Hospitality Hive

Updates, opinions, and news for anyone working in Orlando's Hospitality community

Curious about Cuba?

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This is part one of a two part series about the entrance of Cuba into the lucrative hospitality market of travel and tourism.

 

Cuban flag

I know I am, and if you think you’ve already heard enough about that tropical island sitting a mere 100 miles [+-] due South of us here in Florida you need to get ready to hear more – lots more, because this new détente between our two countries is serious business.  Especially in the hospitality industry.

Colorful Cuban sidestreet

Colorful Cuban side street

Why?  Well, let me illustrate what I mean:  imagine you’re an explorer discovering an island, unchartered territory if you will, that has built-in mystique and appeal to tourists who (because living here in Central Florida) we know absolutely positively will buy anything and go anywhere and endure any hardships whatsoever in the name of travel.

Okay, I’m waiting for your imagination to kick in.

Now, knowing that we’re talking about the Caribbean island of Cuba, are you thinking what I’m thinking?  CubaWorld?  Cubaribbean StudiosCigar World? (Oh wait, that name is already taken. . .)  Anyway, give it time and a site visit or two from some well positioned Disney Executives and who knows what will open up down there?

Yeah, I thought you’d begin to see things my way because let’s face it.  Time and again it’s the presence of an appealing tourism product that brings much needed operating revenues into underdeveloped countries.  And so far by all accounts of those that have been there, Cuba is an underdeveloped country.

Or is it?

To answer that question, I spoke one-on-one with a respected industry colleague who is already doing business there.  In fact to date, she’s made numerous trips herself to this island so she’s already considered an expert on the topic. Her name is Renee Radabaugh, and for 25 years she’s been managing a successful meeting, event and marketing business in South FL called Paragon Events, with clients all over the country.  But about six years ago she felt the ‘winds of change’ coming regarding Cuban-American relations, and that’s when she did a very smart thing.  Renee actually embraced the unknown and got ahead of the big waves she could already see swelling out there in the Atlantic Ocean from her perch in Delray Beach, and thus Cultural Explorations Cuba was born so that by the end of 2014 it was fully up, licensed and running. Some call it being in the right place at the right time.  Knowing Renee as I have for many years in this industry, I call it smart business.

Here’s what she says about her travels thus far.  “I enjoy Cuba more each time I visit, but the best part for me is watching how everyone’s perceptions change as they experience the Cuban culture.”

And since we live in Florida where the Cuban American population swells to over 1.2 million, one would think we’ve had our fill of all things Cuba.  But apparently not!  Stay tuned for part two of this blog series where we’ll do a little exploring about the largest island in the Caribbean and certainly the hottest topic in the tropics these days! 

Not exactly South Beach action, but typical Cuban entertainment on the island.

Not exactly South Beach action, but typical Cuban entertainment on the island.

 

 

 

photo credit: Cuba 2013 (160 of 184) via photopin (license)

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Do You SunRail?

Have you been on board yet?  Yes, I’m talking to YOU out there.  With an average daily passenger count of around 3700, that leaves roughly 2.1 million [+-] of you that don’t ride SunRail.  Yet.  And, before June 23rd, I was one of you, but now I’ve crossed over and am happy to report what a great experience it was.

At the invite of a friend who happens to be a regular commuter (go you!), I did the deed last month and found it to be a very positive experience from my start in Altamonte Springs to the goal – Sand Lake Road Station – and back again.  My journey started mid-morning at the easy-to-park AS station so I could board the 10:23.  That’s where I met Ken, the very friendly and efficient SunRail passenger assistant who I thought was there just for me, until that school bus full of pre-schoolers – 28 adorable and high energy tykes –  showed up and he had to quickly shift his attention their way.  Oh well.  Lucky for me Ken had already guided my ticket purchase and answered questions from this first timer, so ‘I loaned him out’ to help the school teachers keep the little ones in line while they got all their tickets.  At that point, I noticed what I thought was a decent crowd gathering, and Ken confirmed that the head count of 62 was a bit busier than normal for a Tuesday morning.

 

My friendly SunRail passenger assistant provided excellent customer service at the Altamonte Springs station.

My friendly SunRail passenger assistant provided excellent customer service at the Altamonte Springs station.

“Will I get a seat?” I asked, nervously eyeing which of those little pug faces I could trample over to scramble on board once the train arrived.

“Oh yes,” Ken confirmed after calling ahead to report the numbers.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I had previously sent a text to my commuter passenger friend, KC, who was already on board saving me a spot (apologies if that’s against SunRail etiquette) since she gets on in DeBary.  Seriously, I could only imagine the scene had I been forced to fight with a five year old for the last seat that morning!

 

Get ready kids, 'cuz I'm gonna board faster than you!

Get ready kids, ‘cuz I’m gonna board faster than you!

