Will gators eat my kids?
September 17, 2010 11:21 AM   Subscribe

If I move to Orlando will gators eat my kids? (and other questions)

I live in southern Missouri and love it here. The delimia is that I have a job offer that will pay $30-$40,000 more per year but requires a move to Orlando FL. Having never lived anywhere else I'm a bit gun shy about making a move like that, and so is the wife.

Some of my questions might sound crazy but I really do want to know...

Are alligators in just about any body of water in FL? Florida residents have told me they can't let their dogs run in any park that has a lake or pond out of fear they might be eaten. Is this true? Would it be true in the Orlando area?

Why do all the homes with pools I see on line have some big screen surrounding the whole space? Are these a necessity? Is it for bugs, sun, both?

What is the best neighborhood in the Orlando area for raising 3 young boys? Best school, lowest crime etc.

What is the general demographic of the Orlando area?

Real Estate seems unbelievably low there now. I see $500k homes going for $225 on Zillow. Any insight into the cause or if it is going to hit bottom anytime soon?

Besides the Mouse and NBA team, what are the other things to do?

If you live there what makes you like / dislike it?

If you used to live there, why did you move?

posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I lived in central Florida (Winter Haven) for 20+ years. Every year I could handle the intense humidity less and less. It's more oppressive than you think, and won't really appreciate how bad it is till you live there. Summer is 9 months of the year.

Gators eating dogs and children is a wee bit overblown. Gator hunting was banned while they were an endangered species, but from what I understand permits are now available. In other words, yes there's a lot of gators - but no you're not gonna be hunted by them. And they're much less prevalent in Orlando 'proper'.

Screens around pools... Bugs. Mosquitos. Lots of 'em.

Things to do... drive to the Beach - Cocoa, Daytona, etc. Kennedy Space Center. Water Parks. Busch Gardens over in Tampa. Weekend getaways to the Keys. Universal Studios.
posted by matty at 11:32 AM on September 17, 2010

I've never lived in Orlando, but my parents used to (they moved away after my dad lost the job that had brought them there, because they hated the heat and wanted to be close to family again). So I can't help with most of the practical questions, but as far as real estate: my understanding is that the Orlando area was one of the worst areas in the country for the pre-recession housing boom. Once the economy tanked, there were suddenly zillions of brand-new homes that no one could afford to buy, so prices kept falling. No idea whether the bottom has been reached yet or not.
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 11:32 AM on September 17, 2010

My whole family lives in Florida (Ft. Myers and Jacksonville) and they still have the kids and dogs. I love the pool enclosures because you can open the whole house up without bugs.

I just wanted to add one thing not on your list, which would be huge to me if I didn't already live in Texas...No State Income Tax.
posted by murrey at 11:37 AM on September 17, 2010

Also... when it DOES get cold in Florida (it happens) it's REALLY cold. Not so much because the temperature is barely around 32F, but because of that damn humidity again. 5 Below zero in Montana, where the humidity is nice and low, feels warmer to me than Florida at 32. Anything below 72 degrees and people will complain that it's cold outside.

Plan on wearing shorts for Christmas and New Years. Really.

Generally the ocean breezes don't make it all the way into the center of the state.

If you get there before they're done, you can watch a Space Shuttle launch from Orlando (but go get up close if you have the chance!)

Demographics: Non-Hispanic White: 44.7%
Non-Hispanic Black: 26.9%
American Indian: 0.7%
Asian: 3.2%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 0.1%
Some other race: 10.2%
Two or more races: 2.1%
Hispanic or Latino (of any race): 22.2%

Not full of snowbirds... they're all in small communities outside of Orlando and on the beaches.
posted by matty at 11:40 AM on September 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't speak from experience, but I'm pretty sure if gators were in the habit of eating kids, there'd be some sort of saying or expression in common usage like "Don't go to Florida, the gators'll eat your kids!" and Disneyland wouldn't be quite so popular. Oh and it'd be on the news a lot more. I'm saying, if it really was an issue, Florida would have a reputation fir being unsafe. Kinda like how certain parts of the world if you get bitten by a dog you think "Holy crap, rabies alert!" whereas in developed countries you don't automatically jump to that conclusion.
posted by Biru at 11:41 AM on September 17, 2010

There are not that many alligators around. Gators big enough to threaten people or large dogs are generally trapped and removed from lakes near residential areas. People go swimming in lakes all the time without incident (although I can't say the mind doesn't wander when you're floating there waiting for the ski boat to circle around and pick you up). Small dogs should maybe be kept away from the some bodies of water.

