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Life in the Magic Kingdom: Disney's Golden Oak Resort Community Expands

Character statues, hidden Mickeys, and the surprisingly regular life found within the park’s upscale homes

What’s more exclusive than living inside the Magic Kingdom? Disney’s Golden Oak community, an upscale residential and resort community within the boundaries of Florida's Disney World, offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to those willing to put down millions for a custom home. It’s quaint, quiet, and three miles from the Magic Kingdom.

The new Kingswell neighborhood, named after the street in California where the Disney brothers set up their first studio, will consist of 53 custom homesites, and just went on the market late last month, with finished homes of 5,000 to 7,000 square feet expected to run $3 million each. Like the other parts of the Golden Oak community, it offers access to the nearby Four Seasons Hotel and all of its amenities, entry to the the Summerhouse clubhouse, Markham's dining room, and of course, VIP Magic Kingdom access including private and personalized transport to and from the park.

The entire resort and residential development now contains 300 homes, golf courses and wetlands, spread over 980 acres (the homes take up a little more than 200 acres).

"For us, Golden Oak is one of a kind," says Page Pierce, Vice President of Disney Resort Real Estate Development, who says the company doesn't plan to expand. "It’s not a typical developer strategy, but it’s a theme park strategy, and I think that’s very interesting. There’s far more demand, but that’s all we’re going to build."

The Golden Oak concept isn’t new. Pierce began thinking about the idea back in 2007, year before they company broke ground in 2010, and the idea had been kicked around for a long time before then. The company’s research suggested that many people wanted to live in Disney, but any potential homes needed to strike the right balance.

"People love being close to Disney and love being involved, and want to bring Disney close to their heart," he says. "But there’s a balance. The homes themselves have very little Disney. Our customers are very traditional, they love traditional, timeless designs and architecture. They wanted subtle touches."

Throughout the parks in Golden Oak neighborhoods, residents and visitors can find bronze statues of characters, such as Pinocchio. The homes also contain what Pierce calls "hidden Mickeys," character-shaped detailing in walls or railing. Guests can have the Disney experience when they want in the park, but they can always step back (hence the gates and gated community design, to control traffic and make for a private, more peaceful community).

It’s definitely a luxury experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s just a collection of vacation homes, or the houses of the world’s coolest grandparents. Jeff Brice and his family had tested out the development a few times before taking the plunge roughly a year ago and moving down from Delaware. After living there full-time, his wife and school-age children love it. Park access and small Disney touches are nice for a family already enthralled with Disney (a plaque on their door says "circle of life"). But the lifestyle also normal enough that, were you to pick up the neighborhood and move it 30 miles away from the park, you’d have no idea it was Disney-related, says Brice.

"There is a little surprise that comes with telling someone you’re moving into Disney World," he says. "But now, there’s rarely time when people aren’t asking if we have a bedroom available."

Brice sees the home as a great investment; he could have had more space elsewhere in the Orlando area, but the amenities and maintenance are excellent (Disney even takes care of lawn upkeep for certain homes), and the company name suggests it’ll always command a premium. It’s also a pretty regular, upscale neighborhood, with a mix of residents, from retirees to a 26-year-old tech entrepreneur who lives down the block (Pierce said he was pleasantly surprised the demographics skewed younger than he anticipated).

"Most people expect over-the-top exposure and Mickey Mouse everywhere," he says. "When they show up and it’s not like that, it’s a pleasant surprise."

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