Welcome to our review of “Dean’s Villa”, 5229 Oakbourne Avenue, Solterra Resort, Davenport Florida.
I’m going to start by saying we had a problem with the booking – a quite major one. And it would be easy for you to assume therefore that our opinion of the villa was somewhat skewed and malicious as a consequence. Hopefully by the end of this post you will see it as a fair and balanced review which will give you some information to mull over when considering this property. It’s quite a story but it’s relevant and I hope you’ll persevere and read through until the end.
We were looking for a property that could hold our party of 14 (8 adults, 3 children, 3 infants) and this villa we found on TripAdvisor seemed to fit the bill. Plus, the two downstairs bedrooms and shared bathroom suited Sue and her mother quite nicely. The villa is privately owned and operates through a local management company. You can find it advertised on a few property sites; we found it on TripAdvisor but since our visit it no longer appears with them.
The villa is located on the Solterra Resort which is in Davenport, south of Orlando and the theme parks :
Davenport is further south than we have stayed in the past, and we saw many nice villa resorts further north in the four corners / Champions Gate areas which would have considerably reduced the drive time to the northern attractions, including the large Westridge resort just off the 192 where we had previously stayed. The area is still under massive development, new villa complexes are springing up everywhere and this became highly noticeable at night, when the I4 interstate became extremely congested around the Champions Gate Exit 58 area, as floods of people headed back to their villas after the fireworks at the theme parks. Champions Gate itself can be a total bottle neck at times, and the alterative routes to Solterra via the 192 can also be subject to long queues at the intersection of 192 and N. Old Wilson Rd. My advice, download the Waze app on your phone to navigate around the congestion (you’ll need some roaming data), and remember there are about three alternative routes to choose from and a few shortcuts that Waze knows about and you should alternate between the routes depending on the traffic. There were some roadworks on the I4 at Champions Gate (March 2022) but these didn’t hold us up as much as general congestion on the I4 in both directions at times.
For Solterra, when returning from the theme parks we often found that carrying on down the interstate I4 to junction 55 Haines City instead of coming off at Champions Gate Exit 58 cut out 15-20 minutes of standing time at peak times. But generally, we feel the route back from the theme parks using the 192 / North Old Lake Wilson Road is the best option.
Journey times where as follows based on our own experiences:
|Start||End||Distance||Time (Slack)||Time ( Peak)|
|Solterra||Magic Kingdom / Epcot||14 miles||20 mins||45 mins|
|Solterra||Hollywood Studios / Animal Kingdom||12 miles||20 mins||45 mins|
|Solterra||Old Kissimmee||5 miles||10 mins||15 mins|
|Solterra||Universal Studios||20 miles||25 mins||60 mins|
|Solterra||Sea World||18 miles||25 mins||55 mins|
|Solterra||Walmart (Old Lake Wilson Rd)||8 miles||13 mins||16 mins|
|Solterra||Champions Gate (Shops / Restuarants)||3 miles||7 mins||15 mins|
|Champions Gate||Magic Kingdom (For comparison)||11 miles||13 mins||25 mins|
|India ridge||Magic Kingdom||9 miles||11 mins||30 mins|
I will talk about the Solterra resort later on, but for now, let’s get back to this villa. And let’s address the problem head on.
My son-in-law Alun had booked the Villa from Friday to Friday via Trip Advisor, and once the booking had been made he was in constant touch with the owner Dean May, who seems like a nice guy and was very accommodating. We were especially grateful for his assistance when we had to postpone the visit due to the pandemic and lockdowns that occurred in the UK / travel restrictions imposed by the US government, and Dean was happy to move our booking on by a year and also accommodate two new additions to the family. We paid special attention that the new arrival and departure dates were correct and confirmed by Dean in writing. You will understand the importance of that shortly. With only a couple of weeks to go, Alun was still in contact making final arrangements for our arrival, and Dean issued the door codes for the electronic entrance lock. We we were all set.
