As yet another “Snowbird Season” draws to a close, newbies are no doubt planning the next trip to Florida. Many are looking for the perfect place to winter over from all points north and cold. I’ve lived in coastal areas for several years, and have witnessed the Snowbird Season up close and personal. There is such a thing as a snowbird starter home. And, there’s one particular place many of them will choose a second, and eventual retirement home — The Villages. As active senior developments have grown in popularity, The Villages is unique and absolutely fascinating.
The Villages is smack in the middle of the Florida peninsula in Sumter County, 45 miles northwest of Orlando, 75 miles northeast of Tampa, and 65 miles due south of Gainesville. It’s consistently ranked in the top areas for growth in Florida. The absence of a state income tax is one big reason for Florida’s growth, but the viral growth of The Villages shows no sign of slowing down. From humble roots as a glorified trailer park in the 1960s and 70s, The Villages have grown into a wildly popular, secure-and-gated, master-planned community of homes ranging from demure manufactured homes in the mid-$100s to mansions over $1 million. It’s known as “America’s Friendliest Hometown!”
No conversation about The Villages happens without reference to Leisureville. Perhaps you are familiar with Andrew Blechman’s 2009 tome. If not, it’s a cultural examination of a new kind of age restricted retirement nirvana, complete with salacious tales of the pot-smoking, Nintendo-playing, Viagra-dropping residents Blechman selected for examination. The Villages have strict age restrictions (55 and up), with under 19 welcome for less than 3 weeks per year. (Three newer subdivisions allow children, but these fringe areas are mostly populated by the legion of people who keep The Villages running — employees and property management.) Hardship exemptions are considered, but are difficult to obtain. Simply put, The Villages is a haven for the spry retiree. They like it that way.
The Villages has it’s own radio station, cable channel, and newspaper. All proudly proclaim, “It’s a beautiful day in The Village!”
And, much like the M. Night Shamalan film of the same name, the outside world is depicted as a vast blank area on a map. Why would anyone want to leave?
Residents of The Villages enjoy premium recreation: golf, tennis, polo, community pools, 2,700-plus social clubs, live shows (concerts and theater), parks, dog parks, hiking and fitness trails, community centers, horseshoes, bocce, shuffleboard, billiards, woodworking, and softball. In addition, residents enjoy continuing education. Name a class, hobby, or interest — The Villages has it. These are three premium town center malls as well. Dining, shopping, mani/pedi, top-notch on-site healthcare, and everything else the “real world” has to offer. Make no mistake, residents of The Villages have “dropped out, tuned in, and turned on” a new life. They make the distinction between the “real world” and their idyllic existence.
If that doesn’t sound like the greatest resort known to man, I don’t know what does.
Oh, and The Villages is golf cart friendly, if not golf cart approved. It’s not unusual to see $30,000 pimped-out carts cruising around the manicured and landscaped paths of the development.
One of the most controversial aspects of The Villages is “the man” — the government. The development is 100 percent privately owned and operated. The Villages seems to be immune from the squabbles and gripes of a “normal” master-planned community. It boasts some 80 percent voter turnout. And as far as the owners go, most residents say they do a good job and they deserve to be paid for it.
So if you’re interested in learning more about The Villages, they have a handy little informational video.