Part of the Florida For Grown Ups Guide.
Just South of Disney, the town of Celebration can be reached via the 192 or exit 62 off the I-4
You could be forgiven by first entering the gated land of Celebration and thinking where the hell am I? Think Stepford Wives, think the Trueman Show….
Celebration can seem almost too perfect.
The birds sing in the trees, the sidewalks are clean and free of rubbish, the people all look happy, nothing is out of place. The houses are amongst the most stunning, with perfectly manicured lawns and white picket fences; most of them patriotically displaying the American flag on their porch.
A community created by Disney
The town of Celebration was created by Disney in the 1990s to be the ‘perfect place to live’, a place that felt like 1950s America. With a $4 billion investment, it was designed to be somewhere were residents could feel safe enough to not have to lock their doors – an idyllic neighbourhood where everyone knew everyone and everyone was a friend. Disney’s vision was that Celebration would be ‘a fresh start in a world gone wrong’ (arguably, something that Disney could be accused of having contributed to!).
Being situated so close to the Disney parks, yet tucked far enough away from the busy Orlando traffic, Celebration was always destined to be the desired place to live in Central Florida. In fact, once built, anyone wishing to purchase one of the prestigious first homes (of which there were over 400), had to be entered into a lottery as competition was so fierce.
Living in ‘The Bubble’
Celebration has a large community and is separated into ‘villages’. Residents appear to have everything they could ever desire right on their doorsteps; a thriving cafe culture, cute independent shops, a bank, a church, a hospital, a cinema, a dentist, a golf club, a school, restaurants – you name it, Celebration probably has it.
Tip: Of the restaurants in Celebration, the best for dinner is Thai Thani. The best for a light lunch and a cheeky cocktail is the Town Hall Tavern.
As idyllic as it sounds, you can’t buy property here unless you are willing to abide by the strict ‘Community Charter’ which lays down a long series of rules (it’s 160 pages long!).
The Charter covers all manner of instruction from what plants are allowed to grow in front gardens, how high to keep your grass, having to display Mickey Mouse in all homes and ensuring that holiday decorations are displayed tastefully and taken down in time! Some might understandably deem this set of rules somewhat ‘over the top’ – and far from idyllic.
In a town so eager to be pure and clean, all promotions of fast food are removed and ‘crass’ billboard ads are strictly forbidden. To this end, Celebration has also earned itself a reputation as being pompous, out-of-touch and false. You either love it – or you’re freaked out by it.
A murder…..in Celebration? 😱
Yes….it’s true. Even the most ‘perfect’ places can have a grizzly history. Despite its ‘whiter than white’ reputation, there was in fact a murder that took place in Celebration in November 2010. A teacher in his 50s was strangled with a shoelace in his Celebration home and viciously bludgeoned to death. His body was not discovered until days later, by a neighbour. His killer, a homeless man, claimed that his victim had tried to sexually assault him, prompting the attack. Following his death, others in the Celebration community came forward to claim that the deceased had molestered children in his care.
This ain’t no Disneyland….
It just goes to show that you never know what goes on behind closed doors, white picketed fences and fixed smiles.
The Lakes around Celebration
Celebration is built on swamp land so it’s no surprise that the town is connected by a series of freshwater lakes.
On the main lake in the centre stands the gorgeous Bohemian Hotel (yes Celebration also has its own hotel too). We have stayed here on countless occasions and it’s my favourite hotel of all time – clean, spacious, smells great of scented candles – and it has views to kill for. There isn’t a more perfectly placed hotel to stay at and soak up all that the town of Celebration has to offer. Of course it has a swimming pool and a lovely terrace overlooking the lake, where you can grab a cocktail and watch the world go by. It’s not especially cheap (around $150 a night) but it’s worth it. Hey – you’re worth it.
Hours can pass in a heartbeat when you walk around these lakes, taking in the array of wildlife, impressive mansions and the Florida sunshine. No traffic, no chaos, just peace and tranquility. Now that has to beat hours spent queuing to ride a rollercoaster at a theme park!
The best place to start your walk is on Front Street, near to the Bohemian Hotel. The walk around the main lake is about a mile, but there are plenty of interlinking lakes to explore too. The paths and walkways make navigating your way around easy and you can also hire a bike if you prefer. Honestly, if I lived here, I’d take up running in a heartbeat because no two visits to the lakes are the same, thanks to the ever changing flora and fauna. This is exactly why I always make a trip to Celebration a priority, when I’m in Florida.
If you love wildlife….
If feathery, furry (and scaly) creatures, big and small are of interest, you will be in seventh heaven in Celebration! The wildlife here is incredible.
You can’t fail to spot something interesting lurking in the bush, hiding in the trees or walking their own trail around the lake. It’s not unusual to spot raccoons, deer, opossums, armadillos, grey foxes, wild turkeys, herons, cormorants, grasshoppers, snakes, squirrels, beetles, lizards and alligators! Yep, even the gators choose to live here in Celebration, on the doorstep of the residents (quite literally sometimes).
So, all of you David Attenborough wannabes, get yourselves down here with your cameras!
This community just loves an event!
Lastly, if you find yourself at Celebration when it’s an annual holiday such as Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas, you can be sure to have a VIP invite to their annual party, which always takes place on the street in the centre of town.
Oktoberfest, for example, happens the last two weekends in October and features stalls from local restaurants serving up food and drink, live music, pumpkin painting and even falling leaves at certain times of the evening. I wish I could say the falling leaves were something spectacular, but sadly not – though I’m sure kids love it!
Although I haven’t witnessed it first hand, I am led to believe that throughout December it even ‘snows’ in Celebration (despite the heat!) and Christmas music is piped from the carefully disguised speakers around the town and the lakes. Good old Disney. It certainly made its stamp on Celebration, albeit discreetly (in the main).
So there you have it: Celebration. A hidden gem amongst the theme park chaos. A place where you can grab a brunch with eggs ‘sunny side up’, have an afternoon stroll in amongst the wildlife, play a spot of golf and finish up with some tasty food and a well earned drink.
I’m in no doubt; if you’re not already convinced, you’re definitely intrigued….