ensure guests get it right, because if you don’t either you or your caretaker may end up elbow deep in someone else’s holiday garbage separating bottles and cans.  Most guests are eager to comply with local recycling regulations and they just need to know what you want them to do.  If transparent bags are required, make sure you supply them, because it’s unlikely your guests will be bringing them with them.

Power Outages – it seems like it should be common sense when the power goes out, to ensure the stove is switched off, but when it happens to your guests (particularly when they have just arrived) they can be very confused.  They are in unfamiliar surroundings and have not had sufficient time to find their way around.  If they were cooking when the power failed, they might easily forget that a hob ring was left on, which could create a dangerous situation if they ultimately go to bed and the power comes back on.  A power out information sheet needs to be placed somewhere they will see it when they arrive.

Driving regulations – Did you know that there are no 4-Way or All-Way junctions in Europe and UK?  This means that your overseas visitors may sit in total confusion at a four way, not knowing they are meant to take their turn.  Similarly, there are no rules governing stopping for school buses across the pond.  If you don’t want your guests to arrive in a bad mood because they have been ticketed on the way from the airport to your place, send them some driving guidance before they arrive.  It is always useful to prepare a Guide for International Guests that covers all the things that you take for granted, but they don’t know if they have never traveled to the US before.

Your goal should always be to be one step ahead of your guests, anticipating problems that may arise and giving them tools to deal with them before they happen, or to at least manage them with minimal fuss.  Being proactive with comprehensive information is always preferable to having to react to a panic call from your guests.

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Security Deposit Alternatives

teaching new renters to trust
The topic of damage/security deposits is one of the most contentious in the vacation rental industry and not without cause.  Home owners take a risk when offering their property for rental and the degree of stress this will cause is highly dependent on their tolerance and attitude to risk.  There are different options available and the one you take may depend on identifying what your take on risk is.

There’s been a lot of research involving risk and attitudes, mostly related to project management, and the subject can be complicated, however it can all be stated fairly simply that the level of tolerance to the risk taken in our vacation rental business is related to the attitude we take as owners to our guests and the potential for damage they may cause.

Are you risk averse, risk neutral, or risk tolerant? Your attitude to this could impact your choice of security deposit method. Here’s a couple of examples

Owner A is new to rental and has heard all sorts of horror stories about partying, overcrowding, damage and things going missing so could be classed as risk averse.  She is fearful this will happen at her house so requires a large damage deposit that will be returned after the vacation is over and the property has been checked.  She has an extensive set of ‘rules’ guests must follow and may even have additional charges for things like ‘Extra Cleaning'; ‘Garbage Removal’, and/or ‘Broken Items’.

Outcome: Guests to A’s property may feel they are not trusted to behave in the way the owner expects.  They may enjoy their stay but spend their time worrying that they will be charged for any breakage or what may be generally considered ‘wear and tear’.  Their reviews may rave about the location and quality of the property, but will probably mention their experience was spoiled somewhat by not being trusted and worry that they may not receive their damage deposit back in full if they transgress in any way.

Owner B is risk neutral. He recognizes that the fear of the risk far outweighs the probability, however also appreciates that accidental damage may happen and wants to be covered should something occur that was not foreseeable.  This is something like a pan with a hot handle being dropped on a ceramic hob, or a red wine spill on a carpet.  He takes a two-pronged approach to the security deposit issue and uses a third party damage protection policy which costs his guests around $50 (coverage up to $2500), and also holds a credit card authorization for non-accidental or pet damage.  B’s  Property Guide clearly states the damage protection policy does not cover damage that could have been foreseeable or preventable and the rental agreement asks guests to sign to agree to be charged for non-accidental damage such as that caused by pets.

Outcome: B’s guests feel comfortable they have coverage if something should occur accidentally, but this doesn’t tend to make them less careful.  Their responsibilities are clearly stated in the Terms and Conditions of rental and are generally clearly understood.

Owner C is very risk tolerant, has been in the business for many years with very few incidents of damage of any nature.  She recognizes that her guest groups have varying standards of cleanliness but balances the many great changeovers against the odd poor one.  She has never charged any guest for accidents and enjoys a very high rate of repeat guests.  She does not take any form of upfront damage deposit however self-insures by collecting a $49 damage protection fee from each booking.  This is put into a fund that is used to replace any damaged item or repairs needed.

Outcome:  C’s guests feel valued that the owner trusts them to look after the property.  Because of the high rate of return guests, they have more of a vested interest and generally leave in in excellent condition.  In fact on the occasions where something has been broken or damaged the guests have often left a sum of money for replacement or repair.

Everyone has an opinion on this topic and some owners who have been renting for many years would not consider doing anything differently, but there are new options and products available that can help create a more confident and trusting relationship between owners and guests. It may be worthwhile thinking about an alternative to your current security deposit approach if your risk tolerance improves.

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Amenity Accuracy

teaching new renters to trust
I’m not generally given to rants but occasionally things occur so frequently I have no option but to make my irritation public.  And, if it helps vacation rental owners to look at what they are offering in the way of amenities and facilities and be more accurate about them, I will have achieved my goal.  The topic of the day is amenity accuracy, and more specifically WiFi.

Each year, I do an extended road trip in an RV and we stay in RV sites across the US.  Mostly these are full service commercial places as well as a number of state parks, and we do the research thoroughly.  We read reviews.   We choose places based on a number of criteria, much the same as our vacation rental guests use when they pick out their holiday home.  Our key must-haves are:

Privacy – I don’t want to be jam packed in so I can lean out of my window and shake hands with my neighbor doing the same, so I want to see photos showing what it looks like when the site is full, not empty.

Cleanliness of facilities – we have pretty much everything on board our fifth wheel but still use laundry and dump trash so I expect these areas to be kept clean, neat and tidy.

WiFi – I should have put this first!  I work on the road – writing blog posts; posting audio and video etc, and the quality and speed of the site internet is my primary concern.  And, when a site advertises hi-speed internet and we arrive and it’s non-existent or at best, patchy, my husband knows that is the time to hide.

The term “internet access” can be interpreted in a number of ways and if you are a rental guests for whom having a connection is vital, I urge you to contact the owner prior to the rental and establish how robust it is and if there are any restrictions.

If you are an owner and offer an internet service, be very careful how you advertise it.  If there are restrictions on usage, please make them clear before your guests arrive.  If they come expecting to be able to stream Netflix, and have the kids access YouTube 24 hours a day, and then find there’s a measly gig or so allotment, there will be some unhappy campers.  You may not find out how unhappy until a review or two gets posted, by which time it’s too late.

This is not the place for a diatribe on the personal impact this has, but I want to share my frustration in general at seeing amenities and facilities described in glowing terms, when the reality is way below the expectations. Amenity accuracy is the right thing to do. I know that occasionally things occur beyond an owners’ control – something gets broken and cannot be fixed in time, or there’s a breakdown in a system, but when an owner is perfectly aware of an issue that may occur and does nothing to prepare their guests for the possibility of losing access to it, they should expect the consequences.

OK….that’s off my chest and I can go back to enjoying the Florida sunshine before trekking up to the nearest Starbucks to post this online!

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