Shady, tree-lined walkways. Bricked streets. Victorian architecture. Rocking chairs inviting visitors to sit a spell. This is Celebration, Florida, a whimsical real-life town developed by the Walt Disney Company in the mid-90s, modeled after small-town America.
It took us about five minutes of being in Celebration to know the plan succeeded brilliantly and that we were, indeed, in a magical place.
We love everything Disney, but we’ll admit there are times we need a break from the crowds–a respite from the hustle and bustle of the parks and other Orlando attractions. A weekend in Celebration was the perfect escape. Located just nine miles south of Disney World’s Main Gate and all the Disney action, it seems like a world away–and a throwback to a simpler, happy time.
Staying in Celebration
Hands down our favorite Celebration haunt is the Bohemian Hotel Celebration. Located in the heart of downtown on a tranquil sparkling lake, the boutique property manages to blend charming, old Floridian elegance with fun, eclectic Bohemian flare.
Though there’s much to explore in the delightful town, visitors may find it hard to leave the magnetic lure of the hotel. The lobby is filled with super comfy chairs surrounded by wispy curtains and chic chandeliers and decor. As one guest sitting on the outside patio overlooking the waterfront proclaimed, “It doesn’t get much better than this.” She was right. It’s not every day a hotel provides this much of an unforgettable experience.
Casually elegant elements abound in accommodations ranging from guestrooms and studios to one-bedroom suites. Our king guestroom doors opened to a lake and downtown views. At night, the lights of the town shimmered and reflected off the lake waters. Plush comfortable bedding made it easy to fall into a deep peaceful slumber.
Playing in Celebration
One of the most pleasurable parts of a relaxing getaway is just to relax. Our leisurely stroll on the walkway surrounding Lake Rianhard yielded some delightful surprises. The lily-pad-covered lake is home to a family of alligators and we just happened to come across one sunning on the shoreline with baby gators nearby.
Every bend in the path revealed more entertaining local inhabitants like egrets, ducks, turtles and squirrels who were more than happy to share the magnificent surroundings.
Celebration Lakeside Park is an ideal place to sit, relax and people watch. A fountain overlooking the waterfront brings squeals of delight for both big and little kids as they try to jump between the intermittent massive sprays. Visitors and locals alike love the colorful rocking chairs and umbrellas located throughout the park.
Those into more active fun can grab a map and a cold bottle of water from Bicycle Rental Celebration, located near the Bohemian Hotel, and head off to explore. Bikes, surreys and old-fashioned Penny Farthings are available for the entire family.
Our two-hour trek took us past the warm inviting Victorian homes of Celebration that reminded us of yesteryear. Wooden boardwalks and bike trails meandered across stunning picturesque conservation land. No better way to spend an afternoon.
The community of Celebration is surrounded by magnificent verdant golf links. Even non-visitors can schedule tee times at Celebration Golf Club. The course was designed to feature the local topography and Floridian landscape and Robert Trent Jones Senior and Junior pulled it off in quite the masterful fashion.
Every Sunday, the streets of downtown Celebration are filled with vendors under white covered tents peddling their wares. From fresh produce, artisan bread and baked goods to flowers and handcrafted pots, jewelry and bath products, the market is a colorful fun place to browse, shop, and be neighborly.
Dining in Celebration
For a small community, there are plenty of places to dine and lots of food types to choose from. One of Celebration’s most popular restaurants is Celebration Town Tavern, a family-owned New England-style seafood and steak house with a warm, welcoming ambiance that’s always packed to the gills.
The restaurant boasts 99 bottles of beer (remembering that childhood song) and several more on tap along with other fun libations. With an extensive menu featuring salads, sandwiches, New England favorites and lots of seafood, it’s easy to find something everyone is happy with.
For great Italian food and picture-perfect views of the water, Café D’Antonio is another Celebration favorite. Scents of garlic and wood-fired pizzas waft through the town square enticing patrons to enter. Food, service, and ambiance make for the perfect combination of a relaxed dining experience.
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Interested in a fine-dining experience? Look no further than The Columbia Restaurant, a Cuban-inspired masterpiece with Old-World elegance in a tropical Caribbean setting. Featured items include classic cocktails and an expansive array of Spanish Colonial seafood and meat tapas and main dishes.
Save room for dessert as Celebration has two delightful sweet shops. La Macaron serves delectable French pastries. The Victorian and European-inspired Sweet Escape Bakery carries so many choices of goodies it’s almost impossible to choose.
Though the community of Celebration was indeed master-planned and some even coined it the “first Urbanite utopia,” one thing is for sure. Whatever they’re doing in Celebration clearly charms those looking for a relaxing weekend with a slice of turn-of-the-century Americana. And goodness knows we can all use a few more of these!
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