Pool screens keep out bugs but also leaves and dirt. I've lived in houses with both screened and unscreened pools and to me, the main difference is a bit of extra cleaning required for an unscreened pool.
posted by Durin's Bane at 11:44 AM on September 17, 2010

I have lived in Central Florida (Winter Garden) for seven years now.

Gators will not eat your kids. Alligator attacks are exceedingly rare, and pretty much only happen if the gator is provoked. I have seen them around the greater Orlando area, but unless you are at Gatorland you really have to look hard to find them in any populated area. They really want nothing to do with humans.

Screens around pools are for bugs, plain and simple.

Best neighborhood? I really like Winter Garden and West Orange county in general. Pretty much you want to stay away from Pine Hills (otherwise referred to as "Crime Hills" and almost invariably the ending to every newspaper headline that begins with "There was a shooting today in..."). Winter Park is also very nice.

General demographic: mutts like you and me. The population in and around Orlando is largely made up of transplants from other parts of the country. There seem to be very few people "from" here.

Real Estate: Central Florida was one of the biggest bubbles in the country during the housing boom, and has been one of the hardest hit since the collapse. That sucks for me since we bought our house at the peak of the boom, but it's good news for you since the market is still flooded with foreclosures and short sales. Your guess is as good as anyone's as to when the bottom will be hit. I keep thinking it can't possibly go any lower, and I keep being proven wrong.

Things to do: theme parks (obviously), beaches, lots of paved trails for biking/jogging/skating from old railways that have been converted over, really cool state parks with manatees and such, and really nice outdoor weather in the spring and the fall. But unbearably hot and humid during the summer.
posted by Lokheed at 11:51 AM on September 17, 2010

I grew up in South Florida and I am happy to report that I was not devoured by alligators, nor were any of my friends. In fact, in elementary school, all Floridian children are taught that if an alligator is chasing you, the proper way to run away is to zig-zag, as alligators cannot corner well. This is, of course, an urban legend -- in actuality, alligators are much too lazy to chase their prey very far from the water.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:51 AM on September 17, 2010

[re: gator jokes. don't. thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:56 AM on September 17, 2010

Florida housing prices are crazy right now because they were way over built when the housing bubble crashed. Lots of foreclosures, short sells. I haven't looked closely, but I think there are some deals to be had.
posted by jrishel at 11:58 AM on September 17, 2010

I like walkable areas so if I lived there, I would choose to live in Winter Park as close to the "Olde Winter Park" section as I could afford to. My cousins live in Lakeland, which is a pretty upscale suburb. They've been there for over 20 years and love it.
posted by jeanmari at 12:07 PM on September 17, 2010

I don't live in Orlando (3 hours south of there, actually) but some of these are pretty Florida-centric so I hope you don't mind me answering a few.

Are alligators in just about any body of water in FL? Would it be true in the Orlando area?

I think the rule of thumb is: Not every body of water has an alligator in it (most don't), but you would not want to find out the hard way. It also depends on if it is mating season or not. During mating season they'll spread around a bit to have some territory for themselves. Oh, also there are snakes too. However, I have lived here over 13 years and it has not affected my life one bit.

Why do all the homes with pools I see on line have some big screen surrounding the whole space? Are these a necessity? Is it for bugs, sun, both?

That's called a Lanai. Mostly to keep out bugs and other pests. (Or, if you have a dog or cat...to keep them in.)

Real Estate seems unbelievably low there now. I see $500k homes going for $225 on Zillow. Any insight into the cause or if it is going to hit bottom anytime soon?

Florida went way up in the real estate bubble, and now you are seeing it going way down. As a point of comparison, the condo I bought 6 years ago is selling anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of what I paid for it.
posted by contessa at 12:10 PM on September 17, 2010

I grew up in Central Florida (Tampa) and would go back in a heartbeat (especially for a $30-$40k raise).

