Rents are soaring in Orlando & it’s not just Disney World’s fault

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“Where will I go on my mission?” sings the young Elder Price in the smash hit Broadway musical “Book of Mormon.” It’s the most important part of a Mormon kid’s life, he sings, nothing less than a chance to “heal the world.”

“It could be San Fran by the Bay, or Australia, where they say g’day,” he sings. “But I pray I’m sent to my favorite place!”

…which is…


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“Orlando! I love you, Orlando! SeaWorld and Disney! Putt-putt golfing!”


The city is played as a punchline, but like Elder Price, millions of people (Mormon and otherwise) find Orlando plenty alluring, what with the warm climate and the state charging no income tax, inheritance tax, or estate tax. (Locals also get steep discounts at those theme parks, which appeals to some, probably more so to families with kids.)

The metropolitan area population has increased by about 20 percent since the 2010 Census, to some 2.7 million, making it the third-largest metro area in Florida and the seventh-largest in the Southeast.


According to the Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP), the city has added more than 1,000 people per week since before 1950, making it one of the fastest-growing regions in the country for decades now.

All those newcomers have heated up the housing market.

  • Zillow reports a 19.7 percent increase in the value of the typical home over the last year.
  • According to’s figures, the median home sale price as of October was just shy of $330,000.
  • Homes stayed on the market for a median of just 49 days, falling from 62 year over year and way under the pre-pandemic high of 77 in February 2020.

“Our market hasn’t changed,” says Lisa Hill, a realtor with Keller Williams. “It was hot before the pandemic and it’s still hot. In 2019, we were already extremely busy and had low inventory.”

And she never got a break.

“When everything was going into lockdown, realtors were considered essential workers, so we never missed a beat,” Hill added. “It even got busier. I was doing open houses and showings virtually, and in August 2020 I closed nine properties, mostly virtually.”

The pandemic’s blow to sunny Orlando

Experts have a positive outlook on the city’s real estate. The PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Urban Land Institute’s report “Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2022” ranks Orlando #18 in overall prospects and #22 in homebuilding prospects among the nation’s top 80 cities. The report gives multifamily properties a 69 percent “buy” and 19 percent “hold” rating.

But the Covid-19 pandemic, with its blows to the tourism industry, has been unkind to a city known as the theme park capital of the world.

“House prices are growing, and the longer-term outlook is quite upbeat, but Orlando has had a slow recovery up to this point,” observes Emily Mandel, an economist with Moody’s. “Employment hasn’t rebounded as quickly as one might like, because the city remains dependent on tourism.”

Part of the problem is that the industry is powered by tourists from overseas.

“Yes, there has been very strong domestic tourism,” Mandel said. “People don’t want to deal with the restrictions on travel abroad, so they’re going to the beach. But Orlando also relies on international visitors, who haven’t been able to come back in the same numbers as before the pandemic.”

The U.S. lifted international travel restrictions in November, however, which is promising, but job recovery has lagged.

“The city’s economy has other drivers, for example it has some concentration in financial services, and some in tech,” Mandel says. “But tourism is very much top of mind. Hotel occupancy has been doing well statewide, but you don’t have the rebound in leisure and hospitality jobs that you would expect.

“The city is not at risk of falling into recession,” she added. “But the pandemic is creating uncertainty, and holding back investment.”

Hill, who has lived in the city for all of her 60 years, is more bullish.

“Honestly, our hospitality industry was hit pretty hard,” she says. “When you see Disney and all the attractions closing, that’s a lot of people furloughed. However, they’re bouncing back at full throttle, so most of those people who were furloughed are back to work now. For the next few years, our biggest job growth is going to be hospitality, followed by professional and business services.”

Orlando’s rental market is as hot as the real estate market

A speed bump in the city’s economy hasn’t put a hitch in the rapid rise in rents, which local headlines have reported on “skyrocketing” to “unheard-of” levels.

