With more than 17 million visitors annually, Disney's Magic Kingdom holds court as one of the world's most-visited theme parks. A trip to Walt Disney World, which consists of three other parks (Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) and two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) is a must-see for many families, one that requires careful planning and navigation before setting off to explore the magical 25,000-acre world that's equal to the size of San Francisco.
Walt Disney World includes 23 resort hotels able to accommodate visitors in 24,500 hotel rooms. Staying at a Disney-themed resort, such as the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Saratoga Springs, or Wilderness Lodge, has its advantages—supervised children's activities, all-inclusive meal plans, fine dining, spas, and transportation to the parks via bus or boat. Yet staying at one of these hotels also comes at a price, one that can run as high as $500 per night for a standard hotel room.
While the amenities are enticing, the sheer size of a hotel room can be daunting, especially when sharing 300 square feet with a family of four. "Hanging out with my seven and five year old in 300 square feet is not as much fun as hanging out in a place with a common area and a private pool," says Tom Gilmore, founder and CEO of VacationHomeRentals.com.
Gilmore, who spent his childhood summer vacations in Maine, had a grandfather who rented out neighboring properties to other families. "When I was a kid, most of my friends went away to summer camp, but I got to hang out with other families. It was a great experience."
The experience gave Gilmore the idea for VacationHomeRentals, which he founded in 2004. Since then, the site has grown to a collection of more than 13,000 homes throughout the United States, many in neighboring private communities near Walt Disney World. "We focus on families and trying to save people money," he says.