So, our orderly group of awaiting passengers had all tapped our tickets on the required pre-boarding screen and were waiting patiently (yes, even most of the little ones) for the 10:23 train’s arrival.  With a wave to my new friend, Ken, just as quickly and quietly as it had breezed into the AS station it swiftly pulled away and off we went.  Maitland.  Winter Park.  Florida Hospitality Health Village.  Central Station.  Church St. Station.  Orlando Health/Amtrak.  Then the  final stop, Sand Lake Road, and also our destination on that fine Tuesday morning.  11:03AM – right on time.  So far so good.

We disembark here which also happens to be the end of the line at this point in the SunRail system and find another friend with car awaiting to take us to the final destination which was lunch at the super cool and totally rockin’ Tin Roof Restaurant located in the plaza adjacent to the Orlando Eye.  The personal pickup was a surprisingly nice touch that KC had already pre-arranged, but normally in the fashion of a true big city commuter she takes an Uber lift from this station to her work a few miles away on IDrive.   Yes Orlando, this is how one gets to work when trying to avoid I-4 traffic, and guess what?  It works! 

After enjoying a well above average – heck, this was just plain yummy! – lunch at Tin Roof (don’t even think about passing up that mac ‘n cheese and the chicken and waffles you know you want it), I turned around and repeated the AM process arriving back at the Altamonte Springs station at 2:23PM.  End of story?  Not quite.

This mac n'cheese had a spicy kick, but in a good way.  Go get it!

This mac n’cheese had a spicy kick, but in a good way. Go get it!

Here are a few more details I learned on this easy-breezy journey:

  1. SunRail is very user friendly. Passenger assistants like Ken are normally available only during peak operating hours, but the entire process is pretty straightforward and not unlike any other commuter system you may have ridden in other cities.  Except it’s clean and shiny and new.
  2. SunRail is extremely comfy.  On the outbound we sat upstairs in a booth with table and plenty of gadget outlets available, and on my return I was on the lower level in the Quiet Zone=heaven (and also perhaps a tiny bit of nap-time?).
  3. Even the loo was clean and tidy, something which I can’t say has normally been the case on my past commuter rides in other cities (hello, Chicago?)
  4. On. Time. Good.  Deal.

I also noticed on my return trip that we picked up some of the same passengers that I had seen boarding with me at Altamonte in the AM, so it was obvious that others were out for a mid day lunch break as they re-boarded at Church St. Station and Winter Park.  The system works.

And although it wasn’t quite as memorable or epic as the ‘Bud on the tracks SunRail Pub Crawl’ that Tod Caviness reported on back in February, it was a fun and successful first venture for me.

So, how about you?  Isn’t it time for you to do SunRail, too?  

 

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Hotels Offer Great Ideas for Unique and Special Date Nights

Well for sure there’s no argument about a shortage of things to do here in Orlando.  But, what if you could peel away – guilt free –  from the kids, pets, house projects, laundry, lawn mowing and other distractions that keep us adults from going out and having a little romantic grown up fun as a two-some?  Where would you go?  Pull up a barstool and let’s chat, because I’ve got some great ideas for you, some of which you’ve probably never even considered because they involve, well, going out into the tourist corridor. (ba-dump)

I know what you’re thinking. Mon Dieu!  Is the Hive lady drinking too much butter beer?  Well that would be no, because I would never, not ever, suggest to anyone who lives in Otown that they visit a theme park for a romantic date night, and in particular during summer months. (Well, technically, that would be a hot summer date, but again, not the path I’m leading you down today.)  That said, let me share just a few of the date night gems I know about ‘out there’ and you can be the butter-beer judge.

Fiorenzo at Hyatt Orlando

Fiorenzo’s Steakhouse at Hyatt Regency Orlando – a little trip to Italy that costs a lot less

For starters, here’s an excellent offer for a  Friday night special that our friends at the Hyatt Regency Orlando are running just through the summer months in their oh-so-stylish and en vogue Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse .

They’ve even given it a catchy name:  Classic Charm.  Modern Tastes.  Free Wine, and here’s the deal:  you get  a complimentary bottle of Robert Mondavi wine with the purchase of two entrees. Plus, they sweeten the financial incentive by including free valet parking with the deal, so now you can’t even try that ‘the parking is too expensive to go out there’ excuse.  And trust me, this Italian dinner is a whole lot less expensive than that trip to Italy you two have been talking about.  But remember, offer only good on Friday nights this summer, so go ahead and call 407-345-4570 for those reservations, and make sure to ask for a nice table to impress your date, okay?

And right across the street at the Rosen Plaza Hotel you’ll find another sweet offer.  This one includes an overnight stay in addition to gourmet dinner at Jack’s Place followed by complimentary entrance (including those first two drinks) at their trendy new lounge, Club 39.

2015-05-15-12-22-40 Club 39

Club 39 has a Las Vegas style vibe, but you can drive there from Orlando.

