12 things to know before you rent a villa in Orlando
By Helen Wright
Hotels aren’t the only option available when it comes to booking accommodation in Orlando. In fact, the villa and holiday home game is strong across the whole of Florida, with many people preferring to have their own pad rather than check into a hotel. Post-Covid, this is even more appealing to some who would rather be isolated from other tourists in a self-catering home with a private pool.
For families in particular, renting a private villa or a holiday home is the ideal way to stay in Florida. For larger groups, parents with young children and those on a budget, the option to rent a villa in Orlando Vs staying in a hotel is definitely worth consideration.
Cover image: Visit Central Fl.
What are the pros and cons of renting a holiday villa in Orlando?
We have stayed in villas, holiday villages, Orlando hotels and on-site theme park hotels at both Disney and Universal during our many trips to Orlando, so we have a pretty good idea about what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes it really just comes down to which type of accommodation ticks the most boxes and suits your family or party the best.
To help you make the best decision for your visit to Orlando, we have looked at 12 pros and cons to renting a villa in Orlando:
12 things to think about before you rent a villa in Orlando
1. Villa holidays are convenient and budget-friendly for bigger groups
It may not seem like it at first glance, but if you rent a villa in Orlando, the perks are high, especially if you are visiting with a large group (say, grandparents or multiple families). A standard Orlando villa will have a minimum of three bedrooms, sleeping 6+ people. The cost of one house with three bedrooms is usually significantly less than two or three separate hotel rooms.
Even if you are a family with two parents and three children, at some hotels (in particular the hotels at Walt Disney World), the entry level room prices at most resorts have a capacity of four. If you have five occupants, even when one is a baby, you are required to book a bigger room or suite with a larger occupancy due to fire safety regulations, so remember to build this into your budget. We look into the real cost of a holiday to Orlando and Walt Disney World, and offer some guidance on how to budget for your trip in this post.
2. Renting a villa in Orlando is excellent value for money
Renting a villa in Orlando is much cheaper than you think and often works out very competitive when compared to the price of hotels. There are different standards of holiday home in Florida, ranging from clean and basic, to luxury and packed with mod cons. As a guide, (bearing in mind that a lot of retired ‘snow birds’ rent houses in Florida during the winter months and are not looking for anything fancy), a family on a Disney World holiday from the UK would usually aim for something in-between.
If this is your first holiday to Orlando, there is a good chance you won’t be spending that long at your accommodation (of any sort), so it’s unlikely you’ll need a pricey villa with smart technology, computer consoles, pool tables and water slides. My advice would be to opt for a simple but stylish villa with some luxuries, such as a pool, power shower and digital TV, but nothing too fancy it will stretch your budget unnecessarily. Remember, the more you save, the more spending money you will have!
3. Enjoy the luxury of your own pool
If there is one way to feel VIP on a budget, it’s floating around in your own private pool. Most Orlando villas will come with a private swimming pool. Villas without pools are available and cheaper, but I wouldn’t recommend them because central Florida is hot and humid, plus after the full-on theme park experience, a few days lounging by the pool during your trip will be absolutely necessary. For a guide on how to fit in all the best stuff in Orlando and allow for a few rest days, take a look at our popular two-week-sample itinerary.
TOP TIP: The basic price to rent a villa in Orlando will not always include the fee to heat your private pool. This is commonly an added extra, but (unless you are visiting at the hottest time of the year, and even then…) we highly recommend you opt for the pool to be heated because you may be surprised to find how cold water can get in a tropical country… brrrrrrrrr
4. Self-catering saves money on food and drink
If you’ve viewed our post on how much a trip to Orlando actually costs, you’ll see that a lot of budget goes on eating and drinking. As a rule, dining in Orlando is relatively cheap. But, three meals a day over two weeks for a whole family will eventually add up. Having a kitchen to make some of your own meals means you can save cash by not eating out every day. If budget is a big deal, this is definitely something to consider.
When we stay at a villa, we often make breakfast ourselves on theme park days. It’s faster than sitting down to eat and we can get straight into the fun stuff as soon as we arrive at the parks. Budget permitting, that usually allows for a special breakfast (like a character breakfast) at Walt Disney World on one of the days, while still keeping the cost of meals down. Because we have younger kids, we can also put them to bed at the villa and then cook an easy and relaxed dinner at home to enjoy – without having to negotiate noisy children, or eating at a ridiculously early hour.
Supermarkets are EVERYWHERE in Orlando, you will pass at least 20 on your way from the airport so don’t worry about not being able to pick up supplies.
5. It’s easier for adults to enjoy kid-free time
Most parents with children will have sat on the hallway floor outside their hotel door so they can have a drink and socialise, or hung out in a bathroom so they can watch Netflix without disturbing their kids. It’s fair to say that staying in a hotel will likely mean that at least one of you will be confined to the room once the little ones are Disney’d out.
The key to a successful family holiday to Disney is making sure your kids nap, sleep (and eat) properly. Pushing them too far only results in grumpy children and disgruntled parents. A big part of this is making sure they get to bed at a decent hour (you can bet that kid still charging around Disney Springs at 10pm wont make it a whole day at the parks the following day). Unfortunately, for parents, that means you end up confined to your hotel room after your child’s bedtime. There are childcare options and family suites available at some hotels, but if you rent a villa in Orlando, it essentially solves the problem.
Once the younger guests are in bed, adults can sit at the table to eat, relax in the living area or enjoy a drink by the pool, making it far more of a holiday for the grown ups after-hours. This set up is also handy if you have teenagers or grandparents in your party. A villa offers more space to spread out and the opportunity for all guests to choose between an early night or a nightcap.
