We celebrated my 53rd birthday with an overnight stay in The Villages, a ‘golf cart’ retirement community.
While I’m not officially old enough to live in this 55 or older community of 100,000+ resident’s, we stayed at The Waterfront Inn hotel, in Sumter’s Landing, which is open to everyone.
If you’ve never been to The Villages before, and are living in the Orlando area or visiting the area, it’s worth a visit to see even if you have no intention of living there. Only an hour and a half from our Orlando area house, this HUGE retirement community is literally a self-contained city on it’s own. Dos and I have stayed there overnight stays a couple times for weekend getaways, and this birthday as well as last year’s, our friends Ben and Tom (also from Orlando) met us there for the weekend as well.
The first time we went, we all had our preconceptions of The Villages, and most of them were probably typical of most people’s; an old folks nursing home of sorts with activities. Fortunately I had been up that way on business a couple years back and got to see the community, having dinner with a co-worker there, so it was a bit easier to coax my friends and Dos to go there for a visit. They, as I was, were all pleasantly surprised at the quality, size, variety, and offerings the Villages offered. For one, it’s not an ‘old folks home’; rather it’s a wonderful community of ‘Village’s’, grouped together with well-designed roads, and special golf cart lanes. Yes, they have a requirement of one member in the household being 55 or older, but the people living there are active seniors who seem to be on a permanent vacation, with a college-like day-to-day living environment. While golfing is a huge attraction for resident’s, even those who don’t play golf own a golf cart which you can literally drive anywhere there, and believe me people do! Many people decorate their golf carts with something personal about themselves such as a flag, sports team, name, hobby etc, and the carts can be seen everywhere and parked at stores and restaurants in the town squares.
There are 3 main town squares, starting with the original Spanish Springs, followed by Lake Sumter Landing (where we stayed), and the third and final square – Brownwood Paddock Square, which is open and in it’s final stages of being developed. Each Square has it’s own theming and feel to it, but all are immaculately well landscaped, clean, and socially inviting. The resident’s of The Villages own their own homes, in various communities from modest patio homes to very deluxe homes on the golf courses or lakes. This planned community offers resident’s many pools, golf courses, hundreds of clubs and activities, churches, restaurants, stores, movie theaters, bars to choose from, as well as nightly live entertainment in the town square. Each square has a ‘Happy Hour’ from 5 to 7 every night with live outdoor entertainment, and it’s a blast seeing the seniors doing the Electric Slide or similar!
As it’s a city with a hotel in each Square, it makes an ideal and fun place for an overnight such as we did, taking in lunch, leisurely walks around the square, and an outstanding dinner at the Arnold Palmer Country Club, which is open to the public.
We stayed at the Waterfront Inn
in Lake Sumter Landing, which is my favorite of the three Squares. Lake Sumter has a Disney-like feel, and reminds me of the Boardwalk area next to EPCOT at Disneyworld, with it’s pleasing and serene layout along the waterside. We didn’t tour the Villages on this visit, but free tours of The Villages are available from the Sales center (via bus), and if you are even remotely interested in inquiring about home sales, the center will be glad to arrange a specialist to give you a private showing. They are not pushy sales folks at all, and are glad to give you an overview of the area, as most people have no idea of the myriad of facilities and activities The Villages has to offer.
Now with my Villages plug out of the way (and I’m just a fan, not a resident!) we arrived around noon on Saturday and checked into The Waterfront Inn, which is located next to Lake Sumter. We stayed in the Flamingo Suite on the fourth (top) floor, which had a small balcony overlooking the Lake, hotel pool, and community of upscale homes across the way on the golf course, with lake views as well.
After getting checked in, we walked next door to Cody’s Roadhouse Grille and had a nice and unhurried lunch outside on the covered patio seating area. Fortunately the weekend weather was on and off overcast with showers and storms (hmm?), which in Florida summers is nice because it cools things off. I had the luncheon prime rib, and only because it was happy hour from 11 -6pm and my birthday, a two for one draft, as did Tom.
After lunch we walked around the Town Square quite a bit, and stumbled upon a really cool wine and Cigar store – Garvinos!
No, none of us are into cigars, and they were fortunately contained to an enclosed separate room, but the wine portion of the store had an interesting collection of wines and accessories, as well as a tasting room, which being my birthday I couldn’t resist!
We sat in the bar tasting room in a four hi-top, and had a nice impromptu wine and cheese tasting. They have some 22 wines by the class, but the four of us all went for one of the three red wine flights which were quite nicely arranged with the glasses, wine pairing notes, and the cheese platter we ordered. Our wine bartender was super nice, and recommended a few places to see in the villages as we were leaving.
From wine in the square, we went to Olive oil tasting in the square next! The Ancient Olive Store was quite unique in that you can try literally any of the dozens of olive oils and balsamic vinegars they offer in many different sizes. We tried many samples, and the store saleslady was so very accommodating to us, even mixing up some suggested pairing of different olive oils and balsamic mixed together; quite amazing tastes! This family owned store is also located in Winter Park, Florida, so we can go there as well next time we need some good quality olive oil, which we use daily when we’re home. We ended up purchasing four bottles, including one mini-size bottle of a lime-citrus infused olive oil, which I’m anxious to try as a marinade for salmon next time we grill it.
From wine-tasting, to olive oil tasting, to next up was chocolate tasting at Peterbrooke.
