My husband and I deliberately avoided 55+ and retirement communities when seeking a rental home for our first snowbird winter. I feared the lifestyle might be too insular and disconnected from the larger community. We thoroughly enjoyed our first winter in a lovely patio home and could easily have rented it again the next year, but the abundance of retirement communities in the area piqued our curiosity. We deliberately sought out a rental in one of these communities for our second winter.
We rented a home in a 55+ gated community of just over 330 manufactured multi-section homes. Half of the residents were snowbirds who lived there only during the winter months. The other half lived in the community year-round. Beautiful landscaping, wide streets, and numerous amenities gave the place a resort-like feel.
It turned out we loved the experience so much we returned the following winter. Here are the reasons I loved snowbirding in an Arizona retirement community.
The many amenities within the community gave us plenty of recreational opportunities without leaving the community. A dip in the Olympic-sized pool refreshed on hot afternoons. The patio area around the pool offered ample room for deck-chair lounging in the shade or the sun. Two hot tubs relaxed and soothed tired muscles.
There were courts for bocce ball, tennis, pickleball, and shuffleboard. There was a horseshoe pit, a putting green, a billiards room, an arts and crafts room, a picnic and barbecue area, and areas to walk our dog.
Coffee was usually brewing inside the clubhouse. The library contained a large selection of books and jigsaw puzzles donated by residents over the years. I found most of my winter’s reading in that library. I used the adjacent fitness room a few times, although I usually preferred to get my exercise by walking through the community and along the attractive walking trails.
Pro Tip: Be aware of the times amenities are booked for organized league use. Rules may exist about the use of other amenities. For example, visiting grandchildren were welcome at our community pool except for 2 hours in the late afternoon when use was restricted to adults.
At the start of every month, I’d pick up a printed calendar in the clubhouse. It showed the activities going on each day of the month. A chalkboard on an easel just inside the clubhouse displayed any special events happening that week or coming up in the near future.
Activities included card and mahjong games, ceramics, line dancing, and potluck dinners. My husband became a regular at men’s billiards, which ran three mornings a week. I occasionally attended the weekly ladies and mixed billiards.
An organized shuffleboard league ran from January to March with set teams and tournament-style matches. Pickleball was played five mornings a week. It operated in a more casual manner. Whoever showed up played, and teams were selected via the drawing of cards. The more casual manner, however, did not mean any less dedication on the part of participants. The core group of regulars played for 2 to 3 hours every morning. I turned up a few times, but not enough to become a regular.
I did become a regular at Friday morning yoga classes and at early morning water aerobics, where the voice of an enthusiastic instructor on CD guided a small group of women through our exercises. Moving through the warm pool water, watching the sun rise in the sky, hearing the birds sing and traffic increase on the nearby freeway as the world woke up, chatting with the other women, and basking in the hot tub for a few minutes after the workout made for a great start to the day.
Special events included dances with live bands and themed pool parties.
Pro Tip: The types of activities on offer vary from community to community. For example, one 55+ community near us was well known for its active tennis league. Although there were three tennis courts in our community, I rarely saw anyone play. The courts were usually adapted to play pickleball. At the end of our second year there, two of the courts were permanently changed to pickleball courts.
3. Sense Of Community
People living in the community formed connections and friendships. Big smiles greeted snowbirds returning for another winter. There were hugs in the spring when the snowbirds left.
I became aware of the strong sense of community within a few weeks of our first winter. People gently redirected a long-time resident with Parkinson’s when he wandered off and reminded him of what he was doing. They prepared and delivered meals to a man whose wife had gone into hospital.
There were holiday dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Turkey or ham was centrally prepared for the meal. Everyone who attended brought some other dish to share. The feasts had both a festive and family-like atmosphere.
In addition to the formal activities showing up on the calendar, people bonded and created a number of more informal gatherings. A group of men met every morning in the clubhouse for coffee. Another group of men and women used one of the meeting rooms to start their own Friday “happy hour.” People brought their own beverage of choice and appetizers or sweets to share. We had a lot of laughs at those happy hours and made friends.
4. Community Within A Community
One week, the two adult children of Canadian snowbirds joined our Friday “happy hour” group. They’d been visiting their parents for the past week. When someone asked what they’d seen or done in the area, the son replied, “Nothing. Apparently, it isn’t safe beyond the walls of this community.”
He was joking. Both he and his sister had seen many of the attractions in the area on previous visits. This time they were simply enjoying the amenities and activities within the community while they visited with their parents. Still, the joking comment struck a chord with me because it spoke to one of the things I’d feared about living in a retirement community: developing an insular life disconnected from the larger community.
Although one could choose to cocoon within the walls of the community, most residents did not. Their lives extended beyond the walls. Some, like us, had family in the area. Some belonged to local churches or other groups. Some volunteered.
I never did experience the insularity and detachment I’d feared. I continued to explore the Greater Phoenix area. In fact, the people I met within the community helped me learn more about the cities around me. They told me about new restaurants, attractions worth seeing that I was not aware of, and the best place to buy a swimsuit.
5. The People
As lovely as the amenities were and as rich the choice of activities, it was the people that made the community feel like home. We enjoyed friendly conversation with a variety of people at social events. We formed closer relationships with the people we saw regularly at shared activities.
I looked forward to my conversations with the water aerobics women as much as the exercise itself. We laughed and shared our worries with each other. My husband developed an easy camaraderie with his pool-playing buddies. We attended a Christmas party at one of the resident’s homes. We and another couple, with whom we had a lot in common, stayed late several times at Friday evening happy hour to visit after everyone else had gone home. When we returned the following winter, we looked forward to seeing all our new friends again.
Snowbirding in an Arizona retirement community has a lot to offer: a range of maintenance-free amenities, an abundance of activities to choose from, and a community family.
Pro Tip: The things I loved about living in the 55+ community can be found in many retirement communities, yet each community is unique. In addition to having different amenities and activities, each has its own personality. Keep that in mind when looking for a community so that you find one that suits you and feels like home.
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