My cousin booked an amazing wedding at the adventure resort Costa Azul, in the tiny Mexican village of San Francisco about a half hour north of Puerto Vallarta. The town was perfect: cobblestone streets, a beach known for its surfing, turtle releases at sunset.
There was only one catch: Costa Azul wasn’t a big resort and it was booked solid within hours of her save-the-date e-mail. For guests still looking for a place to stay, there were only a couple other small hotel options in town and they were rapidly filling up.
Costa Azul suggested renting one of the town’s many beach houses, so I turned to the Web site Vacation Rentals by Owner ( www.vrbo.com) and quickly found a four-bedroom that could easily fit my family, my sister’s family, my mom and two more cousins.
It was the perfect option. With a full kitchen, our meals weren’t subject to the whim of the hotel restaurant, especially when it came to the demands of two toddlers who preferred boxed mac-and-cheese over fish tacos.
Everyone had their own room and bathroom. No bunking up. No fighting over who got to shower first before the wedding.
And, with a full house, it turned out to be a cheaper and more flexible option than most hotels.
We could hang out with the wedding guests at Costa Azul’s pool, or wander home and relax with homemade margaritas on our rooftop terrace overlooking the ocean.
As spring break approaches, vacation homes can be a great alternative to large, impersonal resorts, especially for large groups or those who prefer a home-away-from-home setting.
But it may not be the right choice for vacationers who want to be spoiled. There are no waiters prowling poolside, waiting to take your food and drink order and bring it to you directly. Maid service may only be once or twice a week.
And you can’t dial reception and have them book a massage for you later in the afternoon at the in-house spa.
But there are definite advantages, especially for:
Big groups: Everyone can easily stay in the same place, and it is usually cheaper than a hotel, both in terms of nightly rates and food. If you don’t feel like cooking, some houses recommend local people who will come and cook for you – for a small fee that is still usually far cheaper than eating out.
For large families, vacation homes can be a great alternative to squeezing into the same hotel room together or sending your kids to an adjoining room where it’s hard to keep an eye on them. It’s also a great option for church or school groups planning ski or beach adventures.
The home-away-from-home crowd: Do you have special dietary needs, or maybe you’re just an early riser who grows impatient waiting for the hotel kitchen to set up brunch? Or do you want to spend a month living somewhere warm but can’t afford a second home?
A vacation rental gives you a chance to set up a home-away-from-home. Our Mexican beach house not only had a full kitchen, but books, games and DVDs.
The off-the-beaten-path crowd: Don’t want the resort to dictate your vacation? Instead of having the amenities right outside your door, you can explore and find your own entertainment, restaurants and spas. If you find yourself really missing the hotel life, most resorts will let you drop in for the day and use their facilities, as long as you spend a minimum amount on food and drink.
Many vacation rentals also include insider tips on local sites. The owners of our rental home in Mexico, Americans Bill and Wendy Flint, sent us an e-mail with pages of great local advice, including good restaurants, recommended day trips, and even what to expect in terms of pesos versus dollars.
Got a dog?: Vacation home rentals often accept dogs and cats, for those who want to bring the family pet along. Just double-check that the listing is “pet friendly.”
That can be invaluable, especially overseas. While a growing number of U.S. hotels will accept pets, most resorts in Mexico won’t allow them.
But make sure to check legal requirements at your destination before bringing pets. Mexico, Canada and even Hawaii all have different regulations on proof of vaccinations for dogs and other requirements.
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