As something that’s become a birthday tradition for us, we once again celebrated the end of my birthday weekend at The Villages Community in Florida. The photos below were taken on my bus shuttle from Orlando Airport to the Villages, helping to pass the time away on the 1 1/2 hour drive.
This planned 55 and older community is huge – literally it’s own city spread out for miles with three main Village Squares and hundreds of houses (from simple patio to luxurious) arranged in multiple communities throughout. Of the three Villages, we prefer staying at hotel in the Village of Lake Sumpter, as it has a lake and boardwalk area, reminding me a bit of the Boardwalk area at Disney World.
As I had been traveling home from Pennsylvania on Friday for work, I took the Villages transportation shuttle (for $35) and an hour and a half later I was meeting Steve (DOS) at the Lake Sumpter transportation office, which is only a short walk to our hotel, the Waterfront Inn. DOS greeted me with my first birthday present – a green Villages cap!
This year we stayed two nights instead of one, and the rate was actually slightly cheaper each night for doing so. We always reserve one of the four Grand Suites, which is basically a double sized, yet octagonal-shaped room with jacuzzi tub, robes, and a small balcony overlooking the lake and pool area.
After checking in we took a leisurely walk around the Village of Sumpter Landing Square. In the hot summer heat it was very quiet in the late afternoon, as we assume most people were either indoors or at one of the many community swimming pools throughout The Villages. It was so hot we came back to the hotel, showered and relaxed indoors a bit before heading back out for the evening’s festivities.
Each night at The Village Square (1 of 3 within the whole Village city complex), there is ‘Live Music’ at the outdoor stage, overlooking the village square. Lake Sumpter was the second Village built, while Spanish Springs was first in 2000, and Brown Village was being opened last year when we went, and is still being completed. The Villages even has their own daily newspaper and radio station, which is subtly broadcast throughout the Square.
The first night of our stay (Friday night) we had a small Florida shower around 6pm, which kept many of the crowds away from the Square, although we thought it felt wonderful, cooling things down a bit. There were mostly teenagers in the Square area dancing, while the parents/grandparents sat on the sidelines and watched, or enjoyed their happy hour beers or other beverages.
We went to dinner around 7pm at Red Sauce, an Italian restaurant directly across the Square, and were pleasantly surprised at the level of quality and service provided there. Like most food and drink places in The Villages, the prices are very reasonable, (if not inexpensive compared to other chain restaurants), and the atmosphere was lively but fun. We had a nice booth in the corner of the room which was quieter, and great for people watching!
After dinner we walked the short distance back to our hotel, the Waterfront Inn.
On Saturday, our friends Ben and Tom joined us as well, also part of our four year tradition of staying at The Villages. They also stayed at the Waterfront Inn, just down the hall from us on the fourth floor. They arrived around 12:30pm, stored their luggage in our room as it was before checkin time, and then we all headed out to lunch, a short walk from our hotel.
We had never been to a landslide version of Johnny Rockets, but have been on the seaside version on a couple of Royal Caribbean’s ships, the last time being on the Oasis of the Seas. We each ordered something different, but it was all good. I stuck with my standard burger and fries, and the waiter decorated our ketchup dishes with smiley faces.
After lunch we wondered along the streets of Lake Sumpter Village filled with shops, services, a movie theater etc, and more or less re-tracing our steps from last year.
Our first stop was at GarVino’s, a combo cigar/wine bar and store. None of us are fans of cigars, but fortunately the cigar side is separate from the wine side, and they have an enclosed room for the cigar connoisseurs, although the cigar smoke still reeks a bit from the shared restrooms, even with the filtration system. The wine side is quiet and cozy, with a wine bar and several tables.
Now that’s a fantastic memory, although I guess four not yet retired guys in a wine shop sticks out a bit from the older couples? It’s funny, but we actually had three different people at different places ‘remember’ us at least by face: the bellman at the hotel, Lisa at the wine bar, and the sales lady at our next stop, the olive oil store! We must really make an impression on people – hopefully good (as not in this photo of DOS, that Tom photobombs mimicking him!)
