My wife and I are just back from a vacation at the Walt Disney World resort outside Orlando, Fla. There are generally two kinds of people in the world, people who have been to Disney World and Disney people. We are Disney people; this trip was our ninth since 2004. By way of explanation, I can only say our first trip to Disney was both the honeymoon my wife and I never had—we were married in 1999—and, at age 30, her first pilgrimage to the mouse ever.
What can I say? The place grabbed us, and Disney, as a culture, hasn’t let us go. In addition to the nine trips to Florida, we’ve made two trips out to Disneyland in California and one to Disneyland Paris for our 10th wedding anniversary.
I’d tell you we’ve also been on five Disney cruises, but I don’t want you to be uncomfortable when we run into each other on the street.
It should be no surprise that some non-Disney folk have joked over the years that my wife and I should just go ahead and live at Walt Disney World. The alleged quip is always made, I’m sure, with visions of sharing a chamber in Cinderella’s castle or bunking atop the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House flitting through the joker’s mind because everyone knows you could never, no matter your level of obsession, actually live at Disney World.
Except you can. And we’ve considered it.
Celebration is an unincorporated town in Osceola County, Fla, which was conceived, planned and developed by The Walt Disney Company under the direction of then-CEO Michael Eisner, who wanted the community to be a tangible realization of Walt Disney’s vision for the experimental prototype community of tomorrow.
You know that idea as EPCOT.
Celebration’s population was about 7,500 as of the 2010 census. After all the levels of municipal intrigue are counted, my research suggests Celebration homeowners pay in the neighborhood of $3,000 a year to start in property taxes.
Of course, they’re also paying in the neighborhood of Walt Disney World, so that’s got to count for something, right? The north end of World Drive, one of Celebration’s main roads, begins on Disney property near the Magic Kingdom and runs right into the town. Between that and the town’s WWII-era design, it’s easy to see why Disney people like my wife and I might think Celebration is the place to be, especially as we currently live and own in Westchester, renowned for the highest property taxes in the United States.
Even some of the municipal services in Celebration have magical origins. The phone company, Smart City Telecom, was once Vista United Telecommunications, a company Disney created to handle phone service to its parks and resorts. Smart City acquired Vista United in 2001, but still operates its service, including that for Celebration, from Walt Disney World.
Celebration’s power company, Reedy Creek Energy Services, is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company founded for the express purpose of powering The Walt Disney World parks and resorts.
How is this possible? Well, contrary to popular belief, Walt Disney World is not actually in Orlando. It actually exists between Osceola and Orange counties in what’s called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which is the collective name for all the property Walt Disney purchased—under a variety of pseudonyms—for his “Florida project” during the 1960s.
In its geographical autonomy, Walt Disney World is basically the Vatican, but with princesses and ducks.
There are three main sections of the RCID. The City of Bay Lake, where most of the Disney World parks are located, the City of Lake Buena Vista, which includes the Downtown Disney entertainment and shopping area, and the unincorporated RCID.
Sounds kind of like Mamaroneck.
The combined population of the cities inside the RCID is 57, by the way, but they do have their own fire station.
So, now you know it is possible to actually live in Walt Disney World or, at least, it’s possible to live in a place where the Magic Kingdom is at the other end of the road on which you live.
But, like I said at the top, I don’t think I’d want to live in Celebration, or be one of the 57, presumably employees, who live in the RCID itself. As much as we love Disney, I don’t think I want it to be all there is to life.
And that, I think, is what makes living in Westchester so desirable.
The highest property taxes in the country is not something for which one would wish, but for that money we get quality schools, by and large. We get New York City to the south and rural tranquility stretching upstate toward Canada. We get a county of not just cities, but of little villages and towns, each with its own history and culture, along both the Long Island Sound and the Hudson River. We get pockets of our own art and theater, and, perhaps best of all, it’s entirely real.
Westchester is entirely us and that’s the difference for, as great as Disney is, it’s a for-profit reflection, in many cases, of a bygone age which some of us wish would come again in the way we like to remember it, or else of a time the rest of us know only through the haze of others’ nostalgic recollection and wish we could have been there.
We’re not perfect in Westchester. We struggle to realize what the ideal town or village should look like in the modern age, but, for good or for ill, the things we do have, the things we all agree are special, are real, as are the opportunities, both north and south, to broaden our cultural horizons.
And it was a Westchester car service, after all, that sent the late Davy Jones’ base player to pick us up from Kennedy Airport. He introduced himself as Nicholas, but fans know him as Mark Clarke. He’s a delightful man—only driving the car until next month, when he goes back out on the road with his band—and the ride home was an extra bit of real-world magic added to the fun my wife and I had down in the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
So, yes, we love Disney, perhaps uncomfortably so for most, but I’d rather live here.
Reach Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas.