If you’re wondering where to stay for your multi-generation family trip to Orlando, Florida, then our vote definitely goes for a villa.
Last half-term I headed to Florida with Flea and my parents, and we booked a villa through Thomson (now TUI).
It wasn’t our first trip to Florida, but it was our first time and a family group, and my parents’ first visit in 25 years. So we wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable and catered for. October is – I think – a perfect time to visit. The temperatures are mid 20s, meaning it’s lovely and warm without being oppressively hot and sticky. And – even better – the crowds are much smaller, making it easier to do more during your trip.
Why Stay in a Florida Villa?
There are lots of upsides to staying on-site at a theme park, like early access, extra fast passes and early dining reservations. But for a family, I think a Florida villa offers huge advantages.
First one – your own room. I’m not going to lie, the thought of going away with my folks? Mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I love my parents. Flea loves her grandparents. How lovely to share that time with them. Right?
On the other hand, like all grown adults, I revert to being 13-years-old after more than 2 hours in my parents’ company. Basically, you never know when you’re going to need a bedroom to storm off to. Please tell me I’m not alone in this…
Also, staying in hotels with kids for more than 2 nights is really stressful.
If you’re not creeping around trying not to wake them at 9pm, you’re spending a small fortune on room service or trying to squish groceries into a hotel fridge. There’s no space, and if you’re a larger family, you know someone’s ending up on a pull-out sofa bed.
With a villa, everyone gets a room, and a proper bed. There’s a TV, garden and pool to entertain the kids while you cook food in a proper kitchen. You’ll save a fortune by buying bottles of drinks and snacks at the supermarket, and having the odd home-cooked meal.
Oh, and I love having a washer and dryer. It means we don’t need to pack as many clothes, AND I don’t get home, tired and jet-lagged, with a mountain of laundry to face.
And who wouldn’t want to take a quick dip in your own private pool after a hectic day?
Booking a Villa With Thomson (TUI)
We found the booking process with Thomson, now TUI, to be really straightforward.
We knew we wanted to be close to the theme parks, but not TOO close. TUI has a huge number of villas for rent around Clermont, Davenport and Kissimmee.
You can choose to have your resort allocated on arrival, but we pre-selected a 3-bedroom villa in the Highlands Reserve resort, in Davenport. You won’t know exactly which villa you’ll get, but you know the resort, villa category, and the basic facilities. My parents are big planners and like checking out locations on Google Maps before they go on hols, so this was perfect for them.
A few days before we flew, we got a detailed villa information pack, and an email address to send any queries. We used this to check a few details about accessibility and found the villa team in Florida to be really helpful and responsive.
All the villas at Highlands Reserve have a private pool, patio and at least 2 bathrooms. Our holiday booking also included basic car hire and return flights for our whole group from Manchester to Sanford Orlando, which is a tiny airport around one hour from Davenport.
We did pay a supplement on the way out to be seated together, when the seat selection site showed there weren’t even two seats available together, much less four. My Dad has disabilities, and I wanted to ensure someone was with him to help him if needed. And obviously, you don’t want to sit apart from your kids!
That said, I’m not sure how essential the upgrade actually was, given we got on the plane to find it was virtually empty and we each had several rows to ourselves. Paying for extra luggage capacity though, is essential if you have a 12-year-old with a shopping problem.
Arriving was a bit of a palaver – although we were whisked through passport control in a priority line due to my Dad’s disability, it took an AGE for the luggage to come through. There’s only one luggage carousel at Sanford. The staff had to take off every suitcase on the carousel, one by one, from two previous flights before our luggage could be loaded onto the carousel. Although our flight landed at 3pm, it was almost 5pm before we got out of the airport, and we ran straight into rush hour traffic, meaning it took 2.5 hours to drive to our villa.
Before you leave the airport, you’ll need to find the TUI welcome desk, where you can collect your villa keys and driving directions. You’ll need to visit the rental company offices the next morning to complete some paperwork and pay for your villa insurance – but it’s just a short drive away and only took us a few minutes.
Help for Passengers with Disabilities
Immediately after we booked, I called Thomson to request special assistance for my Dad, who is partially sighted and struggles to walk long distances. I was SO impressed with the service here.
Airport staff met us at check-in with a wheelchair, and helped us through the airport. On arrival, airport staff helped Dad through the airport, and then Thomson staff helped us get Dad and four heavy suitcases across the airport to the car pick-up desk.
Everyone we met went out of their way to make sure my Dad was well looked after and we were never made to feel like it was a bother to have someone need to give us a bit of extra help. Big thanks to ALL the TUI staff we met who made the trip so much less stressful than I’d feared it might be.
One thing I’ll note is the car hire booked with TUI was a pretty basic, small vehicle. It worked out cheaper to ignore that and book our own car hire, thereby ensuring we had a big enough boot for a mobility scooter. Then we booked a week’s scooter hire via Scooterama, which was delivered to our villa and collected again at the end of the week.
Highlands Reserve Resort, Davenport
The Highlands Reserve Resort is a quiet resort set on a golf course.
The good news – considering my sense of direction – is that it’s REALLY easy to find, and a simple drive from Orlando and the major attractions there. The area is beautifully landscaped, with lots of wildlife, and there’s an on-site playground, and basketball court.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from our villa, but I was pleasantly surprised. The photos on the website were perfectly fine, but our villa was actually far bigger – and smarter – than expected.
At the front of the villa was a driveway and lockable garage. The house was all on one level, with two twin bedrooms and a bathroom on one side of the house, and a double bedroom with en-suite bathroom on the other. In between there was a very large open plan lounge-dining room, a large fully-fitted kitchen, and a second, smaller sitting room with TV. To the back of the house there was a small pool (which can be heated) and a screened patio.
The villa had air-conditioning, which was a must, even in October. I was also pleased to see lots of security, not only protecting the property against intruders, but also door alarms and a vocal alert that tells you when the patio door to the pool is opened. That’s real peace of mind if you’re staying with small children (although the patio door does also have child-locks on, to ensure little explorers don’t come to harm).
Although we rented the villa through TUI it was actually managed by a local company. A few days after we arrived, a couple of light-bulbs blew, and the toaster stopped working. We called the management company and they arranged to make the repairs that day, while we were out. Everyone we spoke to was really friendly and helpful.
Our experience is that traffic in Florida can be busy, even in October. But if you avoid the main rush hours, Davenport was around a 20-minute drive from the Disney and Universal theme parks, and about a 90 minute drive from the Kennedy Space Station. Close enough to all the action, definitely.
The Highlands Reserve resort is really close to 2 or 3 large supermarkets, and there are a dozen or so local restaurants along with the usual Subway and family eating type restaurants. We also found the local movie theatre, and it took Flea about 3 minutes to identify the nearest mall with a Cheesecake Factory and a branch of Bath and Body Works.
Booking our Florida villa with TUI was (I thought) really good value. Flights, car hire and accommodation for all three adults and one child came in at around £5,500.
The TUI online holiday management system isn’t the simplest I’ve ever used, but we all managed to end up in the right place at the right time, so it’s clearly pretty idiot-proof. But I was REALLY impressed with the TUI staff at the welcome desk. They were so helpful and couldn’t be lovelier with my Dad, who can be a teeny bit grouchy after a long flight and likes to think he doesn’t need any help from any of us!
We thought Highlands Reserve was honestly a fabulous base for a family holiday – close enough to the attractions of Orlando for the drive to be fairly simple, but far enough away that you can enjoy small town peace and quiet when you need it.
Check out further information over on the TUI website.