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Living the High Life in Orlando

In 2009, I vacationed in Orlando. In 2010, when it was time to pick a spot for a long weekend escape, I chose the same. When people ask me “where does a travel writer vacation?” they’re shocked to learn the answer. But I’ll be frank: I will love those parks until the day I die. There’s nothing that gives me greater joy than a high-speed roller coaster that stirs the contents of my stomach and leaves my hair standing on end. Similarly, I like the tame rides of Fantasyland that allow me to revisit my youth.

exterior of the Peabody Orlando hotel

The plans for this trip started back in October when Angie and I were in the Bahamas. Ang was fortunate enough to be on the PR team that launched the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and being as we’re both essentially Harry Potter freaks, we vowed to figure out a way to visit Islands of Adventure together before Angie left on her round-the-world trip. We started batting ideas back and forth and decided we’d take both of our sisters with us. But my mom wasn’t having any of it: Knowing more about Harry than all of us combined, she said she’d be tagging along. And just like that the five of us were convening in Orlando the weekend before Christmas.

Mom admiring the view from the top

My family has had a time share at Orange Lake in Kissimmee since I was but a wee tot. We went there at least once a year up until I was in high school. So I’d never really stayed “in Orlando.” But this trip, we had one goal in mind and that was to drink Butterbeer at Hogsmeade. Given the location of the Universal parks, staying in a hotel on International Drive made sense. And that’s how we came to sleep in the Peabody Orlando.

a glimpse at the Peabody’s $450 million renovation and expansion

Funny enough, I had my first Peabody experience earlier this year—the original, in Memphis—when I was writing my Tennessee book. I’d seen the March of the Ducks before, though, during the summer I spent in Memphis in 2000. But I didn’t even know Orlando had a Peabody until my Orlando-based friend Jen told me so.

the check-in area

So my mom, Kari and I drove nearly 11 hours south—one way—to meet Angie and Rachel for three nights. We arrived to find that not only had we been upgraded to a suite, we’d been upgraded to the hospitality suite. Check this place out:

the living area, complete with Murphy bed

the kitchen and bar

our bedroom

Anytime I couldn’t find my mom, I’d head into one of the THREE bathrooms to find her watching the news in the mirror on one of our SEVEN TVs.

It’s only too bad that among the five of us, we only knew a handful of people in Orlando. This suite just beckoned to be the hostess of a grand party!

Before we enjoyed the 70 degree warmth (in December!) by the Peabody pool, we wandered around the massive hotel sprawl, making our way to the twice-daily March of the Ducks.

I was happy to see that the duck tradition carried over to all of the three Peabody properties. It’s such a simple act, and yet such a draw for visitors.

I can see why. I’ll never tire of these cheeky creatures. I could watch them waddle about all day.

At 11am each day, they march down to the lobby along their red carpet. At 5pm, they return the way they came, taking their private elevator up to their home.

The story goes that the general manager of the original Memphis property, Frank Schutt, returned from a hunting trip in 1933, having spent a little too much time with his good pal Jack Daniel, and decided to let some of the live duck decoys loose in the fountain. It was an instant smash hit. Five North American mallards soon replaced those three English call ducks, and to this day, the ducks circle the marble fountain on a regular basis. They’re famous, too: They’ve made many an appearance on national TV from Sesame Street to Oprah to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. But ducks weren’t the fountain’s first inhabitants: For a brief period in the 1920s, turtles and baby alligators allegedly paroled the waters. I think I prefer the ducks.

I was equally blown away by the rest of the Peabody. While the Memphis property has a classic, old-World feel, the Orlando hotel has recently undergone a massive $450 million renovation and has a shiny, new contemporary look to it, while maintaining every bit of its elegance.

In a word, the whole place was just gorgeous. From within, it’s sure hard to believe the world’s largest tourist market lies just beyond the doors.

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Comments ( 30 )

  1. That’s so ridiculous but I would love to see it in person.

    The only place I’ve been to in Florida was Miami and it wasn’t really my scene. I think I’d fit in better with the senior crowd… I’m hoping to see more of the state either this winter or next year – you’ll have to send me some tips!

