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Unique AirBnB Listings from around the World

Unique AirBnB Listings from around the World | CosmosMariners.com

If you're looking for a hotel alternative on your travels, AirBnB is a great choice: the extensive listings and ability to meet locals has made this one of my favorite ways to get more out of my trips.

Best of all, the properties typically cost less than a hotel room and most come with kitchens so I can save money on eating out. It's the fun of travel with the budgeting ability of home.

Not surprisingly, my fellow travel bloggers share my love and have stayed in some unique AirBnB properties around the world. The next time that you're planning your travel accommodations, consider one of these top AirBnB listings!

Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World: Better for Family Travel or Business Conferences?

Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World: Better for Family Travel or Business Conferences?

With its Central American theming, convenient location next to Hollywood Studios, and sprawling campus, Coronado Springs Resort seems like an excellent option for your next visit to Walt Disney World. Yet, it doesn't seem to get the love that other moderate resorts get (I'm looking at you, Port Orleans).

Why? Perhaps it's because it's often populated by droves of business travelers staying on property and attending one of the many conferences hosted here.

Earlier this year, we found a great deal on a room at Coronado Springs, so we decided to try it out, and determine once and for all if this moderate resort was great for families visiting Walt Disney World or if it needed to be left to the business travelers.

A Quiet Retreat on Florida's Space Coast: Tuckaway Shores Resort

A Quiet Retreat on Florida's Space Coast: Tuckaway Shores Resort, Indiatlantic, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

I love driving down Florida's A1A highway: the ocean is right there, and if you're not in a tropical state of mind before you get on the road, you will be within in the first quarter mile.

When my daughter and I head down to the Space Coast, we didn't arrive until after dark, but I could still feel those island vibes and hear the roar of the Atlantic as we hopped on AIA and headed towards our hotel: Tuckaway Shores in Indiatlantic, Florida.

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World?

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com


So, you're thinking about going to Disney World! One of the biggest decisions that you'll have to make while planning your trip will be whether you'll stay on-property at one of the Disney-owned hotels or off-property at one of the many, many, many hotels elsewhere in the Orlando/ Lake Buena Vista area.

Which one is better? How do you know which is worth the money? As someone who's visited Walt Disney World more times than I can count--and someone who's stayed all over Orlando--I have a few tips to help you decide the best location to call home while you're staying in the most magical place on Earth!

On-Property
Pros


Disney hotels are extremely convenient to everything else on the Disney property. Topographically speaking, Walt Disney World isn't that big, so by staying on property, you're just a few minutes from all four parks, Downtown Disney, and the other Disney hotels. Because of their proximity to the fun stuff, you'll spend more time on vacation and less time stuck in traffic along I-4.

Transportation to and from the parks is free. I don't know about you, but when I'm at Disney World, I prefer to park my car and immerse myself in the magic. By staying on Disney property, you've got complimentary access to the fleet of Disney buses. The buses are timely and arrive every 20 minutes at each hotel. Through the bus system, you can make your way to the parks, the other hotels, the water parks, and Downtown Disney. 

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com

Transportation to and from the Orlando (MCO) airport is free. If you're flying into Orlando for the sole reason of going to Disney World, there's no need to rent a car. Just hop on the Magical Express, and you'll be shuttled to your hotel's front door along with your luggage. 

Your hotel stay comes with free parking and no resort fee. I hate when hotels have added fees tacked onto the nightly cost. When you stay on property, Disney makes things easy: the price you see when you're browsing the site is the price you pay. 

Each hotel is sprinkled with the trademark Disney magic. Whether you're staying at the Victorian-themed Grand Floridian, the larger-than-life themed Pop Century, or the Louisiana-themed Port Orleans, you're sure to be happy with the fun, inventive decor. 

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com
Mickey towels, characters on the bedding, and collages on the walls: Pop Century's fun rooms


All on-property guests get to take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours. Of all the benefits to staying on property, this is my favorite. Each day, one of the four parks offers additional time in the park to on-property guests only. That means that for a few hours in the morning or late evening, the crowds are greatly reduced, and on-property guests have the run of the place. In the past, I've been able to accomplish amazing things--like getting a jump start on the 4 Parks/1 Day Challenge--during Extra Magic Hours, which leaves the rest of the day free to meet characters, see the parades and shows, and have dining reservations. 

Cons

Disney hotels aren't always the most cost-effective options. Though there are multiple tiers of Disney hotels (Value, Moderate, and Deluxe), even the lowest tier can top $150 a night for a basic room with two double beds, a small bath, and mini-fridge. If you're just looking for a simple room without any Disney frills, you're better off looking elsewhere for a room.

