The Villages, the Bright Side

After two week-long visits to The Villages, the major upscale retirement community an hour north of Orlando, Florida, I still don’t know what to think.

Summer camp on steroids?  The Panglossian best of all possible worlds?  Or George Orwell’s worst nightmare?  Or (shudder) all of the above?

Presently, 85,000 people live in the patchwork of gated and limited-access communities.  I am unable to get any statistics as to area, but it feels like about fifty square miles.  The activities available at The Villages includes every pastime known.  That statement may sound like hyperbole, but if you examine the offerings of the nearly 2000 clubs, you have to strain to come up with one that is absent.

There are 47 golf courses, over 50 bridge games available every week, and 4 writers’ clubs with weekly meetings.  But you expect such common activities to be represented. 

For the more eclectic souls, there are five Scrabble clubs, twenty billiards clubs, five singles clubs, and clubs for bird-watchers, quilters, radio-controlled model sailboat racers, three forms of pinochle, stamp collectors, QiGong, and pickle ball.

If bridge and pinochle are not your poison, Petanque, whist, euchre, and five hundred have their own sets of fans.

If you are an uncommon person, there is a club for the followers of Edgar Cayce, teddy-bear makers, Mexican Train Dominoes, Shakespeare, Gospel music, archery, air guns, and banjolele.  In a prior blog post, I mentioned Shared Harvest, a 2.5 acre hobby farm where 20 tons of food are raised and donated to nearby food banks.

Music, dance, theater, active sports, and needlework are represented by a dozen clubs each.

Attendance is jammed at popular clubs.  I saw a gathering of 75 cyclists in full mating plumage assembled at one rec center.  I was informed if I wanted to play bridge, my partner and I should arrive an hour in advance, since every table in the room would be filled three-quarters of an hour before the first card is dealt.

If activities equal fun for you, The Villages is your personal Nirvana.  For the people I met, there is a liveliness of mind and body I’ve never seen on a community-wide basis.

And I notice the obesity ratio seems much lower than in the rest of the country.

Landscaping is well-groomed throughout.  Fifteen thousand golf carts zip around on a hundred miles or so of designated paths.

In 2008—probably about one minute before the real estate collapse at the opening bell of the Depression– the Census Department noted The Villages was the fastest growing urban area in the country.  I am told that during those heady days, there were over 100 real estate closings a day.  Today they are down to 30-35 per day.  I’ll bet there are real estate brokers in cities 20 times larger than The Villages who are in tears reading these stat.

Even as a vagabond passing through for a pair of weeks, I connected with a people who are keepers as friends and a dozen more I will keep in touch with for my next visit when I migrate back from the north ahead of the freeze. 

Enjoy a day of sugarplums dancing in your head about this idyllic place while I gather my thoughts for my next essay:  The Dark Side of The Villages.

23 Responses to The Villages, the Bright Side

  1. michael says:

    As a fellow vagabond, I can understand the appeal of the Villages to some I know, but reading it leaves me with some emotional response, which on reflection, can be expressed as a mental picture of a small Gypsy caravan coming upon a German army camp.

  2. Colleen Rae says:

    What no belly-dancing classes? It’s supposed to be good for the aging figure, keeping it supple and flexible. I’ve thought if I should end up in one of those retirement communities I would teach belly-dancing. Large, small, in-between, flat chested, big-titted and big-bellied, it doesn’t matter. Women seem to come into their full womanhood when learning the art of belly-dancing.
    You covered every other activity and sport in your blog at The Villages. Sounds like a misfit’s nightmare or an upwardly mobile aging couple’s cup of tea.ing

    • allevenson says:

      Belly Dance Basics meets Fridays mornings Belly Dance Village Gypsies meets Thursday mornings Belly Dancers meets Wednesday afternoon Belly Fun Dancers meets Thursday afternoons

      Ask far as I can determine none of the belly dance clubs employ a snake, so there is room for your specialty.

    • Bev Johnson says:

      Yes, Coleen… there is a Santa Clause…oops.. I mean there is a Belly Dancing class but I believe they’ve renamed it ‘Giggles and Shakes’ ! There are also dozens of Zumba classes, Yoga classes, and Ballroom and Line Dancing classes. You name it, we’ve got it! Plus, every evening there is free entertainment on the Square in the center of the two towns within The Villages. BTW, the next town is currently being built in the southern part of our 15,000 square acres… the town will be called Brownwood. WooHoo! Bev

  3. karen wittgraf says:

    Oh, I’ll bet there is a dark side. I would be fearful of a high school clique mentality and competition galore. Being gated, for me, would be kind of like losing your freedom- or, worse yet, a “Pleasantville” exisitence. I’m anxious to hear about the “dark side”.

  4. dhbauer says:

    One of my colleagues, who happened to have some limitations on her mobility, moved with her husband from California to live in the Villages during their retirement. They sold their home, packed up and left town for the Sunshine State, never to be heard from again. My conclusion is that they found life in the Villages to be to their liking. Before leaving she told me that one of the attractive features for her was that it was a community in which transportation was restricted to golf carts.

    For me, what seems to be missing in these retirement communities is the presence of young people and especially children. I prefer a multi-generational community. On the other hand, the range of activities offered in the Villages does make it an attractive environment in which to live and, perhaps, to grow young.

