Hospitality Hive

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

This and That – Notes on Orlando Hospitality

Sometimes life needs updating.  With sooooo much going on recently, here-there-everywhere, I wanted to provide some updates on a few things I’ve written about (or, intended to write about. . .?) in the past.  In no particular order:

T2T Run – I posted about this worthwhile 5K back in August because the event was supposed to take place last month.  Well, thanks to Irma, that never happened.  But the run has been rescheduled to take place on Sunday, October 15.  You can still register and get updated information here.

And this next item may be one of those things  I “intended”  to write about last month and didn’t get to, but oh well.  Thanks to Irma’s mayhem,  our friends at Visit Orlando have extended the dates of their annual Magical Dining Month The extension now gives us until October 12th to enjoy great meal deals ($35 MDM specials), both rates and specially curated menus, at a huge variety of restaurants that you might be curious about but have never yet visited. Have you seen the paella bar and Flamenco dancers at Tapa Toro?  Curious to discover for yourself why everyone raves about The Ravenous Pig?  Are you looking for fantastic seafood served in a very romantic setting at Hemingway’s?   Well now is the time, so search that MDM website, find a new place to go, and get moving!

While on the subject of great dining, let’s add adult beverages to the chat because who doesn’t like that combination?  If you like BEER you’ll love this upcoming offering from our friends at Rosen Centre who have partnered with Florida’s own Funky Buddha Brewery pairing brews with a multicourse meal on October 20th. Yep.  Just like a fancy wine pairing dinner experience only using great brews.  So it’s less expensive, more fun, and wow, who knew there could be so much complexity with beer brews and menu match ups?  Check out this cool video they produced while getting ready for this upcoming special event.

Finally, I do want to mention what great support the local hospitality industry has garnered in so many areas due to all the recent mayhem, here, there, everywhere.  Where does one start?  Many hotels, attractions, restaurants, and venues have held fundraisers of all different sizes and shapes.  So many, in fact, I can’t possibly list them all here.  But as usual, a big shout out to Harris Rosen for not only offering incredibly low rates at all Rosen properties both pre/post hurricanes due to Floridians forced to seek shelter, but now he has also held a collection drive, last week at Rosen Plaza, for supplies going direct to Puerto Rico.

And this weekend, right across the street from Rosen Plaza in the Pointe Orlando complex, Cuba Libre is hosting a dine out for Puerto Rico This Saturday, October 7.

Cuba Libre for PREnjoy a great meal @ $35, with proceeds going direct to the United for Puerto Rico fund, and then stay for more sass and salsa on the dance floor!

 

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What’s the Buzz about The Alfond Inn?

Tired of hearing about hurricanes?  Me too.  With sympathy to those who may not yet be able to move on, if you’re looking for a Hive post about escapism, this read is for you.

One of our local gems, the Alfond Inn at Rollins, has been singled out as one of the Top 100 Hotels in the World by readers of Travel & Leisure in the poll known as World’s Best Awards 2017.  Pretty impressive, right?  Well, I’d have to agree, and here are just some of the reasons why I, too, love this little boutique property that is owned by Rollins College and found right here in our own posh backyard, aka Winter Park.

  1. It’s accessible – both easy to get to and easy to park in/at/around.  Access to the Alfond Inn is off New England Avenue, valet is quick & friendly and, best of all, validated if you eat or dine there, even without checking in or staying the night.
  2. It also has world class accessible artwork almost everywhere you look.  The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art is part of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and includes sculptures, paintings, thought provoking photos and unique discussion pieces.  You’ll find artwork everywhere, tucked into nooks, crannies, and outdoor space. Art that makes you think.  But here’s the best part:  they offer free guided tours every Sunday at 1PM led by museum staff  to discover, observe, and learn more about the current displays which change frequently.  I can’t tell you how many hotels I’ve been in and viewed beautiful pieces of art that had not even one explanation or title or description by it, so this is really a unique offering.  Plus, did I mention this service is free?
  3. It’s dog friendly – woof, woof!  We all know that Winter Park is already a great place to parade your pooch around, but the Alfond Inn really welcomes them.  Check out this video about Fido checking in:

4.  Sunday Brunch at Hamilton’s is exceptional, billed as “Southern fare with a modern twist” and I’d have to agree.  See for yourself with creative starters like grapefruit brulee ($5) and white cheddar bacon scones ($8) followed by an entrée like their Bacon Jam Burger ($15).  Or for dessert how about a serving of Macallan 12 year Butterscotch Pudding ($10) to pique your curiosity?  Plus it’s just a lovely atmosphere with seating both inside and out on their very pleasing-to-the-eye patio. Currently under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Jason Klingensmith it’s definitely worth a visit even if it’s not Sunday.