Alligators - At times you hear about several dogs going missing (usually ones that people let roam free, which is not a good idea for many reasons besides just alligators) and eventually someone figures out there is a gator in the nearby lake/retention pond. But matty's right... it's not as bad as people make it out to be. I swam in many lakes growing up and am still around to tell about it.

Pool screens - Bugs, sun and to keep the neighborhood kids (and gators :-)) out.

Neighborhoods - we had very close family friends that grew up in Winter Park, which is a really nice area with good schools.

Demographic - "newly wed and nearly dead" - not exactly, but close. In general, people are relaxed and friendly, regardless of age/gender/ethnicity.

Home prices - yeah, Florida got hit really hard. Not sure if it's at the bottom, but it's got to be close. Which just means it's on sale, as long as you choose wisely... If you do decide to move, pick a home that is what you want, where you want to live, and where other people are living. There were lots of developments built just before the bubble burst that are largely empty - don't buy in one of those.

Things to do - Lots of good ideas so far. Learn to water ski! (Floridians just call it skiing) There are tons of lakes in Central Florida that are perfect for it. Or any other water sports - they are all big in Florida for obvious reasons. There's a rather large horse industry if you or the kids are into that.

You didn't ask about the heat but since others have commented... It is hot and humid, and even more so in Orlando, away from the coasts. EVERYONE has air conditioning. If you or your family really doesn't enjoy the heat, you won't be happy there. But if you don't mind a little sweat, enjoy wearing flip flops most of the year, and like the water, it's a great place to live (and for kids to grow up). Also, the cost of living is pretty low.
posted by jshort at 12:17 PM on September 17, 2010

I've lived in Gainesville for my whole life. It is about 2 hours north of O-town. I've been to Orlando about one million times as it is not only an entertainment center for the state, but also has one of the two major airports closest to the 'Ville.

Florida's unofficial state bird is the mosquito. That is why all the pools you see are screened in. If you make sure that you keep your property free of standing water (via which mosquitoes breed) they won't bother you too much.

I don't know anything about specific Orlando neighborhoods other than they are a lot like South Florida. Huge, massive subdivisions that border the city in which everyone works. I would definitely suggest visiting any house you might consider buying in person before committing. The housing market in Florida is in a state of declining flux right now. I bought a house in 2008 and things are still wonky. Don't expect to buy a house and be able to turn a profit selling it any time in the near future.

Hehe, alligators... they are crazy. They are scary, but they are also really shy. Here in Gainesville, home of the UF Gators, there are lots. You will find them anywhere in Florida there is water and sun for them to hang out in. They are most aggressive during their mating season or if you happen upon a nest, which has happened to me a couple times camping. If you leave them alone they leave you alone. I think in the last 10 or 15 years there have been two or three cases where someone's dog has perished to alligators here. It is usually big news, which should give you an idea of how often it happens. Pro Floridian tip: Gators can run at something like 20mph in bursts, but only in straight lines. If you ever find yourself being chased by one, which I've never heard of actually happening, run in a zig zag. At least that's what I've always been told by the good ol' boys down here. I have gone swimming in lakes with alligators close by. They really aren't that big of a deal if you give them the respect they deserve. There are a few alligator farms around Florida where you can go see them up close, touch them, learn about them... I'd suggest taking your kids to one. They are fun and take a lot of the mystery out of the giant lizards. Most of Orlando is so developed I'm sure you could live there a decade without seeing one.
posted by Gainesvillain at 12:19 PM on September 17, 2010

Chiming in to say Winter Park or Maitland might be good choices -- safe, good schools, kid-friendly, some actual historical charm if you're in the right areas. I'd definitely avoid the subdivisions and condos.

A lot of my family lives off N Maitland/Oranole Rd in Maitland, so I can speak to Maitland better than Orlando proper. Homogeneous and conservative. It's a close-knit community, family-oriented, neighborly, and everyone watches out for everyone else. (Of course, they also scrutinize your holiday decorations and the unfamiliar cars in your driveway...so, YMMV.)

