It’s a Celebration!

Celebration AveFor many of you, this entry is not news, as I’ve talked gushed about our big move to Celebration, FL for a while now on facebook and twitter. We have been Celebration residents for exactly one week and as of yesterday, have the resident ID’s and parking stickers to prove it. I thought it would be a good time to reflect on why we wanted to move here before I explored what it’s been like to live in “The Town That Disney Built.”

Two of my favorite movies are Pleasantville and The Truman Show. Both offer a wonderful commentary on how we make our own reality and ignorance may not always be bliss, but a balance can be struck between the simple pleasures in life and our hectic day-to-day reality. I always likened Celebration to Pleasantville, while in reality it IS very similar to The Truman Show since that movie was filmed in Seaside, FL. Everything seemed perfect at first glance, but what was it really like to live there? Common sense tells us there are still mortgages and bills to pay, jobs to go to, sometimes unruly kids to manage. Add to that the fact that Celebration has from the start been a bit of its own tourist attraction since it was initially developed and owned by the Walt Disney Company, and many people chose to paint it in a bad light. The land is actually part of Kissimmee/Osceola County now (and has been for quite some time) and the downtown area buildings were sold to the Lexin Capital back in 2004. Still, tourists and locals alike flock to the downtown area for special events and festivals that take place throughout the year and sometimes just to drive around and look. Like we did for 17 years.

I can’t comment on what life was like in Celebration back when the first residents moved in, but I do recall when the announcement and groundbreaking took place. During a Walt Disney World vacation from Massachusetts back in 1994, we saw the billboards and drove over to tour the model area. Back then, the ‘houses’ were two-dimensional life-sized cutouts of homes, in the different styles Celebration neighborhoods would be offering. We dreamed and wished we could live in such a place but it ended there, after hearing how the first lots were being awarded by lottery. We (we being my mother and I at the time – I was still in college) weren’t really in any position to move to Florida…or were we? It was around that time that I decided I wanted to work for Disney and we packed up our lives, I dragged my boyfriend with me and the three of us moved to Orlando in 1995. Building was still going on then and when the home my mom bought in Orlando was under $100,000 and she put a pool in, the thought of homes starting at $200,000+ was a little intimidating at the time. But we kept dreaming and visiting the model homes, and the downtown area. We still have a postcard that was sent to us after visiting the model center, and we still have an original green “Celebration, Florida” license plate that we bought in the store back when it was on Bloom Street, secretly hoping we’d one day be residents.

Celebration FL license plate

Real life happened, my boyfriend became my fiance and then my husband, our first home was bought, our first child was born and a second one was on the way when we moved back to Massachusetts. We played “musical states” for a while before settling back in Florida in 2003. And we *still* would drive over and visit the models of North Village being built and later Artisan Park. It still seemed so out of reach, but the dream never vanished.

Fast forward to 2009, when I first began my adventures here on ZannaLand and at year’s end, was chosen for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel. My life changed completely by the end of 2009, in only good ways. Well, one bad way, the once ‘no big deal’ one-hour commute from our home north of Tampa to Walt Disney World had now become a gas-guzzling, time-burning ordeal that caused cries of “Do we HAVE to?” from my previously Disney-fied children. I know, this is completely a ‘first world problem’ and not something I am truthfully complaining about. But over time, I was making the commute more and more frequently and as my colleagues and friends expanded, the wheels began to turn with the thought, “Can we move back to Orlando? Should we?”.

When we moved to the Tampa area in 2005, it was for a job transfer my husband had received. Originally, he was put up in an executive-stay hotel and would come home on the weekends. We visited him during spring break of my oldest son’s first year in school, and decided we actually really liked the area. As much as the Metro-Orlando area had SO.MUCH.STUFF.TO.DO. the area we were looking in was much more laid back, and rural. The town we moved to was pretty much one big cow pasture that was slowly getting developed into subdivisions and businesses. Then the bottom dropped out of the market and development came to a screeching halt – including the promised amenities of our own subdivision, which were the major reason we bought the home we did. It became increasingly easier to look for a new path. And 17 years after that first ‘if only…’ that path led right down Celebration Avenue.

Market Street Celebration
Market Street in the heart of downtown Celebration

Now of course, we still thought it was impossible. But I’d always said, as we left Orlando in 2005 that if we came back, I’d be very picky about where we lived. It’s especially hard with kids in school…we didn’t want to move someplace temporarily and then have the kids transfer if we changed school zones. In addition, my husband had to secure a job in this area, or risk an even longer commute than he currently had. We just sort of put the idea “out there” into the Universe and decided to see if things could come together. If they could, great, if not, we would stay put. In the meantime, we had friends that lived in Celebration (lots of friends actually) so we knew it was more than just a tourist attraction and the fears I had of living so close to Kissimmee’s 192 were assuaged when we’d stay at our friends’ house and realize how secluded and insulated the town really was.

The stars aligned for the home we found. The realtor told us about it 4 months before it was really going to be available, but the people leaving had a newly built house to go to and were able to leave early. It fit every criteria we had and it also had every item I’d ever wanted in a ‘dream home’. The icing on the cake – it was less than a mile to my husband’s new job. He could walk to work if he wanted to! So while I’ve been saying for 2 years now that dreams do come true and people might be sick of that…I’m living proof that they really do.

We’ve already experienced quite a bit in the short time we’ve been living here and I’ll go into some of my impressions in the next update.