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.