Americans love fake experiences. We love authentic fake food at fast food outlets, authentic fake socializing online via Facebook and Twitter, authentic fake Rain Forests at shopping malls, authentic fake politicians who pretend to govern, authentic fake travel writers who…wait…scratch that last item. To paraphrase the great P.T. Barnum –“No one ever went broke by over-estimating America’s appetite for authentic fake travel experiences.” Which leads me to today’s subject…ORLANDO!
This year the Hilton World Wide Owner’s Conference was held at one of their newest properties, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. During our 7-day stay, a mid-week trip down to Boca Raton was also in the cards. Boca is an easy drive south of Orlando and offered an opportunity to familiarize myself with the area and lifestyle.
Impressions of Boca –It is certainly a very upscale community – but I found getting around confusing. From street level, all entrances look the same, whether a gas station, shopping center, university or office complex, all have the ‘gated’ look of a private country club, complete with Mediterranean style perimeter walls adorned with fountains, sculpture, ferns and palm trees. Boca also seems to have a monopoly on stylish names for even the most pedestrian of businesses – such as Spanish River Gardens Mobil Service.
After three days of getting lost every time I went out for a meal…or to gas up the rent-a-car…I couldn’t wait to get back to Memphis, where a perimeter of used tires, junked cars and a beat up tow truck let you know unmistakably that you have arrived at Billy Bob’s Shell Station and Waffle House.
Back in Orlando, Hilton corporate spared no expense for the conference. Top chefs from around the world were flown in to prepare the food. The keynote speakers were Sir Richard Branson and former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner. Headline entertainment…perennial Las Vegas favorites, Penn & Teller.
Back from Boca too late to see the actual show, I ran into Teller in the Waldorf hall way.
(Side Note: Anyone familiar with the act knows that Teller never speaks, either on stage or in their popular Showtime cable series, aptly titled “Bullsh*t”.)
While posing for a picture with Teller, I mentioned that I loved “Bullsh*t”. Then yours truly became the speechless one when Teller responded quite loudly…“the show or the substance?”
(Note to Self – He talks!)
Review of the conference and Waldorf Astoria Orlando– Hey, I appreciate upscale as much as the next guy, but having a private tented cabana reserved poolside, waiter standing by, awaiting your arrival, complete with monogramed towels …then not showing up…but having it all there just in case…now that is slick!
As you would expect, the lobby was palatial. Lobby bar and all public rooms were stunning and the stonework very appealing. The Bull & Bear restaurant off the lobby of the Waldorf was probably the finest dining I have ever experienced; but, with a fully a la carte menu and entre prices starting at $50 each…well…let’s just say it is best reserved for high rollers, padded expense accounts and special occasions.
With Waldorf rooms reserved for Hilton and Hilton brand owners, we actually were camped out at the connected sister hotel, the Hilton Bonnet Creek Resort. The Waldorf and Bonnet Creek properties are located side by side and share a series of convention venues linked with a common hallway. Although not sporting private cabanas like the Waldorf, I actually preferred the pool complex at the Hilton Bonnet Creek. It was larger, more kid friendly and had one of those Lazy River features that allow bathers to plop down on air mattresses and circumnavigate the complex every few minutes.
Overall impression of the Hilton Waldorf / Bonnet Creek Resorts –Very upscale. A stone’s throw from Disney. Excellent food and service. Pricey. Slick.
The weekend prior to the conference was spent visiting local theme parks. One highlight was the new Harry Potter attraction at Universal. The girls returned from the experience raving that it was “the best, most exciting theme park ride ever” – this from teenagers who are veterans of major parks on both coasts.
So how does all this relate to the title of this article? Let’s see if I can bring it round.
Granted, visiting the home of popular animated characters such as Disney’s world famous mouse is most certainly a worthy experience. But what about the often laughable attempts to replicate famous historic attractions indigenous to locales thousands of miles away?
(Examples: Epcot’s imitations of international landmarks such as the French pavilion with an authentic fake Eiffel Tower. Or the Mexico pavilion with authentic fake Aztec Pyramid – to name two.)>
Ironically, the prices at these counterfeit venues are often higher than those at the real McCoy!
Do you think people might be less inclined to visit the real Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco once they have consumed a crab sandwich and a beer at Universal’s venue of the same name? If attendance is any indication, I’d say that it is most certainly so.
On the truly authentic side; however, there is much more to interest visitors in Orlando area than the parks. Non-theme park attractions include the wonderful Orange County Regional History Museum downtown and the Jack Kerouac House. (Kerouac lived in Orlando for a short time, immediately after penning “On the Road” and while writing “Dharma Bums“.)
Glancing at the clock, I can see that I’ve been sitting at the computer far too long. It’s time to apply another coat of bleach to my teeth, rub on some more self-tanning lotion…being careful not to get any on my hair implants…strap on that knock-off Rolex…and get out there into the REAL world! – LEC