Would you retire in a Disney-themed community?


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If the recent spate of theme-park-esque retirement homes are to be believed, bingo nights are about to go the way of the dodo. Baby Boomers are reaching peak-retirement age — 57-75 — and the retirement industrial complex thinks they want something more than shuffleboard and bingo nights — a lot more.

The most recent entry into this arena is Disney Parks, which announced in February, that it has plans to launch a Disneyfied community, dubbed “Storyliving by Disney.” 

The first complex, “Cotino,” will be located in the appropriately named Rancho Mirage, California, in the Coachella Valley. The brand’s pitch: “You can be part of Disney all of the time.”

Um, yikes?

The complexes will have some neighborhoods for over 55 members; the rest of the complex will open to the public. There will be a hotel, a 24 acre “grand oasis featuring the clearest turquoise waters” with Crystal Lagoons technology, a shopping district, and just about anything you can need without leaving the premises, which sounds both convenient and suffocating.

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Though designed by Disney, it won’t be run or built by the company. And strangely, the press release says that “Disney cast members trained in the company’s legendary guest service will operate the community association,” which spurs images of Mickey Mouse and Goofy running the neighborhood block association. Like other retirement communities, there’s a range of homes, and a range of prices (though one could surmise that these will all cost a pretty penny as the average cost of retirement communities hover around $4300). If the retirees opt-in to club membership they will have more benefits to living in this somewhat strange mini-city. Disney aims to make Cotino a “living painting,” by which they mean combining the raw beauty of the Valley with the pristine and artificial creations of Disney itself.

Unsurprisingly, the public reaction was not kind: YouTube comments likened the park to a Black Mirror episode, the dystopian science fiction show, The Truman Show, and comparisons to a cult. Twitter was alight with funny memes:

Disney TweetPhoto credit: Twitter
StoryLiving TweetPhoto credit: Twitter

Storyliving isn’t Disney’s first stab at a planned community. Back in the nineties, the company launched Celebration, Florida, an entire town designed and run by Disney. Billed as a utopia that would uphold Disney’s values and perfect small town aesthetics, it quickly turned creepy. The guidelines for the houses were overly strict as each home owner had to meet the exacting standards of the company; at the same time, many of the homes were afflicted with shoddy construction. The opening of the school was a catastrophic failure: principal and several teachers quit the first year.  And as the years wore on, crime and accidents began to happen inside utopia: the lake they built had poor signage and people drove into it unknowingly and drowned; there were a couple of murders, and a murder-suicide. In the 2000s, the company sold it to an investment firm; pocketing a half bil, and ridding itself of a public relations nightmare.

Disney’s retirement community follows on the heels of another theme-park retirement space—Jimmy Buffett’s $1 billion project, Latitude Margaritaville (“Your new home in PARADISE”) which launched in 2017 to satisfy that burning need to be drunk on margaritas and live la vida loca in a manufactured tropical setting. There are three locations: Daytona Beach, FL, Hilton Head, SC, and Watersound, FL. Buffett lives on one of the properties, and the advertising dangles the carrot that the man himself will show up one night and play.

If you are the type of person who loves all-inclusive resorts on vacation, then an all-inclusive resort-like permanent existence may be appealing. For the rest, it’ll be like a bunker—a very sunny and tropical bunker.


As the New York Times’ Kim Tingley wrote: “Our concept of senior housing is often dystopic: a quarantining of those who can no longer care for themselves and are of no “use” to society. To purchase a home in Margaritaville, on the other hand, is to aggressively reimagine the aging process as a ticket to an island paradise, which may prove to be willfully naïve or ingeniously farsighted — or both.”


These are just two corporate branded communities featuring a one-stop, immersive sunset of life experience, but this attempt to make senior living more engaging and lively is not new, and it’s growing each year. The Boomer generation is also the Flower Power generation and those sixties hippies are still interested in an alternative lifestyle. Enso Village, a “Zen-inspired life plan community” is aimed at those who espoused peace and love and are still pursuing an expansive mind-body experience.

Located in Sonoma Valley’s wine country in Healdsburg, California, the community —which just broke ground—promises a mindful aging experience. It’s the result of a partnership with the San Francisco Zen Center and Kendal, a Quaker-based retirement community. Forget bingo, there’s yoga, Tai Chi, meditation halls, and a tea room. (Don’t forget to bring the ‘shrooms.)

Cotino concept imagePhoto credit: Story Living By Disney / Cotino concept art

It seems there are niches for just about everyone—especially the ultra-rich who can retire in New York for a very affordable $20,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, where they can get high-end gourmet meals at any night of the week.

Artists who wish to be surrounded by other artists and their art can join a rental community in the NOHO (North Hollywood) neighborhood. There, they can live inside a perma-artist residency, complete with a visual artist studio (paint!), a literary studio (write!), an artist’s lounge with a piano (relax!), and a pool and billiards room. Also, in the building: a small theater space.

Even without Storyliving, the Disneyfication of community was already underway. While these carefully crafted utopias seem like a one-stop solution to aging needs—the thing they are most mimicking occurs in almost any densely populated city: community. In cities, where you regularly go to the bodega or deli, or live in a tight-knit apartment complex, this comes naturally. For many retirees who are living in suburbs, living in a “community” is ancient history. It’s the mirage of control that appeals; it’s willful ignorance of the inevitable.

In the Times piece, the writer asks one of the retirees: “I wondered if there was a chance that the feeling of being on a perpetual vacation would get old after a while?” The retiree replied: “Only if you do.”

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