Only a handful of the rooms offered include a kitchenette and suites. Yes, they do exist (in the new Art of Animation hotel, the Treehouse Villas, some of the Disney Vacation Club properties, and the new Polynesian villas, among others), but you can find much more affordable suite and apartment-style properties offsite. Especially if you're traveling with multiple families or friends, it's far more economical to rent one of the suites or vacation homes off-site.

Off-Property
Pros
You can find a much wider range of prices. If you watch Travelzoo and Groupon Getaways like a super nerd (ahem, like myself), you'll find that there are always great deals on hotels and resorts throughout the Orlando area. These deals pretty much always beat out the standard price on Disney hotels when you compare the amenities and room sizes.

There are more centrally located options if you're not just going to Disney World.  Not everyone goes to Orlando to just go to Disney World. Universal Studios and Sea World are just the beginning of what the Orlando area has: there are museums, historical attractions, the new Orlando Eye, and more. If you're planning to pack more into your central Florida vacation than just Disney, it might be a good idea to consider staying somewhere off-property.

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com


There are some non-Disney hotels that are still super, super close to Disney World. If you're looking for a deal, but aren't sold on any of the Disney properties, there's a happy medium: the Downtown Disney area hotels. These are just a few minutes walk to the restaurants and shops of Downtown Disney, but usually offer great deals since they're not Disney owned. Some, like the Buena Vista Palace and the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, even have character breakfasts onsite. Just note that the buses that cater to these properties are very slow (and not always punctual), and the bus pick-up area has no shade (not great when you visit in the heat of the summer).

Should You Stay On- or Off-Property at Walt Disney World? | CosmosMariners.com
Lake Buena Vista hotel
Cons
Off-property guests have to pay for parking at the Disney parks. While paid parking isn't a huge expense, it can add up over the course of your vacation. Each day, you can expect to pay upwards of $15 per car to park. Add that to the daily parking fee at your hotel (which can easily top $20 in some places), and you're looking at $30+ in parking alone.

Staying off-property means you're at the mercy of the Orlando traffic. Sometimes it's okay, but most of the time, it's awful. The stretch of I-4 between International Boulevard and the Disney exits is home to a ton of restaurants and hotels, parks, a convention center, and apartment buildings. Traffic is guaranteed, and who wants to spend more time battling other park goers on the interstate?

You lose the Disney magic illusion. Personally, if I'm going on a Disney vacation, I want to stay in the magic for as long as I can. I've stayed elsewhere in Orlando for mixed park trips (Disney, Orlando, and Sea World), and I'm fine with an off-property hotel in those cases since I'm indulging in a mixture of park experiences. However, if I'm only going to Disney World on a trip, staying off property means there's a clear division between the magic and where I'm sleeping, which is a killjoy for a Disney nerd like me.

Which do you prefer: on- or off-property hotels? What's the most important thing that you look forward to in a hotel when booking?
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St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

Tucked away on a quiet street in the middle of Historic St. Augustine's residential quarter is a three story timbered building. At first glance, it blends into this area of beautiful historic homes, but if you venture into the courtyard, you'll notice that you've stumbled onto one of the city's most revered bed and breakfasts.

Now in its 3rd century of existence, the Inn holds two historical record in this very historic town: it's the oldest property that's currently being used as an inn, and it is the longest running lodging in St. Augustine.

With excellent customer service, a quiet location, and a purported ghost, the St. Francis Inn offers a gorgeous spot for anyone looking to create new memories in this old town.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


History
Built in 1791 by a Spanish soldier (who may or may not have been dipping into the coffers to pay for the house), the St. Francis Inn was a private home for the first few decades of its existence. In the 1800s, the Dummett family purchased it as a city home when they needed time away from their plantation.

By the 1840s, the house had passed to brothers in the Dummett family; they allowed their sister to stay, free of charge, in the house, but did not give her any other financial support. To help cover her bills, she began to take on boarders, and the Inn's long history of lodging began. In the 1880s, it became overflow housing for Henry Flagler's Ponce De Leon hotel, one of the poshest spots in its day.

As the inn changed hands, so too did its name. It was originally known as the Dummett-Garcia House (and is still called this on the National Historic Register), then as the Graham House. Finally, it was renamed the St. Francis Inn when it was bought in 1948, and the owners wanted a title that focused more on the area's geography and less on each individual owner.

