In general, peak seasons are during Christmas/New Year’s holidays and late January through Easter in the state’s southern half, during the summer along the Panhandle and around Jacksonville and St. Augustine, and 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 are longer during these periods, too. Fall is the slowest season, with only a few exceptions (Key West is jam-packed for the 10-day Fantasy Fest at Halloween). Rates are low and availability is high, but this is also prime time for hurricanes.
Children are generally welcome throughout Florida, except for some Key West B&Bs and inns; however, the buck stops at spring-breakers. While many hotels allow them—and some even cater to them—most rental agencies won’t lease units to anyone under 25 without a guardian present.
Pets, although allowed at many hotels (one upscale chain, Kimpton, with properties in Miami, Palm Beach, and Vero Beach, 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 allure for visiting snowbirds (Northerners "flocking" to Florida in winter) has caused private home and condo rentals to boom in popularity, at times affording better options 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, doesn’t have many luxury hotel properties downtown. Everything aside from beach towels is provided during a stay, but some things to consider are that sizable 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 out 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 homeowners 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 or appliances from 1982. To protect yourself, talk extensively with owners in advance, see if there’s 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. American Realty of Captiva, a family-owned operation based on Captiva Island on Florida's lower gulf (west) coast, owns and manages vacation accommodation rentals in assorted price ranges with weekly rates or for longer periods. 11526 Andy Rose La., Captiva, Florida, 33924. 800/547–0127; www.captiva-island.com.
Endless Vacation Rentals. Endless Vacation Rentals, which assists in booking more than 200,000 properties in more than 100 countries, helps you book unused time-share units throughout Florida, especially from Tampa Bay to Key West, along with offering assistance in last-minute vacations, car rentals, cruises, and other deals. 877/782–9387; www.evrentals.com.
Florida Keys Rental Store. An upscale vacation specialist, Florida Keys Rental Store—locations are in Key Largo and Islamorada—helps you choose among private home rentals, especially in the upper Florida Keys. Properties within its luxury inventory range from bay-front or oceanfront homes to condos, and your stay can be enhanced with professional, personalized concierge services. MM 82, 81800 Overseas Hwy., Upper Matecumbe Key, Islamorada, Florida. 800/585–0584; 305/451–3879; www.floridakeysrentalstore.com.
Freewheeler Vacations. Handling bookings for vacation and long-term rentals and concierge services in the Florida Keys for more than a quarter century, Freewheeler is part of Realty World, seeking to provide you with hassle-free booking experiences. Offices are in both Islamorada and Key Largo, and the agency manages an inventory of about 75 properties. MM 98.5, 85992 Overseas Hwy., Key Largo, Florida, 33037. 866/664–2075; 305/664–2075; www.freewheeler-realty.com.
Interhome. Founded in Switzerland in 1965, Interhome also books in Florida with its Interhome USA arm, serving your needs for short-term or extended vacation rentals in Daytona Beach, Miami, Orlando, Sarasota, the Tampa Bay area and Lower Gulf Coast, and the Florida Keys. 954/791–8282; 800/882–6864; www.interhomeusa.com.
ResortQuest. Focusing on Orlando and the Panhandle, ResortQuest by Wyndham Vacation Rentals offers local expertise backed by a global name at destinations from Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key to Destin and Panama City Beach. ResortQuest covers booking, on-site staff for your arrival needs, and even offers the services of its real estate team if you decide to own instead of rent in Florida. Besides visitor information, ResortQuest offers exclusive deals and specials. 14 Sylvan Way, Parsippany, New Jersey, 07054. 800/275--5060; www.resortquest.com.
Sand Key Realty. Since 1974, family-owned Sand Key Realty, now part of the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, has been at the forefront of real estate sales and vacation rentals in the Tampa Bay area on Florida's west coast, particularly Sand Key and Clearwater Beach. 790 S. Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater Beach, Florida, 33767. 800/257–7332; 727/443–0032; www.sandkey.com.
Suncoast Vacation Rentals. For escape to Florida's Panhandle, Suncoast Vacation Rentals, specializing in St. George Island and historic Apalachicola, offers assorted beach homes and cottages from one to eight bedrooms. All beach houses have cable TV with DVD/VCRs, and most have charcoal grills, washers, and dryers. 224 Franklin Blvd., St. George Island, Florida, 32328. 800/341–2021; www.uncommonflorida.com.
Villas International. Offering vacation housing alternatives far from hotel and motel experiences, Villas International handles bookings for Florida in Tampa Bay, the Lower Gulf Coast, Miami, Orlando, the Palm Beaches, Greater Fort Lauderdale, and the Florida Keys. 415/499–9490; 800/221–2260; www.villasintl.com.
Wyndham Vacation Resorts. Handling vacation getaway rental needs in Florida, Wyndham Vacation Resorts has extensive inventory in the Panhandle, Orlando, Daytona Beach, and Greater Fort Lauderdale. 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 coordinate reservations.
Bed & Breakfast Inns Online. California-based Bed & Breakfast Inns Online is a listing service providing locater information on B&Bs in Florida (and elsewhere) plus destination insights, deals, recipes, and travel tips. To be clear, Bed & Breakfast Inns Online does not serve as a booking agent, but rather points you to where you can make online reservations directly with nearly 50 properties scattered throughout Florida. 800/215–7365; www.bbonline.com.
BedandBreakfast.com. Among booking sites for Florida's B&Bs is the Texas-based BedandBreakfast.com, owned and operated by HomeAway Inc., known for online vacation rentals in 171 countries. In Florida, more than 200 B&Bs likely to strike your fancy can be found in locations from the Panhandle to Key West. 512/322–2710; 800/462–2632; www.bedandbreakfast.com.
Florida Bed & Breakfast Inns. Florida Bed & Breakfast Inns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the state's accredited inns and B&Bs. It provides gift certificates, copies of brochures, photo galleries of properties for you to inspect, and recipes from member inns to try at home. 561/223–9550; www.florida-inns.com.
Hotels and Resorts
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. All hotels listed have a private bath unless otherwise noted.