We flew to Florida via Icelandair – reviewed here and arrived into MCO Orlando around 9 p.m. where we picked up our three full size SUV’s from the Alamo desk and headed south. It was late, and although we had intended to drive as a convoy the roads were very busy and we quickly became split up. Fortunately my daughter Stacey had mobile data and was able to use Waze to navigate us to the villa.
Upon arrival at the Solterra resort just after midnight, we spoke to the guard on the gate who was expecting us – our unique dated gate passes for the three cars had been given to Alun, who had arrived before us, and the guard raised the barrier and ushered us through.
As we pulled up outside the villa, we were a little puzzled. There was a car on the drive. We weren’t puzzled for very long, as Alun and Alan came to the car to tell us the villa was occupied and the party were not due to leave until later that morning, and refused to vacate the villa despite our booking confirmation clearly stating we were due to take possession on the Friday.
To be fair, I wouldn’t have vacated at midnight either. Unless of course you weren’t supposed to be there.
Alun tried to call Dean to ask his advice, but Dean hung up on him. Twice. That left us in a bit of a dilemma, with three babies and an 84 year old mother in law in the car all needing to get some much needed sleep.
We went back to the gate and spoke to the guard. He checked his details and confirmed we were on his list of arrivals, but was powerless to help us obtain entry to the property. And to be honest, this is America we are talking about, and we weren’t about to start throwing our weight around when you don’t know how safe you are.
So instead, we wearily asked for directions to the nearest hotel, which was a couple of miles back the way we came. Unfortunately there was no room at the inn. In fact, after a hour of calling round every hotel in the area, there was no room in ANY inn. We were homeless.
By this time, just about everyone was somewhere between upset and distraught. I fell back on our tried and tested solution – Denny’s. For those of you who don’t know, last time we were here we got locked out and spent most of the night in Denny’s until the UK owner awoke to give us instructions on how to get back in. So here we were again, fourteen of us sat in Denny’s, all over-tired and trying not to appear to miserable. Eight year old Poppy however was reduced to tears, thinking there WAS no villa, and we weren’t going to have the long awaited holiday. Sue’s mum put a very brave face on and never complained once. The babies were tired, hungry and stressed and we have to thank the staff at Denny’s for going above and beyond and helping out with water for the babies bottles etc.
At 3 a.m., having eaten as much early morning breakfast as we could face, and all coffee’d out, with most of us dropping on our feet, we decided the only option left was to beg for mercy at the gate house and see if we could park up on the resort somewhere and try to get some sleep in the car until the next morning. The guard was agreeable to us parking behind the resort’s clubhouse, and we stayed there three hours, uncomfortable, tired, and very miserable. What would have been nice if they had offered up the model show home for the night, or maybe let us into the club house, but neither were offered.
6 a.m. came and the inevitable happened – Someone needed the bathroom. So I had a quick word with the others and we headed for the 24/7 McDonalds. Only its wasn’t a true 24/7. Only the drive-thru was open. BUT it was 5:58 and they opened at 6:00, and they were very good at letting us in to use the facilities and we grabbed some much needed coffee while we were there. On the way we did a drive past and the occupants were still on the drive of the villa.
Sue came up with the brilliant idea of visiting Walmart, which was about 8 miles away – to be honest I was past driving at that point but we made the trek again, and spent a hour wandering around the store, which is basically a large ASDA. Or ASDA is a Walmart – it’s the Chicken and Egg scenario.
By 8 O’clock we were done with shopping and done with waiting, and we figured that we would go back to the villa, bang the door down, and as they should be due to depart at 10, they could let us at least sit around the pool until they left. That turned out not to be an issue as they had left when we returned, and our unique electronic door code worked, and we were in.
Of course, we couldn’t go to bed. The beds had been slept in, there was dirty towels everywhere, and the place was generally a mess – bins full of rubbish etc.
