Ohhh, Celebration - such a very unique and yet very uniform town. I have been visiting Celebration since I was pretty young. I’ve loved every visit… since its birth in the 90’s, when people really made fun of its strict strive toward perfection. And I still love to come to Celebration now that the town has grown into a mature adult. And people definitely still do make fun of the town.
And while I’ve traveled there many times, each of those trips were always very short - much more like brief encounters - and not a genuine visit, or stay. I recall a lunch outing, a dinner years ago at the town diner, and a quick ice cream outing, but never an overnight.
I even remember visiting Celebration shortly after getting married. It was Christmas time, and my husband and I were in town at Walt Disney World to see all the holiday decorations. That trip was one of the rare times we had a car with us. We usually always just flew into Orlando, got ourselves to Disney, and then relied on Disney transport for the entire remainder of stay. That lack of a personal vehicle during our Disney vacations meant a lot less freedom of movement around central Florida, or basically anywhere outside of Disney World really. So on that Disney trip surrounding the holidays, with access to a car, I remember the one place we both really wanted to go see was Celebration. We had heard about snow falling on their Main Street and decided it was worth us checking it out.
Being from the Chicago area and managing many inches of snow each winter of our lives, before moving to Florida a few years back, we were naturally very curious to see how snow looked in Florida. Never could I imagine such a sight. We absolutely had to see it.
So there we were, in warm central Florida in December, spectating all of the Celebration holiday festivities at night time, ice cream in hand, and watched the snow fall from the sky. Kids running and screaming with joy. I remember wondering if any of these kids seen snow before? In Florida? Were they locals and this was normal to them, or were they visitors like us? Did the kids know it was all fake snow? Not that the type of snow mattered in the least, I just remember being so amused and intrigued by the sight of it all.
Looking at all the endlessly falling white goop and bubbly substance that was supposed to resemble actual snow reminded me of watching cold, wintry scenes in old black and white Hollywood films from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. They had sort of a difficult time back then representing snowfall with any realism on the big screen. I love old films, and I always find it comical when snow begins to fall in those movies. A snow “flake” would land on a human - like on top of their coat or in their hair - but then the snow always failed to melt. It was either always a white liquid goo with a bubbly consistency, or, like soap flakes, and almost like a feathery substance. And once that snow landed on whatever it landed on, it just sat there. It sat on the hair of the actor or actress' head just like a feather might. It sat on their coat, or any other clothes the person was wearing. And the snow stayed that way for the remainder of the scene in the film - always amusing me.
That’s exactly what this snow was like that fell in Celebration. It fell, and it stayed. The street was absolutely covered in what was probably some kind of soap bubbles. Tons of it. Liquid white goo was all over the entire closed off street. Hilarious. But to kids, snow is snow. A good time was had by all, that’s for sure. No matter what the snow was made from, it was falling, from above, and that’s all that mattered to the children. What happened after the snow fell was of no concern to the kids. We stood in the snow-covered street, eating our ice cream, and laughed.
It was a very memorable evening. And I’ve not seen snow in Florida since then. Not even at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party where I hear that it snows on Main Street USA during each and every nightly party. And that evening, years ago, during the holidays, was my last encounter with Celebration. It was a genuine good memory, and I’ve always wanted to go back and spend a bit more time there.
So this year when I found out some of my family was going to be traveling from Illinois to Orlando for a vacation, I wanted to make the drive from Jacksonville and meet up with them while they were in town. We would be needing a pet-friendly hotel due to our dog Madeline traveling with us, and something prompted me to look into Celebration.
It turns out, their single hotel in town happened to be pet-friendly. That was my deciding factor. This would allow me to spend some time in Celebration, bring my dog along, of course, and visit family at Disney at the same time. And this would finally grant me the opportunity to spend two solid nights in town - at the Celebration Bohemian Hotel.
We booked our hotel room through Marriott Bon-Voy and signed up for the Marriott Rewards Program as well. Our two nights at the Bohemian offered us a package experience, including a $25.00 resort credit per day of our stay - to use on anything we liked. We ended up using the credit at the lobby lounge one hot afternoon for a cold cocktail, and then for a room service hot breakfast on our first morning. Never, ever, do we spend on room service, so having that credit allowed us to experience something we normally never do. Breakfast was super, and even arrived to our room on trays with those little old-fashioned ketchup bottles made from actual glass. I was ecstatic.
