About a year and change ago, the Walt Disney Company announced they were going to be involved in the planning of a new residential community called Storyliving By Disney. Upon hearing about it, my first thought was, “Didn’t they learn from their last mistake of trying to build a town?”
Apparently, they have, because this time they’re not planning on actually trying to build the place, which will be in Coachella, California. Instead, its Imagineers (Disneyspeak for planning/engineer type of people) will do the creative concepts, while its guest service cast members will handle things like wellness programming, entertainment and cooking classes. DMB Development will do the actual building and selling. And hopefully, it will be done better than Disney’s first (and only) town they built – Celebration, FL. That one started as Walt Disney’s dream but turned out nothing like what he planned.
In October 1966 – just days before being diagnosed with lung cancer and a few weeks before his death, Walt Disney made a film touting what he called EPCOT – the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Part of the 25,000 or so acres of land The Walt Disney Company had purchased, it was an introduction of his plan for a community in Central Florida where people could live, work and play.
Alas, Walt died in December 1966 and unfortunately, most of his dreams and ideas for Epcot went with him.
Although his plans for Disney World, by then named Walt Disney World to honor Walt, came to fruition when WDW opened in 1971, EPCOT was put on the back burner for a while. Of course, a theme park called EPCOT Center opened in the early 1980s, but it was nothing like Walt’s description of EPCOT; instead of being a community where people lived, it was still just a theme park with a theme of education.
But in the early 1990s, the Disney Development Company began working on a town where people could live, work and play, and that promised to have state-of-the-art everything. Located on roughly 4,900 acres in Osceola County that were annexed from the WDW property, “the community Disney built” was called Celebration.
In the early-mid 90s, information about Celebration began to be let out to the public and it sounded so perfect that many, MANY people wanted to live there. A lottery was held and the first lucky residents arrived in 1996. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for this perfect, idealistic town to not be so perfect after all…
When Celebration was initially announced to the public, I was VERY interested in living there. I was a huge Disney geek at the time and was ready to spread my wings and move out of New York. The thought of living in a small town built by Disney, and right next door to WDW, was enchanting.
Celebration had a Preview Center in those early days, before much of anything else had been built. It included full-size, flat mock-ups of some of the house styles, guidelines about what the Home Owners Association (HOA) rules would be, etc. Although I loved the planned architectural styles, I was a little put off by the HOA rules. They just seemed to be SO VERY controlling. I distinctly remember reading about the only types and colors of curtains and blinds you could use in your house. Oh, and not only how many and what kind of trees had to be on your property (that was reasonable enough), but what type and color of mulch had to be around the base of each tree, the required diameter of the mulch, how deep it had to be, etc. The prices of the homes were also, well, crazy – as the video said, a good 20-30% higher than other, similar-sized homes in the area.
I eventually decided that living in Celebration was not for me.
Fast forward a decade or so, and Joe and I got married and, a few months later, bought a house a few miles from WDW property – not in Celebration ;-). As we live in a planned community, we also have an HOA, but they’re generally reasonable.
Joe and I occasionally visit Celebration since one of our favorite restaurants in Central Florida is in their Downtown area. Coincidentally enough, right next door is a perfect example of the not-so-perfectness of Celebration, at the abandoned (and rotting) Celebration movie theater (the article about the movie theater is over 5 years old but I can assure you that it’s still sitting there, abandoned and decaying).
When I was an occupational therapist, I worked in home health care for several years and over time, I had many patients in Celebration. So I got to visit several apartments, condos, townhomes and standalone houses over the years. Some of my patients were thrilled with where they lived, but I also heard stories about leaking roofs, mold, high prices (even today, they still run 25-30% higher than similar homes in the area) and thin walls. And as much as I loved the idea of living in Celebration way back when, it’s slowly evolved, to me, as others have said, of being something akin to The Truman Show.
Like it or lump it, Celebration is a bona fide town and it’s still something of a tourist destination in its own right. With the town owners still wielding so much control over aesthetics, it’s still a pretty little place. So except for its strip mall near Rt. 192 which looks pretty much like any other strip mall in the country, it’s a fun place to drive around, just to look at. If you’re in town during Halloween or Christmas, it’s an especially nice location to admire the residents’ decorations.
Of course, some people who reside in Celebration adore living there and will not only sing its virtues but will defend the area, despite its problems, with their last dying breath. So as always, Your Mileage May Vary. As for me, as the old saying goes, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. 😉
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