The luxury villa we had been promised and were looking forward to seeing was nowhere in sight…
Alun finally got through to Dean who was apologetic, and said the previous party should have left Friday morning. He said he would compensate for hotel costs etc., and Alun noted that we didn’t have any hotel costs as we had been forced to spend the night in the cars – perhaps a mistake in hindsight. Dean said he would arrange to have the cleaners come into the house (Discrepancy Number 1 : shouldn’t they have already been in yesterday? Why didn’t they report to him that the previous tenant hadn’t vacated? ). And sure enough they turned up a few minutes later. And claimed that they weren’t rostered in until the Saturday morning, and that as far as they were concerned the changeover was Saturday and not Friday, and the previous party had not done anything wrong. It did feel like at one point they were starting to suggest we had arrived on the wrong day, but then changed their mind when they saw people getting a little agitated at this suggestion. After the previous night we were had, they were right NOT to go there.
Clearly, something wasn’t right. Maybe Mr May had double booked and forgot we were arriving on the Friday night / Saturday early morning, or maybe the cleaners had thought we weren’t arriving until Saturday so didn’t actually check the villa on the Friday, or DID come to clean Friday and finding the house occupied, gave the occupants the OK to stay another day. I guess we will never know the truth, I know which theory I’m going with.
The cleaners were able to change the bedding and launder the towels, and at Sue’s insistence empty the bins in the bathrooms and give the bathrooms a wipe down but declined to clean the house due to it being occupied. So basically despite all the hype about the house being properly cleaned for Covid etc., our villa didn’t get cleaned at all.
Thank you for getting this far – it’s relevant, as you will see shortly.
We had seen the villa on YouTube, Dean has his own channel called unsurprisingly “Dean May” and hosts a complete walk through of the villa. We were very excited to be there at last, despite the trial of the previous night.
The accommodation was laid out exactly as described, and in the main it was a perfectly acceptable and adequate place to stay for the next 14 days.
There were a few niggles. The carpet in the lounge was quite grubby, as was the cream stair carpet, which both needed a simple once over with a carpet shampooer to make the place look a little more presentable. And while I’m not one for going overboard on décor, there were a few chunks out of the wall, suitcase scrapes etc. which could have been easily touched up and made good.
The downstairs is a tiled floor throughout and was a little dusty and stained in one place (Cola spill), this being due I guess to it not getting the full clean promised between lets. We were just happy the Covid risks were much lower as their standard covid cleaning protocols hadn’t been met on this occasion.
It was disappointing the owner or management company never offered to get the cleaners back in and do the thorough clean we would have expected between bookings.
Furniture wise, the lounge sofas left something to be desired – they looked so nice and luxurious in the photos and videos but obviously that was back when they were new. Time has taken its toll and now the back cushions were totally misshapen and they weren’t particularly comfortable to sit on.
I didn’t ask how the others were getting on with their beds, but our large double in the downstairs double bedroom had an awful mattress that squeaked and creaked loudly when sat on, as did the large wooden bed frame, and I was almost apologetic when I climbed into the bed late each night due to the noise it made.
Still on furniture, the villa boasts an attractive looking ‘conversation nook’ out by the pool complete with two huge rattan sofas, but we hardly used this at all. The cushions on the rattan furniture were well worn, almost ripped through in places, and were mostly wet – not at all inviting.
For some reason the roof would dump some water on the the sofas overnight from the gutter – even when it hadn’t previously rained – to the point where we started to take in the seat pads just to keep them dry enough to sit on, but mostly we sat around the six seater patio table.
A new set of seat covers could easily fix this.
There are chairs and a couple of sun beds but no pool toys. Maybe the later is due to the pandemic, but we purchased some from Walmart anyway and reluctantly left them behind due to luggage restrictions. Perhaps someone else will benefit from them.
The pool area is surrounded by the normal large screen mesh but unfortunately ours had a small rip in mesh on the side door which allowed things to ingress. We had lizards and squirrels visit the pool and it did make us wonder what else might creep in when we weren’t looking. A little off putting.
