April 7, 2019
Now that we’ve decided we’re actually going to make the move to Disney, it’s time to stop dreaming about it and start making it a reality. So in mid-March we took our first research trip to the Orlando area. As I mentioned in February, we weren’t looking for a house — we’re much too far away from leaving to do that! And we weren’t looking at specific neighborhoods really. Our goal was to start discovering the pro ands cons of the general areas around Disney World. Once we find an area we’re interested in, then we can start drilling down into it.
We spent five days in town (including our arrival and departure days). Overall it was a successful trip. We learned a lot we didn’t know, found some new things we need to look into, and made some time for fun as well!
We arrived around 6pm. On our way to the hotel we got a glimpse at our first potential neighborhood…
…but with homes starting around $2.3 million it’s just a smidge out of our price range!
After checking in to our hotel, we immediately headed to Disney Springs. I’ve mentioned before that just hanging out there whenever I want is one of the things I am most looking forward to after we move! It was a beautiful sight all lit up on a Saturday night, especially after our ten hour drive. We hadn’t eaten since lunch so our first stop was for a quick bite at Earl of Sandwich. We spent the rest of the evening happily shopping on the Marketplace side, picking up some gifts for family members and deciding what we might want to get for ourselves over the next few days.
Before calling it a night we headed to Goofy’s Candy Company. Ever since February when the couple behind the Brookhart Project highlighted them in their video blog, I’d been drooling over the custom Rice Krispy treats. They start with a Mickey shaped “crisped rice cereal treat” on a stick, dip it in chocolate, then coat it in your choice of toppings. Examples include: peanut butter chips, mini M&Ms, crushed Oreos, coconut, and peanuts. We found a quiet seat near the water and dug in. I’d never noticed this dessert before and now I think it might be a new tradition for us. At $5 they’re a great value. And they were soooo good! But so rich. Neither of us could finish so saved them for breakfast later!
On our first of three full days in the area we decided to start where everyone seems to suggest, Windermere. This is one of the closest areas to the parks, just north of Magic Kingdom. It’s often called “the rich area” and while there are places that is true, there are plenty of middle class neighborhoods as well. We didn’t really have a plan so this morning we basically spent driving around somewhat randomly. It’s a beautiful area, not very touristy, and not a lot of traffic. But from our previous research online, we weren’t sure we could find a house with the feel we wanted at a price we were willing to pay.
We stopped at a nearby restaurant for lunch. One of the things we wanted to do on this trip was see some of the non-Disney stuff the area has to offer. And we’d heard that there are good but inexpensive places to eat everywhere due to competition for tourists. What we hadn’t counted on was that this was the weekend buffet right after church. So cheap it was not! But it was pleasant enough with a nice selection of good food.
After lunch we realized driving around quasi-randomly wasn’t going to work! So we decided to use current home listings to guide us to places we could explore. For the rest of the week we’d head to the area we wanted to research, use Zillow and Trulia to see what houses were for sale nearby, then visit them to see what typical subdivisons were like in our budget along with what the area around them had to offer.
With a better way to work, we headed west. I’m not sure what this area is called though some of the addresses we went to were listed as Kissimmee — which is weird because I thought that was southeast of the parks. This area also included some southern Clermont and something called Four Corners. Basically we were visiting north and south of where 27 meets 129. One odd thing we noticed around here (and in several other places as well) is that it seems a lot of people park on the road. In our house hunting online we’ve seen a lot of garages converted to living space. And front yards seem to be fairly small a lot of places we went, meaning smaller driveways. Maybe these two things contribute to people not having enough space to park multiple cars they may own? Like anywhere, some neighborhoods were better than others and this is an area that might work. However it did feel a little far from the parks as we made our way back to our hotel near Disney Springs.
Later that afternoon we visited the Disney Character Warehouse, an official Disney clearance store basically. We’d never been before but heard it was worth a visit. It was a lot smaller than I expected, but had some really great deals. We got an Epcot 35th anniversary mug and visor for our daughter for less that $5 each. This is a place I could definitely see myself visiting once a week as a local to see what’s new!
In the evening we headed to Disney’s property to begin a night of resort hopping on the monorail loop. We started at the Grand Floridian, made a pit stop at Magic Kingdom to get a photo in front of the train station, headed to the Contempo Café at the Contemporary for dinner, hopped on another monorail that took us around Spaceship Earth at Epcot, then finished the loop at the Polynesian where we got Dole Whip for dessert. Not too shabby for an inexpensive evening at Disney World with no park tickets!
The next day we spent the morning at Disney Springs. Our first visit was relatively brief and we were tired from the long drive. This day we were able to explore the full area, finishing up our shopping, and grabbing lunch at a restaurant that had opened since our last visit, Chicken Guy. The food here was very good compared to your usual fast food fare. But the main draw is the over 20 sauces to choose from.
Note to self: something we’re going to need to be very wary of when we move down here is to make sure we don’t eat too much!
That afternoon we decided to try north of Magic Kingdom again. We’d seen how far some of the western neighborhoods were and with a better search plan now hoped we could dig a little deeper into this closer area. We came across an issue almost right away. A lot of the houses available for sale were in gated communities. So while we were able to get a feel for what was in the area in the way of restaurants, grocery stores, and such, we didn’t get to see some of the actual houses that were in our price range in the Windermere region. Luckily we did get to see a few. But we discovered another issue we hadn’t noticed online. The houses we looked at were so close to each other! I mean they might as well have been apartments! One subdivision in particular was beautiful with colorful houses, big trees, walking trails and green spaces. But the houses were packed in so tightly. Hopefully things aren’t as bad in some of the gated communities because this is an area that would be great to be in due to proximity to the parks. But I’d like a little space from my neighbors!