    • Definitely! Florida’s such a massive and diverse state. I know what you mean about Miami–it feels much more like you’re in Cuba or elsewhere in Latin America than it does Florida. But you definitely have to visit the parks and see some of the pretty coastal towns!

  2. Ducks! All coherent thoughts about how amazing that suite looks and how I am dying of jealousy that you went to WWoHP have been replaced with just “ducks!”

    • That’s why I strategically put the ducks at the end, HA. Their cuteness distracts from everything else.

      And WWoHP was awesome! I’ll be posting some photos and videos from that soon!

  3. How do you get upgraded so easily? Do you ask for it or they just did it on their own?

    I’m visiting Orlando for the first time this summer with my sister. She’ll be graduating High School in June and then we are going to go on a three week road trip starting with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! I can’t wait!

    • I always ask for airline upgrades and NEVER get them (even with elite status!). Hotel upgrades are very rare–for me, that is–so I’d say it’s all just luck (unless you happen to be a devout member of a certain hotel alliance’s loyalty program…that’s where a lot of travelers do see regular upgrades).

      You’re going to LOVE WWoHP. It’s SO fun. I’m going to blog about it soon. The butterbeer is TO DIE FOR.

  4. I have to go there just for the ducks, beyond precious!!!

    • You totally should! There’s also a Peabody in Memphis and Little Rock if you’re ever in either of those cities, as well =)

  5. Duckies! Too cute, too cute.

  6. I like the ducks. Yet can’t even imagine staying in a place like this. But I’ll bet you gals had a Great time.

  7. Ah!! I have to check them out next time we are in Orlando (which almost as often as you!). Funny that I just posted about our WWoHP on my blog and the recipe for Butterbeer. :) Gotta tell you though it’s NOT the same as the Butterbeer we got in Universal.

    • Ahhh that’s hysterical! I’m about 300 posts behind in my Reader right now, so I must make my way to your site and steal that recipe =)

      Butterbeer=most amazing thing I’ve put in my mouth. EVER.

      Also, I think you’d really like the Peabody. Having stayed in other places on I-Drive before, I was shocked by how un-I-Drive it felt, with still such great proximity to the Universal parks.

  8. The backsplash of that bar is gorg!

  9. DUCKS THAT TAKE THE ELEVATOR? Now I’ve seen everything.

  10. I didn’t know about these hotels. Very interesting story. Good to know they keep such a cute tradition.

  11. That place looks amazing! But, the drawcard by a mile is those ducks!! Too cute!

    • I think the funniest part is that it’s such a posh hotel, and yet there are ducks roaming freely doing as they please =)

  12. The ducks! This is such an awesome idea. How does he train the ducks to do this???

    • Sid, that is an excellent question and one I sadly don’t know the answer to! I’ve always wondered how anyone trains an animal to do the things they do. We can only get Ella to sit, dance, turn, lay down and shake!

  13. OK I am now planning another transatlantic flight just to go to Florida and see those ducks. That is so cool! I can’t believe they have their own private duck lift! Love it!

  14. True story! I was 21 and led the duck march at the Peabody Memphis. It was hilarious, I am obsessed with the Peabody hotels!

    • Truth: Every time I’ve seen the March of the Ducks, I’ve been insanely jealous of the little kids who get to lead it. Would it be terrible of me if I butted in and took over next time? =)

      Cool that you got to do it!

      • Hey they asked for a little girl to volunteer and no one raised their hand so I did as a joke and got to do it. My friend Josh was super jealous but I told him it ruined the wonder of it all after the ducks pooped all over the elevator haha.

        • Hahaha, that wouldn’t have even occurred to me. But way to shatter the ducks’ sophisticated image and expose them on the Internet! ;-)

  15. What a glamorous hotel! I love your mom’s expression as she looks out the window!

  16. I’m kind of blown away by how different the Peabody properties are, but you’re right — good to see they have the ducks!

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  1. […] I am very familiar: Florida. I spent my Spring Breaks growing up at my parents’ condo in Orlando and many a summer laying by the pool at Sandestin in the Panhandle. I’ve been to Miami a […]

  2. […] VACATION SPOT! We’ve been vacationing in South Walton since I was 12 years old—and in Orlando all the years before that—and often with Andrew, his twin Rebecca and their big brother John […]

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