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I grew up in a “tourist town:” Williamsburg, VA. I’m used to the summer rush of people from all over the globe flocking to the place I call home – the incompetent drivers, the number of hotels, and all my favorite restaurants being busy every night of the week. I’ve spent 24 years in a place that has such a draw for people–especially history buffs. Yet, nothing, I repeat NOTHING, prepared me for living in the theme park capital of the world: Orlando, FL.
Truthfully, moving to Orlando was never in my life plan. When I found the opportunity to work for the Walt Disney Company, I had been a college graduate of nearly a year and a half. What kind of “career” did I have to show for my four years of college? I waited tables in the busiest restaurant at home. Wow. I was really going places. So in an effort to hopefully find a real career, I picked up and moved 12 hours to Orlando, FL. Thankfully, I already went down with a contract in hand, so I would at least be employed.
Since I grew up in a tourist area, I figured I was well prepared for life in the place that hundreds of thousands of people visit each year. I was sorely mistaken.
I adore Disney movies and the Disney Parks. I have wonderfully fond memories of visiting the parks with my dad when I was young and watching every single Disney movie with him. I actually used to alphabetize the Disney movies that my grandmother had at her house, on VHS no less. To have unlimited access to the parks was one of the major reasons I loved living in Orlando. I could pop into Hollywood Studios in the evening, ride Tower of Terror, watch For the First Time in Forever: Frozen Sing-a-long, and get a good seat for my favorite nighttime show, Fantasmic, without feeling like I wasted a day ticket. It’s hard to beat the convenience of living 15 minutes from the parks.
I even spent a fair amount of my time at “the other park,” Universal Studios. A self proclaimed Potter-head, I could take a ride on the Hogwarts express basically anytime I wanted to. Living so close to both parks allowed me to catch up with some folks who I hadn’t seen in years, including one of my high school teachers and even watch my high school marching band play!
Beyond the superficial good of living in Orlando was the sheer diversity of the cast members that I got to know so well. My best friends are now from all over the US, India, Indonesia, France, and Mexico. The variety of people I was able to meet was a far cry from the small-ish, primarily white town I grew up in. I’m so thankful that I spent 10 months living in Orlando, not just because I got to go to all the famous theme parks whenever I wanted, but because the people I met there have changed my life for the good. I’m even getting ready to go visit my boyfriend, whom I met in Disney, in his home country of India—something I never would have done had I not lived in Orlando!
The worst part about living in Orlando is that it is such a transient community. A lot of my co-workers were similar to me, working for the company on short-term, temporary contracts. Many did have dreams of staying with the company for the rest of their careers, but the majority of the friends I made in Orlando are no longer there or leaving soon to pursue other opportunities. Also, let’s not forget the insane number of people who are there even more temporarily than me: the vacationers.
The vacationers made I-4, the major interstate, the deadliest in the nation. Orlando itself ranks very high for pedestrian deaths in the nation as well. As an avid runner before moving to Florida, I couldn’t handle the fear of being hit while running and ended up stopping all together. Traffic was perpetually a problem, which I understand is trivial because many other cities have it way worse than Orlando. But when British guests would look at me and say “oh yeah, we’ve rented a car for the 2 weeks we are here,” that’s what frightened me the most.
My biggest issue with Orlando was the lack of good food. I’ve had the privilege of living in some areas with wonderful food scenes and Orlando just sucked. All chain restaurants lining the streets, you couldn’t get a good local place unless you drove 30 minutes away. And the restaurants on Disney property were wonderful, but they were so expensive it was outrageous to go more than once or twice a month. Food is a huge deal for me, and when I realized how miserable the options were in Orlando, I knew I wasn’t going to stay there very long.
In the End
When I look back on my experiences, the good and bad, of living in Orlando, I’m glad I took the plunge and moved there temporarily. But just temporarily. The access to all the theme parks was great, especially as a young adult who loves the adrenaline rush of roller coasters, but I don’t think I want to be starting a family in an area like that. For now, I’ll stick to vacationing in one of my favorite places in the world, the place where everyone vacations.