The Villages offers so many of these neat boutique shops it’s really a pleasure strolling around the Square area. While they have the chain stores and grocery stores located elsewhere on the property, the main square area offers the restaurants, movie theaters, businesses including dentist and medical, brokerage firms, clothing stores, and of course the specialty stores I mentioned, included the chocolate store we went to next. Like kids in a candy store (literally!) we looked in awe at all of the chocolate creations that were on display, before settling on a sample 16 pack of chocolates of our choosing. The four of us each got our own quadrient of four chocolates in the box, and I chose coffee, cappuccino, raspberry, and amarredo. We took these back to the hotel, and would have some later at night after dinner, in lieu of a birthday cake.
Back at the hotel, I relaxed in the in-room whirlpool tub a bit, made more comfortable by the fancy soap and bubble assortment Dos had bought me at Lush, a specialty soap store at Orlando airport, while he was waiting to pick me up on Friday. I put just a dab of the bath soaps, but it quickly bubbled up once the whirlpool was turned on!
Around 6pm, my friends Ben and Tom came up to our room, and presented me with a cute ‘beer card’ that had a gift card to Outback in it. I love Outback, but lately since I’ve been on this Fitbit, low carb diet thing, haven’t been there in a while. We will have to go soon, but next time, no ‘Bloomin Onion’ or loaded bake potato for me! We were going to go to the live entertainment on the town square before dinner, but it was raining heavy on and off, so we had a couple beers (Michelob Ultra; i.e. low carb beers) while I opened my cards. Below is a photo of the Happy Hour at the Village Square from last year; (since we were rained out this year) truly a lively evening event!
And here I am from this year opening my birthday cards in our room.
Dos had already given me some nice gifts on Friday, such as a couple Polo shirts, and a carry-on and laptop bag by Tumi, but now also gave me a couple cool Papyrus cards, as well as a Tumi shaving kit. I really needed the shaving kit for travel (as opposed to the plastic bags I’ve been using), and a good quality laptop and carry-on bag, but Tumi was definitely a nice quality surprise, as they are tops in the luggage category. Tumi registers each bag with a unique code found on a patch inside your luggage, provides personalized monograms for your luggage, and carries a five year warranty as well. I’ve gone thru so much luggage over the years, and the zippers always seem to break! Since the zippers are warrantied now, we shall see how they last. I can’t wait to use my Tumi carry-on and laptop bag, on my Monday trip to Milwaukee!
After opening my cards and gifts, we went to dinner at the nearby Arnold Palmer Country Club. This country club is open to the public for meals, and we had been there last year for dinner, and coincidentally had the same waitress, Brittany, who even remembered which room we sat in last time! I guess we’re memorable and must have stuck out from the Village residents!
Dos and I had two appetizers, which we shared: a jumbo shrimp cocktail, and an oversized portion of Ahi-Tuna, while Ben and Tom had a warm Brie cheese platter with cranberries baked in, followed by a Caesar salad.
We each had a bottle of red wine with our meal; Dos and I had the Kenwood Jack London Cabernet, while Ben and Tom had the Arnold Palmer Cabernet. Tom’s not a big ‘wino’ like us, so I was glad to see he liked the red wine both here, and earlier at the wine bar.
For the main course, Dos and I had chateaubriand for two, which was perfectly hand carved by the manager table-side. Coincidentally we had the same manager carve this for us last year, but she said there was a 50/50 chance as there were only two people who did that carving service – what odds!
We enjoyed our leisurely meal as we could see the sky darkening outside the windows, and were quite stuffed at the late hour (for the Villages!) of 9:45 pm when we finished. Dos and I skipped dessert, saving room for the in-room chocolates, while Ben and Tom shared a HUGE slice of cheesecake. We even skipped the after dinner coffee we usually get, instead finishing off the nice vino.
After dinner we headed back to the Lake Sumter town square, and just missed ‘last call’ of 10pm at R.J. Gators. (Yes, they do tend to close up a bit early in The Villages!) We headed across the street to Red Sauce, and sat at the lively outdoor bar there for awhile, while Tom and I had a couple of small draft beers, ok three total, for the bargain Village price of $2 each.
I must say, The Villages really offers great value on their food and dining options, as they cater mostly to the residents and their visitors. Even the Arnold Palmer Country Club was very reasonably priced, unlike going to resort areas with huge markups. Most places have daily food and drink specials as well, and here at Red Sauce, it’s ‘Happy Hour’ pricing all day long! What a bargain!
So as it was getting late, i.e. 11pm, we headed back to the hotel, and had a quick nightcap of Michelob Ultra, and the chocolates we had purchased earlier. We were up until midnight, and the guys officially sang Happy Birthday to me as my birthday officially started on Aug 2nd, which was now Sunday morning.
After a good night’s sleep, and checking out, we had breakfast/lunch for me, at the busy Bob Evans restaurant, a couple miles up the road, but still in The Villages. As last year, they do a booming business, and many people were coming in after Church.
As I searched thru the Village paper for the ‘open houses’ they were having, we decided to skip buying a house (semi-sarcasm), but vowed to return soon for another weekend visit to The Villages. We then drove home to Orlando, and had a nice and quiet birthday dinner at home with just the two of us, me and Dos!
‘ Complete gallery of our adventure to The Villages is here:
Twas a wonderful 53rd birthday weekend!