This article was originally published in July 2020. I’ve updated it with some new observations and I’m re-publishing this post to celebrate my 23rd year in Orlando (April 1, 2021).
As a hardcore Disney fan, it was my dream to live in Orlando. As a lifelong resident of New Jersey, it was my dream to live anywhere else. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh – New Jersey is still ‘home’ in many ways and there are many things about it I loved when I lived there, but once I moved to Orlando, I never looked back and never regretted the decision.
The first (and biggest) adjustment for me was wrapping my head around the fact that Orlando was no longer ‘vacation’. I’d only ever known this place as an escape. An escape from stress, work, and New Jersey. Now it was home. The stress and the work follow you (thankfully, New Jersey didn’t). However, Disney still serves as my escape – only now it doesn’t require 6 months of planning, strategic packing, and airports. Now, I can just hop in my car and go whenever the mood moves me.
Yes, other things required adjusting as well. Bugs are a big deal here because of the climate, but you’ll find a good exterminator and before long the two of you will be on a first-name basis (Hi Raul). The weather here can turn on you without warning. Going from ‘sunny and 70’ to ‘crap, we pissed off God’ in the span of 15 minutes isn’t hyperbole.
There are also the expenses that come along with living here that may not be common in other places. Pool maintenance for one. If your home has a pool, it’s going to have to be maintained. The speed with which a pool will go from ‘Caribbean clear’ to “Creature from the Black Lagoon” will amaze you. Also, pools require pumps, and pool pumps add to your electric bill. So does air conditioning. If you’re like me, and really have to have the house around 72 when it’s 95 outside – then you need to be okay with $400 a month electric bills.
Another expense tied to moving to Orlando is landscaping. I kill any plant I touch, so a good landscaper is a must for me. With some HoA’s, the cost of landscaping is included, but in many cases, you’ll need to find your own. You would think that given the fact that Florida is a state with warm weather year-round, that there would be an abundance of good landscapers available. Unfortunately, my experience has been just the opposite. Landscapers tend to be – ‘transient’ for lack of a better word. If you find a good one, hold on to them for dear life.
On the other hand, there are lots of positives that were much easier to adjust to. I remember the 2nd day here after I moved, I drove over to Disney property. As I passed under the arches it really hit me – I live here now. For a Disney fan, that’s a pretty prolific moment. After years of Orlando being an obsessive vacation destination, suddenly it’s woven into the fabric of my life. I can tell you, 23 years later, I still feel that.
However, this past year I’ve found a new appreciation for Orlando’s other theme parks, Sea World and Universal Orlando. In fact – a lot of locals are ‘rediscovering’ these parks – in part because they still offer annual passes for sale. Even locals who never give a second thought to theme parks are reconsidering after a year of lockdowns. They want to get out of the house and ‘do something’ fun, and well – you live near theme parks so the story kinda writes itself.
Coming from New Jersey, another thing I really appreciated about moving to Orlando was the pace was a bit slower and people were a bit friendlier. I never realized how stressful the pace of life for me in New Jersey was until I’d been here for a few months. I remember my first time interacting with a toll-taker on the expressway here. She politely handed me my change, smiled, and wished me a good day. It doesn’t sound particularly eventful unless you’ve dealt with their counterparts on the Garden State Parkway. I would have been happy if she didn’t throw the change at me. The smile and well wishes were just gravy.
But probably the biggest thing I’ve learned since moving here is how it has changed my relationship with Disney. What was once an annual or bi-annual pilgrimage to nerd mecca was now a part of my daily life. There was no more stressing over ADR’s months in advance. No more waiting months to experience the newest ride, show, attraction, hotel, or restaurant. If Disney World improved my mood and quality of life as a vacation destination, those things became even more pronounced when it was a short drive away. I’ve said this 1000 times and I’ll say it again – being able to pick up one evening and pop over to Epcot for a nice dinner never EVER gets old. Yes, of course, the stress and challenges of everyday life will follow you regardless of where you live, but as a Disney fan, there’s no place I’d rather be.
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22 thoughts on “I moved to Orlando 23 years ago. Here’s what I’ve learned -Updated”
Wonderful article. Thank you Pete
Well said! Cements my future decisions for me….thanks!
Love this! and I know for sure my first priority would be to find a Raul haha…..
FIND* not fine… ugh!
We’re contemplating snowbirding from WI. But here’s my question about being able to just pop over to Disney anytime. Can you really go to the restaurants easily without an ADR? Can you really get on those new rides without booking FastPasses 30-60 days in advance?
I still make ADR’s, but I make them a day or two before, or even that morning. It’s kind of fun opening up the app to see what’s available on a whim. I’ve gotten BoG, California Grill, LeCellier multiple times like that.
Of you are popping over to Epcot for a dinner , don’t you have to pay a park entrance for fee Epcot.
Yes, you do need park admission (ticket or annual pass) even if you live locally.
I remember the forums from the late nineties! I actually joined in 1998 despite what my signature says. Hard to believe how far they’ve come and how much invaluable help I’ve received from everyone on them. Thank you Pete!!
Love the feelings you have with your move and the Rios.
