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Celebrating the Good Life

The Celebration area offers a unique slice of Florida living for residents and visitors alike.

Downtown Celebration (Photo courtesy of John Fota/CC)

Did you know that, as envisioned by Walt Disney himself, Epcot wasn’t intended as a theme park? Rather, its name was originally an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

Per Disney on his initial concept: “I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. … How do we start answering this great challenge? Well, we’re convinced we must start with the public need. And the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land and building a special kind of new community.”

Obviously, Disney’s original vision for Epcot never came to pass—but the town of Celebration picked up that torch and has proudly carried it into the 21st century. Since breaking ground in 1994 on the virgin land that Disney prescribed, this master-planned community less than an hour southwest of Orlando is now home to nearly 8,000 residents, and many thousands more visit throughout the year. What’s more, Celebration truly is perfect in the eyes of many who live there.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” says Vanessa Winter, a town resident since 2010 and president of the Celebration Residential Owners Association. “This is where we’ll die—this is it.”

Celebration 2016 Town Photo

One of Celebration’s hallmarks has been controlled growth and detailed planning made possible by the town’s status as a community development district, in which voting is restricted to local landowners—with the Walt Disney Company having the largest share. The result is a town that’s as pleasant to live in as it is to visit, with numerous opportunities for high-end shopping, dining or just relaxing.

“I love going down to our lakeside park area,” says Winter. “It’s right up against [Lake Rianhard]. It’s beautiful. You can go grab a cup of coffee and sit lakeside, or you can sit at the front where there’s rocking chairs.”

That lakeside area is also part of Celebration Town Center, the community’s retail, dining and lodging epicenter. If you’re staying overnight, you’ll want to book a room at The Bohemian. Nestled against Lake Rianhard, the four-star hotel has been rated as one of Florida’s best.

More than being a great place to stay, The Bohemian is adjacent to everything else Town Center offers—including a solid array of dining choices.

“I don’t cook very often, so we are down there almost every night for something,” says Winter. “I was just at the Bohemian Hotel and ate dinner there last night. The night before that, we were at [Celebration] Town Tavern—we just kind of rotate through all the restaurants.”

“No matter what type of food you are looking for, it’s all downtown,” says Mike Nunez, events & marketing director for Lexin Celebration Commercial LLC, which operates Town Center. That’s no exaggeration, either, given that additional high-end dining options include Ari Sushi, Cafe D’Antonio, Columbia Restaurant, and Imperium Food and Wine, among others. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss Kilwin’s ice-cream shop and Le Macraon, which serves traditional French pastries.

Also per Nunez, “[Town Center’s] quaint shopping locations offer unique items often not found anywhere else.” Some of the more notable retailers to be found in the area include clothiers such as Enchanted Boutique, Once Upon a Time and Soft as a Grape, while jewelry, décor and more can be found at Market Street Gallery. Finally, Woof Gang Bakery has special gifts for your four-legged family members.

If you’ve yet to visit Celebration and want to see what all the fuss is about, there are few better times of year than during the holidays, thanks to the annual Now Snowing event. “We go down several times for [it],” says Winter. “We love watching the kids and seeing all the people coming in and enjoying our town.”

Now Snowing, which started on November 26, will run through December 31, and it blankets Town Center in faux snow every night. Photo opportunities with Santa and ice-skating are also available. “It is one of Central Florida’s longest running holiday-themed events,” says Nunez. “With free nightly snowfall, strolling carolers and more, it is a true throwback to a different era.”

If you’re planning to experience it and would also like a close-up look at some of Celebration’s most beautiful homes and gorgeous holiday decorations, the annual Holiday Home Tour, scheduled for December 3 and 4, presents a perfect opportunity.

“It is joyful to see so many people enjoy our town and the creative spirit of our residents,” says Debi Jackson, tour chair. “Our residents are so gracious to open their homes as a benefit to our community.”

Another big event the town hosts each year is its Founders Day gala, a two-day affair that includes a parade, live music and entertainment, and a community barbecue, which starts after residents gather for an annual town picture. Musical concerts also take place throughout the year, as well as other special events.

For Winter and other locals, such gatherings are all part of what makes their hometown so special. “Things like that happen in not very many places,” she says. “And that’s certainly something that’s unique to Celebration.”

Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate

Celebration residents and visitors benefit from the town’s proximity to other Central Florida hotspots, too. The Walt Disney World and Universal theme parks immediately come to mind, but one of Greater Orlando’s other hidden gems can be found just a few miles southwest of Celebration: ChampionsGate, another planned community that’s as pleasant to live in as it is to visit.

With the massive, AAA four-diamond Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate serving as its cornerstone, this tourist, commercial and residential destination encompasses approximately 1,500 acres within a veritable stone’s throw from Walt Disney World. As attested to by the area’s top-flight schools, public services and other amenities, its residents and guests lack for nothing—particularly if they’re into golf.

“I think people are attracted to ChampionsGate as potential residents because it’s a very organized area that has more and more things that people want in the neighborhoods they live in,” says Marc Reicher, senior vice president for RIDA Development, which oversees the community. “You started with a very basic premise that you’ve got a golf course and a Publix, and now you’ve got multiple restaurants and multiple opportunities to pick for housing options, whether you’re a renter or an owner.”

Not to mention the fact that ChampionsGate is still growing. In addition to a 10,000-square-foot recreational area and the 81,000-square-foot Osceola County Conference Center scheduled to open at the Omni in 2017, new dining and shopping options are on tap for the coming year, as well as continued expansion of available single- and multi-family homes.

“We’re opening 24,000 square feet of new retail,” says Reicher. “Those tenants will be Tijuana Flats, Menchie’s, an Italian restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a nail salon, a hair salon, a real-estate office, Woof Gang Bakery is joining us. We have a sub shop we’re finalizing with, and we’re finalizing with a national vitamin and nutritional supplement store that we think is going to happen, and some other neat negotiations going on with a couple of other key restaurants. It’s a very vibrant place to be.”

With so much to see and do in the Celebration and ChampionsGate area, it’s no wonder that so many residents see little need to travel far to live the life they love. As Winter puts it: “Everything is close. In Central Florida, everything is right there.”