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As most residents would attest to, Central Florida is an incredible place to live. With its close proximity to major theme parks, beaches and world-class entertainment, there is always something exciting to see or do. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic threatened the lives and safety of residents and caused major setbacks to the area’s much-relied-upon tourist industry.  

2020 was a year full of devastating loss and unforeseen challenges. Though Central Florida has been deeply impacted by COVID-19, residents have shown true strength and unity throughout this past year. Now, as restrictions begin to ease, many Central Floridians are eager to return to the lifestyle they knew prior to the pandemic.  

Many people are beginning to feel more confident in resuming their usual activities as the COVID-19 vaccine has become accessible. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer says, “The availability of the vaccine has brought great hope for a better tomorrow and for more of a return to our normal lives.” He adds, “Getting vaccinated not only helps ensure your safety and the safety of others, but it also helps in our community’s economic recovery, getting more of our residents back to work, bringing more business to our local entrepreneurs and hosting more events in our neighborhoods and venues.”

Living in the Sunshine State certainly helps to provide an ideal environment for safe outdoor gatherings, concerts and events. Many area communities have taken advantage of the Central Florida weather and gotten creative with their events and activities. Instead of canceling its in-person Fourth of July gathering, Lake Nona opted for a neighborhood car parade, and also reimagined its annual holiday celebration with distanced entertainment and interactive digital displays to create some much-needed holiday cheer.  

Though many events and gathering are now able to be held indoors, neighborhood venues are eagerly and cautiously welcoming back audiences. Orange County Convention Center Executive Director Mark Tester says, “We continue to work with our customers on safety and security guidelines, that they determine and we follow, for a safe and secure environment. We will work with all of our events based on their unique needs to give their attendees a sense of comfort.” 


The safety of residents and community members has been paramount during the past year. “Throughout the entire pandemic the city of Winter Park has based their decisions on keeping our residents, businesses and staff safe,” Mayor Phil Anderson says. “We have been quick to respond to the ever-changing nature of COVID, kept our city informed and created programs and assistance to help our community recover. We altered public meetings by making them safe, socially distant environments for city business to continue.”

Some communities even plan to continue certain “new normal” activities post-pandemic. Denise Sedon, assistant general manager of the Hunter’s Creek Community Associations, says the community “has been holding meetings remotely via Zoom and [we] have realized a nice increase in resident participation, so much so that we are discussing a plan to keep the virtual meeting component even after meetings return to normal.”

Sedon also notes, “Many of our residents took their time at home as an opportunity to spruce up their properties, with architectural review applications more than doubling over the same time frame from the previous year.” 


Residents weren’t the only ones to improve their surroundings; many cities and towns have been hard at work refurbishing, with Ocoee being a prime example. “The city is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar capital improvement program to enhance public spaces and provide key infrastructure in Downtown Ocoee,” says Joy Porter Wright, community relations manager. “A new City Hall, the centerpiece of the city’s historic downtown revitalization, is scheduled to be completed in May 2022. In addition, a downtown master stormwater facility is being constructed that, when complete, will treat stormwater from downtown properties while functioning as a public nature park.”


Even during the darkest times, Central Floridians banded together to help each other. As Dyer says, “Throughout this pandemic, I am proud that we have been united as a community in our efforts to protect one another, to assist neighbors in need, to appreciate our first responders and medical professionals, and to support our small businesses and tourism industry.” 

Though at times limited in resources, many residents and businesses joined forces to help their fellow neighbors. “Beginning last March, all YMCA facilities and programs were temporarily closed as a safety precaution for nine weeks, but thanks to the support from donors and members who continued their memberships, the Y was sustained and even able to pivot to offer new services for neighbors in need,” says Dan Saginario, YMCA vice president of brand and cause advocacy. “Examples of these new programs include providing emergency child care for first responders, calling seniors for wellness checks, creating a free virtual wellness cen

ter online, hosting blood drives, distributing meals and most recently serving as vaccination sites.”  

With Central Florida reopening and mask and social distance restrictions lessening, many residents say that they are cautiously optimistic for a better and brighter future. As Winter Park’s Anderson says, “Each of us can do our part to help our world recover and re-emerge safer and stronger.”

Spreading the Sunshine

Central Florida has an abundance of wonderful neighborhoods to call home.



Located in East Orange County, Alafaya is a census-designated suburb close to the main campus of The University of Central Florida. It is home to the beautiful neighborhoods of Waterford Lakes and Avalon Park, which offer an abundance of lakes, nature preserves and ponds, as well as walking and biking trails. The area also features Waterford Lakes Town Center, a premier open-air shopping center. 


Centrally located in the metro area, Baldwin Park offers a unique urban-suburban mix with its hometown feel and ease of walkability. In the 1940s, the area served as a training ground for various branches of the military and is now home to several parks, lakes, playgrounds and common areas which help make Baldwin Park one of the friendliest neighborhoods in Orlando.  


