Hospitality Hive

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

Faces of Hunger – Right in our Own Backyard

Many of us are already up to our turkey necks with food prep for the big holiday ahead, so reading another blog post about pumpkin pies and cranberry sauce might not seem too important right now.  Go ahead and thank me for avoiding same because that’s not what this story is about.  Instead, I want to focus on a different food issue.  The one some people turn a blind eye to.

Hunger.

More specifically, hunger in our own neighborhoods, in people we meet and pass each day within our own communities.

If you’re reading this right now you probably aren’t worried about where your next meal is coming from.  In fact, you might be hard pressed to even remember what it feels like to be hungry, and I’m not referring to that gap between your last Starbucks and the chicken salad you bought for lunch.  I’m talking about to honest to goodness hunger pains that start to take over your stomach first, then your mental state of mind when you’ve only had one meal in the last two days.  Or, maybe none at all.

And while I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s Thanksgiving dinner, I do think it’s worth taking a moment to see some of the stats about who goes hungry right here in our own Central Florida neighborhoods.  Like this one:

Central Floridians turned to charitable feeding programs for help with food procurement 71,600 times in a typical week during the course of this 2014 study.

And if that wasn’t startling enough, how about this number:

Among all those clients [from right here in Central FL], 27% are children under the age of 18, and 11% are seniors age 65 and older.

hungerstudyhomepage2015a

 

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There are plenty of other eye-openers in this recently released report, and I encourage you to see for yourself by visiting this link, put together by Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.

And while we all know this is the time of year when we’re asked to dig even deeper into our cupboards and pockets for both food and $$$$ donations, I wanted to share another way you could help with the local food crises. This involves letting Second Harvest Food Bank cater your holiday party or next event.

Huh? You want me to contract with a food bank to cater my event?

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting.  You see, Second Harvest works with Darden Foundation Community Kitchen to train future chefs to be able to go out and get jobs working creative culinary greatness in the world.  So to review, a giant corporation in the American restaurant scene sees the need to do more than just donate food to feed those in need.  They take the time to train those without jobs and then give them the opportunity for actual on the job experience all while giving back to the community.  How?  Oh, did I forget to mention that 97.4% of every dollar going to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida goes right back into the food bank?  Cool, right?

It’s really an amazing organization and a unique concept, including the fact that they actually have beautiful event space to rent right there on location, or you can simply order your food to go for pickup or delivery.  It’s that easy.  The program is appropriately called Catering for Good and you can check out the complete menu here.  And while it’s most likely too late to get that Thanksgiving order in at this point, this service is available year round.

For further details contact Lanette Jarvis at 407.514-1048 or via this link.

 

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Bone Shaking Fun With Skeletons this Halloween

This is the week – Halloween is here!  Have you heard enough about it yet, or can you stand a little more?

If you’re not into the whole HHN freak out at Universal, and yet Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party doesn’t quite do it for you either, here’s another option, Skeletons: Animals Unveiled!  It’s ‘under the wheel’ at the Orlando Eye complex and for sure it’s the real deal with over 40 exhibits featuring more than 400 real animal skeletons in poses and dioramas that will give you a whole new perspective (dare we say, um, the actual inside scoop?) on our friends in the animal kingdom.  Plus, the price of this one might not rattle your bones as much as those other options with current ticket prices at $19.99 per adult and $12.99 for kids ages 3-11.

Wondering why you should load up the car and take the family to go see a bunch of bones?  Here are just a few compelling reasons:

  • It will get you in the Halloween mood at a price point that won’t spoil the fun (like all that bad stuff that the yummy Halloween candy does to your teeth. . .)
  • FREE parking, plus it’s easy to get to located right off International Drive at the Orlando Eye Complex
  • It’s educational but in a way that the kids might not realize they are actually getting educated – make sense?  It will.
  • There’s a two headed cow on display, and you know you’re curious about it, right?

I could say more but instead I’m going to show you some fun pictures I snapped during my visit a few months ago. Mind you I was with an adult group and every one of us thought it was a blast, so I can only imagine what taking a group of kiddies would be like, but I’m guessing they’d say things like “awesome!” and “euwww” (meant in a good way. . .) and “that’s what my dog looks like under the skin?”  Yeah, it’s way cool.  See for yourself.

Ever wonder what Skeletons do when the museum closes and the party begins?

skeleton centaur

This Centaur still can’t figure out what he is – man or horse, or both?

