In the busy seasons, reserve ahead for the top properties. In general, the peak seasons are during the Christmas holidays and from late January through Easter in the southern half of the state, during the summer along the Panhandle and around Jacksonville and St. Augustine, and in both time frames in Orlando and Central Florida. Holiday weekends at any point during the year are packed; if you're considering home or condo rentals, minimum-stay requirements go up in these periods, too. Fall is the slowest season, with only a few exceptions (Key West is jam-packed for Fantasy Fest at Halloween). Rates are low and availability is high, but this is also the prime time for hurricanes.
Children are welcome generally everywhere in Florida; however, the buck stops at spring breakers. Hotels are fair game—and some even cater to them—but almost all rental agencies won't lease units to anyone under 25 without a guardian present.
Pets, although allowed at hotels more and more often (one upscale chain, Kimpton, celebrates its pet-friendliness with treats in the lobby and doggie beds for rooms), often carry an extra flat-rate fee for cleaning and de-allergen treatments, and are not a sure thing. Inquire ahead if Fido is coming with you.
Apartment and House Rentals
The state's reputation for visiting snowbirds (northerners who "flock" to Florida in the winter) has caused private home and condo rentals to be a booming business and at times a better option for vacationers, particularly families who want to have some extra space and cooking facilities. In some destinations, home and condo rentals are more readily available than hotels. Fort Myers, for example, does not have many luxury hotel properties downtown. Everything aside from beach towels is provided during a stay, but some things to consider are that sizeable down payments must be made at booking (15% to 50%), and the full balance is often due before arrival. Check for any cleaning fees (usually not more than $150). If being on the beach is of utmost importance, carefully screen properties that tout "water views," because they might actually be of bays, canals, or lakes rather than of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic.
Finding a great rental agency can help you weed through the junk. Target offices that specialize in the area you want to visit, and have a personal conversation with a representative as soon as possible. Be honest about your budget and expectations. For example, let the rental agent know if having the living room couch pull double duty as a bed is not OK. Although websites listing rentals directly from home owners are growing in popularity, there's a higher chance of coming across Pinocchios advertising "gourmet" kitchens that have one or two nice gadgets but fixtures from 1982. To protect yourself, talk extensively with the owners in advance, see if there is a system in place for accountability should something go wrong, and make sure there's a 24-hour phone number for emergencies.
American Realty of Captiva. Lower Gulf Coast (Captiva Island) 800/547-0127. www.captiva-island.com.
Endless Vacation Rentals. Unused time-share units from all major Florida cities and regions. 877/782-9387. www.evrentals.com.
Florida Keys Rental Store. Florida Keys 800/585-0584 or 305/451-3879. www.floridakeysrentalstore.com.
Freewheeler Vacations. Florida Keys 866/664-2075 or 305/664-2075. www.freewheeler-realty.com.
Interhome. Daytona Beach, Miami, Orlando, Sarasota, Florida Keys, Lower Gulf Coast, Tampa Bay Area 954/791-8282 or 800/882-6864. www.interhomeusa.com.
ResortQuest. Panhandle 800/336-4853. www.resortquest.com.
Sand Key Realty. Tampa Bay Area (beaches) 800/257-7332 or 727/443-0032. www.sandkey.com.
Suncoast Vacation Rentals. Panhandle (St. George Island) 800/341-2021. www.uncommonflorida.com.
Villas International. Miami, Orlando, Broward County, Florida Keys, Lower Gulf Coast, Palm Beach County, Tampa Bay Area 415/499-9490 or 800/221-2260. www.villasintl.com.
Wyndham Vacation Resorts. Orlando, Daytona Beach, Broward County, Panhandle 800/251-8736. www.wyndhamvacationresorts.com.
Small inns and guesthouses in Florida range from modest, cozy places with home-style breakfasts and owners who treat you like family, to elegantly furnished Victorian houses with four-course breakfasts and rates to match. Since most B&Bs are small, they rely on various agencies and organizations to get the word out and to help coordinate reservations.
BedandBreakfast.com (512/322-2710 or 800/462-2632. www.bedandbreakfast.com.)
Bed & Breakfast Inns Online (800/215-7365. www.bbonline.com.)
BnBFinder.com (888/547-8226. www.bnbfinder.com.)
Florida Bed & Breakfast Inns (877/303-3224. www.florida-inns.com.)
Wherever you look in Florida, you'll find lots of plain, inexpensive motels and luxurious resorts, independents alongside national chains, and an ever-growing number of modern properties as well as quite a few classics. In fact, since Florida has been a favored travel destination for some time, vintage hotels are everywhere: there are grand edifices like The Breakers in Palm Beach, Boca Raton Resort & Club in Boca Raton, the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, and Casa Marina in Key West.
All hotels listed have private bath unless otherwise noted.
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