As for the screens around the pools -- in addition to what was said above about the bugs, some homeowners' insurance policies offer lower rates if you have them.

You can definitely get a lot of bang for your buck in FL real estate these days. If you buy a house located on a flood plain or near a body of water, your insurance might be higher. (Same with buying a house with a pool.)
posted by cowboy_sally at 12:32 PM on September 17, 2010

Forgot to comment on humidity. I've never been to Missouri, so I'm not sure what your day-to-day humidity is like. Here the temperature can be in the 90s and with all the moisture in the air it will feel like it is in the 100s. Some people can't abide. You should definitely come down and check it and Orlando out before you move here if you can manage it.

My parents actually like it because they have bad seasonal allergies. We have a pollen explosion every year, but for the most part all the water in the air keeps the stuff they're allergic to from floating around. If you are allergic to mildew or mold however, you are walking into the lion's den.
posted by Gainesvillain at 12:33 PM on September 17, 2010

I can't speak to much of the other stuff, but "If I move to Orlando will gators eat my kids?" according to this there have been about 275 unprovoked alligator attacks in Orlando in the last 50 years (of which 17 have been fatal). Orlando has a population of about 2 million.

My math is terrible, but it looks like that works out to something like a 1 in 363,000 chance of getting attacked, which starts to put it into the same statistical neighborhood as getting hit by lightning.

So no, probably not.
posted by quin at 1:08 PM on September 17, 2010

I live in northeast Oklahoma, not far from your area, so I think I can give you a bit of comparison. between My son grew up here and moved to Orlando in 2008 for a year to go to school. He absolutely hated living there, even though we took trips to Orlando many times during his childhood, some for several weeks' duration, and he enjoyed them. We still go three or four times each year.

His main complaints were tourists and elderly people, not necessarily in that order, especially while driving. The traffic is beyond terrible (though not as bad as Houston is), it's really humid 100% of the time (compared to our humidity? ppffffttt! we don't have humidity), and the bugs outside of the tourist areas are the size of small cars. The crime is... unusual. Watching the local evening news is 90% crime reports and much of it is weird, violent and/or twisted. You'll definitely get an idea of the good places to house hunt and the not-so-good places by watching TV for three or four days.

The prices for food and other stuff is about the same there as it is here. I was there in August and the gas price was $0.12 cheaper than it was in Tulsa. Some items are cheaper, others a little more costly. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. But man, is there a lot of real estate for sale. We drove through Windermere one day (Tiger Woods's Windermere) and every other house seemed to have a sign in front of it. Unemployment is definitely a problem. There was a job fair one day while I was there that drew something like 3,500 people for 300 jobs.

We really like vacationing there, but I don't want to live there. Of course, you may love it - it's a big metro area for a reason, and it may be exactly the place of your dreams. Good luck! :-)
posted by lambchop1 at 1:17 PM on September 17, 2010

I actually am from Southern Missouri, and my wife is from Southern Florida, so we visit there every year or two at least. From the weather perspective, humidity is pretty comparable; as I'm sure you know, everyone who comes to Missouri in the summer from a dry climate goes nuts over how humid it is here. My times in Florida have been similar or better, definitely not any worse.

It was pretty crappy last winter when we were in Disney during a cold snap with light snowfall in the area. But that's because we were packed for mild weather, not actual winter. We went from 4 degrees to 32 degrees, so wouldn't have been a problem if we brought our coats with us.

I lived near Miami for a summer during college, it was pretty damn hot, but everyone had air conditioning going all the time. Just part of life. In the three months I saw one alligator near a small body of water, while I was out taking pictures in an out of the way area. He was very still and calm, and I didn't get very close, but never seemed to be a vicious threat.
posted by shinynewnick at 1:18 PM on September 17, 2010

Spent most of my childhood in FL.

Are alligators in just about any body of water in FL?

Not salt water (technically they can be, but realistically they aren't).

Florida residents have told me they can't let their dogs run in any park that has a lake or pond out of fear they might be eaten. Is this true?

Ha ha... no. Maybe in the Everglades. Not in Orlando. I used to go to summer camp near Lake Okeechobee every year and we'd always see gators from the canoes but they were incredibly shy—they never once got close enough to touch them.

