Vacation Rental Spotlight: Anna Maria Island, FL
My 91-year-old grandmother enJOYing the beach with the entire family.
A vacation home can bring so much joy.
We recently stayed in a beautiful beach home in Anna Maria Island, Florida that is worth checking out for most families (especially those traveling with grandparents). It didn’t have many universal design elements, but the ones it had made vacation life easier.
The rental management company, AMI Locals, was very responsive with above-average customer service, especially given the large number of homes they manage on the island. You will find reviews that the service can be a hit or miss but most of the reviews are pretty consistent raving about the quality of the homes and location. The island itself is not very spread out; therefore, most places are fairly walkable and can be accessed by a free trolley system or rented golf cart. We did not get a chance to explore the island outside our vacation home nor did we scope out the accessibility of the trolley system mainly because we were having such a great time at the vacation home ON the beach!
I’d like to feature some simple things this home offered that made our stay more enjoyable even for my 91-year-old grandmother and brother-in-law who has multiple sclerosis.
Beach house: No Tan Lines
Location: North Shore on the bay or east side
Price: Let’s just say you’re paying for quality, comfort, and direct beach access (your very own private beach).
Tip: go during off-peak season to save a little on the rent.
Check it out! St. Petersburg, FL is just an hour's drive away and St. Pete Pier is a fun little place to explore and accessible by foot, stroller, wheelchair, walker, rollator, and more. There is a free tram that drives around the pier for those who need to conserve their energy. And, don't leave without sampling (or purchasing) some local YUMMY cashew brittle: Son'ni Boi & Petal. Fun fact: my great-great-grandfather, Charles Monroe Blanc, was the mayor of St. Petersburg, FL 1925-1926. So we did a little family history tour while visiting.
Aside from this rental being stocked with the bare minimum when it comes to essentials (such as rags and towels and complimentary snacks to hold you over until your grocery run) the cleanliness, location, and quality of this home far outweigh the lack of coffee to start off your first morning after a day of traveling. Since my toddler is an early riser, I made a quick run to the highly recommended local donut shop, The Donut Experiment, to fuel us on the first morning.
While the rent is on the high end, you’d think it would at least come with more basics. Each bathroom comes with 2 rolls of toilet paper, travel size shampoo / conditioner with a bar of soap, and very few towels or washcloths (we had one washcloth in each bathroom). The kitchen is stocked with a TON of high-end appliances but lacks the basic cooking ingredients such as salt and pepper, oil, and spices. It also lacked the necessities for keeping a kitchen clean and did not have dishrags (well, they provided disposable ones) or hand/dish towels. There is one roll of paper towels provided with a small container of dish soap and about 5 dishwasher pods. The home was basically stocked with the bare minimum which is understandable because it really depends on the length of time guests are staying so maybe it cuts back on waste.
BUT…the quality, comfort, direct beach access, and accessibility totally trump the absence of essentials. My family was able to enjoy this home and vacation TOGETHER!
This house is directly ON the beach (like 100 feet or less from the water). Given that it is on the east or bay side, the water is much calmer, but you can still hear the sound of the ocean. It is walkable to almost anything. If walking is not possible, there is a free trolley system or golf carts are available for rent as well. For runners/walkers who want some exercise, the routes are unlimited and you can make up a distance to your comfort level. It’s very private given that it’s right next to a park with a sand bag area on one side and another rental home on the other. The downfall is hearing the dump trucks during the week and having to remind public beach patrons that they could not encroach on the house’s private property. The noise ordinance is enforced; therefore, it’s quite peaceful in the evenings. Since it’s located on the east side, you see the sunrise each morning.
The fact this home has an elevator to access three levels AND a zero entry into the home to the elevator, deserves high recognition. There are four bedrooms with ample space for luggage, playard, and more. Each bedroom has an en-suite bathroom but no half bath so guests will have to either share a bathroom off the main living area or use their own bathroom. Having an elevator is key especially in multi level beach homes. We saved our backs and energy by transporting our luggage and groceries to each level. My grandmother and brother-in-law could conserve their energy and safely get to the main floor where they also stayed. My parents, our kids and my husband and I stayed on the top floor. Our primary bedroom was sufficient enough to have a playard and our toddler’s blow up mattress on each side of the bed with enough clearance for a pathway to get around the bed and to/from the bathroom without tripping or bumping into something.