The pool is separated from the deck by a mesh fence which adequately protects against accidental pool entry by the inquisitive little ones. While we are speaking about accidents, I implore you to make sure anyone exiting the pool deck area is COMPLETELY dry before entering the villa. Even after toweling down well and being wrapped in towels, it was difficult not to drip a little water on the tiled floor if for instance you needed the bathroom. Once this occurred, the tiles became a veritable ice rink, and we almost lost Momma on the first day of use when she stepped into the house on to the slightly damp floor and started skidding all over – she just managed to stop herself going her full length by grabbing the dining table but it could well have been an ER moment.
It’s not the best design, having to walk all the way through the house to get to the bathroom – at our last villa the downstairs WC had an access door from the pool area too, which was ideal – something to watch out on the floor plans next time.
While we are reviewing the outside, there is also a nice sized gas BBQ which we used on one occasion, but you are required to cook outside of the screened area, off the deck. This wasn’t the best option as it removed any protection from local wildlife. We soon found ourselves being watched by a few geckos and plenty of little flying insects. It would be better to have the BBQ inside the screen, there was more than enough room.
Just on the pool, It’s a nice sized warm pool, and apparently the pool guy comes weekly to check on it. It was crystal clear when we arrived, and we followed all the instructions about showering before we entered, not leaving toys in the pool etc. but by the last day it was getting murky, and this was more evident at night when the lights were on in the pool. Now, the pool guy may well have been during our stay, we were hardly ever in, but it wasn’t the cleanest pool we had been in by the end of the trip, and I for one gave it a miss on the last day.
Back inside, the villa boasts a large kitchen space with breakfast bar, and a large dining table in the adjacent dining area. Perfectly adequate and in good condition. Beware the breakfast bar stools, they are slightly unstable and we did have a couple of occasions where they almost tipped over in use.
The kitchen is well provided, although there is an absence of baking trays for the oven. Possibly this is because it seemed from the TV that most people make makeshift baking trays out of “aluminum foil”, or tin foil as we might call it, and it did make cooking pizzas difficult as they tended to droop between the wires on the shelf.
We only attempted cooking one time, as when the oven was switched on, it filled the kitchen with thick smoke – we were surprised it didn’t activate the smoke alarms. We managed to control it by having the over-hob extractor running flat out, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience and we didn’t repeat it. While I expect most people dine out, never the less we would have expected the oven to be cleaned properly and in working order – clearly this hadn’t been cleaned or checked for quite a while.
Similarly before we discovered the kettle in the pantry (an odd place to store it) we thought the only means of boiling water was via a sort of coffee filter / hot water machine. We tried boiling water once in it but it started to exude brown slimy excrement from underneath somewhere, and the water it produced had an unpleasant scum floating on the surface. Again, possibly hadn’t been used for a while, but for me, it was overdue for being thrown in the trash.
Other than that, there was a decent sized microwave, which we figured out how to use, and a huge fridge freezer with ice machine. Now, most American households probably already have one of these and no how to use them, but we didn’t and could never figure out how to get it to produce ice – we assumed from the various labels and displays that it did. It would have been useful if the instructions were made available for the fridge and microwave.
The kitchen also boasts a nice size pantry, and there is more than enough cupboard space to meet your needs.
We had a minor roach problem, most mornings we found a little one scurrying around the kitchen, and once in the bathroom, and in this climate we should maybe expect the odd one. What we did notice is that we would regularly find one INSIDE the dish washer, and this made me wonder if the breakfast bar had the beginnings of a nest in it. We never saw anyone to report it to and it didn’t get to the stage where we considered it a problem.
Next door, there is a HUGE laundry area with its own sink, and HUGE top loading washing machine and front loading tumble drier. Not everyone could reach down to the bottom of the washer, it was THAT big. A very useful area if you don’t intend on bringing two week’s worth of clothes.
To complete the downstairs tour there was a second bedroom with twin single beds and fitted wardrobe and large dresser. Our double also had a fitted wardrobe and dresser – the wardrobe door was hanging off when we arrived but once reported to the owner, it was quickly refitted by their maintenance team, although we didn’t risk closing the door again.