    • allevenson says:

      For the four people who posted within the first 45 minutes, there is an implied suspicion of a dark side. And for me, too. I have not written the next post yet and hope to capture that which would concern those who stop and examine what is below the thick veneer.

      I will be interested to read the comments of those who’ve yet to post their thoughts.

      • Colleen Rae says:

        I am fascinated to hear ‘the dark side’ of The Villages. I can fantasize late night meetings around a campfire, naked bodies dancing to a rhythmic drum, sacrificing an ‘oldie.’ Some one who won’t be missed. Like the couple that left CA and disappeared…(I know, I have an out-of-hand imagination).

    • Bev Johnson says:

      There are lots of children in The Villages during Holidays, and summer vacation… so many, in fact, that there is a Inter-generational Camp Villages that features fun classes and programs to which you can take your grandkids and their parents. Our club, The Dynamic Dog Club, participates by holding dog training classes featuring our very well behaved therapy dogs as the chld’s substitute pet for learning the methods of training. Most importantly, we also train the children what to do (and not do!) if they are ever confronted by an aggressive dog. All during the year, we have families and teens who live around The Villages who come to our movie theaters, restaurants, and great shopping areas for their pleasure time with very lively seniors!

  5. Alan stowell says:

    Amigo Al!
    You may not believe this but circa 1994 i had a client that wanted to buy a BEEG MY and I had bee recommended to them. (thats another story).
    AS a broker I did my due diligence, ups and downs with this weird couple and at the closing of this Cheoy Lee 110′ MY, they said: we will buy the yacht from you but ONLY if you’ll skipper it..then we’ll know its a good yacht”!
    I explained I did not “skipper out” anymore and they could probably not afford me!
    I was wrong. They could.
    THEY were the owners/developers of the VILLAGES!
    And that is another story! I lasted about 14 months.
    And it all started with YOU selling me a Pearson Triton 28!
    Muchos saludos,
    Alan

  6. David LaRoche says:

    Interesting that someone who has reaped wealth from packing people in like sardines prefers the openness and solitude of the sea. Some prefer the togetherness and alikeness of a “happiness village” while others do not. Personally I can take Dell Webb for about the time it takes to play eighteen holes and then I am finished – out of the pigeon holes and into the wide open spaces. But as they say – “different strokes…”

    • Bev Johnson says:

      Hi David,
      I’ve heard this comment dozens of times… and all I can say is “It ain’t so!” The Villages is 16 miles long and 12 miles wide. It has 3o Executive Gold course (about 5000 yards) and 9 Regulation Golf courses (over 7000 yards long) carefully place through out the entire ‘campus’ which keep The Villages from being ‘sardine cans’ with their beautifully maintained manicured fairways and greens decked with lovely flower beds and ponds. If you watch The Masters and appreciate the beauty of this presentation, then come to The Villages and see for yourself. We have areas called Villas where seasonal people who only want to get away from the winter buy a small stand alone (no shared walls) home which is maintained by The Villages while they are in their home state… but that is the only crowded (people living rather close together) locations in The Villages. Oops, oh, and there are a very few Carriage homes (two story) condos that were used 20 years ago as the first marketing arrangements for people to come and visit. NO, I’m not a Realtor in The Villages… I simply LOVE this place. My husband and I traveled/RVed full time for four years looking at retirement possibilites… The Villages set the benchmark and we’ve not regretted our choice for the 7 years we’ve lived here.

      • Bev Johnson says:

        Opps. Did not catch my typo before… it’s ‘Executive Golf courses’ which we get to play for free. And no we are not restricted to playing just the course near our home or village. We can play any Exec. course anytime if the tee time is available. We have a sophisticated computer and telephone system for making tee times up to a week in advance of when we wish to play. The Champion (regulation) courses, like the one designed by Arnie Palmer, costs about $45 to play 18 holes from May to November and about $60 for mid November to the end of April. Most people will tell you that the Exec. couses are more challenging to play than the Champions!

  7. bbethany7 says:

    The robust property closings brought to you by The Grim Reaper, which is only one facet of the dark side.

  8. Lew says:

    Guess I’m different from the different folks!

    Lew ….

  9. MaryAnne says:

    Hi Al,
    not my preference but it does indeed, sound like the perfect place for the former cheer leader, ft. ball jock, CEO, investor, and “company man” n wife. Never been to FL and have no desire to as I prefer arid climes but “to each his/her own”. Thanx for making us aware of these different choices for seasoned folks. Am enjoying your travels.

  10. Jane says:

    In the words of one of our great spiritual teachers,’ thou shalt not judge’. Whatever floats your boat, obviously there are a lot of humans that are attracted to ‘The Villages’….as long as they are at peace in their surroundings then more peace will exist for the whole …the human race needs peace in whatever form it comes to survive..Blessings

  11. L says:

    Do the Villages have section 8 housing?

  12. Bob Morgan says:

    I don’t know about these ‘villages’. I have heard that they are a real danger to a fellow who loses his wife. I heard of one in particular, who the day after his wife passed, was overwhelmed with 740 casseroles. The story goes that he tried his best to eat them up, and died himself, two days later. They say he literally exploded, after having so much gas, he floated two miles over the village, before he blew up.

  13. L says:

    do they have a battered women shelter? or an memory care locked ward?

  14. Pingback: Welcome | A Year on the Road

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