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

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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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Foodie’s Guide To Miami Beach

sushiplate

photo© Zow Shuttleworth

Everyone knows I love food; which is why it might seem shocking that many years ago I was a picky eater. It would drive my mom crazy when I would fold my arms and scowl at the vegetables spread around my plate. It didn’t matter how much area the green beans covered on my plate, my mom always knew I hadn’t eaten a single one. Over time, the list of items I refused to eat became shorter, and the list of items I loved grew longer. Once I moved across the country, I became crazy about food. Florida opened my taste buds to an entirely new world of yummy deliciousness. No longer scared to try something new, I would find myself at many different Miami restaurants trying things I had never even heard of. Here is one blogger’s where to eat list with lots of reviews on Miami restaurants; and here is my shortened list that will please almost any appetite.

Emeril’s

Miami is known for its beaches, and eating from an outdoor terrace with an ocean front view makes Emeril’s one of my favorite places to go. Spend the day at the beach and settle down in a romantic setting while eating French or Creole cuisines with a dash of Caribbean flavor.

Barton G

Barton G is a chef who knows how to make a lasting impression on his guests. Juicy steaks, crisp chicken, and mouth-watering seafood are all on the menu, along with many other tasty appetizers and desserts. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I typically order water as my beverage, but not here, drinks are a must!

Pubbelly

One word: delicious. This place is better than good, it is amazing! I had heard of this place long ago and thought I would give it a go and see if it really was as good as people claimed. To my delight, it lived up to all the hype. The ribs, dumplings, and BBQ pork wings were all delicious and made me feel right at home, but what would shock my mother the most is how much I loved their green beans. Yes, the vegetables are to die for.

Sergio’s

When planning a vacation, eating fancy is always something I like to treat myself to, but some meals need to be both affordable and delicious. This family-friendly restaurant is the perfect place to sit back and eat an unforgettable sandwich and a sweet pastry. Plan the day with entertaining inexpensive activities and then stop at Sergio’s for a fun environment that serves Cuban cuisine on a budget.

Azul

For those wanting an unforgettable experience, Azul is the place. This is fine dining at its finest, and although it is on the more expensive side, the waterfront view and food are well worth it. Serving Mediterranean food, Azul is one of the most popular restaurants around; reserving a table is a must.

Latin Burger and Taco

The first time I ate here I was honestly hesitant. The idea of eating from a truck was new to me, but boy was I in for a surprise. The tacos have a unique taste and eating them along with French fries is a strange combination of yummy. A stop here won’t be regretted.

 

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6 Reasons To Be Addicted To Siesta Key Beach, FL

siestakeybeach

photo©Ben Clark

Growing up in California, I was surrounded by beaches and the freedom the ocean air brings. There were many times I spent walking back and forth with no precise agenda—except to enjoy the gentle breeze and calming crash of waves. The Pacific coast had the best beaches around; but to my pleasant surprise, Florida opened up an entirely new realm of beach-love. Siesta Key beach stole my heart the moment my feet pressed into that perfectly white, silky sand. From the sunsets to the location, there are many reasons to love Siesta Key beach, but here are six reasons it will have you so addicted you can’t help but come back for more.

1. The Sand is 99% Pure Quartz

When I said the first thing I fell in love with was the sand, I wasn’t kidding. The feel of the soft grains against your skin is incredible. One look down the shore and you will see people lounged out and sleeping. If there was a way for me to haul bags of sand home, my mattress would be quickly tossed to the curb and forgotten. Because the sand is Quartz and reflects the sun, it stays cool underfoot unlike the sand at other beaches that will have you hopping around because your toes are burning.

2. Siesta Key Village

A short walk away from the famous beach is an adorable village that makes up a few blocks. Shops filled with souvenirs, clothing, groceries, décor, and swimwear call you inside. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, it is fun to take a peak around. Intertwined with the shops are delicious restaurants and tasty treats. Michael’s on East serves tasty food in a 1940’s themed club atmosphere and has outstanding service. A favorite place of mine is Hob Nob Drive In; originally opened in the 1950s it will get your burger or hotdog cravings stopped. Another award-winning restaurant is the Broken Egg Restaurant that not only serves amazing food, but hangs breathtaking artwork along the walls. For an entertaining place to eat, the Blue Que Island Grill is a fine dining restaurant that adds live music to the experience.

3. Dolphin Watching

You don’t have to pay to go to SeaWorld to see dolphins jumping playfully through the air, at least not on Siesta Key beach. Every time I take a visit here, I am pointing out, excitedly to my friends, a new animal I spotted swimming through the waves. It is incredible to be in such close proximity to animals as amazing as dolphins.

4. Gorgeous Sunsets

Sunsets, oh how I love you. When a day at the beach is spent and my body begs me for sleep, I always begin packing up my bags and towels to go. As I turn to leave, the sun begins to hide itself and glow its perfect shades of color. No matter how sleep-deprived I am, or exhausted my body feels, I cannot walk away from its beauty. I tell you it is impossible to turn down a sunset while standing on Siesta Key beach.