The downstairs twin room also had a full size cot, which was too big to relocate. We really needed it upstairs but instead one of the little ones slept in with Momma which worked out OK.
Bedding was aged but clean and perfectly useable There were plenty of towels provided, but you will have to wash them occasionally as there isn’t enough to last the whole two weeks stay. There was also a small supply of multicoloured bathsheets for use around the pool.
Between the two downstairs bedrooms is a small bathroom with walk in shower, WC and wash basin. All in good condition. Watch the shower floor, the tiles when wet are quite slippery, and there are no grab rails to steady yourself on. The wall basket in the shower was rusting badly and could have benefited from being renewed.
One thing to note was the toilet – or more precisely, the rather large plunger stood next to it. It wasn’t long before we found this to be a necessity. This toilet obviously has a known flushing problem, and we had to manually clear it with the plunger on three occasions. Be careful how much paper you place down this toilet and be prepared to give it a hand after flushing.
Finally, there is a small office area downstairs off the main lounge which is adequately furnished but we never used. And in the hall a door into the large empty double garage where you can park your car if necessary. We were not allowed to park on the road so we had to put one SUV inside then the other two on the short drive.
Also in the hall is the alarm – the instructions kept changing for this, but in the end the instruction was simply “don’t touch it” as the alarm was apparently activated automatically when you locked the front door using its straightforward electronic lock.
The villa boasts good, fast wifi with clear coverage across the whole house, and provides cable TV too – the combination of TV and Cable control was a bit complex, with different rooms having slightly different set ups, some needing one remote control, some needing two. The cable boxes were a bit temperamental at times, displaying all sorts of strange set up messages, but we got them working in the end. As always there are plenty of channels to choose from, as well as netflix on the smart TVs.
On the second floor you will find the other bedrooms, all in good order – the master bedroom boasting a large shower room and huge walk in wardrobe. One bathroom also had a bath which was useful for the little ones.
All the bedrooms are accessed off of the central landing that also hosts a nice sofa area, TV, full size pool table and two video machines. Although this area was one of the key reasons for selecting this villa, we actually never got to use it – we were just too busy with other stuff, using the pool or arriving back too late and going straight to bed. But it is one of the better layouts – many of the neighbouring properties appeared to have a games room set up in the garage.
I heard no complaints about the amenities upstairs and to be honest, I only went up once to deliver Oscar to his mum when he woke up too early, but it did seem to be a really nice place to relax if you can find the time.
A quick word about the Solterra resort. Advertised as a gated complex, you arrive at a guard house with barriers, and most times on entry we found that the tag hanging from the rear view mirror was sufficient to let us through with a friendly wave. But on occasion, the guard was occupied inside, or chatting to another guard, the barrier was up and we drove straight through unchallenged, which sort of defeated the object.
As this was also basically the main check-in area, we often found a lengthy queue at the gate out into the middle of the highway while the guard leisurely chatted to new arrivals, handed over their passes and gave them directions. Not great at times. they maybe need a separate entrance / area for new arrivals.
The site is tidy, has its own security guards that patrol around occasionally in their marked cars, and generally people stick to the parking restrictions although on two occasions our neighbours had parties that spilled out on to the road and it was difficult to maneuver around all the cars on the streets.
They make a big thing about keeping the trash in the boxes provided to deter “critters”. Well we never saw any alligators, but we did once order take away which arrived a few minutes before we did to the villa, and we got to see raccoons running down the street with our fries… You have been warned!
Now Solterra is allegedly a quiet resort with lots of rules about noise at night etc., but we found it could get quite noisy and on two occasions we had neighbouring properties having pool parties well in to the early morning, with lots of shouting and loud music. We also heard what sounded like gunshots on one occasion around 11 pm, or maybe it was fireworks – its hard to say as Ive never heard a gunshot in real life, but it was a bit unnerving.