Already in 2019, Freddie Mac found that Orlando was the fifth-most rent-burdened city in the union. And that was before the pandemic-era influx of people seeking warm weather and more space, and fleeing higher taxes in states like New York and California.

As of July, Orlando had seen some of the most rapid rent increases in the country, zooming up by 13.3 percent over the year to reach an average of $1,514, with vacancy rates falling to 5.9 percent, the lowest level since 2018.

When taking incomes into account, a Bloomberg study found rents less affordable than in the notoriously pricey Bay Area. And it only got worse; by November, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $1,700.

“Our rental market is as hot as our sales market,” says Hill. “You go to an area where in the past you could find 10 or 15 properties for rent, and now you’re lucky if there are one or two. And the average rent for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment is $2,300 a month.”


Rapid growth also spells trouble for an already crowded infrastructure. Locals complain that public transportation is not what it should be for such a large city, and that the roads are congested and not bike- or pedestrian-friendly.

On the upside, the city will soon become better connected to the region, with a rail line connecting to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach coming in 2022.

Moving to Orlando, a military post turned theme park hotspot

Originally inhabited by Timucua and Seminole peoples, the area now known as Orlando was first occupied by European settlers around 1843, when they built Fort Gatlin. The city was first dubbed Jernigan, after a prominent family in the area.

As for its name thereafter, things get amusingly hazy. Some say a local judge named it for a character in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (source of the famous line “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”). Another account says it’s named for a sentinel who warned his fellow soldiers of an attack by Seminole Indians.

Yet another, doubtless more fanciful, has a certain Mr. Orlando dying and being buried there, so that thereafter, people would pass by and say, “There lies Orlando.”

Among the region’s early industries were cotton, cattle, and citrus. The 1950 opening of the Cape Canaveral aerospace complex on the Atlantic coast 50 miles to the east spurred further growth, but the area’s true titan splashed down in 1971: Walt Disney World, which encompasses the Magic Kingdom (home to the iconic Cinderella’s Castle), Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Universal Orlando Resort, featuring Universal Studios (home to a new roller coaster themed on Jurassic World) and Islands of Adventure, threw open its doors in 1990; the park now features the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

While the city is currently home to dozens of theme parks, Walt Disney World remains the greatest. It’s so large that the entire city of San Francisco could fit inside its walls, and in 2019 it saw a whopping 21 million visitors (almost three times the population of New York City).

The city overall welcomes some 70 million visitors a year—a little more than the population of the United Kingdom.

Big-league sports teams have followed the city’s burgeoning population. Local fans follow the two-time NBA finalists the Orlando Magic, its ice hockey team, the Solar Bears (get it?), the Orlando City Soccer Club, and the city’s women’s football team, which surely has one of the most punk rock names in professional athletics: the Orlando Anarchy.

Those interested in more highbrow entertainment appreciate the Orlando Film Festival, which is dedicated to independent filmmakers, as well as attractions like two ballet companies, a Shakespeare company, and the Orlando Museum of Art.

The city has a diverse population and a welcoming environment. It’s known for a large LGBTQ population. (Tragically, the city was the site of the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.) Disney World offers Gay Days and hired Black Santas for its Orlando theme park for the first time in 2021.

There’s also a Bible-based theme park not far from a supersized Baptist church. The Orlando Economic Partnership reported that in the last decade, one in nine residents had migrated to the city, half of them from another country, spelling major increases in ethnic and racial diversity.

Orlando has jobs outside the tourism industry

The city led the nation in job growth from 2014 to 2018, and the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area accounted for some 13 percent of the state’s GDP in 2017, according to the Orlando Economic Partnership.

Beyond the theme parks, Orlando is home to a robust corporate environment, partly based in aerospace and defense. The 1,000-acre Central Florida Research Park, adjacent to the University of Central Florida, hosts some 125 companies and about 10,000 employees. Tenants include AT&T, Boeing, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.