The ones you have to worry about are the swamps behind chicken shacks and the like where they've grown accustomed to people throwing their food at them. These days there's not much of "that" Florida left (sadly).

Real Estate seems unbelievably low there now. I see $500k homes going for $225 on Zillow. Any insight into the cause or if it is going to hit bottom anytime soon?

The cause: the real estate bubble. Rock bottom? Wait another year at least. Things aren't nearly as bad in FL as they should be (and they're already bad, don't get me wrong, but there's much more to come).

Besides the Mouse and NBA team, what are the other things to do?

In Orlando? That's it. Florida writ-large has a couple other things, mostly in the Keys. Oh, and the Dali museum in St. Pete.

If you used to live there, why did you move?

The RELENTLESS heat. The WALL of humidity you slam into whenever you exit your climate-controlled domain and have to venture outside (car/home/business/etc.) The public schools are a shambles. Except for the pockets of northerners living in walled communities, the people are provincial, god-fearing, homo-hating Southerners with a giant chip on their shoulder because nobody in the South considers them Southern enough.

That and all the goddamned old people that insist it is their god-granted dright to drive 45 mph. in the passing lane.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:33 PM on September 17, 2010

Are alligators in just about any body of water in FL? Florida residents have told me they can't let their dogs run in any park that has a lake or pond out of fear they might be eaten. Is this true? Would it be true in the Orlando area?

I live in southwest Florida (south of Orlando) and it's true that alligators can be assumed to be in pretty much every body of water. But you don't have to live in fear, you just need to be smart and careful. Gator attacks are still relatively rare. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has a lot of great information about living with gators, the most important of which is DO NOT FEED THEM, EVER, or approach them. When you feed the local alligators, they start to associate humans with food. Next thing you know, humans ARE food. That's when they become known as "nuisance alligators" and you have to call the gaotr hotline to get them removed and destroyed.

Yours eponysterically,
posted by Gator at 2:01 PM on September 17, 2010

My great-uncle lives in West Palm Beach. From vacations as a kid, while living in Southern California:

- bugs
- old people
- tourists
- the scary kind of poverty
- dampness
- wow, trees can be ugly after all
- their Disney is bigger but not as fun as ours (*)

Uncle Sol told us he got his driver's license in his sixties and had not, as of his early 80s, been called back in for so much as a vision screening. He drove like he was still a taxi driver on Manhattan, and while jumping curbs at 30ish mph on right-hand turns, complained about the recklessness of all the old drivers.

When house hunting make sure to get out of the car, walk around the area, poke your head around to see if there are abandoned pools in the neighborhood. If there are any close by, move on.

The only gator I ever saw there was made a pet by NASA. I think they called him Stumpy.

(*) I worked at Disneyland and am contracturally bound to insult the other park for the rest of time. But it's true anyway.
posted by SMPA at 2:15 PM on September 17, 2010

Screens are around pools to keep kids from falling in and drowning. If you have a pool + little kids, you, too, should have a screen around your pool. Everything else has been covered I believe. Whether to move to Orlando, in my opinion, depends on whether you like heat and overdeveloped suburbs. If yes, then go! If no, then perhaps not...
posted by tatiana wishbone at 2:17 PM on September 17, 2010

Realized I misread your screen questions - yes, the big screened-in pool "rooms" are for bugs. HOWEVER everyone should have a screen AROUND their pool at least! Think of the children!
posted by tatiana wishbone at 2:22 PM on September 17, 2010

The thing about lanai screens (the lanai is the sort of patio out back, not the screen itself, which is just called a "pool screen," "pool cage," or "lanai screen") is that they are usually attached to the house in such a way that they won't really prevent kids from falling in the pool -- if the kid is in the house, there's usually direct access to the pool/lanai from the house. So if you have toddlers, you'd still have to put up baby screens or what have you. The pool screens do keep people on the outside from accidentally falling into your inground pool, which is certainly a good thing, but they're mainly there to keep the bugs out.
posted by Gator at 2:33 PM on September 17, 2010

Make sure you get an exterminator when you go down there. Seriously.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:16 PM on September 17, 2010

I have a friend that grew up in Gainesville and he talked about swimming and skiing in lakes where gators lived. And I was like, "Are you out of your mind?" But it wasn't just him. Everybody did, all the time. I thought it was insane, but if nobody's getting eaten year after year in lakes full of people and gators, that's a lot of data about how much gators like to eat people.