The skeleton cowboy was still havin’ a good ole’ time!

 

skeleton gator bones

I liked looking at this gator better than the real deal that creepy-crawled his way into my neighborhood one night.

 

 

 

Why? Because we just can’t miss a photo opp, right?

So this Halloween, try something different to get you into the spirit of the season.  It will certainly give you a new perspective of the 400 everyday animals and amazing creatures on display!  And oh, by the way.  Aren’t these the coolest attraction uniforms around? 

skeleton crew tee shirt

 

 

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Ready to Get Halloweeny Yet?

This post is about vampires. . .and asylum. . .and James Bond. Oh my!

October’s a long, busy month, so for sure it’s a slow build, but when you get to the crazy holiday climax at the end – aka Halloween – it just seems right to let loose then, doesn’t it?  Even if you don’t dress up or party, sometimes just watching the entire build up of orange and black decorations appearing everywhere right alongside those bottomless bowls of creepy candy is enough to put a smile on your face and help you get started on the slide to the finish line of yet another calendar year.  And while I know this post about the October 31 holiday is a bit early for some, I’ve received some really cool offers in my inbox recently, and I think they’re worth sharing.

First up is a vine and dine event this Friday at Rosen Centre Hotel with a very clever Halloween twist.  “Love at First Bite” just screams like a gathering of vampires, and yet anyone is welcome to attend.  And check out this menu, a ‘dangerously delicious’ five course meal with openers like a Death Door Cocktail and Oysters with Bloody Mary Mignonette followed by a Blood Orange Sorbet to um, cleanse your bleeding mouth?  But wait, you’ve got to see the rest of the menu because it’s not only incredibly creative, but the wine pairings are bloody awesome:

Grilled Filet Cloaked in Tapenade Served with a Sinful Pinot Noir Sauce and Accompanied with Phyllo Custard Potato and Batonette of Vegetable
Insurrection Shiraz/Cabernet Blend 2014
South Eastern Australia

Grilled Hellish Habanero Chilies with Sleepy Hollow Pumpkin Mousse and Brandied Cherries
Quady Electra 2014

Yeah, I thought you’d get a kick out of seeing that.  But don’t wait a minute longer because the event is this Friday, October 9th, starting at 6:30PM (I know, a bit early for some of the walking deads, but try to make the effort to dress up and get out a little, okay?).  Plus, the price is very reasonable for this type of unique event at $75 per person including valet parking at the hotel on International Drive.  Call 407-996-8551 right now and tell them a ‘Hospitality Spirit’ whispered this news into your ears. . .

Now, if this week is still a bit early for you to strut out your cloak and cape don’t worry, the next two events I’m highlighting don’t happen until the end of the month.  I’ve written about the rockin’ times you can have at Velvet Sessions out at the Hard Rock Hotel before, but this month they are really spot on with the entertainment because you’ll be doing the Monster Mash to music by Soul Asylum.

Soul Asylum
Soul Asylum – all ready for their Halloween-themed appearance at the Hard Rock Hotel’s next Velvet Sessions on October 29.

Plus, it’s an adults-only costume party with the winner getting a two night stay in the plush Hard Rock Hotel Graceland Suite which, as you can imagine, has most likely seen some hard rockin’ itself over the years. Sayin’The date is October 29, and tickets pre-purchased on line are $50.  Details can be found here, Velvet Sessions, or by calling 407-503-2401.

James Bond Spectre 2015

Seriously, he doesn’t really need any introduction, does he?

 

Finally, it’s quite possible I’ve saved the best for last, especially for the James Bond fans who are already shaking their martinis waiting for November 6 US release date of Spectre.

Flemings Restaurants are jumping on the Aston Martin theme-night express and offering an excellent opportunity to live out your double agent fantasies by dressing the part and eating, well, let’s just call it stuff that’s good enough for 007 himself starting with an authentic Belvedere 007 Martini, shaken, not stirred of course, and then followed by other proper cocktails like the Clandestini and Bang and Burn. (Wouldn’t you just love to be in on the taste testing and name-that-cocktail for this event?) This “Evening of Espionage” is planned on the big night, Saturday, October 31, and the invite specifies that “M requests your presence” so really, it would be so rude to say no to this one, right?  It also says, “come dressed to kill – any 007 character will do, villain, agent, leading lady”,  with prizes awarded (and I don’t think they’re referring to best clown costume).