Tech is establishing a foothold as well, with companies following the Kennedy Space Center and Army, Navy, and Air Force simulation command centers. Among other contenders are video game company Electronic Arts, lidar (light detection and ranging) startup Luminar, and credit card payment servicer Stax.

About 20 miles to the east of Disney World, in a neighborhood by the Orlando International Airport is the 17-square-mile Lake Nona planned community, which hosts a training center for Big Four accounting firm KPMG, the USTA’s national campus, the University of Central Florida Health Sciences Campus, and the Nemours Children’s Hospital.

“Disney obviously put us on the map, and in the past, yes, we had a reputation as just the theme park capital, but that is changing,” says Hill. “The University of Central Florida is one of the largest colleges in the country, and we’re getting on the map for technology with NeoCity, which will be the next Silicon Valley.”

The market is also attracting outside money.

“Investors are coming here, buying properties because it’s still affordable and they can get high rents,” Hill added. “I’m starting to see international buyers come back into the market.”

There is no stopping Disney, or the spread of Orlando

And the tourism industry looks like it has room to grow. Disney is building a new regional campus to house at least 2,000 digital technology, finance, and product development employees who will relocate from Southern California to near the airport.

The Magic Kingdom isn’t the only place in Orlando where fantasy reigns. Like many locales wanting to lure Hollywood money, Orlando has hosted some movie productions, among them The WaterboySharknado 3: Oh Hell No!Monster, and Lethal Weapon 3.

Despite a glitch in its tourist-driven economy, Orlando is projected to attract more than 1,500 new residents every week for the next 11 years, eventually growing to more than 5.2 million, per the Orlando Economic Partnership.

Local developer Fletcher Moore recently told the Tampa Bay Times that he sees signs that Tampa and Orlando, separated by about 100 miles along Interstate 4, could soon be like Fort Lauderdale and Miami, which were once uneasy neighbors but are now almost indistinguishable.

Everything between Orlando and Tampa “used to be green cow pastures,” Moore said. “But today, it’s hard to find land.”


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Hate Disney World? Visit these fun-filled Florida destinations instead


It’s not all Disney World all the time!

You work hard, and you play harder. How about a trip to Florida? Unlike any other place, Florida has beautiful beaches and state parks, fun shopping, big farms, thrill-seeking amusement parks, and more. There’s clearly something for everyone. Check out this list of great things to do in Florida.

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With a name based on the smoky steam that rises from its chimney, you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Devil’s Den Spring. Ancient rock formations, fossil beds dating more than 30 million years, and crystal-clear water give visitors memories that will last. This privately owned, stunning 120-foot wide underground sinkhole is located in Williston. It offers a unique experience to tourists who want to go snorkeling or scuba diving. The location offers lodging at four cabins, tent campgrounds, and an RV park. Tourists have access to picnic tables, grills, cabanas, lawn games, and a heated swimming pool.


Located next to the Devil’s Den in Williston, tourists will find Cedar Lakes Woods & Gardens. This beautiful botanical garden offers more than 50 garden displays, waterfalls, koi ponds, and breathtaking views to enjoy. With festivals, shows, and concerts, there’s sure to be something to keep you entertained.


Ginnie Springs offers camping for champions. With more than 200 wooded acres and spring-side tent sites with full electric and water hookup, campers are set up with beautiful views and fun water activities from innertubing to kayaking and canoeing. The site doesn’t disappoint if you’re looking to dive in its crystal-clear 72-degree waters.


Daytona International Speedway is more than a racetrack. The racing enthusiast is sure to enjoy seeing cars zoom around the 2.5-mile track. Still, the speedway is also home to concerts, civic and social gatherings, vehicle testing, police training, and car shows.


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There’s never been a better time to learn about space as we strive to understand our role on the planet earth and the evolution of man. And what better place to do it than the Kennedy Space Center, located in Merritt Island, Florida. The Kennedy Space Center is one of 10 NASA field centers and one of NASA’s main launch sites.


