VRBO v Hotel

When Emily and Brian decided their wedding would take place in Apopka, we delved into the world of VRBO for the first time. Unhappy with hotel offerings in the Apopka area and wanting to shorten our 75 minute commute from home, I searched the Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) website looking for an answer to our wedding weekend accommodation problem.

I found a four bedroom house on the Wekiva River which served as our base of operation, housed eight for the weekend and hosted more than two dozen guests for a rehearsal party. It also created a beautiful backdrop for pre-ceremony wedding photos. What a find!

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A year and a half later, another wedding, this time in Virginia, I again searched the VRBO website for a house for nine. Success again and at a cost one third of what we’d have spent on hotel rooms.

Of course when planning a trip to Portland, I didn’t even look at hotels. Instead, we stayed in a house complete with raspberries and blueberries growing in the backyard, access to a washer and dryer and an ice chest for our day trips…all for only $100 a day.

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More good luck in Jacksonville for family weekend last August. Five bedrooms, pool and boat lift on the St. John’s River. A perfect place for family fun.

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And most recently, we found a small two bedroom apartment in the Little Italy neighborhood in Boston. We enjoyed being in the middle of the city’s best restaurants and again spent only half as much as hotels.

But staying in houses or apartments instead of hotels come with their own unique problems. The house on the Wekiva has some water issues and the one in Virginia had beetles. In Portland, the doorway to the bedroom was only an inch above my head (the sticky note warns of low ceiling) and while the house in Jacksonville advertised their covered patio as a great place to enjoy a meal cooked on their gas grill, the propane tank was empty and the oven didn’t heat properly. In Boston, we walked up to the fourth floor on the narrow stairway and yes, that’s a step to the toilet and a post in the middle of the small room.

These problems would not have been acceptable at a high priced hotel but were taken with a grain of salt due to other advantages offered by these VRBO properties.

HOWEVER, WHEN THINGS GO WRONG, THEY CAN BE VERY WRONG. Five good experiences…but the bad one in Toronto makes me a little nervous about future rentals. Upon arrival, we found the house extremely warm. The thermostat registered nearly 90° and no amount of adjustment helped. That’s when we found the window unit AC in the closet under a pillow. No wonder we couldn’t cool it off! And the patio touted as a highlight of the property was stacked with wood and overlooked a yard of weeds…nothing like the wonderful patio in Portland.

We didn’t stay in the Toronto property instead moving to two rooms at the Marriott in downtown. Everything worked out, but it can be difficult leaving a prepaid VRBO property uncertain about a refund and possibly exceeding the vacation budget. And we learned that the guarantees offered by VRBO provide little or no   protection.

Read reviews carefully. Try to use Google Maps to get extra information about the neighborhood and pay on credit card to protect yourself. Houses or apartments can be a great alternative to traditional hotel rooms, but do your homework and protect yourself.