Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Airbnb goodness

So we're throwing around the idea of buying a place here in Florida as a new "home" for homeleaves, for kid holiday breaks (they're all getting to be adults!), for renting out airbnb style.  We've stayed at so many of these sorts of places, we're starting to pull together what we feel makes a good airbnb home.

Outdoor space. Most of the places we've stayed at have been outside of cities, or homes that have a bit of land. Space means it feels away from it all, and since we'd want to have room for families (I've looked at so many places that say they sleep 6 but that means 2 bedrooms each with a queen bed plus a sleeper sofa.... not cool) we also want something that has outdoor room to play, to eat, to whatever.

Indoor space.  Back to the beds, rooms with twin beds can be joined to make kings.  A place that sleeps 6-8 should mean roughly 6 individual beds. And if you can sleep 6, then you need to be able to seat 6+ at the dining table and 6+ by the TV, etc.

Comfortable mattresses. I don't care how it happens, but if it's a cheap mattress it's crap, and people on vacation don't want to lay down on a thin squeaky mattress or wake up each morning with sore backs and necks. Zip it in a protective shield to keep it clean and washable.

Even better pillows. Seriously, it should be a pillow you'd sleep on, not the cheapest thing on the block. Zip them in protective covers as well. A good pillow makes us happy.

Activities. The place we're in now has an arcade machine with a bunch of classic arcade games in it. We also have foosball and ping pong in the living room, and a volleyball net in the yard. A cupboard has balls and puzzles, coloring books and board games.

Information about the surrounding areas and guidelines for the visitors.  Most of the houses we've stayed at have had both of these, but some have better guidelines than others.  This house has none that I've found other than what was in the rental agreement - nothing about running the dishwasher or stripping beds, or where the nearest grocery store is. Another place we stayed at was extremely particular about leaving shoes by the door and all towels and linens had to go in the bathtubs prior to departure. I think something in the middle is helpful. It's also great to have a stack of brochures about local activities, or recommendations for favorite restaurants. Off-the-beaten-path is even better.

Books.  This place doesn't have books. In the world of Kindles, I still like to read a real book on vacation, but I'm most likely not going to carry one with me.  The resort in the Maldives had a little library, and really, any vacation spot should have some books lying about. In one place in England, the home had all the Harry Potter books in various rooms.

Stacks and stacks of towels.

A decently stocked kitchen. We hit the grocery store every time we're at a new place, for drinks and bread and snacks and such.  A great airbnb already has sugar and salt and spices and tea. Coffee filters for the machine. We've stayed in places that had items for a meal which was so nice: pasta and sauce.  Others had cupboards with cookies and tubs of goldfish crackers and cereals. Peanut butter is always nice to find. One place had left us a bottle of wine. That was awesome. One place we stayed had a freezer full of freezer-burned, expired food.  That's NOT ok.

Other stocked items. Garbage bags, toilet paper, paper towels, laundry soap, dishwasher soap, hand soap, even shampoo. Let's face it, unless someone is staying for a month, there's no need to have them go out and buy all this stuff for the week they're on the property.

Ceiling fans. A full-length mirror or two. A dishwasher. A full-sized washer/dryer.  I don't understand how places in the UK have such terrible dryers and everyone has drying lines outdoors and it rains All The Time.

Rain shower heads and plenty of hot water.

Something quirky.  We've stayed on an alpaca farm near a beach where we found the Owl, and the rooms were decorated with really creepy family portraits. We've stayed in a converted barn where one of the bedrooms was accessible via a bridge over the living room. The place next to the cow farm had the eating space in a rustic kitchen and the artwork was reminiscent of both international travels and Middle Earth. A houseboat under a flight path.  A 3-million dollar home with a trampoline in the yard and a view of Santa Monica Pier. Here we have weird sculptures and statues, a wandering horse, and we're on a lake that most definitely has gators. Our host takes people out for flyboarding and water skiing. There should be something unique about the home that makes it fun, or at least something we'd consider fun.

One more thing I think is important but something we can't really pull off, is having the owners near by.  In most of the places overseas plus this one, the owners have lived on the same property. We've had the opportunity to chat with them, but also been able to call if there's a problem, like here when the bathrooms flooded. It's something to think about, for sure.

But what am I missing?  What's made your airbnb stays great?

Kennedy Space Center

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Family Time

When we decided to come to Orlando, we came with the intention of doing the theme park thing - Universal or bust.

When we decided to come to Orlando for 2 weeks, we knew we'd also have plenty of time to relax, hang out, do nothing.

When we decided to come to Orlando right after living in Amman for 4 years, we figured we'd get the bulk of the too-loud, too-bright Americana out of the way.  The eating out, the kitschy activities, the shaking-of-the-heads at the enormous drinks and too-big portions.

Today we did the Escape Game on International Drive. They have 4 game rooms (Prison Break, Heist, Classified, Gold Rush) for 6-8 players (so if you come with a smaller group they'll join you with other players), though if you played Prison Break with 8 players I think someone would have actually gotten violent in the tight quarters.

And yes, we succeeded.

We beat the room with about 2 minutes to spare - yeah, we rock. There was a glitch with our game, so awesomely we've been comped another game on Wednesday.

Shake Shack - not bad.

And more minigolf. We had the park to ourselves and took our time.

To cool off, we visited Artegon. You're in Orlando? Visit Artegon. It's weird.  Indoors ropes course, upcoming NYC Zombie Experience (laser tag), a trampoline park, and Gods and Monsters geekorama.

A geek haven complete with gaming tables, and a cool bar.

All sorts of handcraft places - but cool ones like Hot Glass - and funky food options like drinks in pineapples.

And as we discovered when we got home and played some volleyball in the yard and Becca set down her pineapple on a chair and was a few steps too far away...

that Hidalgo seemed to enjoy Becca's pineapple.
Fun day. A little of this, a little of that, but the best part was being all together.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

HP part 2

We returned to Universal to take on the Transformers ride and then the big red rocket coaster.  Well, 4 of us did the coaster, the other two (me and Nicholas) went to Shrek next door. Nicholas and I now know never to go anywhere, though. We wait patiently at the end of big rides.

Amusement parks have come a long way to manage crowds and heat. We purchased cups that are refillable for free all day and then rechargeable for future visits. Long lines are kept under shade with fans, then moved inside with a/c.  Once inside the line continues for a long while, but with videos to watch or items to look at. A 45-minute wait goes by quickly as we steadily shuffle along.

Between Universal and Islands of Adventure at one end is City Walk and at the other is the Hogwarts Express.

On my bucket list is to take the real train up in Scotland - the Jacobite.

I think that the Hogsmeade/Hogwarts side beat out the Diagon Alley side.

The Universal castle is bigger than the model used (at Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden) and smaller than the inspiration (Edinburgh Castle), and the tour/ride inside is pretty awesome.

We wandered through the rest of Islands of Adventure....

Everyone is on board for the Seusville carousel.

A rice krispy treat the size of her head.

Free refills all day!
...and decided to come back another day when we all had our swim gear with us for Islands' several water rides. What we may even do is split the day between Islands and Wet & Wild.  Who knows, we're crazy like that. Though I suppose we should have just taken on the water rides then because we were soaked anyway.

Here's where I forgot I was right behind them...

Soaked through.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

So we did do something today

The falcons that didn't perform well.

Knight HuffleStarkPuff - hail king of the north