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Naples Zoo is a nationally accredited zoo, and in it you’ll find your favorite animals and a few rarer animals like a giant anteater and the fossa of Madagascar. You can also meet Eko, the tiger, pictured in this slide. The zoo has a large aquarium and botanical garden. There’s always something fun to do at Naples Zoo, with shows and events scattered throughout the year.​​


The Naples Botanical Garden is a “170-acre, world-class garden paradise that features plants from around the world.” The garden represents the culture and flora of the tropics and hosts more than 220,000 visitors yearly.


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Who doesn’t love a little football? With their unexpected Superbowl LV win, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a sight to be seen, and so is their stadium. You can’t beat the cheering, music, stadium hotdogs, and people. There’s also the sightseeing experience of touring the Bucs’ home stadium. Tours are given Monday through Thursday and some Fridays, at 2 pm. Take a look at the playing field, locker room, suites, and the famous pirate ship.


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The Bok Tower Gardens is a national historical landmark with two hiking trails, 50 acres of gardens, art deco architecture, and the Singing Tower carillon. It is an awe-inspiring attraction in central Florida’s Lake Wales.



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Sunken Gardens is a 100-year-old, 4.5-acre home to more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers. It has cascading waterfalls and a flock of flamingos for visitors to admire.


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Busch Gardens is a 335-acre African-themed animal theme park located in Tampa. It’s home to 200 species of animals, and visitors can go behind the scenes on a safari. At Busch Gardens, you’ll find everything from festivals and animal exhibits to rides and roller coasters to keep you entertained.


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J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is home to interactive exhibits on ecosystems and birdlife. You can walk three trails to explore the wildlife. Visitors will also find fishing, boating, biking, and photography opportunities during their time at the wildlife refuge. Tours are also offered.


Visit the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida, where you can walk the path of a legend and learn a little more about the famous writer. Take a tour of Hemingway’s home and see the photos of his fishing adventures. Tourists can get full access to his home and writing studio with the Hemingway Home Evening Writing Experience.


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Relax and let your stress go while walking through a magical world of butterflies at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. The tropical paradise is filled with hundreds of beautiful butterflies from 50 to 60 species worldwide. The conservatory is also home to 20 exotic bird species, cascading waterfalls, and trees. Learn more about butterfly anatomy, physiology, and life cycle in the learning center and browse the Gift Shop for a wide selection of artwork and unique gifts.


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Only 45 miles northeast of Miami International Airport, the Everglades National Park in the United States’ largest subtropical park and wilderness. It is home to endangered species such as the American crocodile, green turtle, and Florida panther. The park offers three campgrounds, lodging, boat and tram tours, biking, boating, and canoeing.


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The Venetian Pool is more than just a pool. It’s a beautiful oasis that holds 820,000 gallons of water that flows from artesian wells. You’ll see palm trees, coral rock formations, waterfalls, and caves. It has a well-deserved spot on the National Register of Historic Places.


Parasailing is a regulated sport in the state of Florida, so if this activity is is on your bucket list you need to find a reputable place to go. Key Largo Parasail has you covered with a top safety record in the country. Parasail across 25 miles of fantastic views of Key Largo, the Atlantic Ocean, and John Pennekamp State Park for the thrill of a lifetime. Reservations are recommended.


With an old Florida vibe, Warm Minerals Springs Park is located in North Port. The springs in the area have high mineral content and are known for their healing qualities. The waters at the attraction stay at a year-round temperature of 85 degrees, and visitors can relax in the water, explore the land, or enjoy spa services.


St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum transports you more than 300 years back in time to the Golden Age of Piracy. The 5000-square-foot museum has been featured on the History Channel, The Today Show, CNN, and in People Magazine.


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Capture the essence of Japan in Delray Beach at this 16 acre-park of Japanese gardens and galleries. Learn more about Japan’s rich and diverse culture through art, exhibitions, and six historical gardens. With collections from private collectors and other institutions, the museum boasts a diverse slate of exhibitions throughout the year.