Now I live in FL, and when I first got here I was super paranoid about kayaking in marshes where they lived. But the people running the kayak thing said they don't bother you, they go under/away when you get anywhere near, and they had never had a problem in their many years of doing this, nor had their friends that ran the kayak concession at the Okefenoee swamp in GA where there are also tons of gators.

I've been kayaking here a number of times now, mostly solo, and have seen them in the water, but they do in fact go/under away as you approach. That's not the same thing as if I were swimming, but I'm still pretty comforted about it. Now if I could just get more comfortable about the whole shark thing.
posted by Askr at 6:54 PM on September 17, 2010

I'm told (by people in real estate) that the real estate market in FL is still going to get worse before it gets better. Probably over the next year.

My husband once rounded a corner and came upon a gator that was sunning itself on a path. It never even noticed him. (He did decide to take a different path, though.) It does seem they're not generally aggressive. (Honestly, I'm more worried about cottonmouths and copperheads, of which we had plenty when we had a house next to the Intracoastal when I was a kid.)
posted by galadriel at 7:33 AM on September 18, 2010

Gators: They eat relatively infrequently and there are plenty of opportunities for them to eat in the water they live in (birds, fish, etc), so typically they don't attack things bigger than they are. And when they do attack, it's usually an ambush. That said, people do not swim in small ponds or in lakes where gators are known to be.

Up thread Gainesvillain said that if you do encounter a Gator your best bet is to Zig Zag. That's absolutely the wrong advice. Gators and Humans run at about the same speed, but gators can only keep it up for short distances. So run as fast as you can in a straight line for about 60-70 feet then keep running, but look back.

Gators only have brains the size of walnuts, so they're pretty dumb creatures.
posted by IndigoSkye at 12:44 PM on September 18, 2010

The other thing I would warn against is living either A) on one end of a toll road and working on the other or B) commuting from East to West (in the morning, opposite at night) on the I-4.
posted by IndigoSkye at 12:48 PM on September 18, 2010

I live in Winter Park, FL, and grew up in the Longwood / Altamonte Springs area, all part of the "Greater Orlando" metropolitan area.

I think the gator question has been covered, but just to reiterate: no, you're not likely to be eaten by a gator unless you're in an unsupervised lake where gators are known to live. Even then... I canoe in Wekiva Springs State Park frequently, and I've passed right by gators on the river before. As long as you keep your distance and don't try to interact with them (poke them, feed them, etc.) them, they're apt to just leave you alone. Keep your kids and pets supervised, and only go swimming in areas policed by Florida Parks Services, and you'll be just fine. My dogs have never had a run in with gators. Anecdote: I go to the Central Florida Scottish Highland Games every year. They hold it at Central Winds Park, right next to Lake Jessup. The stage where the have the musical acts is less than 50 yards from a little pond-like offshoot from the lake. Last year we counted 15 gators in there (none bigger than about 6', most under 4'). The pond was roped off (only about 10 feet from the water), and no one was worried about the gators. They pretty much just keep to themselves.

I've got a screened pool, and I grew up with one as well. They keep bugs out, cut down on sun, but most importantly where I lived, they keep the pine needles and leaves out of your pool. Still have to blow them off the screen on a regular basis, though!

I feel lucky to have grown up in the area I did. My parents bought a house in Sweetwater Oaks, in Longwood, FL, around 1990 when I was starting (I think) 3rd grade. It is a large neighborhood with little crime and great school zoning; some of the highest rated schools in the area. I went to Sabal Point Elementary (so close I could walk/ride my bike there every day!), Rock Lake Middle School, and Lake Brantley High School. The schools all had plenty of funding, attracted good teachers, and all had excellent extra curricular activities and advanced study courses, and are all rated 9 or 10 on Great Schools. I was afforded opportunities like high-school level foreign language courses while still in middle school, and LOTS of advanced placement, college credit courses while in high school (while I was there, they offered Advanced Placement English Lit, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Calculus and others, and I think they've added even more at this point. Your kid could probably finish their first year of college while still in high school! If your children are musically inclined, both Rock Lake MS and Lake Brantley HS had excellent band programs while I was there, and I'm pretty sure they still do (Lake Brantely had one of the biggest bands in Florida). Heck, the LBHS band has their own website. And the coolest marching band uniforms ever! I've still got my Tricorne hat.

