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.
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.
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, which became the Hyatt Regency Orlando in 2013.
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.
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. Would you check this place out?
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.