During the two night stay I kept an informal pro-and-con list in my mind regarding my overall experience. When I got back home and analyzed everything, I sensed an overall theme to my visit and I’d like to present you with my summary here. Specifically, I decided upon two positives and two negatives that you may want to take into account while considering and planning your potential visit to the town of Celebration. And since I’m a fan of ending on a positive note if I can help it, I’m going to start with the two con’s from my list; and then we will finish with the two pro’s:
Con #1: Limited Selection - And Only One Hotel In Town
Yep, that’s right, there’s one option. The Celebration Bohemian Hotel is currently the only choice if you want to stay downtown Celebration. However, let’s not forget this town is located directly inside the greater Orlando area, so there are many - practically countless - options just outside of town. But in town, if you want to stay overnight in a hotel, and then walk around outside to the Starbucks down the street for your morning coffee and newspaper without getting into a vehicle, the Bohemian Hotel is THE option.
It’s not a bad option though. It’s a fine hotel for a short visit. Rates were reasonable, and they did not abuse us on the pet fee either, like many places we’ve been to. Our room did not have a refrigerator inside, and I mean even just a simple, tiny mini-fridge. I would say the lack of that amenity was really the only downside to my stay at the Bohemian. I’m not sure if any of the rooms come with refrigerators as an option, but if they do, on my next stay I will most definitely be requesting one. Otherwise, I’ve already decided that next time I just need to bring a cooler in with me and I’ll be just fine for a few nights. I love cold water, and ice, and being without access to a chilled beverage during the night was kind of annoying, but nothing I couldn’t handle being without for two nights.
Other areas of limited selection include coffee shops and gift/souvenir shops, and there were also some things that we were just never able to see. Overall, just not a lot of choice. But I probably should have known that - considering Celebration is quite a small town. There’s a few restaurants and a couple of coffee shops, but obviously nowhere near the hundreds of dining locations one is used to when staying in Disney World or traveling throughout Orlando.
Also, I found out that the town movie theater, one of the main iconic symbols and landmarks of the town, is closed. I remember when I was younger, that the theater was THE PLACE to go, it was the hangout spot for the evening. There were always crowds outside the movie theater. But not this visit. The entire area around the theater was always empty. I must say I was kind of sad to find out that one cannot go see a film while in town, a non-operational theater sitting vacant, and has been for quite some time. Apparently it was a victim of the Great Recession and has never opened back up since. A closed and vacant building at the center of town can really change the vibe. A lot. It just felt like there was a big, empty hole inside the town square area.
While the closed theater was the first thing I noticed, as the vacancy was difficult to miss., I then noticed some vacant window fronts of shops while walking around town. Either Celebration overall hasn’t fully recovered from the last recession, or it’s not as “in demand” of a location as I thought it could be. Maybe leasing space is very expensive too. It was just sad to see so many closed storefronts. We tried to visit the local stores and restaurants when we were there. Starbucks, of all places, kept the best hours, so that’s where we ended up for coffee.
During this stay we also went to Disney Springs for the afternoon, came back to Celebration in the evening, and the town was all quiet. The other night of our stay, upon our return there were tons of people and lots of music and parties at the hotel too. I never knew what to expect.
We also tried to eat at the diner. And it was always closed. I actually gave up trying to eat there, deciding to make no further attempts on that trip as I was disappointed each time. The diner advertises coffee, ice cream, and all kinds of other meals, in print outside on the windows and facade of the exterior. So I tried to get coffee in the morning - closed. We tried to get ice cream in the evening - closed. The diner did an excellent job of appearing to be open though, as more than once we tried to walk in - the lights inside were always on, but they were always either not open yet, or had just recently closed. I guess the diner wasn’t looking for our business. It was not too early in the morning and not too late at night by any means each time we tried. And it was always closed. Hence, the many visits to Starbucks.
I did find an open souvenir shop on my way out of town after checking out of our hotel though. I was finally able to purchase something from the town. I came home with a light green, light cotton, short sleeved tee. There were not many options for men at all in the shop so I wasn’t able to buy the hubby a souvenir... I’m fairly certain he didn’t mind though. Either way, I was glad to go to a local store and buy something from the town.
Con #2: You Will Need/Want A Car
While, arguably, Celebration can be considered part of the “Disney Bubble”, it is also most definitely NOT inside the Disney Bubble. Celebration is located just outside Walt Disney World property. And once one leaves Disney... they do enter the real world again. As I mentioned, Celebration is a REAL town. A living, breathing, working, functioning, real town. A lot of people think it’s part of Disney, which it was at a point in time in the past. But now, it’s a regular town with all the laws and municipal operating systems of any other suburb in the Orlando area. Being that it is a real town, and when one leaves Disney property, the Disney transportation system that so many tourists rely on when they visit Orlando does NOT operate in Celebration. If you want to visit Celebration you will need to drive over there, or Uber, etc. But you cannot take a Disney bus there, even though it happens to be so very close to The Mouse.