Orlando has plenty to offer besides the theme parks (which, besides the Mouse parks, there are the excellent Universal Studios theme parks, and Busch Gardens down in Tampa) and the Orlando Magic. There are good music venues like House of Blues, the Bob Carr Performing Arts center for ballet, opera, theater, and orchestral performances (it's being replaced in a couple years by a bigger and better venue, though), and tons of smaller independent places, like my favorite theater, The Enzian. If you're a fan of nature, there's plenty of State and National parks in Florida (linked in my section about gators), and there's a great botanical garden just outside of the downtown area, the Harry P. Leu Gardens. The best part about Orlando, though, is all of the other places AROUND you. Want to hit a beach? Daytona Beach is an hour away. Want a more quiet oceanside with a little bit of historical value? It's less than 2 hours to St. Augustine. A fan of wine? Check out the vineyards at Lakeridge Winery. You've got racing at Daytona and Sebring (for NASCAR and Grand Prix, or for smaller club racing / SCCA; Florida is a good place to get started in racing if you're interested, too!)

I've rambled on quite a bit about positives, so here's my negatives about central Florida: The long summer with it's oppressive combination of heat/humidity, is my biggest peeve about the area: if you want to survive in Florida, you need air conditioning. Hurricanes can be an annoyance here occasionally... but we never get hit as hard as the coasts: Days and days straight of heavy rains do more damage than the winds here, usually, and as long as you're prepared and not in a flood zone (check before you buy!), you'll be fine. Traffic in and out of the city, and into the Disney / Universal / International Drive area can bad, but I've seen plenty of cities with worse: Just learn the guaranteed choke spots on I-4 and when they happen, and find ways to avoid them... you'll keep your sanity.

All in all, I'm very happy here, and I'd definitely recommend it as a good place to put down roots.
posted by XcentricOrbit at 7:02 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Oklahoma and moved to Orlando (Winter Garden) 4 years ago, so I am familiar with your change. Lokheed's comment is good.

Are alligators in just about any body of water in FL?
yep. But they don't come out and run around like squirrels. You have to look REALLY hard to see them. Usually you can only see their eyes above the surface. If they are out of the water, it is only a few feet away, and most will go back in the water if you come anywhere close. Stay out of the water and you (and your kids) will be just fine. DO NOT FEED THEM.

Why do all the homes with pools I see on line have some big screen surrounding the whole space? Are these a necessity? Is it for bugs, sun, both?
Both. Bugs are bad here. And summers are hot. The temps are not bad, but the humidity makes it feel much worse.

Real Estate seems unbelievably low there now. I see $500k homes going for $225 on Zillow. Any insight into the cause or if it is going to hit bottom anytime soon?
When we moved here, they were building like crazy; quickly but with not a lot of quality. So be wary of those supposed $500K homes. They were overpriced to begin with, and are only now returning to a respectable level.

Besides the Mouse and NBA team, what are the other things to do?
The beach. An hour to either coast. Having never lived near the ocean before, I really like that. Tampa has a lot to do also.

If you live there what makes you like / dislike it?
1) Traffic sucks, and is worse than anyplace I lived before. My thought is this is because the area grew after the Interstate era, so there is only 1 main highway. And tourist drivers don't help.
2) Schools here are not very good. I put my 9th grade daughter in a charter school.
3) People here bitch about taxes all the time, but IMO they are not that bad (no state income tax).
4) I miss my family.

posted by I am the Walrus at 7:51 AM on September 20, 2010

Feel free to MeMail me with specific questions or follow ups if you have any.
posted by I am the Walrus at 7:52 AM on September 20, 2010

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