Halle Berry as Jinx

Do we have any takers for this costume? Halle Barry as ‘Jinx’, the James Bond muse in Die Another Day.

And oh yes, that menu?  Let’s just say it ends with a Black Tie Soufflé, so whatever is served before that has got to be incroyable, oui?  This one is $95 per person but come on, James Bond will be there, so what’s not to love about this rogue mission!

 

 

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Hotels and Hurricanes

As I finished up my work with another convention group here in Orlando today the client mentioned they were heading out to the airport early due to all the hurricane preparations.

“Huh?  Joaquin has already passed Florida and moving on up North” I replied. “Looks like this one is missing us.”

“We know, and now it’s expected to hit us back in New Jersey, so we need to get outta this place right away and get home!”

Image acquired February 19, 2010: Tropical Cyclone Gelane had sustained winds of 125 knots (230 kilometers per hour) and gusts up to 150 knots (275 kilometers per hour), according to a report from the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) on February 19, 2010. The JTWC reported that Gelane was roughly 315 nautical miles (585 kilometers) east-northeast of Port Louis, Mauritius, and was forecast to travel toward the southwest, weakening slightly as it moved. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image on February 19, 2010. Gelane’s spiral arms span hundreds of kilometers over the open ocean. Credit: NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Michon Scott. Instrument:  Aqua - MODIS For more details and a higher res file of this image go to: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=42767

Credit: NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Michon Scott.

And just like that the conversation reminded me of how many times over the years I’ve been involved with hurricane preparation both on the home front and while out traveling.  So I thought I’d share a few details about what happens at hotels behind the scenes while the wind is howling and the waves are wildly crashing and the unsuspecting guests are, um, in the middle of hurricane mania, usually for the first time in their lives.

For starters, most hotels have some kind of disaster management plan in place whether it’s for hurricanes or heart attacks, or as can often be the case, heart attacks that happen during hurricanes.  And this is especially true for beachfront hotels that have to weather the brunt of the storms.  Considering that guest safety is first and foremost, pool and lawn furniture quickly gets picked up and moved inside before becoming the next beach side launch missile.

But many hotels also have plenty of balcony furniture to deal with, too.  A friend found herself in the thick of things in Los Cabos, Mexico during this past summer when hurricane Blanca was stirring, and suddenly preparations were under way for an evacuation. As a side note, this area had just taken a huge hit during the 2014 Hurricane season thanks to Odile, and some hotels there had still not even reopened yet.  Anyway, this time hotels were more prepared, even slipping frequent updated notes under guests’ doors to give the latest details and help calm the tourist panic.  My friend told me the hotel was doing just a super job in every possible way including turning the ballroom into a makeshift restaurant for all guests remaining (the airport had closed) once the gusting winds made it impossible to eat outside or anywhere close to glass-enclosed restaurant areas.  But, there was a brief moment of potential meltdown due to language challenges between her and the hotel maid that was frantically knocking on her door one afternoon apparently motioning to get out on her balcony.  She cautiously followed the maid and realized she had been instructed to move all the balcony furniture into the safety of the hotel room and well away from the windows.  Okay, then.

Cancun hurricane 2005

Uh-oh. Who’s going out after all that beach furniture?

And yet another friend sent me this picture of the hotel ballroom where she was staying during Hurricane Wilma when it hit during a 2005 business trip she was on to Cancun, Mexico (yes, people do take business trips to Cancun).  This ballroom was filled with cots for guests to sleep on while they rode out the storm, although it should be noted that she said most from her group of professionals weathered the storm from the safety and security of the comfy-cozy lobby bar (and yes, business can be conducted in a lobby bar in Cancun).

This ballroom was turned into a different type of guest room when filled with cots to sleep on during Hurricane Wilma.

This hotel ballroom was turned into one giant guest room when filled with cots to sleep on during Hurricane Wilma.

Living in Florida we’re quite familiar with the hurricane preparation drill.  But next time you’re hunkering down in whatever location you’ve taken refuge, try to imagine what it would be like from the standpoint of an unsuspecting tourist in town to find some sunshine and magic to help them forget about the hardships of daily life during their brief time here.  All our friends in the hotels, attractions, and tourism complexes have a huge job on their hands whenever storms hit because there’s nothing very hospitable about starting your vacation at the same time as a monster storm!

