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I Left New York City to Raise My Kids in Orlando

  • Mark Kaley moved to Orlando with his wife in 2004 to raise their family there.
  • They moved into a bigger home, bought annual passes to Disney World, and enjoyed the warmer weather.
  • Even once his children move out, he has no plan to leave Florida and prefers it over New York.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Mark Kaley, a 49-year-old PR manager who’s based in Orlando. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I was born and raised in New York City but always knew I’d eventually move to Florida. I spent a lot of time vacationing there as a kid and my wife and I went to Disney World for our honeymoon.

I loved the year-round warm weather and the slower pace of life in Florida. Plus, my wife and I wanted to start a family there because the cost of living in New York City was too high.

We moved to Orlando in 2004. There was something about the lifestyle, the closeness to theme parks, and the weather that made me think it would be a good place to call home and raise kids.

We bought a four-bedroom house two miles behind Disney World. Before we moved, we paid $1,500 a month in rent for our two-bedroom apartment in New York, and the mortgage on our house was 33% more than that, but it came with more space, a yard, a patio, and a garage.

We’ve lived here for 16 years and have had three children here. Here’s what it’s like to work, play, and raise kids with Disney World in your backyard.

There’s more to Orlando than Disney World

One of the best parts about growing up in New York City was how there was always something interesting to see. We’d spend weekends exploring museums, trying out different types of cuisines, walking around different neighborhoods, and stumbling upon street fairs. I wanted my kids to have a similar upbringing.

We live within a few miles of Epcot, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and Legoland. We visit these types of attractions once or twice a month, but we also do plenty of other activities as a family.

Since over 70 million people visit Orlando every year, the city is full of activities and places to see, such as concerts or events at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando City SC games, spring-training baseball, the Orlando Science Center, and the quaint downtown districts of Winter Garden and Mount Dora.

A benefit of living in Florida is the year-round warm weather, which lets us tap into unique outdoor activities, such as local community events and festivals, outdoor winter-sports programs, and swimming. I also coach my children year-round in soccer, basketball, and flag football.

I do miss the seasons up north, but I still prefer Florida.

Not everyone who lives here is obsessed with Disney

Our family has a lot of love for Disney World, but not everyone in our neighborhood is Disney-obsessed. We have friends in our community who don’t visit the parks as frequently as we do and some who don’t take their kids at all because either the cost is prohibitive or they just don’t like it.

Some people who aren’t obsessed with Disney live in the community because being so close to Disney can increase the value of their homes. Others choose to live nearby because if a hurricane hits and homes lose power, we often get our power restored quickly since we share a grid with Disney World.

A lot of people in our area work at Disney World or at a related property, but there are plenty of other booming industries here as well. I’m a PR manager at Otter Public Relations, which isn’t associated with the theme parks at all.

It’s not as expensive as it seems to eat and play here

Disney World is known to be expensive, but we have annual passes. A day pass for one of the parks starts at $109 a person. For $799 a person a year, which is what we pay — or $1,500 for non-Florida residents — my family and I can go to the parks whenever we’d like during the year, aside from on certain blackout dates. On average, we go two or three times a month. It’s worth it for us — and the pass also comes with a 20% discount on dining and merchandise.

Even though we live in a touristy area, there are reasonably priced dining options, especially if you go a few miles away from the parks. Some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had is only about two miles from our house and dinner for four is about half the price it is in the touristy places. I also found a local, reasonably priced Chinese spot that reminds me of the food I had in New York.

If we want to eat in a popular restaurant during peak vacation times, we’ll often wait an hour or two to get a table. It can be frustrating, so I just don’t put myself in those situations. It would be nice to have to plan less sometimes, of course, but there are trade-offs to living in any area.

I’ve learned how to avoid busy areas and streets

Living near Disney World does come with traffic and street congestion, but you learn how to avoid it by taking side streets or learning the optimal times to leave the house for the day.

We also know that it’s best to avoid the theme parks during Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any other long weekend. Everything is more crowded and it’s not as enjoyable for us locals to be in the mix. During busier times, we explore other lesser-known attractions, such as Fun Spot America or the Crayola Experience.

I’m lucky I don’t need to be in the extra-crowded Magic Kingdom to watch the special New Year’s Eve fireworks — I can watch them from my backyard.

Even though my wife and I will soon be empty nesters, we have no plans to leave. It’s where we set our roots, raised our family, and gave our kids something that few other kids can grow up with — magic in their backyard.

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