Choosing a Snowbird Home in Orlando
We received an email from a reader who asked for our advice in choosing a snowbird home in Orlando. Visiting Walt Disney World was part of her concern, and she’s fine with being up to an hour’s drive away from the parks.
As it happens, we live roughly an hour’s drive away from the parks. That has a huge impact on our visits, but it’s not the only issue to consider if you’re looking for an Orlando vacation home.
The options are seemingly endless, so Lee and I decided to share what factors would matter to us if we were moving to Orlando or seeking a vacation home here.
How Much Disney Do You Need?
Living in Orlando is very different than visiting Orlando, particularly if your primary purpose is visiting Walt Disney World. Everyone’s tastes and desires vary a bit, so we don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer here.
If you want to visit Walt Disney World is your primary purpose, we recommend living as close to the resort area as possible. Believe it or not, there are wildly varying price ranges for living spaces that are quite close to the parks. You can spend millions in Golden Oaks and live right on Disney property.
Living just a short drive off-property gives you options from the Disney-built city of Celebration, FL to buying in a trailer park at Vista Del Lago. Before you turn your nose up at the idea of living in a trailer park, check out the reviews. For a vacation home, this may be a good combination of living space, proximity to Walt Disney World, amenities, and price.
Just those options give you the choice of living in a mansion, single-family or multi-family homes, apartments, or trailers. Life is wonderful.
Of course, your options grow if you want more than Walt Disney World in your life.
Major Florida Highways You Will Love or Hate
There are four major roads that lead to and from Walt Disney World. If I were choosing a snowbird home in Orlando, these roads would have a major impact on my consideration. It’s not just a matter of how you get to and from Disney, but also how you get to and from everything else you need to live here.
Here they are in no particular order.
1: Interstate 4
Despite being called an Interstate highway, it only travels through Florida from Daytona to Tampa. It’s also in the early stages of a major reconstruction project called I-4 Ultimate. In other words, plan on traffic plagues for the next 5-6 years.
Yes, it’s a major artery leading to and from the Disney Resort area, but it also has frequent traffic jams that bring cars to a dead stop near all of the Disney exit ramps, in either direction.
While that may change in a few years, it means that you’re going to face a lot of issues if you rely upon this road from most of the major areas of Orlando and the surrounding communities.
2: The Beltway Roads – 417 & 429
These are both toll roads and they encircle the Orlando metro area. 417 runs from Sanford, FL down to I-4 by the Walt Disney World exits. You could take I-4 from Sanford and it would be shorter, but it’s worth paying the tolls on 417 for a better, calmer driving experience to Disney.
If you fly into either Orlando International Airport (MCO) or Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB), then both are near 417 and would be my recommendation to visit Walt Disney World. It’s the same road that the Disney Magical Express uses.
429 is the western half of the beltway. While it doesn’t serve any major airports, it’s another option leading to Walt Disney World from relatively less populated parts of the Orlando Metro area and beyond. Mostly beyond.
3: US 129
US 129 intersects all of the roads mentioned above and runs East/West along the southern end of Walt Disney World. It also serves Celebration and Vista Del Lago.
While useful, I’m not fond of this road. East of Disney, it’s also home to a lot of rinky-dink gift shops, restaurants, hotels, and places I don’t want to visit. I’m not afraid of the area, but driving through those places makes me feel like I need to take a shower.
Top 5 Neighborhood Recommendations to Consider
There are a lot of lovely neighborhoods in the Central Florida area, as well as some I would avoid. It’s not practical to list them all here, particularly if Disney access isn’t high on your list of priorities.
If we’re choosing a snowbird home in Orlando primarily for the purpose of visiting Walt Disney World on a regular basis, these are our top 5 choices.
It’s a relatively new neighborhood filled with choices among single-family homes, multi-family homes, and apartments. They host an annual Marathon, 10K, and other races. Lee is an endurance runner who participated a couple of times. The residents were out cheering on the runners and seemed very nice.
The community has lovely homes, as you would expect from a Disney-planned community. There are markets, restaurants, and other services inside Celebration, and it has easy access to US 192, I-4, and 417. It’s a very short drive from Walt Disney World without having to get on major roads, which is a welcome escape from traffic at the end of a long day in the parks.
Another relatively new community with plenty of amenities and fairly close to Walt Disney World, ChampionsGate is south of Disney property heading down I-4. It’s roughly 10-15 minutes of driving time during normal traffic.
My only concern about living here is the drive to anything else in Orlando. Going up I-4 would be the most logical path to Downtown Orlando or Winter Park, but then you have to fight the traffic. It isn’t that far up I-4 to get to 417 or 429, but those roads lead around the action, not into it.
3: Vista Del Lago
For a few months out of the year, I’d seriously consider getting a mobile home here. The Vista Del Lago community reviews are outstanding and it’s just as close to Walt Disney World as Celebration. Besides, you can see the fireworks from your home.
4: Dr. Phillips/Bay Hill
These neighborhoods are north of Walt Disney World and well established with grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and other services. Dr. Phillips is where your co-workers live and Bay Hill is where your boss lives.
You have nearby access to International Drive, Universal Studios, and back roads to Walt Disney World. You’re also close to Restaurant Row on Dr. Phillips Boulevard. Most of your major road traveling relies upon I-4, but you can have a fairly straight drive to the Orlando International Airport without tolls – just lots of stop lights and traffic.
Depending upon where you live, you may or may not see fireworks from the Magic Kingdom or other parks.
Windermere is a small, bedroom community west of Orlando. If you want to be away from the masses and highways, this is where you go. Get a house on the lake and you’ll have a nice view of Disney fireworks every night. You’ll also be up to your butt in alligators and snakes – this is Florida.
You can tell this is an old community because the Windermere web page looks like it was built in the 1600s. A friend of mine from high school was a police officer here decades ago and the town hasn’t really changed since then. Fortunately, that lack of change is exactly what appeals to most of the folks who live here.
You have a long drive to get to a major road. On the other hand, you can avoid those roads when you visit Walt Disney World and take the path less traveled on back roads. Just beware of running over critters in the night on your way home.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a snowbird home in Orlando. We haven’t even touched on the financial issues of renting vs. buying. Also, we’re looking at this issue based on proximity to Walt Disney World and how often you may want to visit.
If you have questions about these neighborhoods, or if you’d like to weigh in with your own suggestions, please leave a comment below.