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What Do Women Want in Hospitality?

Last month I wrote a post about Chinese travelers – specifically about 1.4 billion of them that could be showing up very soon at a hotel or restaurant near you right here in Florida.  Today I’m “narrowing down” the discussion topic a bit more by talking about only 49.6% of the total world population, aka women, the single largest target market in the hospitality industry.  Specifically, the most recent stats show there are 3.52 billion women on this planet (roughly half the population).  And yes, I know that tittle you see up above is a loaded question but seriously, even though women are only about half of the world’s population, by some estimates we still account for 92% of the vacation decisions.  Using those numbers it’s destined to be a hot topic in this industry which in turn makes it super important to Orlando, so let’s just let those stats sink in for a minute.

Women are always busy making vacation decisions for their families

Women are always busy making vacation decisions for their families

You read that correctly – 92% of vacation purchases including airline decisions, hotel selections and restaurants as well as buying all those precious souvenir tchotchkes are made by women, and even I was shocked by the estimated dollar volume this accounts for because, are you ready for this? In some reports, women are shown to be responsible for a whopping expenditure of, drum roll please, $7 TRILLION dollars annually related to vacation purchases. Just in the USA. (Notice I didn’t print that in numericals because frankly I’m not really sure how many zeros to use.)

Cue the fireworks behind the castle!  Wait while Shamu gives a water-soaking-splash-worthy-salute of a high jump!  Shoot – was that Harry Potter himself flying in the sunny skies above Orlando?

And while even I have to say “enough with all those statistics!”, I do feel it’s worth mentioning because there’s a lot of money currently being spent in the hospitality industry to find out exactly what women want when they travel (no, besides a bikini-worthy body for those lazy days on the French Riviera with James Bond by her side. . .we’re not talking about those dreams, okay?).  Recent marketing research has proven the number #1 thing that female travelers want when browsing for vacation options is an enjoyable and engaging travel shopping experience.  (Go figure. I really hope they didn’t spend too much money to figure that one out!)  That’s right, from the internet search to the constant checks on social media sites, women tend to research with the desire to enjoy the whole experience along with obtaining the final product. Admittedly, it’s a thing with us, right?  Most women are shoppers, end of story.  But what this means to the tour and travel industry is that women buy hospitality with their eyes.  We like descriptive text along with a lot of visuals.  We prefer detailed explanations (think spa services, pool size, and restaurant ambiance – especially when the cocktail photos show drinks with tiny little umbrellas in them) as opposed to the men surveyed who make selections based on the overall value for money of what they’re purchasing.

Are women all born to shop?  It would appear that way!

Are women all born to shop? It would appear that way!

And why am I even bothering to write about this?  Because here in Orlando hospitality is a really, really big thing.  As mentioned in another of my blog posts that you can view here, this industry employs over 232,000 people here in Central Florida and that number keeps growing.  If you’re a member of that statistic – meaning you’re already employed in this industry – then you’d be smart to understand who’s making the majority of the decisions among our tourists and hopefully continue to make them the happiest segment of travelers on the planet.

Oh, and make sure to wrap up that hospitality nice and pretty in a detailed, happy package sprinkled liberally with pixie dust and Potter magic! 

 

 

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Chinese Travel Trends

I recently wrote about Cuba being a hot destination topic, but now it’s time to recognize the emerging importance of China to not only travel but also just about everything on this planet including the recent downward spiral of the numbers coming from Wall Street.  And while I’m not attempting to solve the world financial crises here in the Hive (we have to leave something for politicians to do, right?), I do want to talk about the entrance of numerous Chinese travelers and investors into our own little corner of the planet right here in Central Florida.

And for those of you that think we are besieged by visitors from Brazil and the UK you are technically correct.  Numbers from Visit Orlando show that’s where the majority of foreign visitors to Central FL come from to the tune of 770,000 and 759,000 respectively in 2013 alone (last available statistics). But want to know who’s expected to be coming in record numbers in the future? HINT:  the answer is in this blog’s title.

7833149018_049a68a12aYep, it’s China.  Chinese tourists are now said to be very keen on making the 8,000+ mile trek that takes about 17.5 hours of in-flight travel time to get from there to here (no direct routes yet either, so add connecting times/airport waits and you’ve got the better part of a two day journey, each way) even though they’re not necessarily sun worshippers.  And if that’s not surprising enough, here’s another tidbit about these visitors:  due in large part to the bottomless pit of advertising dollars we’re collectively pouring into this new travel market, the Chinese think that Central Floridians offer a prime example of Western Culture.  Imagine that?  Floridians are now viewed, at least by some in the world, as true Americans!  Wow.

