By Susan and Simon Veness
If we had a dollar for every time we’ve been asked, “What is it really like to live in Orlando” by British visitors considering villa ownership in The Happiest City on Earth, we could retire today. With that in mind, let’s take a slight departure from the normal Friday round up and answer that question...
You’ve made the long overseas flight, you’ve arrived in Orlando, you’re doing more, eating more, soaking up more sun, and sleeping far less than you have during any other holiday you’ve ever taken, and at some point you’re going to look at your family and say, “We should live here.” It’s practically a starry-eyed inevitability.
But is the reality of living in Tourist Central really as good as the rose-coloured glasses suggest? Well…yes, and no. There is no denying the weather is a massive bonus. You’re never bored for something to do, you could eat in a restaurant three times a day for two years without going to the same place twice, and there is no State Income Tax. But Orlando has its challenges, too.
We can’t talk about the pros and cons without mentioning the weather, which fits both categories. You can sit outside in the evening during most of the year, and if you have a good ceiling fan over the patio that time frame is extended. But the heat and humidity of July, August, and September drives most locals indoors. When the rest of the country starts hunkering down for the winter once October arrives, Floridians dust off the patio furniture and take their meals outside again. Plus, we can open the windows and get ‘free air conditioning’.
Although it’s the bane of every tourist’s visit, rain is a welcome sight for the locals. The sound of a good downpour means we’ll have fewer brush fires, we don’t have to water our plants, and it might just cool down for an hour or two. And those hurricanes we get now and then? No one worries about them. They rarely hit Orlando, and while we do get far more rain and the wind might knock the barbeque into the pool, more often there is very little impact. Tornadoes are another thing—and you must have a weather alert system as there is no city-wide siren alert—but that’s what interior rooms are for.
Fresh produce is hard to find (how is that possible? We GROW it here!), and it’s common for fruit to rot in just a couple of days. Most of Florida’s fresh produce is exported to other states, a major drawback for those of us who like our salads.
But one of the biggest surprises for those who do buy homes here is the maintenance. Lawns need mowing twice a week in summer; pool chemical balance, cleaning, vacuuming, and skimming is never ending; air conditioning—an absolute necessity at least 6 months of the year—is expensive; and stuff decays like it’s being paid to do so. That cute umbrella you bought for the pool deck? Moldy by mid-August (and so is the pool deck. And the front walkway. And the roof). Pretty metal chairs on the patio? Rusty within a year or two. We won’t even talk about keeping the spiders and cockroaches (called Palmetto bugs to keep non-Floridians from freaking out) out of the house and the fire ants out of the garden. A good pest service is compulsory. So is a good garden service who will keep your palm trees trimmed so those massive seed clusters don’t fall on your head.
But the biggest drawback is the roads. Not that they’re bad, just that they’re full of crazy drivers. If you’ve been here, we don’t need to tell you that. Excited tourists, most of them lost, all of them distracted, tired, and overheated, veer off wildly, as if the rules of the road they are accustomed to at home don’t apply here. Add international visitors whose rules of the road (and side of the road!) are different and you absolutely must keep your wits about you at all time. There is very little public transport, and you certainly can’t walk most places, so it’s driving or staying home if you live here.
But it’s worth all of that for the incredible variety and convenience Orlando offers. Drive-thru food, pharmacies, banks, and dry cleaners; easy (and free) parking; 24-hour shopping, dining, and entertainment. There are thousands of restaurants to choose from, service is (usually) excellent, and coffee and soft-drink refills are free.
There’s room to move, room to breathe, room to stretch out and get away from the hectic pace. Drive 20 minutes from Disney and you’re out in the country. 60 minutes and you’re at the beach. Want to stay closer to home? Hit the parks for an hour or two every day. We use Epcot’s World Showcase as our daily walk. If you can’t be happy here, you can’t be happy anywhere.
So that’s the low-down on what it’s like to live in Orlando. If a big move is not in the cards for you, you can still get the feeling of being a local. Hire a villa, set a few days aside to relax and enjoy it, and leave the planning to the tourists. And if you see us at our ‘local’ (below), give us a wave!
Restaurant Recommendation: Since we’re talking about being a ‘local’, we’re going to recommend our ‘local’, the Orlando Ale House. Part bar, part restaurant, part sports-fanatic playground, there is no health food here, no haut cuisine or trendy sushi. What they do have is killer Zingers (ridiculously delicious boneless chicken wings) and excellent drink specials. You’re not going to see and be seen here, but you’ll certainly make friends with the people at the table next to you if you visit during a big American football, baseball, or hockey game. And if your footy team wins, anyone cheering for the other team will probably give you a congratulatory high-five on their way out.
Favourite Quote of the Week: The Cast Member doing the spiel on the Walt Disney World tram to the park asked for no further boarding, twice. The onboard safety spiel was played, indicating everyone was on board and seated. Naturally, a late-arriving family decided none of it applied to them, so they jumped on just before the tram began to move. The CM came on the intercom and said, “My apologies. I wasn’t clear in my instructions, and that’s my fault. I’m fallible, as are we all. I will endeavour to be much clearer next time, so please accept my sincere apologies. Now, let’s hear that safety spiel again.” Everyone laughed at his good-natured ribbing…except for the family who boarded last.
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