Category Archives: Travel advice

Why booking through HomeAway/VRBO will now cost you extra (and how to avoid it)

Do you feel like your vacation has jumped in price lately?

One contributing factor is explained below.


Expedia bought the HomeAway conglomerate (that includes VRBO) 2015. In February 2016, many renters got a nasty surprise, when all of a sudden a 6-9% “service fee” was added when they looked at the pricing details on VRBO and HomeAway.

By next year everyone will have to implement the instant booking and “service fee” to their listings. And we are sure that in connection with this, they will block any possibility of direct communication until you have payed, as the other big rental listing sites have done.

These are the same limitations that AirBnB and FlipKey have used for years, but the difference is that their systems are based on commission (the owners pay a % of the income, and the renters pay a booking fee).

AirBnB is upfront with their fees to the renter, whereas FlipKey/TripAdvisor includes it in the rental price that is shown to the potential guest.  And we are not talking small sums, the fees that they impose are 10-15%!

(But to be honest, the fee also is an insurance for the renter, as the owner doesn’t get the payment until the guest has arrived at the lodging and has had a chance to complain if the place doesn’t exist or doesn’t resemble the listing).

What the guest sees on FlipKey/TripAdvisor, compared to what we see in the owner’s dashboard:

Skärmavbild 2016-04-01 kl. 10.30.03Skärmavbild 2016-04-01 kl. 10.33.38


The difference here is that Expedia has decided on a double whammy in their favour. Both a subscription fee for the owner, commission on the rent if payed via HomeAway’s payment system (which I presume will be mandatory in the future) and a “service fee” from the guests.

So what do you get for the  “service fee”?

According to HomeAway, they will provide a 24/7 telephone number that guests can call for assistance. If you have problems with a fake listing, I can understand it – but then you’ve always contacted them.
Most of our problems are small, if you have problems with a dripping faucet – I’d like to see what they can do!  🙂

Skärmavbild 2016-04-01 kl. 10.50.31

This year you still have the option of avoiding the “service fee” on HA/VRBO by contacting owners directly via their telephone number, website (if they have one mentioned on their listing) or by avoiding listings with a “request to book” or “book now” button.

(Unfortunately this is now longer the case, the view details have been phased out and “book now” is mandatory)

Instead use the ones with a “view details” button. They don’t have the service fee yet.

Another way to avoid booking fees is to look at the listings and see if there is anything that stands out in the title or description. Then google to see if they have a website where you can get in contact with the owner directly. You can also google pictures to see if they appear in more places than one. Chances are that the same picture is used for both listings and websites.

Just make sure that you don’t contact any listing on Craig’s list. Scammers are abundant there and they might very well have stolen the pictures right off the listing. We’ve experienced that more than once.

Sorry for this long blogpost, you can tell that we are upset!

So to make it short, be sure to save in your bookmarks, in the future it might cost you to email us via the listings!

Top 10 Anna Maria Island Travel Secrets, PART ONE!

On Anna Maria Island, many of our visitors come back time after time. Some even have multi-generational family histories on the island, returning year after year with kids and grandkids and great-grandkids that will start the tradition all over again.

But even the most frequent AMI visitors miss the hidden secrets and pockets of AMI. And not everyone has been here before!

That’s why we put together this blog post, featuring 10 Travel Secrets for Anna Maria (and its surrounding areas). We talked to permanent residents and checked out local blogs, then compiled all the answers to this important question:

“What is one aspect of Anna Maria Island and its surrounding area that not everyone knows, but should?”

Whether you’re a first-time visitor or an AMI regular, this list of 10 must-do activities and tips will have you seeing Anna Maria Island with new eyes and feeling like a local in no time.

1. Make friends on Beer Can Island.

Bear Can IslandOur local  real estate agent, Nicole Skaggs of Big Fish Real Estate, recommends taking a trip to Greer Island aka  “Beer Can Island.”

This sandy stretch is a nature haven that provides 2,000 feet of shelling beach, dense clusters of Australian pines, and plenty of open water for kayaking and exploring. Normally it’s a secluded place with visitors few and far between, perfect for finding a special piece of wood or shell for your collection.

But as the name suggests, this windswept bank off the coast of Long Boat Key doubles as a place for those who like to meet new people and have a little fun (and a few drinks) in a secluded spot.

Boaters love Beer Can Island, and many people arrive here by watercraft. You can also walk out to the sand bank from Whitney Beach at low tide. Of course, you’ll want to be aware of the tides in this case—you don’t want to be stranded when the tide comes in!

Also note: for safety we don’t recommend swimming on the northern shore of Beer Can Island. The current rushing between the island and the sand bank can be—and unfortunately has been—deadly to swimmers.