6. You save on parking fees if you rent a villa in Orlando
Another big thumbs up for renting a private holiday home in Orlando, is that you will not have to pay for overnight parking. This can be a significant saving, especially if your party has multiple cars. As a comparison, self parking at Universal Orlando’s Sapphire Falls hotel is $26 per night, plus tax. That is approximately $190 per week, per car.
However, it’s also worth noting that you will still have to pay for parking at the theme parks and won’t have the luxury of a theme park transfer if you stay at a villa in Orlando. Walt Disney World resort guests do incur overnight parking fees at their hotel (starting at $19 + tax) but with this, they can park at the theme parks for free.
7. A villa in Orlando allows more space for everyone to spread out
A holiday with multiple generations or a trip with joint families or friends can be an incredible experience, but this kind of vacation also comes with its own frustrations – one of which is keeping everyone happy! Having a villa in Orlando means you can all spread out a bit. Social-distance from each other, if you like… You will have indoor and outdoor space, multiple rooms in which to escape to – handy with squabbling siblings – and (usually) more than one TV to prevent any arguments over the remote. Hotels don’t often have such a luxury of space, so depending on your type of party, an Orlando holiday home could be the best option for you.
VIDEO: See how we kept three generations of the same family happy on a trip to Florida visiting the SeaWorld parks – SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, Busch Gardens and Aquatica
8. For the best of both worlds: Try a holiday home village
For some, the idea of renting a private villa is daunting. Being in a house by yourself, unsure of the area and without the security of a hotel environment can put people off. It’s true, a villa in Orlando is a completely different experience but never usually a negative one. Every holiday home we’ve rented in Florida has been problem-free and user friendly with someone always at the end of the phone in the event of any problems.
However, if you want hotel amenities (such as 24-hour front desk and room service) but still the luxury of your own space, there is a modern brand of villa in Orlando – holiday villages. We stayed at Magic Village Yards, a holiday villa complex just five minutes from Disney and it was a great compromise. Read our full review here, but, essentially, we had our own (huge) house with parking, a kitchen, private BBQ and outdoor seating area, but with a front desk and concierge, on-site restaurant and shared gym and pool. It felt very safe as the whole complex was gated with a security guard. In terms of location, it was in the Kissimmee area, just minutes from the 192 attractions, restaurants and shops, and 15 minutes from Magic Kingdom.
9. You’ll be further away from the theme parks
The downside to staying in a villa is that your accommodation will be a bit further out than the popular hotel areas (International Drive, 192 Highway, Celebration and the theme parks themselves). This does virtually rule them out as an option if you are not renting a car for your visit. I have covered whether you need a car in Orlando in this post. However, a key piece of advice about Orlando is not to be too concerned with distances. First time visitors, especially those from the UK, are always shocked at how ridiculously huge it is. Because of this, usual search terms on sites like booking.com such as ‘distance from city centre’ don’t really work and often people are put off from a good hotel or villa deal because it looks like it is going to be miles away.
I usually tell people it’s best to assume everything is miles away from everything else (which sometimes it is) and then it will mostly be uphill from there. As a guide, you probably don’t want to go for anything more than 25 miles from either Disney Springs or Universal Citywalk. Just to help you put that distance into perspective, the villa we often stay in is 23 miles from Universal and it takes 45 minutes to drive there, and 18 miles from Disney, taking around 25 minutes.
As a rough guide, the best areas to rent a villa near to Walt Disney World and the Orlando resort area are in Lake Buena Vista and what’s known as the ‘Golden Triangle’- this is Davenport, Kissimmee and ChampionsGate. These areas are typically 20-25 minutes from Disney with fast access to Downtown Orlando, Universal Orlando, key shopping areas (The Florida Mall) and Orlando International Airport.
10. You will need to rent a car
If you are coming from the UK or Europe, you may be used to using public transport to get around. However, in the tourist areas of Orlando, public transport isn’t that reliable or commonly used, so if you choose to rent a villa in Orlando for your trip, it’s highly recommended that you do rent a car. Essentially, from most of the areas where holiday homes are situated, nothing is walking distance. Supermarkets, restaurants and other essential facilities will always be at least a five-minute drive away (20-minute walk). And, frankly, no one ever walks anywhere, really.
Staying in a villa can save you money, but it does mean that you won’t benefit from the free transport available from your resort hotel (and the free parking fees at the Disney theme parks if you are staying at a Disney resort hotel). However, it is worth noting that resort transportation at both Disney and Universal is free for all guests. You will also not be served by a theme park shuttle bus at regular off-property hotels. So having your own transport is essential.
We have two posts you may want to read if you are looking for advice about renting a car in Orlando. To look at whether you need a car in Orlando, click here. For advice on renting a car in the USA, including insurance, reliable vendors and where to get the best deals, click here.
11. A villa can be less social
If you are visiting with a large group, this might not be too big a concern, but villa guests are more isolated than hotel guests (with everyone mainly sticking to their own homes). You won’t have that ‘buzzy hotel lobby’ feel, any in-resort entertainment (such as the band playing at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel) and activities for kids at the pool (such as the fun club at Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel). If you have a single child in your group, there won’t be any other children to play with at the pool.
It’s also less convenient if you plan to go out at night for dinner or drinks. You will always need a designated driver (or have to take a taxi). It’s not quite as carefree as a night out at Universal CityWalk, Disney Springs or iDrive and hopping on the free transfer back to your hotel.
12. Villas offer less privacy for extended families
Okay, so this might seem in contradiction to point seven, but despite having more space, a villa does actually offer less privacy to the individual parties. If you are staying with different generations of the family or with multi-families, you will likely be sharing bathrooms and, of course the living areas, kitchen and laundry room will be common space. My advice is to discuss the realities of house-sharing with everyone in your party before you book.
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What to wear to Walt Disney World: A theme park packing list
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