Epcot may have been inspired by Walt Disney’s initial vision for a Utopian community of the future, but if you want to see how that vision came to life in a different way, try cycling through Celebration, Florida, and you’ll see how Disney’s dream of a perfect town became a reality…in a ‘reality-TV-movie-set’ kind of way, that is.
Like the carefully planned and designed theme parks in nearby Orlando, the town of Celebration was constructed with the same attention to detail that characterizes the entertainment Parks, to the point where it appears more like a Hollywood set than a living, breathing community.
Having sprung ‘fully grown’ into existence without any of the birthing pains of a traditional town, Celebration has all of the amenities you would expect in a small town, including their own post office, hospital and fire department, but with none of the scars of older communities. All its houses are less than 20 years old, all the lawns are carefully manicured, all the pristine picket fences are religiously maintained (and monitored for upkeep) and even the water features around which the town is built are almost entirely manmade.
And since Disney’s vision was that this town would represent ‘Anytown, USA’, the architectural styles of the homes look like they could fit in any neighbourhood anywhere across the country – in fact, with the exception of one enclave where there are a few extremely luxurious homes, palm trees are not allowed on any of the front yards, since that would give away the fact that Celebration is located in Florida.
Still, there’s no denying that Celebration is pretty. My visit happened just after Halloween, and many of the houses were still decorated for trick-or-treaters, and even the streetlamps were tricked out on some streets.
But apparently Halloween is just a warmup for the big event – Christmas – when the town goes all-out with decorations, strolling Christmas carollers, and even regularly scheduled nightly ‘snowfalls’ in the downtown area!
Although it may seem like a Disney Park, there are no tour buses here (and thankfully no admission fee!). Instead, one of the best ways to tour the town is by cycling through Celebration (the geography is perfect, since there aren’t even any hills that will make you break a sweat!)
We took a tour courtesy of Celebration Bike Rental, whose twenty-something owner, Scott, is a bonafide citizen of Celebration who was born here and completed his entire education in their school system. (Which seems to be working, because Scott saw the opportunity to become an entrepreneur right out of college, and has grown his business from only a few bicycles to several hundred.)
With Scott as our group’s guide, I hopped aboard a cruiser-style bike – proving that the old adage is true about riding bikes: you never forget how! – and set off to explore the town via their network of trails. Our route included riding across pretty boardwalks that took us through treed areas, and coasting on sidewalks where, despite what some of the downtown signs say, cycling IS allowed. (Local businesses in the downtown centre try to discourage bikes by posting signs prohibiting them on the sidewalks in front of their restaurants and stores, but Florida law is on your side, so if you’re feeling like a rebel, feel free to cycle on by!).
Cycling through Celebration, Florida gives you the chance to gawk at the many mansions backing onto lagoons, as well as getting up close and personal with the wildlife and birds that also call this town home. Since there’s no danger to these creatures, they are quite accustomed to having people around and you can stop and take photos without spooking them.
I have to admit that cycling through Celebration, Florida was a relaxing way to explore the town, which was definitely worth seeing, if only as another well-executed Disney experiment brought to life. But if I had to sum up my impressions of this picture-perfect planned community, my takeaway would be that Celebration, Florida is a nice place to visit, but personally, I wouldn’t want to live there. Maybe it’s the Canadian in me, but I like my snow to be real.
TIP: Standard bike rentals cost $15 for 2 hours, or there are specialty bikes that cost a bit more (tandem, anyone?) And if you want to have a bite to eat before or after a morning ride through Celebration, the Market Street Cafe in the town centre does a good breakfast/brunch.