2. Rent a boat.

DSC_0950If you don’t want to chance the tides at Beer Can Island, or just like the idea of boating around AMI, many rentals are available in the area.

AMI blogger Kevin Duffey offers this tip for boat rentals:
“If you don’t have your own boat, renting a boat is easy. There are a number of places that rent boats (here is a list). One of our favorite activities is to rent a boat and head down the intercoastal towards Sarasota. There are great places to pull up on the boat on Longboat Key and have lunch. Talk about a wonderful day!

Boating does require some skill and knowledge, but if you’re careful and learn the basics, you’ll have no problem.”

3. But don’t rent a car.beachmonk001

Okay, that’s maybe a bit extreme. But if you’d rather not worry about a car, you don’t have to! Says Roque Pastorius of Island Beach Monkeys, a transportation service on the island,

“Transportation here is pretty easy. We have free trolleys (on AMI), and a lot of people combine that with our door-to-door service at Island Beach Monkeys. We run long after the trolley stops, way into the early morning hours, until everyone gets home safe. We have golf carts (with a driver). We have an open-air surf bus with karaoke [The Monkey Bus], which is a lot of fun. Transportation should be the last of your worries.”

Island Beach Monkeys even do trips to and from the airport.

4. Have a night out.


A secondary tip from Roque is to check out the collection of bar/restaurants on Bridge Street in Bradenton for a fun night on the town. This is one of the most “bustling” spots on sleepy Anna Maria Island; some bars stay open as late as 3:30 in the morning. But parking is limited, so call Island Beach Monkeys ahead of time to arrange for stress-free transportation (a safe choice, too, if you’ve been drinking!). Just be sure to compensate your drivers; they work solely for tips.

5. Discover west Florida’s history.

History buffs:  Bradenton has an interesting story to tell—that of Conquistador Hernando de Soto and his 1539 expedition to west Florida. Learn all about it with a visit to the De Soto National Memorial, which offers history tours and lessons about both de Soto and the Native Americans who fought him and his 620-man army for claim to their indigenous land.

20141209_093843The deSoto tip comes to us from Gina, a hostess at the area’s newest spot for Tex Mex: Wicked Taco Cantina in Bradenton Beach.

Try their outdoor deck for great sunset views with a free side of homemade chips and salsa! For you with a sweet tooth – their flourless chocolate torte, must be the richest, most wicked chocolate dessert I’ve eaten in 20 years!


Stay tuned as this blog is to be continued with part 2!

What your airline don’t tell you about how to prevent your luggage from being lost!

W20090529102hen you’re going to our condos in Tropical Sunset on Anna Maria Island, there’s really not much you need to bring – A backpack with a toothbrush and swimming gear might  be sufficient for your stay.  🙂

However, most of our guests seem to bring their suitcases and a large portion of those will be checking them in at an airport. So how do you spare yourselves the hassles of lost luggage on this (or other) trips?

Try these tips to avoid being parted with your belongings or make the retrieval as fast as possible if you do:

1. Always assume that your luggage will get lost. luggage-band
That means not checking in anything that you cannot replace at your destination. Keys and medication come to mind. Airlines will not reimburse lost electronics or jewellery either.

2. Remove old tags. The tags from your previous trips might very well confuse the luggage sorting system and increase the risk of your bag ending up at the wrong airport. This includes bar code stickers on your bags.

3. Tag your bags with multiple forms of ID.  Just as destination tags can get ripped off in the process of loading/unloading, identification tags can fall off too.  A good quality, permanent tag with your home address and telephone number(s) has the best chance of staying on the bag, but I’ve seen them too lay on the ground beside the airplane. A cheap paper tag that you find at the check-in counter,  can complement your permanent tag, never replace it!

4. Put an itinerary inside your bag. Put you entire itinerary, not just your flight itinerary, inside your bag. If you are staying in a hotel room that someone else reserved, you may not be registered for the room. Write down the name that your room is listed under. Put your cell phone number on the itinerary if you will have that phone with you.

6. Take pictures of your bags. The first thing you’ll be asked when you file a missing baggage report is for a description of your bags. Therefore, snap a picture with your smartphone before you leave home. Also, having pictures of your bag and its contents can help you to obtain compensation from the airlines and any credit cards you may have used to charge your flights.

7. Check the three letter destination on your tag when you check in. Bags have sometimes been tagged as belonging to another group, so an extra check is always a good idea.

8. Make your bag stand out.  Do you know howspooky suitcase many black Samsonites that are out there?! Unfortunately people will sometimes take the wrong bag or outright steal one.  The chance of this diminishes if you have an unique bag that you will spot immediately when it comes on the carousel. It’s also easier to describe in case you forgot to take a picture. If you don’t buy an unique suitcase, stickers, big tags, ribbons around the handle etc will help you find your bag easily.