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The National Naval Aviation Museum features a large state-of-the-art theatre, interactive exhibits, and a vast collection of aviation artifacts for visitors to see. Discover historic aircraft and learn more about the history of naval aviation at this historic site. (Call ahead, as you may require an escort if you do not hold a Department of Defense Identification Card.)


Located in Orlando, WonderWorks combines education and entertainment with 100 exhibits that challenge your mind and imagination. Experience extreme weather, wonderful art, physical challenges, space, and an imagination lab.


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Miami Beach nightlife deserves a spot of its own. With nightclubs, salsa dancing, local food, rooftop bars, and more, the nightlife in the famous city has a little something for everyone. You can check out performing arts in South Beach at the New World Center, or relax on the beach. Just start walking or cruising along the beach to find something that suits you perfectly.


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The Dry Tortugas National Park is located in Homestead, 70 miles west of Key West. It is a 100-square-mile park with seven small islands accessible by boat or seaplane. Less than 1 percent of the park is dry land. It is home to Fort Jefferson, a lighthouse, blue waters, coral reefs, marine life, and an assortment of birdlife. Visitors can go snorkeling and diving, boating, or swimming for wildlife viewing. Discover the history and culture of this national park for an unforgettable experience.


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Experience Destin Harbor Boardwalk in Destin, Florida. It has been named one of the Top 10 “most popular beaches in the United States.” Perhaps you want to swim in the ocean or relax on the beach. But you’ll also find parasailing, jet skiing, boating adventures, snorkeling expeditions, dolphin cruises, and more. With beautiful clear water and white sand, it’s a sight to be seen.


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The Dalí Museum is home to Salvador Dalí’s work and legacy. The Spaniard’s creativity was pure and boundless. Visit the Dalí museum to learn more about the people, places, and events that created the unique man.


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Another top thing to do in the Sunshine State is spending a day at Legoland Florida Resort. It’s a Lego-inspired interactive 150-acre theme park with more than 50 rides, shows, and attractions. Its water park includes a wave pool, lazy river, body slides, and interactive water play structures. Guests are invited to stay at the Pirate Island Hotel or Legoland Hotel, both complete with Lego-inspired dining and amenities.


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The Florida Museum of Natural History is located at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The museum inspires people to value the world’s rich and diverse biological and cultural heritage. Several hundreds  butterflies live in call the museum’s Butterfly Rainforest exhibit home at any given time, and more than 40 million specimens and cultural artifacts are housed in the institution. The museum has a wide range of themes, with temporary exhibits changing throughout the year.


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Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was the winter home of farming manufacturer James Deering. The museum features a decorative art collection, a native forest, a mangrove shore, a historic village, and 10 acres of gardens. It is a showcase of art and architecture not to be missed.


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Located in Ft. Lauderdale, the International Swimming Hall of Fame is the mecca of swimming, diving, and water polo. It houses the largest collection of aquatic memorabilia and aquatic books, manuscripts, and literature in the world. The complex has more than 40 permanent exhibits and tells the history of aquatic sports.


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Take a self-guided tour of the Kampong in Coconut Grove. It is one of five National Tropical Botanical Gardens, and visitors to the Florida location you can marvel at fruit or flowering trees from the tropics, commune with 80-year-old baobab trees, or enjoy the prized fragrance of flowering plants. The Kampong has collections from Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. It features 50 varieties of mango trees and other exotic flora and fauna.


Seaworld Orlando is more than an aquarium. It is an aquatic theme park filled with numerous exhibits and attractions. Connect with dolphins, snorkel with fish, and feed exotic birds.


So, there you have it: 34 fun-filled, educational, and inspirational things to do in Florida. This list is sure to fit any budget or sinking fund with a little planning. It’s time to pack your bags and make a travel checklist, because there’s nothing like a vacation to help you manage stress and enjoy life.




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