A lot of people say they want to move to Orlando or Anaheim to be closer to the Disney parks, but very few people actually have the guts to do it. In part one, I interviewed Sarah and Peter Brookhart of The Brookhart Project whose dream of moving to Disney was so strong that they pulled up stakes in Chicago to relocate just outside of the Walt Disney World bubble.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney
Eureka! Forget bitcoin. There’s a gold rush in full swing and the miners are flocking to Disney in droves!
If you run in Disney circles, you’ve seen the explosion of cottage industries surrounding the Disney brand. There’s Etsy shops full of Disney inspired swag. Thanks to Disney Bounding, you can find outfits, ears, and costumes to match every major, minor, and obscure Disney character ever made. There’s Disney bloggers (yours truly), vloggers, and podcasters galore. And don’t miss the Disney-attraction-flavored coffees, scented candles, and fan fiction.
But the true heroes of the Dis-zealot movement are those who have cast all caution to the wind, quit their jobs, sold their homes, and migrated thousands of miles to live within a firework’s boom of the Disney parks.
When I interviewed Sarah and Peter Brookhart, the young couple who left their hometown to live 20 minutes outside of Walt Disney World, I learned a few things about following dreams and taking giant leaps.
So if you’ve ever asked yourself, “What would it take to live the Disney dream?,” here are 8 tips I learned from the Brookharts for how to move to Disney.
Tip 1: Plan Like You Mean It
You know how a vacation to Disney takes moon-landing level planning? You have to make your restaurant reservations 180 days in advance, for crying out loud! Well, moving to Orlando or Anaheim takes a little more planning than that.
The Brookharts recommend that whatever you do, don’t play it by ear. Do your research and create a plan that will work. Read a ton and ask a LOT of questions.
They also suggest you do the math. And then do the math again. “Our job offer did not include moving assistance,” said Sarah, “so we ended up taking a lot more from savings than we had expected.”
You’ll never be able to plan so well that you avoid all surprises and obstacles, but without creating plan, you’ll only end up frustrated and floundering.
“Get a good idea and stay with it. Do it, and work at it, until it’s done right.” – Walt Disney
Tip 2: Location, Location, Location
“Location is super important,” says Peter. You must minimize your commute from home to the parks. “We live 20 minutes away from property, so that’s why it’s so easy for us to get here Monday through Friday. We have friends who live 40 minutes away and it’s much harder.”
Again, do the math. For every 5 minutes away from the parks, you lose 10 minutes to driving. All that driving will wear on you. If you live 45 minutes away, and you plan to go to the resorts after work, you will spend 1 hour and a half of your precious evening hours in the car. And during non-peak seasons when the parks are only open until 8, timing is crucial
Find a place 30 minutes or less from a Disney parking lot. That will keep your drive to and from the magic under one hour total.
Tip 3: Expenses Are Real In Fantasyland
Have you heard that it’s cheaper to live in Florida? Well, that’s only partly true. If you want to live within a few miles of the parks (refer to Tip 2), the cost of living is not much better than anywhere else in the country.
“The biggest thing we heard from people who don’t know anything about moving to Florida from Chicago is ‘Oh, it’s so cheap to live in Florida!,’” said Peter. “The thing is, we not only live in Florida, we live in the Orlando area. And not only that, we live in the Orlando tourist area. We actually pay more for rent here than we did in Chicago.”
Expect much worse in Anaheim. The average one-bedroom rental behind the Orange curtain is over $1,500 per month, and things like groceries and gas follow suit.
“We’re not eating in the parks every night,” said Sarah. “You don’t see us downing PB & Js in the car before we head in. We’re making it a lifestyle but real life is still real. We both need to work full time jobs to make the lifestyle possible.”
Not much you can do about that. Just be prepared to pay the price to live next door to talking mice! (Hey, that rhymed!)
Tip 4: You WILL Get Tired Of It
Ever hear of the “law of diminishing marginal utility?” That’s the phenomenon that happens to you when the first piece of pizza tastes like heaven while the next two, three, and four pieces start to taste like cardboard.
Sadly, it’s the same with going to Disney every day, or every week, or even every month. You’re bound to get less and less enjoyment out of every visit.
Peter warned that many magic-migrants run the risk of losing interest. “Maybe not at first because of the excitement, the honeymoon stage of living here, but eventually after a couple weeks or months, you could probably just resort to coming here just on weekends.”
So what can you do to keep from losing interest? Live for something more than just having fun at Disney.
“Live everyday, no matter how small the accomplishment,” said Peter, “as if that single day had something going for it or something worth remembering, even if it’s playing cards after dinner.”
It helps that the Disney resorts have so much to offer. But every day can’t be all parades and attractions. If you live each moment with the idea that each moment is a gift, you’re bound to stay excited, no matter where you live.
“We’re setting a bar for ourselves,” said Sarah, “to really enjoy life.”
Tip 5: Keep Your Eyes Open
If you’ve read some of my other blog posts about hidden Disney details, you know how important this tip is for me. (See the S.E.A. at Disneyland or Walt’s initials on Tom Sawyer Island for some of my favorites.) Disney has packed the parks and resorts with so many unusual details and spatial storytelling hints that locals like you are likely to find something new and surprising every time you visit.
“I knew there was a lot to offer here,” Peter said, “but now living here we realize how much there actually is.”