Haven’t yet heard about Club 39?  You really need to get out more.  In my humble hospitality opinion it’s the closest thing Orlando has to a Las Vegas nightclub complete with VIP lounge, high energy dance floor,  seating inside or step out the door and go poolside, a temptingly spicy menu, combination of live shows and DJ’s .  Yeah, this is the real deal.  And with this weekend dinner and dance getaway package you can dance yourself silly as late as you want because all you have to do is press the elevator button to get to bed when the party’s over.  But wait, there’s more!  Breakfast the next morning is also included, and don’t forget that ALL Rosen hotels offer free wi-fi ALL the time because we know your fingers are never on vacation from that addiction, right?

Finally, if the above options sound a little too calm and ‘hotelish’ for you, maybe it’s time you learned about Velvet Sessions over at the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando. 

Velvet Sessions 2

There’s no doubt that Velvet Sessions will rock your world!

 

These are featured on the last Thursday of every month (Jan through Oct), and if you’ve never been it’s time to take the plunge.  Big.  Bold.  In-your-face rock and roll, but in a very chic and urbane way because that’s what Hard Rock Hotels are all about.  No diner with this package but check/check/check on the comp finger foods, specialty drinks, and valet parking.  Then there’s that music. The upcoming session on July 30 will feature A Flock of Seagulls (which could have special meaning if you’ve also spent the day at the beach. . .), another fab four that came out of Liverpool (not to be confused with THE fab four).

 

So there you have it.  Just a few quick suggestions that might be tempting enough to lull a local out of the comfort of your usual Brio or Outback or Ruth’s Chris.  And if you can’t add a little adventure to your date nights in the summer, when will you?

 

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Gay Marriage Orlando Style, Part Deux

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So once again, mom’s advice was spot on when she told me, “To stay relevant, keep learning something new every day of your life.”  My last post, Gay Marriage Orlando Style, was two weeks ago but gosh, gee wiz, have I learned a lot about gay marriages in that short time span! (And don’t forget, there was a red, white, and blue holiday during that time when all this education was coming my way, so I’m sure there was an adult beverage or two involved with my classes. Ahem.)

For instance, some readers questioned my use of the term ‘gay’  – was I being inclusive of the entire LGBT community by using that terminology? Heck yes, or so I thought, but after being questioned about it I did what any good writer would do which is check the facts.  So I consulted the Gay Wedding Glossary, as listed via the Gay Wedding Institute, and here’s how those experts have it listed:

[the word gay] Describes people whose enduring physical, romantic, emotional and/or spiritual attractions are to people of the same sex. Often used to refer to gay men, but can be used to generally encompass all genders who are attracted to the same sex.  Gay is a perfectly acceptable, politically correct term.  

Ok then, we’re all clear on that now, right? 

Moving on, we (I’m referring to pretty much all of us living on this planet right now who are acknowledging the recent historic Supreme Court Marriage Equality Ruling ) need to start using some new terminology beginning with the phrase wedding party now preferred instead of bridal party because it’s gender neutral.  A simple but meaningful shift of thoughts to the whole concept about inclusivity.  How do I know this?  Have I mentioned that I do my homework?  Yes, I have, and this time it involved interviewing a local wedding planner pro, Elisa Delgardio, a Master Bridal Consultant/Certified Special Event Professional, and long time owner of A Flair for Affairs/Wed in Style.  She was full of information on this subject, and when asked about any specifics that make gay weddings unique she added the following:   

        “Gay weddings typically include many customary elements, such as the exchanging of vows and rings.  What’s really exciting is that we’re seeing new traditions emerging, where as established ceremony elements and cultural traditions are adapted and blended to create a customized fit for these modern nuptials.  For example, consider the ceremonial entrance of the couple: To show equality, they may prefer to enter the ceremony at the same time – either by using two aisles or walking together down a central aisle.  When the couple enters together there is an automatic shift of focus away from the traditional (roles of) Bride and Groom.”  

Makes sense, right?  And here are a few more pearls of education Eilsa dropped into the conversation:

1]  Central Florida has an extremely supportive vendor community when it comes to same-sex marriages.  Check out this website for more information:  [Central Florida] The Wedding Alliance

2] And here’s another website to help the LGBTQ community find friendly vendors in both Orlando and Tampa areas:  Equalove

3] On August 23, 2015, there is a “stylish and inclusive” wedding event held at a downtown venue so you can learn all kinds of things to assist in the wedding planning for this targeted market.  Details can be found here:  Orlando Gay Wedding Expo

And finally, to answer the question some of you have asked about what does all this have to do with Hospitality in Orlando?  Let me spell it out:  weddings=special events=booking venues, buying food & beverage/merchandise/services/entertainment=job security for many in those areas, all of which are classified as hospitality driven.  Which makes it a vital part of the economic link to our local hospitality industry at large.

And there you have it!

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