Later that day we headed south of the parks to Davenport. There were several really nice houses in our budget here, with everything we were looking for. The catch was that while some were in really great neighborhoods, others were in more run-down ones — not bad, just not as up-kept as we would like. And you couldn’t really tell which was which from the pictures online. I think this is an area could be the frontrunner, if we got into the right neighborhood.
OK, confession time. I’m a huge Taco Bell fan. Go ahead, I feel your judgement and I don’t care! No, it’s not haute cuisine. And yes, I do prefer real Mexican restaurants. But Taco Bell is my comfort food. And like Disney, I’m a fan of the company itself. So when I discovered Taco Bell had one of their new fast-casual concept stores called “Taco Bell Cantina” open in Orlando, I warned the wife that we would be making a detour during our trip! These restaurants feature modern redesigned interiors, open kitchens, modified menus, and more. Plus they serve alcohol. (Not the draw for me, but for most visitors I’d bet!) The flagship location in Las Vegas actually has a section where you can hold a wedding! So we made the 45 minute journey out of our way so I could visit this fast food mecca. Unfortunately it wasn’t really worth the trip. The food was good, as always. But the store itself was a let down. I assumed Taco Bell placed the restaurant in Orlando hoping to capture some of the city’s tourism industry dollars. Nope. Apparently is was placed here mainly to draw college students wanting to drink. It’s adjacent to the University of Central Florida’s campus. And it doesn’t have one of those beautiful store fronts featured at other Cantina’s. It’s literally just the bottom floor of a student apartment complex. Oh well. It’s not often I’m let down by Taco Bell so I’ll let this one slide. But would’ve loved to live close to one of the cool, fancy Cantina’s! (Maybe something the company could consider for Disney Springs!)
On our final full day in town we planned to hit up a few last minute areas we hadn’t visited, then revisit a few places we liked. We started in the north again, but this time further up near Clermont and Winter Garden. There were some very nice areas here, but it really felt this was starting to get outside the range we would feel comfortable in. Doable and definitely better than the 10 hour drive we have now! But a 90 minute round trip at a minimum would mean having to decide if a last minute jaunt after work was worth the trouble.
We ended up back around northern Davenport to finish off our research. For those that may know the area, we’re talking about the region bounded by 192 on the north, 27 on the west, and I-4 on the south and east. We really liked the feel of some of the houses in our price range around here. Again, the right neighborhood would be key.
I’d heard before coming that Davenport was a little far from the parks (and at it’s extreme southern end that’s probably true. But a lot of it is very close. We left the last house we were looking at and headed to Animal Kingdom Lodge and it only took us six minutes to get to the parking lot!
Animal Kingdom Lodge was the resort my family stayed at during our first stay at Disney World, so it’s always felt special to me. And with a little time before dinner (and wanting to see exactly how close Davenport was to Disney property) we made a stop to check in. I have so many good memories from that trip and this place specifically. This is where the dream of living near Disney magic started, and this would be a place I’d be happy to have be the closest part of Disney property to our future house.
Finally, we headed to Wilderness Lodge, the other resort created by the architect behind the one we just left. Here we had dinner at one of our (many!) favorite Disney restaurants, Whispering Canyon Cafe. Then it was back to the hotel to sleep before starting the journey home the next morning.
Here are some of our random thoughts about the trip:
This post has been filled with lots of generalities. We really just skimmed the surface of living near Disney on this trip. And that’s all we expected right now. There’s so much we still need to figure out and we didn’t have a lot of time. And we can only comment on the little we were able to see. So if you read something that doesn’t sound like your experience in a specific area, don’t worry — we know our first impressions aren’t definitive! We still have a lot to learn and these were just our first steps.
One of the things we’d been looking forward to was some wonderful Florida weather, but we didn’t really get it! It was cooler than we expected and overcast for our entire trip. The temperature stayed in the 60s everyday and we barely saw the sun! I know Orlando won’t be bright and beautiful everyday of the year. But this was a bit of a disappointment!
Traffic was not that bad. Maybe mid-March is a slower time of year for it, but I was overall pleasantly surprised. Maybe we need to plan a future research trip for summer to see what that aspect of Orlando living is really like!
I was also surprised at how little we had to use I-4 or toll roads. I really expected we’d be on them a lot. But other than the trip to Taco Bell and a short drive up 429 while visiting Clermont, we never needed them anywhere else we went. It’s really good to know they can be avoided while still getting where you need to go.
Speaking of driving, what is up with you locals! I get it must be a pain to have to deal with tourist traffic when you just want to get your groceries. But wow! You guys are fearless… and a bit reckless! Countless cars with Florida plates in front of us would pull into traffic at the tiniest opening requiring other drivers to stop suddenly. Worse, one neighborhood we visited had a four way stop. In Tennessee we take turns at these intersections — first person there goes first, second one goes next, and so on. Here it was a free for all! No order, just briefly stop and then force your way though the intersection without regards to the other drivers! Is that going to be us one day!?
AT&T cell service sucks! I’ve had them here in Tennessee for the past 12 years. I had no service more times in our five days in Orlando than I have had in all those years before! We would get near a house we were looking for, lose service, and have no idea where we were supposed to go. We might need to consider changing providers before our next trip because it happened so may times in so many areas of town.
Every trip we buy a pin or two to commemorate something we did, something happening in the parks, or something going on in our lives. For this visit we added a pin to our collection based on the Pixar movie Up, to celebrate our decision to pick up and move our home south!
So that was research trip #1 of many more to come! We learned a lot. We still have lots we don’t know. And we have a lot of new questions! But the trip was definitely worth it. And it helps solidify in our minds that this is really happening. It’s not just a hope or a wish anymore. It is our reality!
Actually there was one more major thing we did while we were in town — something Disney has to offer that we’ve never taken advantage of before. But this post is already running long so we’ll save that for next time!