Thank you for the heart felt article on your move to Orlando. I have never wanted to move to Florida, BUT your article makes me want to now:) It would be wonderful to just pick up and go to WDW when you want to, and that’s a big plus. Like you, we are once a year visitors and cherish every magical moment. Something to think about…….
Pete, I’ve often thought of moving to Orlando to be near Disney. I live in the Midwest and not sure I would love the very humid heat year ’round. Summer in Saint Louis can be brutal. Did you miss having four seasons?
In the first few years I did, but then I realized “5 months of summer, 7 months of spring (give or take)” and I got over it!
Like Pete, I’m a Central Jersey transplant and I got here December 1, 1990.. I’ve never regretted it. I’ve lived in Bradenton, Palmetto, Tampa, back to Bradenton and back to Palmetto next week. From Palmetto I’m less than an hour and a half from an Epcot gate.
There was a lot I missed, mostly food related. Couldn’t find a bagel. Forget good pizza. A good hard roll was non-existent. Taylor Ham or Pork Roll didn’t exist in Florida. Then in the mid to late 90’s things changed. Boar’s Head cold cuts moved their executive offices to Sarasota. Pizza guys from “up north” moved down here. And Publix Supermarkets adapted with the times stocking brands us northern transplants loved.
There are a few other things too that I missed or missed out on. Lots of weddings and funerals. High School reunions. Cousin’s kids birthday parties, first communions, HS graduations, confirmations.
But I didn’t miss family. When my parents moved down here they didn’t have more than 2 days without company for 2½ years. It continued with my wife and I for about a year and a half! And we did get back there for an occasional wedding or funeral or vacation.
These days, although I consider NJ home, every time I leave Florida, I can’t wait to get back to Florida and “home”.
I have always loved how balanced you are with your information. You are clearly, like I am, a diehard Disney fan. But you tell it like it is, with a positive attitude. My family is tired of me saying, which I stole from you, we have to be close enough to Disney to go to Epcot on a whim for dinner. Thanks for this article. We are maying our move in 47 days, but to Valrico.
Pete, thanks for the article – Just curious- electric really $400.00 yikes! does the entire state have the electrical rates?? What about the bugs that’s all we ever here about is the bugs- I’m from up north and I wonder is it really that bad?
I’m in the minority in terms of my electric bills. Keep in mind that I work from home (so I’m here all day) and I do run a broadcast studio out of my house. I don’t, however, have a pool. When I did, I remember what that did to my electric bill. As for the bugs, no – it’s not like it’s the apocalypse or anything, but because of the climate, they do tend to be more prevalent here than I was used to in the northeast. Like I’ve said, a good exterminator is worth his/her weight in gold!
Thank you for your advice. As always helpful and welcome.
When we started house hunting in Orlando 5 years ago, I have a couple requirements (other than price). I wanted to be in a gated 55+ community that was far enough away from Disney to not be in a touristy area but close enough to get there any time I wanted. And I didn’t want to have to drive on I-4 to get to Disney! So we ended up just north of Clermont… a wonderful area.
We have solar panels on our roof and our electric bill averaged less than $6 a month for the past 12 months. Our gas bill averages about $33 a month. This is so much less than what we paid in Minnesota. And no state taxes in Florida is a big bonus.
One of my favorite benefits of living so close to Disney is that I can now volunteer at the Disney marathons. I love it! I’ve met some wonderful Disney fans, Imagineers and Cast Members this way. And I’ve gotten to see lots of the backstage areas that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
I can’t imagine ever leaving this area.
Grew up on Long Island and moved to SoFlo in 2003. It isn’t the greater Orlando-area but it fulfilled my childhood dream to be closer to Disney World. (My drive to WDW is about the same as it was for me to get from Long Island to Six Flags Great Adventure. I’ll take the drive from SoFlo to WDW any day!!!) I have always enjoyed your perspective on all things Walt Disney World and my 20 year old (journalism student at UF) listens to your podcasts religiously. Thanks for writing this article.
BTW, today is Trader Sam’s day at our house. We are attempting to recreate happy memories of our visits to Trader Sam Enchanted Tiki Bar (our favorite) and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.
Thank you for your articles! My family and I live in Pennsylvania, and we’ve recently decided that we’d like to move to Florida. You’ve shared lots of great perspectives and given us lots to think about! Every day I get more excited to make our move, and your articles have increased my excitement!
I live just outside of Orlando for almost 20 years moving from central NJ. Disney was a part of the reason for the move, but the real driver was the weather. I was working in a rat race public listed technology company where it was highly competitive. The move to central Florida didn’t change either, but lessened the magnitude.
There are countless eateries to cover almost everyone’s pallet. Besides a lack of local, 24 hour diners, local pizza restaurants, hot dog stands and scrapple (I’m originally from eastern PA), there seems to be a trend to offer more of these foods as the population continues to explode.
The stressful times are hurricane season when your in the cone of uncertainty. We’ve fled to other parts of the state to mitigate the risk of personal safety, hoping our home(s) would be intact when we returned. Thankfully, nothing happened other than a power outage.
I never looked back after making the move.