You may have ridden every single ride on the map, but there are too many food and entertainment offerings for any guest to taste and see them all. “We had no idea who ‘Yehaa Bob’ was,” remembered Peter. “He’s a piano player who’s been playing the piano (at Port Orleans Riverside Resort) for twenty-plus years.”
As a local, you’ll also begin to see and experience other guests in a different way. “Since we’ve moved here, I can pick up on more of the other guests’ vibes. I hear more of the happy in other people’s voices, but I also can hear more of the anger and frustrations. You can just tell this family’s exhausted, or this family is having the best time of their life over here.”
Now that you’re able to enjoy the parks without a to-the-minute agenda, allow yourself to take it all in in a way that would have been impossible for your before moving.
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” – Walt Disney
Tip 6: Preset Your Mindset
Making a major life change like moving halfway across the country to follow a dream is a risky proposition – especially for your frame of mind. You’ve set pretty high expectations for how wonderful and carefree your new Disney life will be. But unless you’re prepared to stay positive and generous no matter what, your high expectations are bound to come crashing down.
“Being down here for a week,” said Peter, “the odds of you seeing an upset cast member or an upset family, or to see something weird happening that would ruin a day or a stay in a resort is far less than if you’re here 7 days a week for your whole life.”
“In bad times and in good, I have never lose my sense of zest for life.” – Walt Disney
“You’re gonna see upset cast members. You’re gonna see a ridiculous guest causing a fit or an accident happen, or an extra 25 minute wait at the monorail… You have to be able to brush those off because you do have the luxury to see it when it’s not a wait, when Main Street is empty, when there’s a walk-on to Space Mountain, which never happens.”
“You can’t have the good without the bad.”
Tip 7: Be Generous & Humble
Disney annual-passholders get a bad wrap. In some ways they deserve it. I hear the word “entitled” thrown around a lot with regard to the way “APs” act toward cast members and other guests. To the Brookharts, the antidote for entitled-passholder-syndrome is to think of yourself less and to think of others more.
“There’s really no reason why we’re any more important than any other person here,” said Sarah. “And I might say we’re less important because people could have saved for the past 5 years to get their 7 days here.”
“Why would we take up extra space in line on a Saturday night in July when people on vacation could be utilizing it themselves,” Peter added.
Letting other people go first might be the most difficult adjustment for a Disney pilgrim like yourself, but it’s this kind of attitude that will sustain your positive mindset (see Tip 7) for the long haul.
“It’s hard to be like, ‘Oh, if you’re not a humble person, don’t take the move,’” said Sarah, “but it’s just that you’re going to be a more pleasant person to be around. And your experience as a guest will be much more pleasant if you go into it with a mindset of humility.”
Tip 8: Own It
As much as you want your family and friends to be supportive of your Dis-placement (see what I did there?) most of them won’t understand.
Let’s be honest. Some people just don’t get the whole Disney thing. When they hear what you’re thinking of doing, they roll their eyes and write you off as weird. Fair enough. Others might be jealous and take it out on you with snide comments or talking behind your back. Still others are simply afraid of the unknown.
“Sarah was basically the first person in her family to leave the south side of Chicago,” Peter said. “We did something new that was scary for us and scary for the family because nobody does this!”
Even if they don’t say it, you’ll be able to sense that friends and family are judging you (a little, or a lot) for following this dream.
But here’s the thing. It’s not their dream. It’s yours. You have to own it.
Moving to Disney is no different than moving to the mountains or the beach or the city. Some people work their tails off to realize their dreams and move to the places they love the most. Nobody faults them for that.
Peter said, “We had to look at ourselves honestly and say, ‘What is really going to make us happy?’” For Sarah and Peter Brookhart, the answer was to pursue their passion and move to Walt Disney World.
So if you’re serious about relocating to be near a Disney resort (or to follow whatever your dreams might be), your first move is to take a hard look at your motivations. Then, you’ve got to count the costs and survey the obstacles. Finally, when you’re ready to face down your doubts and fears to pursue your dreams then there’s only one thing left to do… embrace what you love and own it.
To follow Sarah and Peter Brookhart’s daily vlog adventures from Walt Disney World, subscribe to The Brookhart Project on YouTube.
To read about how Sarah and Peter made their Dis-cision to relocate to Orlando, go back to “Moving To Disney (Part 1)”
In preparing this article, I learned about several other interesting people who did something similar to the Brookharts. I encourage you to check them out:
Mr. Peter Tu: This retiree is known as “the clapping man of Disneyland,” spends every morning walking through the park getting exercise and encouraging every cast member he sees. His trademark handshake and recognizable clap makes him one of Disneyland’s most adored citizens. Watch a day in Peter Tu’s life HERE.
Lisa Dinoto Glassner: Lisa was a lawyer by day, runner by night, and Disney fanatic through and through. When her father passed away, she decided to quit her career and run after what she loves. So she and her family relocated to a neighborhood just behind the castle. Follow her story at TheCastleRun.com.
Jeff Reitz: On a whim in 2012, Jeff challenged himself to visit Disneyland every day for a year. But once the habit was formed, he didn’t stop. With some visits as short as a half hour, he still makes time to visit Walt’s original theme park once a day. Read Jeff Reitz’ story HERE.
Tom Bricker: So you want an opposing viewpoint? Want somebody to help you level you expectations and maybe talk you out of migrating south? Tom’s post about the downside of moving to Disney has some good points you should consider – although he says he has “no regrets.”