The resort has a gated clubhouse and pool complex complete with small cafeteria, which again despite best intentions we didn’t get to use. There is an access card in the villa to gain entry into the club house area. We did visit the pool one morning though, and found it really nice and very well kept. We also tried out the lazy river but evacuated quickly when we found it had two small snakes swimming in it, clearly trapped. Apparently these were later found to be non-venomous and harmless florida ringneck snakes but still, it put us off and we didn’t return which was a shame.
The resort also has tennis courts and play areas but we didn’t get to try them out either. Walt Disney has a lot to answer for! But in fairness, this was primarily a Disney trip and that’s what we concentrated on.
Would we recommend this villa?
For me, the property ticked most of the boxes, bar those few little niggles mentioned above. The
Villa’s handbook makes the point that if you find anything with the property, let them know, “you are my eyes and ears”. Well, while I have no problem reporting faults that impact on our stay, but in fairness it’s not really down to me to be monitoring the ongoing state of the property, and either the owner or the management team should be saying, “you know, this carpet needs cleaning” or “you know, we need to change this sofa, it’s past its sell by date”.
The fact that so many of our little niggles appeared to be just general maintenance and attention to detail, then it smacks a little of mild negligence and indifference. Yes, it’s a rental property and yes, its a business. But if you are advertising a luxury property, it serves you well if you make sure once in a while that it fits the bill.
But most importantly is the customer service. When you are flying over 4000 miles, and arriving after midnight, you need to have confidence that your booking is solid and the individual handling your booking understands the commitment you are making and the trust you are putting in them.
And you’ve got to know once you’ve started the journey, they have your back and will help you sort out any problem that arises.
So hanging up on your clients just because its late? Why the hell do you think we were calling after midnight unless we had a MAJOR issue? Thanks for that.
And not making any contact AT ALL during the stay? OK, you mostly wouldn’t expect to hear from the landlord during a rental but I tell you, I’ve been in quality assurance and customer service for years, and if one of your customers has had a problem on your watch, then you damn well keep going back to them and making sure they are ok. Because if something has caused the customer’s perception of your offering to fall well below expectations, then you have a responsibility to change that perception before they leave – or your reputation and business pays the price. And a moral duty to ensure they get the experience that they paid for.
But worse still, not to answer ANY communications after the stay? Well that certainly smacks of “Go away, I’ve got your money now, you got to stay in my villa, now move along”. AM I wrong? Well, ignoring us after the event is NOT the best way of changing my opinion if I’m being frank.
Right at the start of this piece, I noted that Mr May had stated he would pay for our hotel accommodation, and we replied there had been no costs. I think he took this as his “Get out of jail free” card. Although there was a hint of some sort of compensation, it’s gone silent since then. So maybe we should have come up with an imaginary hotel bill. To be honest we’re not that sort of people. BUT nevertheless we did incur costs – $200 in Denny’s for a start, half a day at Disney the first day which equates to around $700 of wasted park tickets, and the mental and physical cost from the stress and discomfort endured sleeping in a car park that night.
I’m not looking for a ton of financial compensation, but you know what, a heart felt apology, a truthful explanation on what went wrong, and maybe something at the time like “I’ve asked the management team to drop you a pack of beers or a bottle of wine in to say sorry” or “we’ve booked you in for a meal” would have been a nice gesture of acknowledgement.
And I seriously would have expected the cleaners to pay a second visit in any event, we deserved that, and maybe halfway through the week for Dean to have called or emailed and said, “everything OK now?”
Clearly we are on different pages when it comes to customer care.
So we are all of the opinion that this has turned into a case of “Oh well, Sh#t happens, get over it”.
In which case, all I can say is this.
Nice Villa. But lacking in any essence of basic quality control, and any sense of customer care, ethics or morals. Our conclusion?
You’ve got to have confidence your booking is secure and sound. Give this one a miss.
We stayed at 5229 Oakbourne from 26th March – 8th May 2022, and have received no financial incentive to review this property.