MEN AND WOMEN in bright green attire are carrying plastic cups of beer and folding chairs through the streets of the Villages. It's the Tuesday before St. Patrick's Day, and a street festival is either winding up or winding down in Lake Sumter Landing, one of three tidy town squares that serve as social hubs and de facto downtowns for this retirement community in central Florida. The palm-edged square itself is full of empty chairs; a few pockets of revelers toast there in the afternoon sun. But as the shadows lengthen, the square fills, an Irish band appears and lines begin to grow at the four rustic "Bait Shacks" that function as open-air bars. "A party every nite" is painted on the side of each one.
Happy hour comes early to the Villages, home to more than 110,000 people and the largest master-planned city in America. It's been the fastest growing metro area in the U.S. for several years. You (or your spouse) need to be at least 55 to own a home in TV, as locals call it; the median age is 67, and those under 19 are only permitted to visit for 30 days per year. What it's famous for, in addition to its vast scale (the development now covers about 40 square miles across three counties) and dearth of racial diversity (98.2 percent of TV residents are white) is its commitment to having a good time. "It's Disneyland for adults" is the ebullient tagline residents like Barry Brooks, 72, inevitably repeat when asked why they chose to live here.
Living It Up
- Town: The Villages, central Florida
- Population: 110,000
- Median age: 67
- Median home price: $224,200
'If you're bored here, it's your fault'
Brooks, a former college halfback with a russet tan and a yen for golf and fishing, is your prototypical "active adult." Strike up a conversation with him in a Village watering hole and you'll quickly get, along with a photo tour of his Kentucky hometown and a selfie with Donald Trump, a glowing rundown of the amenities that keep residents like him active. Among them: 81 swimming pools, 11 softball fields and 2,500 resident clubs for everything from model railroading to home brewing. "People live in the Villages because they want to do something," he says. "If you're bored here, it's your fault."