And now let’s discuss some positives of visiting Celebration!
Pro #1: Not Far From Walt Disney World
Celebration is literally just a hop, skip, and jump away from Walt Disney World Resort. If you are visiting central Florida, with access to a vehicle, it is worth a drive over to check it out. I would say to come during the day, while you are guaranteed more establishments to be open, and maybe even check hours of operation on Google beforehand on the specific place or places you intend to visit. You can eat at a local restaurant or get some coffee etc,; and you won’t be spending Disney prices on that food and drink either. Plus, sometimes that escape from Disney and Universal pricing can be “priceless” in and of itself.
Pro #2: Peaceful, Non-Hectic Atmosphere
If you are trying to escape Disney for a bit, Celebration will definitely take you away from those rushed crowds. I would definitely recommend a short visit even just for a change of pace if you are on a Disney trip. There are no fast-passes needed to book ride times, and dining reservations don’t need to be made 180 days in advance of your visit. If you just need to slow down some and have a quiet, leisurely afternoon outside of the theme parks, this may be a good place for a rest. Also, I noticed plenty of churches in town too if going to church on vacation is your thing. Either way, whatever you are interested in seeing, the pace is slower than Disney and that can be a good thing indeed.
I know that slow down, or rest, can be pretty vital on a Disney style vacation. Keep up the Disney pace for too long and I have known many a person to get sick on or after their trip, myself included - countless times. In fact, I got sick on vacation so many times that my entire traveling and vacation style has changed because of it. I do not strive to keep a rushed pace anymore while traveling. I am looking and actively seeking peaceful, and maybe slower-paced, yet wonderful outings. I still do Disney, but definitely at my own, leisurely pace. Celebration is and can be that slower pace, and that can definitely be a positive. Sometimes compared to Disney, anything at all can be said to be slower paced. But Celebration does have very limited options so there is not too much craziness or even need to do everything and/or anything during your visit there. And by leaving Disney property, and seeing an area of Orlando outside of all things Mickey Mouse, it can really change one’s perspective, and I believe that change is a good thing.
Celebration is a very unique town that I think anyone who visits it can attest to. The ascetic consists of a lot of uniformity and equality in the design and architecture, and that uniformity is ironically what makes it very different from all other towns. Everything - sort of - looks the same. All the houses and buildings follow the Celebration building style codes, down to the color and style of a buildings exterior. That fact is what people make fun of. The uniformity of the town. I’ve heard Celebration be called “The Truman Show” and the “Stepford Wives” and other such comparisons toward a perfection. For the most part I just ignore those sentiments and come up with my own opinion from my own experience. And while there weren’t too many things to do there, I still had a great time and would come back for sure.
In fact, I’m already actively trying to plan a return visit. My two nights in Celebration were quite wonderful, peaceful, and different than what I was used to while visiting the central Florida area and theme parks. That different perspective is almost always priceless to me, and opens me up to a variety of experiences. Before we even checked out of the hotel, I was already wondering when I would be coming back. Next time my family in Illinois goes to Disney, I’ve already got a most perfect plan in place to meet them, a peaceful place to stay, and some more restaurants to visit as well. And just maybe, if I’m lucky, that goopy, bubbly, and soap flaky snowfall holiday event will be taking place while I’m there. ~
Is a trip to Walt Disney World complete without a visit to Disney Springs? If you classify yourself as a professional shopper then definitely don’t let Disney Springs pass you by. After completing a vast and extensive renovation a few years back, the original Disney Shopping Village Marketplace, and then Downtown Disney, was officially rebranded to Disney Springs. With that rebranding came a whole new array of food and fun.
ou can now literally spend an entire day, or a full morning, afternoon, or evening at the Springs, and never once run out of something to do. Many more stores were added, some pricey, some reasonable. I didn’t run into anything that would be considered low cost, but you can definitely make your own fun too with little to no money involved. Parking is still free, thank goodness. And there is usually live entertainment on stage by the World of Disney store every time I’ve visited recently. So grab a coffee from Joffrey’s (a storefront Joffrey’s!) and stroll around the West Side, the Landing, and the Marketplace, for a nice outing outside of the ticketed Disney Parks.