The current owners, Margaret and Joe Finnegan, are celebrating their 30th year of running the St. Francis Inn, and still continue to reinvent what the Inn offers to its guests.

"Everyday at a bed and breakfast has the potential to be an adventure," Joe told me, so he, his wife, and their staff stay prepared for whatever might arise. When one of the innkeeping staff, Linda, was asked about her strangest experience, she mentioned the goose in diapers that has frequented the property, as well as the family of ferrets who make regular appearances each year. (As you might deduce, the Inn is very pet friendly--even to non-traditional pets!)

Location
The St. Francis Inn is (as its name suggests) located on St. Francis Street--at the corner of St. Francis and St. George, to be more exact.

It's only about three blocks north to the pedestrian-only area of St. George and just a block to the waterfront. Everything that you'd want to see in St. Augustine is within an easy walk, yet, because the Inn is nestled among private houses, you'll escape most of the hustle and bustle you'll find on the larger streets.

Plus, if you're planning on riding the Old Town Trolley, stop #17 is just four houses down on St. Francis in front of the Gonzalez-Alvarez House.

Room
I stayed on the 3rd floor in the Dummett Room. I loved stretching out in the queen bed while watching television each night before I went to bed. The large soaking tub (with jets!) was a great way to relax my sore muscles after I'd hiked all around St. Augustine each day.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


The room also had a mini refrigerator, small closet (with fluffy robes!), and cream sherry each day.

For a single traveler or couple, the room would be fantastic. For those who want more room, or for larger families, the Inn offers a variety of sizes of rooms in the main building, the cottage, and the Wilson House. There are 17 rooms and suites at the St. Francis property, and another 5 at their sister property on St. Augustine Beach.

Know that there is no elevator on the property, so guests in wheelchairs or who have mobility issues will need to secure a room on the first floor of the Wilson House or in the cottage. The stairs are quite steep in the main house, so use caution as you're walking up and down to the 2nd and 3rd floors.

Service
The day that I checked in, the desk staff was getting a workout with all of the guests coming in at once. Even though they were swamped, the ladies working the front desk remained calm, put-together, and polite to everyone.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


When it was time for me to check in, Beverley walked me through the check-in process and then took me up three flights of stairs to my room. My stay was punctuated with personal touches like that.

Anytime I had questions, the staff was there to answer them. The Finnegans have worked hard to assemble their 14 staff members, and it shows!

Amenities
For a smaller inn, the St. Francis has plenty to offer. Start the day with a home-cooked buffet breakfast: I was treated to a delicious quiche and strawberry soup one morning, and cheesy eggs and biscuits another. There's also fresh fruit, coffee, cinnamon rolls, apple and orange juice, and homemade granola.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


Stop by throughout the day for coffee, ice tea, and fruit-infused water--and don't miss out on the afternoon cookies.

Then, in the afternoon, there's a cocktail hour in the courtyard where you can mix and mingle with the other guests if that's your thing.

If you want to get out of the city for the day, head over to the Inn's sister property at the beach, where you can use their chairs, umbrellas, and parking area.

The Inn also has a heated pool, Wi-fi, electric car charging stations, complimentary bikes, and off-street parking across from the main hotel.

And, if you're into the paranormal, you can count the Inn's supposed ghosts among its amenities! Lily, the resident ghost, as well as a male figure, have been seen throughout the hotel by guests. While most of the activity seems to concentrate on Lily's Room (on the 2nd floor) and on the 3rd floor, the innkeepers mentioned having strange experiences throughout the main building. I didn't have any out-of-the-ordinary experiences (I was actively trying to avoid them, actually, since I'm about the most scaredy cat person ever), but the inn has quite a few fans who come there in the hopes of learning more about Lily! (For more about the Inn's ghosts, see their website.)

Final Thoughts
Believe it or not, I've never stayed in a B&B on any of my travels before--but now, I feel completely spoiled since my experience at the St. Francis Inn was so wonderful. Although the historic district of St. Augustine has many small inns and bed and breakfasts, none other have the charm, history, and location that the St. Francis Inn has.

St. Francis Inn: Historic Accommodations in the Heart of St. Augustine, Florida | CosmosMariners.com


The next time you're in St. Augustine, book a room, and tell Joe that I sent you!

Have you been to St. Augustine? Do you like staying in B&Bs? Would the rumor of a ghost at an inn be awesome or terrifying for you?

Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary stay at the Inn in exchange for my honest opinions. 
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