Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
KISSIMMEE — If Kissimmee’s vacation homes sound like Airbnb, they’re not. Nor are they timeshares. Similar to a hotel, they come with amenities including concierge service, restaurants and pools. For travel agents, “it’s just like working with a hotel,” says Experience Kissimmee’s Juliana Cadiz.
Kissimmee isn’t just the vacation home capital of Florida, it’s the ‘Vacation Home Capital of the World’ – they even trademarked it. Most major tour operators in Canada offer vacation home rentals in Kissimmee, so there are commission opportunities too.
Next to Orlando and bordering the Everglades, Kissimmee offers easy access to theme parks and natural attractions – such as ziplining through the treetops and alligator spotting aboard an airboat – with 50,000 accommodation options, including more than 22,000 vacation homes.
“In 10 minutes from the vacation homes you can be in Orlando,” says Cadiz, Communications Senior Manager with Experience Kissimmee, official tourism authority for Osceola County, Florida. Travelweek took part in a recent press trip to the destination. “By law you cannot have a vacation home in Orlando – the [law] only allows you to rent for long term, a minimum of seven months to a year,” says Cadiz.
Kissimmee, on the other hand, caters to short-term rentals, particularly families and groups.
The destination’s vacation homes offer fully equipped kitchens, so guests can self-cater, but they typically also include on-site dining. In Kissimmee, vacation homes range from two-bedroom condos to multi-bedroom homes and villas, but in almost all cases, each bedroom has its own bathroom.
“We have our own concierge team who takes care of guests’ needs,” said Karen Tookuni, marketing manager with Magic Village Resort. The gated resort spans 20 acres with 180 vacation homes, with three- or four-bedroom suite layouts and amenities such as a 24-hour clubhouse, on-site restaurant, pool, fitness centre, WiFi, housekeeping and on-call concierge. Located less than two kilometres away from Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, it’s close enough for guests to watch the nightly fireworks show.
White-glove services include airport transportation, car rentals, private party coordination and private chef dinners. “If you want grocery service, we can buy the groceries at the market … and when you arrive here everything is ready for you,” said Tookuni. “If you’re celebrating a special day like an anniversary, we have a private chef that can go to the house and prepare a special dinner.”
Other vacation home rentals in Kissimmee include the AAA Four Diamond-rated Reunion Resort, spread across 2,300 acres with 360 resort-style accommodations ranging from luxury suites and condos to private vacation homes. Exclusive custom-built villas and mansions are available, up to 12 bedrooms.
Reunion Resort features three championship golf courses (designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson), as well as casual and fine dining, multiple pools, a water park with lazy river, tennis courts, full-service spa and rooftop lounge Eleven, known for its steak and panoramic views of Orlando – including nightly Disney fireworks displays.
Kissimmee’s 20,000 vacation homes are also close to nearby attractions, including Disney and Universal Studios. So, along with arranging accommodations, agents can also help clients with add-ons such as park passes and attraction tickets.
Disney’s brand-new Toy Story Land, for example, opened in June at Hollywood Studios, with new attractions that allow guests to shrink down to toy-size for adventures with the Toy Story characters, including Slinky Dog Dash, a new coaster inspired by the classic toy, and Alien Swirling Saucers, a galactic adventure led by the film’s green aliens.
Pandora – The World of Avatar, which opened last year, continues to be a big draw at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with two attractions: Avatar Flight of Passage is an immersive virtual experience where guests ride a winged mountain banshee over the world of Pandora, and on the Na’vi River Journey they float down a sacred river into a bioluminescent rainforest aboard reed boats.
Universal Orlando Resort’s newest attraction is Fast & Furious – Supercharged, where guests buckle up for a high-octane chase with Vin Diesel and The Rock through the streets of San Francisco; the ride features the new Virtual Line system (where guests can select a time to ride via the mobile app or kiosk). Just a short drive away is the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, Legoland Florida and Busch Gardens.
But there’s more to Central Florida than theme parks. Its well-preserved natural environment offers outdoor attractions where visitors can reconnect with nature. At Forever Florida, visitors might spot alligators, armadillos and white-tailed deer while zipping through the treetops on the 7 Zip Adventure – a two-and-a-half-hour aerial adventure spanning seven ziplines and three sky-bridges – or on the Rattlesnake Adventure, the only zipline rollercoaster in the U.S.
On the edge of the Everglades, visitors can glide through swampland on an airboat tour with Spirit of the Swamp, where they’ll explore marshes and swamps that are home to 4,200 alligators. The operator offers small airboats (only six people per airboat) for better viewing opportunities; private airboat rides can be arranged at the same price or less than non-private rides.
Or guests can see it all from above on a hot air balloon ride. Orlando Balloon Rides offers sunrise flights seven days a week, weather permitting. Flights take about one hour, ascending anywhere from just above the tree tops to several thousand feet in the air, followed by a traditional champagne toast upon landing.
Agents can also arrange special dinners at popular spots such as The Boathouse, an upscale waterfront restaurant at Disney Springs with Florida-style surf and turf, or Columbia Restaurant in the quaint town of Celebration (located within Kissimmee), with fine Cuban cuisine and tableside sangria service.
To learn more about the destination and Experience Kissimmee, represented in Canada by VoX International, visit experiencekissimmee.com.