On this particular visit we we were searching for dinner reservations at The Boathouse. I was trying to reserve dining through the My Disney Experience app, but I ended up booking dinner through OpenTable. The Disney app has given me nothing but grief and trouble for at least a few years now. So finally, after countless attempts to resolve, I took some drastic Disney action and deleted the app from my phone altogether. As a formerly huge Disney fan (now just a casual fan) this was a big step for me to take, but it had to be done. The app officially would not let me reserve anything anymore, rendering it almost totally useless for me. One of the issues was that it kept asking for an updated credit card, and I gave it this information more than you really want to even know. Error processing notifications were constant. Well, if you don’t give The Mouse your money, The Mouse doesn’t let you play. Dining reservations, theme park tickets, hotel reservations, mobile quick service food, drink, and snack ordering, etc, are all on the app now, and all need your credit card. My husband had the same problem, consistently, and it wasn’t our cards. We were able to reserve over the phone if we called just fine. It was definitely the app. The app also would not recognize a change of address or any other profile update I attempted. I always had to call, and wait in queue, to do anything with Disney.
I needed to find a new way to book a dinner reservation with Disney, without wasting too much of my time, and had just about to given up on Disney Springs altogether when I went to my Opentable app. When I searched restaurants in Orlando many of the Springs restaurants came up as available. I was shocked actually because after booking countless dining reservations through Disney in the past, and aware of their ‘if you don’t show up’ fee per person applied to your credit card on the reservation, it ended up being so easy to book Disney dining through OpenTable. And a credit card wasn’t needed, and I earned points in the process as well.
We did end up at The Boathouse for dinner, and it was one of the most fabulous dinners of my life in Florida. Having dined there in the past on a trip to Florida before moving down here, at the time I remember thinking the exact same thing - one of the best meals of my life. And that was when I lived in the Chicago area, where the best food in the world comes from, no joke. I do have a theory on why I love the food at The Boathouse so much. It’s owned by Gibson’s, a Chicago based restaurant group. Naturally, the Chicago-instilled history of The Boathouse is why the food is so darn good, of course.
As soon as our server first came to greet us at our table I noticed his Disney name tag as being from Chicago, IL. ‘Ooooh!’ I said, surprised. ‘You’re from Chicago! We are from the Chicago area and moved down a few years ago.’
He said he and his wife had done the same thing. Why would anyone live with those harsh winters?!... We all agreed and laughed.
It turns out he grew up in my hometown, and went to the high school just across town. He took our order and asked if we were in a hurry? ‘No,’ we said, ‘definitely not.’
We weren’t going to the theme parks, had zero fast pass reservations to rush off to, and were not watching fireworks anywhere that evening. THIS was our entertainment. Knowing we were not in a rush, he said he would bring out our courses on a leisurely basis, instead of the quick pace that some might need and require while on a Disney vacation.
Well, I had the best, most flavorful, and absolutely lovely meal of my life. So simple yet so good. Shrimp cocktail to start, tomato salad, and filet mignon sliders for the main course. Afterward we said goodbye to our server and wished him well on our way out. The rest of the evening we spent going in some shops that I hardly ever get a chance to visit.
On the way back to our hotel we stopped at Twistee Treat for dessert. Which I have officially-unofficially classified as the best and most quintessential ice cream shop in all of Orlando. I first learned about Twistee Treat from Teresa Echols @ The Dis, (one of my favorite Dis team members by the way) and then, I saw the cone in The Florida Project and knew I had to try it. I’ve been to Twistee Treat a number of times now and it does not disappoint. LOVE that place! So while a professional shopper needs to visit Disney Springs, an ice cream aficionado needs to go to Twistee Treat.
Back at the hotel after a lovely evening, I reflected on the night’s experience. Once again, I reminded myself that it’s those little things — those small interactions with cast members — laughing hysterically at the shared trauma of experiencing Chicago winters in the past that we have said goodbye to, magical moments with family and friends, and of course, good food.
I may not be a Disney Annual Passholder anymore. Nor a Disney Vacation Club Member, Tables in Wonderland card holder, or even a Disney shareholder any longer. Heck - they are even ripping out my brick on the walking path in front of the Magic Kindgom this year! But my history with Disney runs deep, and I do respect that past. I know that without Disney and without Walt, I simply would not be who I am today or where I am today, literally and figuratively. I’m 38, with no children, and I have always known that if I ever had a boy he would be named Walt. That fact remains today. I love Walt and thank him for the kindness he left in this world. So while my Disney fan status has dropped significantly in the past few years, most of which is due to massive — and what I deem simply harsh — price increases to experience anything Disney present day, there will always be a place in my heart for The Mouse, even if he is no longer on my phone.
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