Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Where in the World is Celebration?

As I ramble on about Celebration, I realize that most people know it is the “Disney Town,” meaning that it is somewhere in the Orlando area, but many have no idea exactly where it is located. Sure, it’s near Disney World, but the word “near” can have a variety of meanings. Some people consider the airport nearby, even though it is a 30 minute drive. To others, in order to be “near” something must be almost adjacent.

Myself, I knew about Celebration for many years without knowing its exact location. On our frequent visits to Disney World, we would use Happy Limo to get us from the airport to our on-site hotel. Then, we would abandon ourselves to the mercy of the internal bus system. Although we gained a passing familiarity with the roads, my husband and I would never have been able to pinpoint locations on a map. For example, to us, the Animal Kingdom was buried deep in the woods somewhere, probably miles from civilization. We never realized that the garish 192 strip was almost within spitting distance. We cringed at the sight of the hideous Pop Century icons, but we had no idea that the stately Gaylord Palms lay not far outside of that entrance gate. We knew that Typhoon Lagoon was located right by Downtown Disney, but we didn’t know that the Crossroads lay just beyond. To us, we might as well have been on some island in the middle of a vast ocean called Orlando (we didn’t realize that we were actually adjacent to Kissimmee and would one day even share a zip code with the town that the tourists love to mispronounce).

I suspect there are many folks like me who know that Celebration is “somewhere by Disney” or who perhaps even think that it’s still on Disney-owned property. Hopefully this blog entry will give them a clearer sense of our location and the fact that we are a separate entity from the Mouse (even though you can still see the Disney World fireworks from the right places on clear nights).

First, a little history. Celebration was, indeed, part of Disney’s property. It was a vast plot of swampy land where gators were released when they got too large to remain in populated areas. Most Disneyophiles know that, after watching fleabag motels and tacky roadside attractions spring up next door to his California park, Walt wanted to make sure that his Florida complex had a large buffer zone. The area that is now Celebration is adjacent to 192, a Disneyland-esque road jammed with the motels, go-kart tracks, and “get ten t-shirts for a dollar” stores that Walt had feared. Although the hotels and theme parks in the Disney World resort are pretty much shielded from the tourist traps, they sprang up like weeds as close as they could possibly get.

Celebration is in a very convenient and accessible location near I-4 and 417. From Orlando International Airport, the best route is to follow the South Exit signs and take 417 south to the Celebration exit. It will cost you $2.50 in tolls (the last fifty center is exact change only), but it’s well worth the price to avoid the crowds and traffic that can clog I-4. Once you exit, you simply turn left, and you are on Celebration Avenue. You can follow it right into the heart of town, but be sure to stay in the right line. Otherwise, you’ll find that you’re suddenly in a left turn only lane that will force you to either do a sudden “tourist swerve” to the right or to drive into North Village, where you’ll be stuck until you finally U-turn and leave the same way you came.

If you are brave, you can also take 528 (at the airport’s North Exit) to I-4 and hop off at the Celebration exit or at 192. The Celebration exit is somewhat confusing if you're not familiar with the area, as it puts you by World Center Drive. I recommend 192 for the uninitiated. Then you’ll need to stay to the right and follow the white fence. You can either turn in on Celebration Place, by the office buildings, or on Celebration Avenue, by the Water Tower Place shopping center. If you opt for Celebration Place, you’re going to have to make a left at the buildings and then a right onto Celebration Avenue.

In terms of Disney World, Celebration is in the same general vicinity as the Wide World of Sports. You can always find your way back to town from the Disney World resort. Simply follow the signs to 192, and then look for the 300 foot towers of Old Town or signs directing you to Water Mania. If you can find those attractions, you’ve found the entrance to Celebration. And even if you wander far off property and take a drive through the surrounding towns, it’s virtually impossible to get lost. Eventually, you’ll find signs directing you to Disney World. Follow those to the resort, then follow the 192 signs to get you back to Celebration. That was my rule of thumb for our many excursions when we first moved to the area, and I always found my way home. In Florida, all roads lead to the Mouse House.

There are two main ways that I used to get in and out of town when visiting Disney World. The first is World Drive, which will run you right into Celebration Boulevard after crossing I-4 a couple of times. The only risk is passing through the gluts of tourists who are hopelessly lost and who realize that they are on the far left but the lane they need is on the far right (or visa versa). Many of them miss I-4 completely and then make abrupt U-turns, or else just stop in the middle of the road and sit in a confused coma of brain overload, when they dead-end at Celebration Boulevard. But this route tends to be pretty light on traffic, so it is my preferred way.

The other way is to exit at the gate near Pop Century and head to Osceola Parkway. Go around the Gaylord Palms Resort (gorgeous hotel, strange name) and turn onto International Parkway. You can’t get lost because there are signs pointing the way to Old Town, Water Mania, and Celebration. Turn on 192 and you’re almost home. The 192 leg can be sluggish at peak tourist times, but this way is good if you need to stop at the grocery store. There is a Publix right on International Drive and 192; although it’s usually jam packed with out-of-towners, it’s convenient for some quick shopping on the way home from the parks.

Before visiting Celebration for the first time, I never even realized that the 192 area existed. The limos and town cars typically enter near Downtown Disney or Osceola Parkway, bypassing most of the three ring circus. Now, I am more familiar with that road than I’ve ever wanted to be. We stick to the tollways and expressways when possible, but sometimes 192 is unavoidable. I’ve learned the cycles of Disney traffic and the handful of back roads and shortcuts that ease some of the pain.

Interestingly, that whole area is Kissimmee, not Orlando. Despite their enthusiastic television ads “Visit Kissimme/St. Cloud! We’re Disney World’s Neighbor!”, I think that people are clueless that Kissimmee actually borders Disney World. They probably assume that they are in Orlando and never even know they’ve spent their whole vacation in a town they can’t pronounce. The correct way to say it is “kiss SIM me,” but people up north constantly argue with me, saying, “No, I really think it’s “KISS emmy,” with a strong emphasis on the “kiss,” like I wouldn’t know how to say the name of the town that shares my home town’s zip code. Yeah, KISS-emmy, that’s how you say it, and I’m going to have to give my house back to Disney in 30 years.

So that’s how to find Celebration. It’s not so hard if you know where to look. Just keep an eye out for the white fence surrounding a small-town oasis in the midst of Tourist Land U.S.A. and you’ll know you’re there.

If you have any comments on my blog, you can email me at

Visit my Celebration website at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information. You did a wonderful article