A reader writes in with a great question recently:
My wife and me are considering visiting the Villages for a Lifestyle Preview Plan. She wants to schedule sometime in the summer months. I feel we should schedule during the peak winter months since that is the time when all the snowbirds are there and we can get a better feel of all the activities and also see how crowded it is. What is your opinion? Thank You.
This reader is correct in that doing a Lifestyle Preview during the peak winter months will give them the best idea of how crowded The Villages can be. Keep in mind, that “crowded” is a relative term. What’s crowded to me or you may not be crowded to someone from a big city.
Another reader wrote in recently about his experience on the Lifestyle Preview during the winter months. It turns out it was “eye-opening” and “off-putting” experience.
Here’s his email:
Thanks for the very timely link to “50 Questions Future Villagers Should Ask.” A lot of the points made by the author were evident to my wife and I during our lifestyle preview stay at The Villages last week. Our preview stay was our first-ever exposure to The Villages. We deliberately scheduled our visit for the busy winter season so that we would experience TV at its peak capacity.
Needless to say we were both overwhelmed, both positively and negatively! On the plus side TV certainly lives up to its reputation for endless activities, recreation, entertainment, golf, and opportunities for socializing. Everything we saw was beautifully presented and well-maintained, more so than we expected (not quite up to Disney World standards, but close!). We knew TV would be expansive and very spread out, an expectation that was more than met shortly after we “landed” at the Lake Sumter area sales office. Since our visit I’ve learned TV encompasses 40+ square miles, which is about the size of three average communities here in Massachusetts!
On the negative side we were very disappointed in the amount of congestion: vehicular traffic, golf cart traffic, and people crowds, especially in the two squares. The density of housing was a huge turn-off. At one point my wife looked down a street near some model homes we were touring and remarked how the “cookie cutter” similarity of the homes looked like “army barracks.” (Having spent four years in the army I sadly had to agree.) Unless one pays big bucks for a so-called “premium” lot, you don’t have a chance to escape fellow Villagers by retreating to your house. We saw house after house after house that backed up to one or more other houses with neighbors staring at each other from their respective lanais. Even the larger lots didn’t completely eliminate this problem…
From our pre-trip research we knew The Villages would be at peak “busy-ness” this time of the year, but we still weren’t quite prepared for what we encountered. Most disappointing was the consistently high volume of golf cart traffic, especially near the town squares. Our lifestyle preview included a golf cart that was governed to not exceed 12MPH. What a joke! Golf carts were tailgating us and passing us left and right the entire week. It seems that many Villagers have not lost their terribly rude and aggressive northern driving habits. Typically, the drivers and passengers in the golf carts who passed us looked straight ahead with stern expressions on their faces. Guess they forgot they were once new to The Villages, too, and likely had the unfortunate experience of driving a woefully underpowered golf cart!
The notion of new Villagers getting rid of one or all vehicles and relying solely on golf carts for transportation struck us as completely ludicrous. We quickly learned that any journey of more than 3-4 miles each way, especially for shopping, is best done by auto — using a golf cart for longer trips is much too time consuming, harrowing, and very inconvenient with all of the switch backs through tunnels and the endless loops around village gate houses to avoid the many roundabouts. Further, the congestion will continue to worsen as TV approaches its planned max population of 105,000 (currently 81,000) sometime in 2017. That increase translates into 30% more golf carts, autos, and people in a footprint not much larger than today’s! Upon checking out on our last day the sales center host mentioned his daily commute from the northern edge of TV is 7+ miles each way and takes him 25+ minutes (each way) in his golf cart. As we say up north, holy #$%!
On a more positive note the roundabouts (we call them “rotaries” in Mass) were well-designed and actually contributed to a rather smooth flow of the consistently heavy auto traffic we encountered. Good thing, because traffic tie-ups with traffic lights in place of the roundabouts would cause daily gridlock throughout The Villages.
Bottom line, The Villages is not for us — it’s a great place to visit and re-visit, but not a place we would want for our year-round home. We enjoy Disney World, too, in spite of its crowds, but certainly wouldn’t want to live there! We have enough neighborhood congestion and vehicular stress on the roadways of Massachusetts — we certainly don’t want to replicate all of that in retirement. It seems to us The Villages is very appealing to golfers, pickle ball players, and anyone who enjoys and needs continuous access to an endless stream of organized clubs and activities. Clearly, activities and socializing are the primary focal points of TV, while personal homes and yards are very much secondary or even less important. For the golf/social “junkies” who don’t mind living in an egg create or sardine can, that’s fine. For us, not so much.
So our search continues, both in Florida and up into the Carolinas. Keep the informative newsletters and interviews coming – we’ll continue to enjoy them even though TV is officially off our list of potential full-time retirement destinations.
p.s. We saw a cute sign in a vendor’s tent at Lake Sumter Landing during happy hour one evening: “The Villages is a drinking community with a golf cart problem.” You’ve probably heard this expression before; it neatly summed up a lot of what we experienced in one (semi) tongue-in-cheek sentence.
So there is one person’s take on visiting The Villages during the winter months. As I mentioned above everybody has different tastes and likes/dislikes. Try to take everything you read or hear about The Villages with a grain of salt before you experience it for yourself and draw your own conclusions. With 80,000+ (mostly) happy residents, The Villages is paradise to a lot of people. Maybe even you.
He did write back and say that they intend to be future renters, but not full-time and not during the peak winter season.
I believe that the best time to visit The Villages will depend on your goal. If your objective is to see it at its peak, then schedule a visit during the winter. But if your visit is just as much for relaxation as it is exploration, then avoid the winter season.