And here’s another potentially surprising statistic:  China’s population is currently over 1.4 billion which keeps it at the top of the leader board when ranking countries by virtue of population. By comparison, USA has over 325 million and is ranked #3 in population stats.

So want to know where I’m going with all this?  Right back here to Central Florida where members of the collective hospitality community recently rolled out the red carpet by hosting a prestigious group of the Asian travel community for a three day familiarization trip highlighting Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, and Deland along with a whole lot of other area love thrown in.  Put together by the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for delegates that traveled to Orlando to attend the June conference of International Pow Wow (IPW, organized each year by the U.S. Travel Association), this area fam trip packed in quite a bundle of Florida hot-spots without ever stepping foot into any of the fantasy theme park destinations.  Why?  Because we’re learning that Chinese travelers prefer authentic local experiences, and turns out we’ve got plenty of those to offer, too.

Recent fam group to Central Florida

Recent fam group enjoying Central Florida

But those of us that live here already knew that, right?

Now don’t get me wrong, the Hive is not professing to proclaim that Chinese travelers are shunning the theme parks.  But we do have it on good authority that these members of the new travel frontier want to learn more about what make Americans tick as opposed to how we escape reality and live out our fantasy life.  And they’re spending serious money to prove that by dishing out on -by some reports – an average of $7,000 USD per person during trips outside China.

Orlando fam group #2

Members of IPW Central FL fam group enjoyed our natural environment – even in June!

 

 

 Further, one quick look at some area websites including our own Visit Orlando Media page shows translation of press kits in just three languages – Spanish, Portuguese, and you guessed it -Chinese.

And just this morning there was an announcement in the Orlando Sentinel business section about the launch of a Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Central Florida with the primary quote being, “[Chinese] have money, and they can’t let their money sit in China now.  They know Disney and Universal Studios, but some of them may not know where Orlando is, or even Florida for sure.”

Huh.

For final proof of the growing US interest in courting the Chinese travel market just take a look at what Hilton is doing to make these visitors more comfortable when they leave home base.  Hilton Worldwide announced the expansion of it’s Hilton Huanying program (the word Huanying means Welcome) that offers Chinese travelers a customized hospitality experience during their stay at Hilton properties around the world.  The program assures that each participating hotel has staff members that speak Mandarin, rooms have special amenities like slippers, Chinese language TV stations, teakettles and a welcome letter in Chinese.  All are little but important things that this new market segment will be expecting as they venture out into the world.  As Conrad Hilton himself used to say, “it’s all about the hospitality”, and you can bet your last Mickey Mouse dollar that other hotels are soon to follow this lead.

Photo Credit:  Hilton Huanying Program

Photo Credit: Hilton Huanying Program

Now welcoming all Chinese visitors to Florida!  

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Have You Ever Been First?

I’m not talking about those lucky days when there’s no wait in the line at EPCOT for Soarin’ (once, on a dreary Thursday evening in September of 2013 when most of Florida was in a hurricane watch. . .) or on the teensy-weensy outside chance that the Starbucks drive-though is a zip (again once, in the pouring down rain in the middle of a weekday afternoon. . .).  Nope, those aren’t the firsts I’m referring to.  I’m talking about something really big and very important.

The employment line.

More specifically, the hospitality employment line here in Central Florida, where you might have heard, there are currently over 232,000 people already gainfully employed.  That’s right, 232,000 employed in Orlando area hospitality jobs which places this industry on the top of the leader board when it comes to local employment, and yes, I already know what you’re thinking because I can see that bubble circling above your head.  “Aren’t most of these jobs lower paying/high turnover type positions-you know, ride and show ops, housekeeping, bus driver types?”  The short answer is that many of them are, but certainly not all.