The city of Belle Isle sits among the Conway Chain of Lakes just south of Orlando. It was first inhabited by the Timucua Native American people around the 9th century. It was founded in 1924 by Central Floridians to protect Lake Conway and its chain of lakes. The lakes and parks of the city offer plenty of recreation options. Nearby Conway is a beautiful census-designated suburb to the north. With its close proximity to Orlando International airport, and less than 30-minute drive to the theme parks, the Belle Isle/Conway area is an ideal location for residents. 



Located in Osceola County, Celebration was created as a master-planned community by Disney in 1994. Though no longer owned by Disney, the area still has the small-town feel originally envisioned by the company. With exquisite architecture reminiscent of a bygone era, the community offers lots of recreational opportunities as well as many unique community events.  



Just three miles northwest of downtown Orlando, College Park is filled with bungalow-style homes, rocking chair porches and brick tree-lined streets. Aptly called College Park, many of the streets in the neighborhood are named for institutions of higher learning such as Yale, Harvard and Princeton. 



From its architectural diversity of homes, cobblestone streets and large oak trees, Delaney Park offers the perfect mix of historic charm with modern-day living. Located just south of downtown Orlando, the neighborhood is best known for its park, also named Delaney Park, which features over seven acres of scenic views and recreation. 



Named after Dr. Phillip Phillips, a Central Florida citrus magnate, this suburb of Orlando is known for its great schools, plentiful parks, golf courses and close proximity to Universal Studios. Dr. Phillips is also home to Restaurant Row, a large stretch of numerous upscale and casual eateries.



Hunter’s Creek is a 400-acre master planned residential community with over 40 neighborhoods.  This area is conveniently located just 16 miles south of downtown Orlando and in close proximity of all of the area theme parks. This picturesque community also features a variety of parks and lakes.  



One of Central Florida’s fastest-growing areas, Lake Nona is home to a world-renowned Medical City, offering some of the finest in medical care, facilities and education. The community also features Nona Adventure Park, a water-based family entertainment center as well as the U.S. Tennis Association’s National Campus, the largest tennis facility in the country. 



The city of Maitland is one of Orlando’s oldest suburbs. It is not only rich in history but in arts and culture as well. It is home to several museums and The Maitland Art Center, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 



MetroWest is a master-planned community located just southwest of downtown Orlando.  Known for its impeccable, award-winning landscaping, this diverse and family-oriented area is in a prime location for both restaurants and retail.  



Ocoee is lauded for its family-oriented and hometown atmosphere with countless recreational, employment and educational opportunities. Located 12 miles west of downtown Orlando and less than 30 minutes to the area theme parks, it is home to the Ocoee Lakeshore Center, a 400-seat facility with a scenic view of beautiful Starke Lake.



This growing community is home to some of the best schools in the area. The recreational opportunities are endless as the bicycle-friendly neighborhood is conveniently located near Lake Eola Park and connects to the scenic Orlando Urban Trail bike path.



Windermere is an idyllic town which offers a plethora of community activities and events, including the ever-popular weekly farmers market. Nearby Lake Butler is a suburb, admired for its lakefront living and tranquil surroundings. 



Winter Garden is often referred to as the cultural capital of West Orange County. This former citrus town is now a charming city with several museums, an art gallery and a theater. The Historic Downtown is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and features a variety of unique dining and retail options. Nearby Oakland is steeped in history as it was established in 1887. This beautifully diverse and growing neighborhood is home to the picturesque Oakland Nature Preserve.



With the feel of a European village, Winter Park is a city known for its beautiful tree-lined cobblestone streets, plentiful outdoor spaces and museums. Park Avenue offers an eclectic array of retail shops and eateries. Across the street lies Central Park, an 11-acre parcel of land that features lush landscaping, a rose garden and magnificent fountains.



MUNICIPALITY (in alphabetical order) ZILLOW HOME VALUE INDEX* (*information gathered from Zillow’s online real estate marketplace) Percentage Change of Home Value in the Past Year* (*information gathered from Zillow’s online real estate marketplace) Median Household Income** (**information from the U.S. Census Bureau and
ALAFAYA $334,567 ↑ 9.7% $75,307
BALDWIN PARK $545,565 ↑ 5.6% $74,175
BELLE ISLE $400,288 ↑ 8.0 $88,433
CELEBRATION $408,405 5.3% $86,767
COLLEGE PARK $410,394 ↑ 9.8 $92,437
DELANEY PARK $439,318 ↑ 6.6 $103,764
DR. PHILLIPS $384,310 7.6% $105,714
HUNTERS CREEK $346,394 ↑ 7.3 $69,078
LAKE NONA $415,544 ↑ 5.2% $113,547
MAITLAND $404,975 7.8% $75,944
METRO WEST $181,310 ↑ 5.6% $54,893
OCOEE $300,882 9.1% $75,329
ORLANDO $285,129 ↑ 9.2% $51,757
WINDERMERE $495,314 ↑ 7.8% $153,348
WINTER GARDEN $380,208 ↑ 7.6% $73,739
WINTER PARK $351,558 ↑ 9.1% $77,899