Anyway, this year at the wine bar, I ordered a Cabarnet wine flight (3 wines), and DOS ordered a bottle of The Prisoner (red wine) from the adjacent shop, which we paid a nominal $8 corking fee for it to be served in the bar area.
We also ordered a cheese platter to accompany the wines. As always, it made for a fun visit there. I asked Lisa if we could have our photo taken and posted here and she was glad to oblige. Thanks Lisa – as always we had a wonderful time!
Our next stop was a short stroll down the street at The Ancient Olive; the olive oil store. Here they have many vins of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, among accessories and others for sample and sale. We always taste a few different ones, and this year brought home 2 olive oils and 2 balsamic’s.
Moving on we went to Peterbrooke, the fancy Chocolate store, and spent quite a while determining what we wanted for later, after dinner back at the hotel.
We didn’t do it as we didn’t have a wine bottle with us, but they will customize your own wine bottle with hand dipped chocolate all around it – sounds like a great idea – wine and chocolate go great together! Peterbrooke also has a location nearer to us in Winter Park, FL, so maybe we can go there sometime with our wine bottle to get dipped. We ended up with a shared 8 pack of fancy dark chocolates, including Mocha Amaretto, among the others.
We also stopped in a couple clothing shops, as it was tax free week on clothing, in anticipation of the soon to be back-to-school season. As we had taken our time throughout the afternoon walking around, it was nearly 5pm, and time for the Village Square entertainment which goes from 5 – 7pm nightly. They also have Happy Hour from 5 -6 with two-for-one brewskis. We took our oil and chocolate purchases back to the hotel, and walked the short distance back to the Square for the music and brewskis.
Tonight was not nearly as hot, and with a slight breeze felt good, and it was much busier than last night. This night, mostly seniors were out doing line dances and others, while we sat by the fountain and watched.
We stayed until 6:15pm or so, and then headed back to the hotel to shower and change for our 7pm dinner reservation at the nearby Arnold Palmer Country Club. We’ve also eaten there the last three years in a row; missing the first year (like the wine store) not realizing that and all of the other places the Villages has to offer. By now, we’re almost regulars – LOL! Tom kept kidding me all weekend about how I fit it with my Village cap – even showing me the Sunday Village newspaper that showed you how to dress like a local – and one of the things was the cap!
We had a different server and manager this year; both who were very good. The server we had for the last two years had told us she hopefully wouldn’t be there when we came back, as she was finishing up nursing school. We didn’t see her, so we assume she’s a nurse by now.
Anyway, on to the meal. DOS and I had the Ahi tuna and crab cakes for appetizers, while Ben and Tom had the evening’s special, which was a three course meal including appetizer, main, dessert, and even a bottle of house wine for $59 for two! They had that special last year, and it’s really a great deal – you pay more than that at Outback for two people, without the wine. Of course Tom was always on his best behavior as this photo shows – typical Tom, no wonder why people remember us! LOL!
For our main dish, DOS and I had the chateaubriand for two, which is carved and served table side. We also ordered a bottle of Grgich Hills Cabernet, which we had enjoyed on a previous visit to Napa Valley.
We finished up the meal with dessert, and were just about the last people to leave the restaurant at the late Village time of 9:30! (They stop serving at 9pm).
And thanks to our servers, we had a wonderful night out in The Villages at the Arnold Palmer Country Club!
We headed back to the hotel after dinner, and I opened a couple cards while sitting on the balcony with the guys, and having a night cap brewski, chocolate, and a butterscotch shot Tom brought for everyone. Tom even managed to make a head piece with the bag it came in!
On Sunday, we slept in a bit, and then visited our last traditional stop; breakfast at Bob Evans restaurant before heading back to Orlando, an hour an a half drive. We all had a wonderful time as always at The Villages, and look forward to returning again. Me, I would like to go back for DOS’s birthday (which is around the Halloween time), but he’s not so sure – says it’s too soon. (That probably means no). We’ll see, but everyone agreed it’s a fun place to visit, and this year I’m now legally able to live there at the ripe old age of 55!
Happy Birthday weekend from The Villages!