For instance, take my friend, Jenna Borreggine, Assistant Director of Sales at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, who was No.#1 hire at this hotel when it opened August 3, 2014, one year ago this month. To be clear, Jenna was hired before all of the operations and administration team was put into place, so being the No.#1 hire on a team of about 700 employees put her in a remarkable position.  How did that happen?  First, Jenna was in the right place. Second, she had the right background and training (she’s an early graduate of the Rosen School of Hospitality Management at UCF).  Put those two factors together with the third element –  right timing – and you’ve got the perfect mix for being at the head of the employment line for an epic new hotel.  You see back in 2012, Borreggine was already employed by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts at the Miami property.  But when this offer was presented, she took a leap of faith to move back to Orlando and compete in an already crowded hotel market with a product that was still on the drawing boards.  She knew only that it would be the largest property in the brand’s worldwide portfolio and would likely receive the accolade of Central Florida’s first AAA Five Diamond Award, a most prestigious honor that was achieved within just three months of the resort’s opening. (To date, it is still the first and only property in Central Florida with this recognition.)

Jenna in her fashionable hard hat, part of the required daily attire during  hotel construction.

Jenna in her fashionable hard hat, part of the required daily attire during hotel construction.

So, considering there was no hotel product to actually see when she was hired, what did employee No.#1 do on those first few days/weeks/months on the job?  “The first thing you do in pre-opening sales is a competitive analysis with other similar products in your market niche so you can figure out (best educated guess) a platform and message of this new hotel in the market.  And then you go find clients.”  Remember, this is all done before the hotel is built so you’re basically working off blue prints, architectural drawings, scale models, and designer swatches of room colors and artwork to make the whole project come together into a finished product that clients can actually visualize.  To further this effort, hotels usually construct a scale model of sample rooms, but when Jenna was hired, even that scale model was still under construction. So basically she took a leap of faith and began a journey that came to a happy conclusion on August 3, 2014 when the hotel officially opened.

I asked her to share a juicy story about something interesting/challenging that happened pre-opening and without hesitation she recalled how “over 400 sofas had to be sent back to spec when it was discovered that they didn’t fit into the doorframe of the actual sleeping rooms after the hotel build-out!”  How does this happen?  Scale models are just that.  Things that look and fit perfectly off-site can take on a whole new meaning when the finished product is delivered.

Four Seasons Resort Orlando
The finished product – Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort.

 

Now some of you might be wondering why a hotel would need to hire a sales person before anyone else, and the answer is simple:  operating revenue is generated through sales.  In other words, the sales department is where the action’s at, baby!  Yes, that’s how important the sales team is to each and every hotel, and the larger the property, the more people they employ in sales and marketing.  And in Jenna’s case her willingness to come on board as their first employee, agreeing to do whatever it took to launch the hotel, has paid off in her professional growth and loyalty to the Four Seasons.  Today Borreggine’s sales focus includes both the Corporate and Incentive markets (RE very high-caliber clients and events) as well as the Entertainment market (RE even higher level clientele and usually money is no object in this category). Yep, she gets to rub elbows with the A-List celebrities when they stay at her property which is pretty much all the time.  They come here on business gigs; they come on personal family vacations.  Whatever their reason for being in Orlando, it’s Jenna’s job to book the business. And that includes paying attention to all those crazy celebrity requested details that the rest of us hear rumors about.  Things like moving mattresses to the floor (?), adding specific furniture (like rocking chairs!) to those plush suites they get assigned, and, hey, what about that request to peal off the wallpaper and repaint a sleeping room?  I’m not sayin’ they did, and I’m not sayin’ they didn’t. . .I’m just sayin’ that requests like this come along with the territory of being the sales rep for entertainment luminaries at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World.

All in a day’s job for Jenna Borreggine, and by all accounts, an exciting one at that, wouldn’t you agree? 

In future months I’ll feature other interesting jobs that can be found right here in Orlando’s very own hospitality industry, the largest category of job employment in Central Florida.

And, if you liked this post, you might also enjoy this one about unique jobs in the hospitality industry, or this one about the awesome rooftop restaurant at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort that I reviewed in December.

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Curious About Cuba? Part Two of two

Yes, that’s right, we’re already on the second part of the two-part series, so if you missed the first one, please go back here to get caught up!

Cuba 4

Welcome to Cuba!

In my last post on Cuba, I introduced you to an industry professional that has already logged plenty of travel miles in her Cuban business endeavors, and Renee Radabaugh of Cultural Explorations Cuba has managed to confirm what the rest of us have only just begun to suspect – that there’s no sign of this being a passing fad in the travel and tourism market.  With multiple daily non-stop flights from both Miami and Orlando, and additional ones being constantly added from other locations around the United States, it’s becoming more convenient to get there and that’s the first measure of a good trip.  But don’t buy your ticket just yet, because we still have a bit of a learning curve before we can grab our passports and pack our bags.

