Posted by: Kath Usitalo | December 2, 2011

Around the Lakes: VRBO Virgin Renters Bust Out


Thanksgiving at our temporary country home near Ithaca, New York

With Paige away at college in Ithaca, New York, we broke with our tradition of a Thanksgiving dinner at home and took our turkey and fixin’s on the road.

McGraw Tower at Cornell University

In addition to spending quality time with our darling girl it was a chance for Graham to see his sister’s environment at Cornell University, and for TJ and I to tour the campus at a more leisurely pace than we’d had a chance to do on the busy weekend when we dropped Paige off at school in August.

We all agreed that we did not want to eat our Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant, and that meant finding lodging with a complete kitchen so we could cook dinner. As dedicated hotel/motel/B&B lodgers we were entering a whole new world.

That’s how we ended up at Pond View, a wonderful country house listed on Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO).

It was our first time renting a home and we weren’t quite sure what to expect.

I’d recently heard a horror story about a friend who booked a cottage in Michigan that sounded like the setting for a Stephen King novel, so I was a bit leery about plunking down money for a sight-unseen house in another state.

The cozy living room at Pond View

After doing a little research about VRBO and finding many positive reviews I decided to proceed, and found nearly 3 dozen rental houses in the Ithaca area.

Some cottages had closed for the season, others were booked; because we wanted to bring Tucker the Wonder Dog with us our choices were limited to pet-friendly places.

We were happy to settle on Pond View, aka VRBO #252996, described as “Mountain Country House on 70 Acres with 5 Ponds.” It is located about a half hour south of Ithaca in Spencer, New York.

After email exchanges with Sam, the “O” of the VRBO, we loaded up Graham’s Jeep Wagoneer with our Trader Joe’s turkey, bags of produce and groceries, snacks and goodies, movies and Christmas CDs and toothbrushes, and headed east.

We got a late start hitting the road (as we are wont to do) and by the time we picked up Paige at her dorm and drove the country road to Pond View it was about 10 p.m. and pitch-dark. We pulled up to the cozy, rustic retreat under a star-studded sky and found welcoming lights left on by Roger, Sam’s business partner (Roger and his wife were staying at their VRBO house in the area).

We arrived at night and awoke to country views dotted by pristine ponds

The 3-bedroom, 1-bath year ’round Pond View house more than lived up to its description and dozen photos and guest reviews on VRBO. Comfortable furnishings and handmade quilts fill the rooms.

The house came fully equipped for a relaxed family gathering and preparation of a Thanksgiving feast—not to mention the other foods I’d planned for the weekend (see the November 17 Great Lakes Gazette post).

We got a kick out of (and appreciated) just about everything in the house being labeled, from the contents of drawers and cabinets to the DVD player operation and tips such as where to stand for the best cell phone reception.

Kitchen cupboards and the refrigerator and freezer were loaded with staples and treats, which we were welcome to consume—but we’d brought all of the ingredients we needed for the weekend.

At Paige’s request I’d packed our stash of Christmas flicks (Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas in Connecticut, Holiday Inn) though we also found time to watch several movies from the Pond View video library (Sleepless in Seattle, Big, When Harry Met Sally, and Blown Away—hey, I like Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones).

Hiking the trail to the top of the mountain

TJ and Graham said the Wagoneer’s 4WD easily handled the mountain trails, and I was proud of my hike to the top of the hill—a note in the house claims the unnamed rise is the highest peak in Tioga County.

Tucker accompanied me on the pre-Thanksgiving dinner walk up the monster hill, disappearing for long periods into the thick woods. The dog was in his element, never tiring of running the fields and splashing in one of the ponds.

After a perfect turkey dinner we sang “Happy Birthday” to Graham over pumpkin pie and settled in for a movie night..

TJ, Paige, Graham and Kath with "Uncle" Ezra Cornell on campus

On Friday we headed into Ithaca to tour Cornell and take Paige to the fabric store so she could buy supplies for her term project: an outfit she designed for a toddler girl.

Saturday morning came too soon, but we had to head back to the (313) and return Paige to campus so she could get to work.

Virgin renters no more, Pond View may have spoiled us for other VRBOs in our future.

About the only thing missing at the retreat was an internet connection—and we really didn’t miss it at all.

NOTE: Roger stopped by on Thanksgiving morning to check on things and offered us a cut of venison from the deer he’d just bagged. We accepted the gorgeous loin, and TJ cooked it when we got back to the (313).

Watch for the recipe next week!

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The elongated dark blur on the hill is Tucker the Wonder Dog running to his heart's content on the Pond View acreage



  1. Sounds like a perfect Thanksgiving!

  2. Kath – I so enjoyed your TG adventure, it sounded like such a wonderful idea!
    Glad it worked out so well. Now you’ve got me thinking…..!

    All the best,


    • It did turn out to be a fine time.

  3. I guess you’re not counting our Saugatuck rental last year.

    KH and I, with Claretta and Jack plus 2 kids, did an Easter ski trip to the Soux a few years ago and I made Easter dinner on site. It doesn’t qualify as renting a house since it was sort of a motel with a full kitchen. I burned out a stick blender making cake batter. It was memorable.

    • The girls weekend in Saugatuck was in a different class…booked through a hotel that had that house as a rental, not VRBO. And we used it more as a hotel, didn’t really cook, etc. Somehow this was a very different adventure…
      The ski trip sounds like it was fun…

  4. […] VRBO: Virgin Renters Bust Out […]

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