The door widths were at 31 1/2” from the inside of the jams. Wide enough to fit the Rollators without rubbing the door jam. Each en-suite bathroom had plenty of warm-hot water. Three of the bathrooms had step-in showers and one had a tub/shower combo which was on the main floor with the bedroom holding two, twin size beds. The remainder of the bedrooms had king size beds. A negative was that the only grab bar was located by the toilet in the primary bathroom on the second floor.
All doors had lever style handles (with the exception of a pocket door in the primary bathroom). All faucets were controlled with single, lever style handles.
The backyard pool overlooking the ocean offered plenty of sunlight from morning to evening. The pool is great for little ones and those who like to sit in the water while getting a little vitamin D with the tanning shelf area. Speaking of little ones, there is an alarm on the sliding door to the pool to alert the door has been opened. The artificial turf is pretty, but does get quite hot to walk on with bare feet so sandals/flip flops are a must. The ocean is close enough to have about 5-7 Access Trax mats to get to the water by wheels or canes.
All the flooring was the same throughout which was surprisingly very high on the slip resistance factor (even with socks or barefoot!). The downfall is that it made it very hard to see the steps even with my 20/20 vision; therefore, every step was taken with extra time and caution. A night light was plugged in at the landing from the second to the first or main floor for the evening hours. The stairs definitely scared me (mainly because I have fallen down our steps due to missed steps thinking I was on the last one…research has even found that lower confidence can increase risk of falls and one fall can lower confidence – proof this just doesn’t affect the older population).
The kitchen is stocked with mid to high-end appliances and a pantry closet loaded with small appliances. The owners offered two ways to make coffee (one with k-cups and one with ground coffee for a pot). They had a small toaster oven with air fry, bake and reheating features, a toaster, blender, KitchenAid mixer and more. We even had plenty of dishes to host and entertain large parties if we wanted. There were a mix of plastic or non-breakable and fragile dishes (the non-breakable were for lounging and eating poolside). A grill was handy as well as a cooler for the poolside. The primary bedroom came with a sleep number bed (which we didn’t know how to use, but still super comfy). Despite the height of the elevated mattresses to get into the beds, everyone still slept comfortably.
While this rental is great for those with limited mobility, there are still barriers for those who primarily rely on a wheelchair for functional mobility even when bathing or accessing other functional areas such as using faucets and cooking (all countertops were standard height at 36"). For instance, the bathrooms are not quite set up for successful transfers or for someone to use the sink while sitting in their chair. There are a few areas of safety concerns for those with visual deficits or impairments such as poor contrast on the steps and the glass railing can be hard to see for those walking on the porch. In fact, these are not just concerns for the visually impaired but for almost anyone. Overall, this rental was nearly perfect for our family. There are some areas that would benefit from additional universal design features to make it more accessible and safer. That’s what UNIVERSAL means after all!
Recommended additional features (most are simple and cost-effective) for this vacation home and consider these for your rentals:
- At least one curbless shower (or zero entry shower)
- Grab bars in at least one shower and especially tub shower (vertical grab bars provide extra support to step into shower/tub); we rented a standard shower chair that fit perfectly inside the tub
- Add removable shower heads in all showers and tub/shower which is easier to use while sitting in a shower chair or bathing kids (and I'm sure your cleaning crews would appreciate it just as much)
- Lighting on each step or something as simple as adding a contrast strip on each step
- If no shower benches, provide at least one shower chair as an amenity for the rental or offer for anyone who requests one
- Rubber or removeable threshold to ease transition from in/out of home with wheels and reduce risk of tripping (due to type of sliding doors, the step to enter/exit porch off main living area is fairly treacherous with the height and width of threshold) – perhaps offer a vertical grab bar much like the one by garage door to hold onto when stepping over such a large threshold)
- Wider gate to enter beach (about 36” with door removed, the beach wheelchair had to be liftd over the gate to get onto the beach)
- Chair in each bedroom for people to sit on while putting on shoes and that can double as a spot to put luggage as it’s unpacked.
When it comes to universal design in vacation rentals, it doesn’t mean making the home ADA compliant or throwing up grab bars all over the bathrooms. Many places don’t even have them in the right spot anyhow. If you own a vacation rental or thinking of building one, these are some simple things that will allow your rental to accommodate a wider population. Raise the bar high (no pun intended) to make your rental high demand.