For instance at present, the only way Americans can travel to Cuba is understanding the regulations in place, and you can bank on the fact that any time you see the word ‘regulation’ the U.S. government is involved.  For the time being, consider your pending Havana dream trip as a government supervised visit, and here are the 12-and-only-12 approved categories for Americans to travel to Cuba:

  1. Family visits (yes, documented proof is necessary)
  2. Official Government business (um, do we really want to go there?)
  3. Journalistic activity (yes, so the Hospitality Maven has a chance!)
  4. Professional research and meetings (again, the Maven has a chance!)
  5. Educational activities (pretty broad category)
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, competitions, workshops, etc. (think your baseball team is good enough to compete with the Cubans?)
  8. Support for the Cuban people (?)
  9. Humanitarian projects (RE bringing in aid to the Cubans)
  10. Private research, educational or foundation activities (another broad-stroke opportunity. . .)
  11. Exportation, importation or transmission of informational materials (this will be interesting)
  12. Authorized export transactions (other than cigars, what do they have that we want?)

 

And rest assured that American travel is being watched, so if you go make sure you stay on your best behavior and follow the rules to make this journey memorable in a good way.  That means going through a *licensed purveyor*, and that’s where my colleague, Renee, comes in.  Her aforementioned business, Cultural Explorations Cuba, is one of only a few licensed operatives which means they seriously know what they’re doing and have the government sanctioned licensing to back that up.  Being that it’s still such a young business in a new endeavor, I’d go so far as to compare her to Diana Nyblad, whom you may recall educated herself by dipping her toe in those shark infested waters multiple times prior to that final successful swim completed on September 3, 2013 across the Straits of FL from Key West to Havana. Diana’s journey was 53 hours and 110 miles enduring poisonous jellyfish and plenty of other dangers to be the first one to say “I did it!”.

But don’t worry, your journey shouldn’t be that treacherous.  I checked with Renee on a few facts and rumors about ‘our’ trip to Cuba, and here’s a brief recap of some of my education:

FACT or FICTIONNo good hotels?  FICTION: Plenty of good hotels, but “standards of greatness may vary.” Like any good trip planner you need to book through reputable sources and ask questions to understand what you’re getting.  Another way to look at this is to take note of how many different opinions, reviews, stars and ratings you can find on sites like Trip Advisor for any particular hotel or venue you’re investigating.  (HINT:  that’s why the USA is issuing licenses to specific companies so you can deal with people that know what they’re doing in Cuba.)

FACT or FICTIONNo American credit cards accepted?  FACT.  There’s no American banking in place – yet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t banks.  Just be prepared for large exchange rates on your US money, and/or travel with cash.  There’s currently no limit on daily expenditures for American travelers, but there is a cap on the amount of merchandise a person can bring back to the USA, so go easy on those cigars and rum for abuela.

FACT OR FICTIONWhat about those antiquated taxis?  Reliable?  For real?  FACT:  They’re real, alright!  Those retro-antique cars may be patched together with Japanese engines and parts from a Russian lawn mower, but they’re dependable and everywhere.

 

Cuba 1

Now that’s quite a ride, right?

 

Then there are these - which quaint taxi do you prefer in Cuba?
Then there are these – which quaint taxi do you prefer in Cuba?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are tons more travel details to report, but basically Renee summed things up nicely when she told me this:  “You need to remember that Americans are the ONLY ones that haven’t been free to travel to Cuba [since 1961].  Canadians, Europeans – they’ve all been visiting for a long time, so there is an infrastructure in place for tourism as well as business travel.  But opening the airwaves and waterways to US travelers requires different levels of groundwork and support services, and that will be an ongoing growth process.   Presently, the overall goal of approved travel is still going to be cultural exchange in the context of people-to-people education and being able to immerse yourself in their history.”

And in the end, isn’t that what the joy of travel is all about? 

 

*licensed purveyor* = Cultural Explorations Cuba has a specific people-to-people license issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s, Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). Pursuant to section 31 C.F.R. § 515.565(b)(2) of the Cuban Asset Control Regulations, this license allows U.S. Citizens who book a package with Cultural Explorations Cuba the ability to travel to Cuba legally. License # CT-2014-313195-1

 

 

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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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