9. Never, EVER, check your medication!! Not only because the bag could be lost, but because you might need it during the flight!


If you read my previous post, you might wonder what happened to my bag?

It had been checked in together with the previous party’s bags.

It had a nice detour to Fidji and arrived in Malmö 3 days after I had returned from Los Angeles 🙂

Have you ever lost your checked luggage?

sign-43978_640I once checked in my luggage at the Malmö SAS terminal.

You might wonder where Malmö is located? It’s a city in the south of Sweden, very close to Denmark.

This was in the pre-Öresundsbridge days (the dark, loomy bridge featured in “Broen/Bron” – the Danish/Swedish original TV series that is now copied as “The Bridge” in USA/Mexico and “The Tunnel” in Britain/France).

In those days one could travel on a flight ticket with a hovercraft over the Öresund strait and then continue from Copenhagen.
My flight was Copenhagen-Los Angeles.

Well you guessed right, and it wasn’t fun running around under the Californian summer sun, dressed in my uniform pants and shoes and a borrowed T-shirt trying to find something to wear for the remaining 48 hours.

Unless you have payed your trip with a gold /platinum credit card that will allow you to go on a serious shopping spree within a few hours, chances are you wouldn’t be that thrilled either.

So can we prevent our checked bags from going walkabout?

And if they do, how do we make sure they get returned asap?

Stay tuned and I will talk about this in more depth the next time.


Ever thought about swimming with manatees?

Ever since we started visiting Anna Maria Island I have wanted to swim with manatees. Finally I got around to it this December and it was such a wonderful experience!

During the winter months, the gulf waters get too cold for the manatees and they spend their time inland where they can find warmer water. About 2.5 hours drive north of AMI are the most known areas, Crystal River and Homosassa Springs.

I drove up to Crystal River and did a boat trip to the Three Sisters Springs. After receiving wetsuit and gear, we looked at a video with information about what one may do and not do. (No approaching the manatees, only passive interaction from us, the manatees have to be actively seeking contact)

It was with great anticipation that I entered the water. My body felt the cold water (the springs are 72F), but the wetsuit soon made it ok to be in the water, floating with a yellow sausage.

Then I saw them, these gentle giants that were resting and feeding in the area outside the confined springs.
They are so big and when you have three of them swimming under you at low tide, it’s kind of intimidating and wonderful at the same time!

Unfortunately there are many that get hurt by propellers and you can tell in my movie that the calf’s mother had a nasty encounter with one, by the large scar on her back.

I was really fascinated and got out of the water as the last one of the group. Boy was I cold by then! Luckily the captain had warm chocolate and I had brought warm clothes, socks and a fleece throw, so it didn’t take too long to warm up again.

My trip with captain Casey was excellent and Manatee Tour and Dive was very close to the springs. We did appreciate that when we went back, being so cold after 1.5 hours in the water. I bought my ticket via Groupon and got a good deal that way.



The Other Side of Anna Maria Island

We love to kayak and do it a lot at home, during the summers.

Last year I was on a manatee excursion with a guide from Mote Marine Laboratory on Long Boat Key. Highly recommendable! We learned a lot while idly paddling the area. Unfortunately we saw no manatees at the time, but a lot of other creature. Mote Marine’s calendar normally has a lot of interesting events.

This is another excursion I want to make!

The Other Side of Anna Maria Island.

5 reasons why Anna Maria Island might not be for you.

We love to be on Anna Maria Island, every time we pass the Manatee bridge to AMI, our pulse rates slow down.

2 chairs on AMI

Relaxing on AMI

You might not have the same experience if you belong to the below categories:

  • People with fast cars, that love showing off and doing burn-outs by the traffic lights.  This place has 15-30 mph speed limits and it’s enforced! Besides, they might mistake the golf carts for speed bumps.
  • Surf dudes have more luck if they stay on the east coast. This coast is more paddle board than surf board, if you get the drift  🙂
  • “My kids only eat BigMacs and Pizza Hut’s pan pizzas” Sorry, we have great burger joints and pizzerias on AMI, but no chain food restaurants. (Ok, so I lied, there’s one, a Subway in Holmes Beach, how did it ever get there?)
  • If you enjoy drinking, dancing and partying until the sun goes up, rent somewhere else. This island is usually quiet by 10 PM…. and that’s the way we like it!
  • “My name is Rex, and I love to fetch the balls that my master throws in the water”. Sorry Rex, tell your master that dogs aren’t allowed on any of the beaches on Anna Maria Island.

Of course you can always do excursions from the island to do the mentioned things (but it would be a bit of a commute to surf…)

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