Meet the people who love Disney so much they moved there: Company expands into real estate for theme park die-hards with millions to spare
Houses at Golden Oak start at $1.7 million with fees of up to $12,000 a year
Strict Disney rules apply to homes with no alterations allowed without permission
There’s no escaping the mouse with ‘Hidden Mickeys’ places around each of the homes
By JAMES DANIEL
For many, a trip to Disney is the holiday of a lifetime, but what if you decided to spend your lifetime at Disney?
There is a select group of people for whom this idea is no fantasyland, but a reality.
The Walt Disney Company has created a gated community known as Golden Oak – named after the company’s California ranch.
It’s the only place in the world where homeowners actually live on Disney park property.
Scroll Down for Video
Cinderella’s Castle: How about living in a castle of your own on park property? Disney has created Golden Oak where you can live immersed in the Disney magic… forever!
Living the fairytale: Disney has plans to build 450 homes at Golden Oak, and out of the 100 that have been built so far, virtually all have been sold. The starting price is $1.7 million and can be as expensive as $7 million
Premium location: The perks include park passes, door-to-park transportation, extended hours for visiting attractions
Some 980 acres have been set aside for the company to build up to 450 homes at Lake Buena Vista – some within eyesight of the famous Cinderella Castle fireworks.
Of course, living in the vacation capital of the world doesn’t come cheap. Houses start at $1.7 million with some homes selling for more than $7million.
On top of the sale price there are extras that homeowners must pay including property taxes and annual fees as high as $12,000 to cover benefits.
The perks include park passes, door-to-park transportation, extended hours for visiting attractions such as the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and a 17,000-square-foot clubhouse with a restaurant and concierge.
Disney magic: The homes exude luxury but they also have been Disney-fied with some homes incorporating Mickey shaped windows or even swimming pools
Set for Hollywood: Residents also will have access to some of the amenities, including the spa and dining rooms at the $370million, 444-room Four Seasons resort scheduled to open in Golden Oak next summer
Residents also will have access to some of the amenities, including the spa and dining rooms at the $370 million, 444-room Four Seasons resort scheduled to open in Golden Oak next summer.
Brazillians make up a number of the Disneyphiles who have come to purchase the homes. Although some are vacation houses, a number have decided to settle there permanently.
Sam Bergami of Milford, Connecticut, had visited Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, more than 300 times since 1976. Now, he lives there.
Residential real estate for Mickey Mouse fans
Hot ticket: Of the 100 total homes, there are just a few that remain on the market
Orderly: Even after paying a small fortune to own the property, builders and residents are subject to numerous restrictions as front doors have to be made of solid wood and gutters must be copper
He bought his $3.4 million Spanish-style home in January 2012. ‘I’ve traveled everywhere, pretty much all over Europe,’ says the 69-year-old told the Wall Street Journal. ‘I always gravitate to Disney World. It’s the place where I’m most comfortable.’
Inside, the homes exude luxury but they also have been Disney-fied with some homes incorporating Mickey shaped windows or even swimming pools.
Homeowners can even add ‘hidden Mickeys’ where the characters’ distinctive head and ears are integrated into door panels, railings and garden landscapes. Some are so hard to spot that owners are given a map of all of the locations.
As you might expect with a company as protective over its brand as Disney, there are just seven builders who are allowed to construct the houses in Golden Oak.
Even after paying a small fortune to own the property, builders and residents are subject to numerous restrictions.
Front doors have to be solid wood. Shutters must open and close. Even gutters most be rounded and made from copper.
Living the dream: This is Disney’s Tuscan village courtyard home, one of several architectural styles featured in the unique community
Disney Imagineering: A view of the outdoor space within Da Vinci by Cahill, one of the Showcase Village Homes now open at Golden Oak at Walt Disney World Resort
Gina and Paul Rice, of Warrenton, Virginia built their Tuscan-style, five-bedroom, 9,000-square-foot home, complete with fireworks viewing tower so they could see the nightly fireworks displays.
‘If there’s a single image that you think of with Disney, it’s those fireworks,’ says Mr. Rice, 60.
‘It’s just a very cool way to remind yourself you’re rolling in the belly of all this stuff.’
They didn’t request for any Hidden Mickeys to be included in the design of their house but ended up with 13 anyway with a head and ears molded into the fireplace and even also in the swimming pool.
Homes at Golden Oak went on sale more than 2½ years ago but after the property market in Florida took a dive there things are beginning to recover.
Although there is space for 450 individual lots at Golden Oak, to date, Disney have only released built two phases with homes for sale.
Disney say the sale of their luxury homes has been extremely successful. Out of a total of approximately 100 homes, there are just a few that remain on the market.
Kids at heart: Paul and Gina Rice moved from Virginia to a five-bedroom, 9,000-square-foot home, complete with fireworks tower so they could view the nightly fireworks displays
Fantasyland: Paul Rice’s home even has a Mickey shaped swimming pool!
Lifer: Sam and Lois Bergami had visited Disney World more than 40 times a year since 1976. Now they both live there in a $3.4 million home
The site won’t be completely finished for a few more years.
It’s not the first time the company has decided to enter the real estate market. In the 1990s it created Celebration, Florida – a 5,000 acre town with more than 4,000 homes.
Disney is only involved at arm-length in terms of running the community which is now controlled by the residents.
Disney says with Golden Oak, they wanted to create a resort community that would appeal to families and also focus on the theme park too. They realised there was also demand for bigger homes.
‘The Disney brand goes a long way. You’re paying for location, you’re paying for the amenities,’ says Michael Crawford, an agent with Keller Williams at the Lakes in Celebration, Fla. ‘There’s a lot of added value.’