5. Ideal Location for Weddings

Many times, while relaxing on the beach, I see a wedding ceremony not too far away. As I watch the bride and groom begin their marriage with a kiss, I am always astounded at the beauty around them. It is the prime location to get married. The ocean works as an elegant and timeless back-drop, the weather is ideal year-round, and the natural elements come together for dreamlike photographs.

6. Ocean Activities

To say it simply, Siesta Key beach is fun. There are so many outdoor activities to do, that no one could possibly squeeze them all into one short vacation. From the modest sand castle, to casual biking, peaceful kayaking, or adventurous parasailing high in the air, there really is something to do no matter how old, young, small or large your family is. I often watch enviously from the sidelines, people jumping around and spinning circles in the ocean on jet ski rentals. It is always watching those around me that has me saying, “Next time I come, I am going to try that.” It is that very reason, along with everything else, that brings me back every single time and will also be what brings you back too.

 

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Which Florida Tourist are You?

Have you ever vacationed in Florida? Well, you’re not alone; last year almost 90 million vacationers flocked to The Sunshine State. What makes Florida unique is that while it is a universal hotbed for travelers, the reasons for which folks travel there really run the gamut; from pumping fists at the clubs in Miami, to holding on tight on the roller coasters of Disney, to catching rays at the beaches of Siesta Key – there really is something for everyone in Florida, so what kind of Florida Tourist are you?

Use the infographic below to claim your identity, and learn exactly what kind of Florida Tourist you are!

Which Florida Tourist are You?

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13 Amazing Facts About Hawaii

Hawaii

photo©Grantzprize

A dream vacation to Hawaii is on plenty of people’s bucket lists, and it is no surprise why. Hawaii is one of the most unusual and breathtaking islands in the entire world. Millions, yes millions, of people travel across the ocean to soak up the sun and spend a few days drenched in the Hawaiian paradise. If I could, a trip here would be marked on my calendar every year. If you are thinking about a trip to Hawaii, check out these 13 amazing facts that might make you buy your plane ticket sooner than later.

1. Hawaii is nicknamed the “Aloha State.” I remember watching Miss Congeniality several years ago and laughing as Sandra Bullock teased the Hawaiian US contestant about the difficulty in ending a conversation on the phone when “Aloha” is used for both “hello” and “goodbye.” A trip here and you will quickly understand why Hawaii is called the “Aloha State” when you are welcomed with a kind “Aloha” as you both come and go.

2. You might wake up in the morning to a hot cup of coffee, but have you ever wondered how far those coffee beans have traveled? Hawaii is the only US state that grows coffee.

3. The first moon landing took a lot of preparation and practice in the 1960s. To get a similar experience to walking on the moon, astronauts trained by walking on Mauna Loa’s hard lava fields.

4. Hawaii was the final state to join the US. I never realized how young Hawaii is to our nation, but on August 21, 1959 it became the 50th state. My dad is older than that!

5. If you are getting tired of looking at skinny models stamped across magazines, you might be happy to hear that ancient Hawaiians thought heavier women were the most beautiful.

6. Hawaii is home to the rainiest place in the world. Don’t believe me? A stop to the island of Kauai and a hike up MT. Waialeale will give you proof with over 476 inches of rainfall per year. Don’t worry about bad weather on your vacation though, Mount Waialeale gets hit the hardest with precipitation because of its conical shape and geographical position between the ocean and trade winds.

7. Hawaii doesn’t do day light savings and is on a different time zone than almost anywhere else. That means no matter where you live, with very few exceptions, it will be a different time in Hawaii.

8. Growing up I dreamed of a trip to Hawaii. I pictured myself packing on the sunscreen, running around in a swimsuit, and swimming in the ocean to cool off from extreme heat. It had to be hot; it was next to the equator! Years later I learned what makes Hawaii so magical, is the warm temperatures that aren’t too hot. The highest recorded temperature was almost a hundred years ago on April 27, 1931, at 100 F. The lowest recorded was on May 17, 1979 at 12 F. A little closer to the ocean level (under 3000 feet) the lowest temperature was only 56 F. The temperatures are typically mild year round with an average of 82 F in July and an average of 72 F in January.

9. From east to west, Hawaii is the widest state in the nation.

10. A whopping 7,627,819 people visited Hawaii in the year 2007. That is a lot of people! Since the economy was been hit, those numbers went down about 5-10% but it doesn’t hide the fact that Hawaii is the place millions of people want to visit every year. In fact, in 2012 7,998,815 visitors went to Hawaii, breaking the previous record.

11. Waikiki attracts the most visitors with roughly 72,000 a day. If you add up all Hawaii tourists in the entire state, Waikiki makes up about 44 percent.

12. The Big Island of Hawaii has three active volcanoes. Many tourists stop to explore the 330,000 acres at The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island to see the many volcanoes.

13. Hawaii is made up of eight main islands and one of the islands, Niihau is privately owned by the Robinson family. Over 100 years ago, their ancestors bought it from King Kamehameha IV. How would you like to inherit an island? I know I would love my own island in Hawaii.

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