December 13, 2014

Sun City Festival: A Retirement Community Treats Us Well

A major force in the retirement landscape in the Phoenix area is the Del Webb company. It is best known for Sun City, the nation's first planned retirement community that opened on January 1, 1960 in the desert west of Phoenix. Since then three more Sun City communities have opened nearby, just part of 50 communities in 21 different markets.

The newest, Sun City Festival, invited Betty and me for a weekend stay in one of their villas. We were invited to use the facilities, talk with local residents, interview marketing folks, and write about our experiences for Satisfying Retirement.

If your image of a retirement community in the sunbelt is just people spending all their days golfing, you need to readjust your mental picture. This  community is home to quite a few non-retired folks, or those who work at a second career or capacity. Yes, there is a beautiful 18 hole golf course, but so much more to keep the not-quite retired and those done with their working lives busy and productive.

At last count there are 42 clubs featuring all sorts of activities, everything from wine tasting and dancing to pickleball, bridge, and quilting. A life-long learning center affiliated with Arizona State University offers classes to keep one's mind sharp. Betty and I sampled the fitness center, ate several meals at the on-site restaurant, and even enjoyed a happy hour. We spent a very pleasant evening on an outside patio overlooking an enormous pool and spa complex.

Friday night was the community's Holiday desserts party that featured an excellent choral group as entertainment for the 200 or so folks in attendance. In front of the activity center were a few brightly lit cars and golf carts.

 On Saturday we were invited to visit the 9,000 square foot pottery and glass studio along with a huge woodworking shop. Always the artist, Betty fell in love with these facilities. She says they are absolutely on par with anything she has ever seen. Hundreds of residents learn and practice their artistic skills in this state of the art facility.

Linda - instructor at pottery studio

Clyde and Barbara at glass kilns

Jacque Petroulakis, Corprate Communication spokesperson for the Pulte Group (owner of Del Webb) notes that one of the most important approaches the company takes is to actively research the wants of today's home buyers. Last year they actually built prototype models inside large warehouses and asked potential customers to walk through and critique the designs and layouts.

The results are obvious. Today's models have elevated dishwashers and lower microwaves. The entrance from the garage does not involve any steps up or down, doorways are wider, and showers can include a place to sit.

If there is a downside, it is Sun City Festival's location. Since only a gas station and mini mart are located here and being 12 miles west of the nearest town, trips for groceries, additional dining options, or medical appointments are bit of a jaunt  But, residents we talked to didn't see this as a problem. In fact, several mentioned they like the quiet and lack of city lights.  A fire department, police, and EMT operation in town means one is not far from immediate emergency help. The nearest full service hospital is about 25 minutes away.

Sun City Festival is designed for active folks who want to live independently. There is no provision to provide assisted living or nursing care at this time. But, community representatives told me when the time approaches for more help with daily living, residents are likely to move to Sun City Grand or Sun City West, both of which offer such services.

Thanks to the folks at the Pulte group and Del Webb for inviting us to spend some time at Sun City Festival. It was a much needed break for Betty and me, and a perfect chance to see the changing face of retirement communities. The residents we talked to were very happy with where they live and extremely friendly. We didn't meet anyone who didn't welcome us with open arms.

Our villa home - very comfortable

Note: Betty and I were provided with free lodging, dining credit, and facility use during our stay. Sun City Festival did not have control over or prior approval of the content of this post.


  1. thanks for the review of Festival. I actually live in Sun City the original one. LOVE IT here. So many activities for us. We are on the younger end of the spectrum at 62 which makes us laugh when people call us young. Lots to do, Bob does Pottery and Calligraphy, we bowl , we swim, I play mahjongg. We are also active in serrvice activities such as delivering Meals on Wheels. We chose here over the newer communities because our money could stretch much further when buing a house. It is the perfect place to retire and play! Cindy

  2. To the anonymous commenter who is concerned that I am selling my soul, do not worry. Since this blog accepts very little in the way of advertising, one of the few perks I allow myself is the occasional exchange of something for my words and thoughts. When that happens it is made clear what compensation is involved.

    I have worked too hard building credibility to throw it away for a tablet or two nights in a retirement community. I receive a dozen requests a week to promote everything from vitamins to investments, home bathtubs for seniors, to elaborate security systems. I reject 98% of all that stuff, but do accept the opportunity to take a closer look at something that I believe may be useful to some of my readers.

  3. Great write up ... good information.

  4. We have visited Festival several times and it's pretty, but that 12-mile drive is a deterrent for us. We have a winter condo in Sun Village which is close to restaurants, grocery stores and numerous golf courses for my husband.

  5. Sounds great. We're about five miles from the nearest grocery store but with light traffic we're okay with that.

  6. Your experience seems much better than I ever envisioned these places. I've never understood why these communities don't have excellent health care in their midst. Seems crazy to create this lovely environment for our golden years, but make top notch health care a flight away.
    And as for 'anonymous' accusing you of selling out...puhleez!

  7. We have friends who live in the original Sun City and enjoy it, although I'm not sure how many of the activities they participate in.

    I would love to have some sort of hybrid: we can stay where we are (we love our city and our home) but also have a large, well-appointed senior community center near by that offers the wonderful classes and activities you described.

    "Anonymous" needs to chill out. You are definitely not "selling out."

  8. I'd heard of Sun City, and thought it was just a place to warehouse old people; but your report makes it sound much more impressive that that. I'm with you re. anonymous -- I'm impressed that your blog led to a little mini-vacation. Next stop: Costa del Sol? Costa Rica? Contra Costa, Calif.? Anyway, congrats. and good for you.

  9. We have friends who live in Sun City West and have been enjoying a great active lifestyle in retirement! I enjoy your reviews,Bob and appreciate that you take time to share what you learn.. I would actually like to see MORE! Ignore the anonymous people out there who have nothing better to do than complain!!

  10. I appreciate your review as I was unaware of this development in Buckeye. A car club from Sun City Festival is coming to my restaurant for lunch soon and I was searching for some information about their club. I found your blog and learned something new! Thank you! The Ranch House Restaurant in Yarnell is their destination for GREAT FOOD!!!