5. Rooftop pool?  Oh yes they do!  Well, technically, it’s only on the second level, but hey, that ranks as rooftop here even though parts of the hotel do go higher.  Confused?  Heck, just go and check it out for yourself.

trust me - it really is a rooftop pool!

trust me – it really is a rooftop pool!

6. They have a super cool website that actually provides great photos, answers to many standard questions, is interactive, and pleasant to look at.  Why do I mention this?  Um, if you have to look at as many hotel websites – searching, searching, and searching for things as simple as an address or direct phone number – as I do each and every day, you would rank this one top notch, too.  Sayin’, and sayin’ with authority!

7.  Outdoor fire pits, rocking chairs, gorgeous lawn and public space.  It’s just really special.

8.  Great. Lobby. Bar.  Daily happy hour plus curated specials inspired by The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art served in all kinds of chic comfy nooks and crannies, inside/outside.  Your choice.  The bar menu also includes some great appetizers and noshes, and, gosh, who doesn’t love a fun and fabulous lobby bar?

The inviting lobby bar at the Alfond Inn

The inviting lobby bar at the Alfond Inn

Check it out for yourself.  It’s definitely NOT your average tourist hotel!

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Earth Day and the Orlando Hospitality Industry

Do you think there’s any connection?

But, of course!  Even though some would think that the tourism and hospitality industry here in Central Florida causes only constant traffic congestion, major air pollution, and basic overall mind fog [and yes, I do realize that mind fog is only damaging to oneself, and not the earth in general.  Or, is it??] due to the sheer number of water parks, rides, and other brain-and-money-sucking tourist attractions we pride ourselves with [oopsie; did the Hive just admit to those sins???], I’m here to tell you that at least one local organization is a big – make that HUGE – player in the global landscape when in comes to decreasing the carbon footprint of our many central Florida hospitality blessings [there, wasn’t that a better way to refer to all those reasons we welcome tourists here?].

It’s called Clean the World, and wow, does it ever do a great job in that monumental task.  Founded in 2009 after Shawn Seipler, who was a frequent traveler for his tech company job, spent a lot of his travel time pondering where the half or barely used soap bars and bottles from his hotel rooms were going.  His investigation discovered that it was all going to landfill.  “Ugh!”  Well, I’m sure his exact words were more intelligent than that, but I think you’re getting the picture here, right?  One man.  One planet to save.  One ingenious and enormous idea.  Plus a whole lotta unused soap and shampoo from all the area hotel rooms.

soap bars

His mission?  Not only to recycle, thus saving the environment from unnecessary waste, but to also repurpose all those half used products.  You can read further about the amazing story and journey of Clean the World by visiting the link provided.  But in short, here is the Mission Statement of this incredible local not for profit:

1]  Collect and recycle soap and hygiene products discarded everyday by the hospitality industry and other sectors that generate environmental waste.

2]  Through the distribution of these and other donated products to impoverished people [all over the planet], prevent millions of hygiene related deaths each year, reduce the morbidity rate for hygiene related illnesses, and encourage vigorous childhood development.

Or in simpler terms, clean the world, save lives.  Give hope with soap.  Both tag lines taken from their own vision.

But we all know nothing is as simple as it sounds!  It takes a lot of commitment from hotels and other establishments just to participate starting with the housekeepers who have to gather the partially used products and get them to the proper recycling receptacles within their facilities.  Then said facility has to get the product to downtown Orlando where Clean the World accepts the products, sorts, recycles, sterilize, and repurpose it all.  Then there’s the packaging and distribution to all those needy areas around the world that are currently accepting said products.  So you get the picture here, right?  The cycle plays out on so many levels, and to date there are over 65 hotels just in Central Florida alone that participate, but multiply that by chain brands known around the world and you’ve got a starter-kit of how large this project has grown since its’ 2009 inception.

Here is a great example of how Hyatt Hotels participates on a global basis:

So, are you excited enough to want to help?  They list lots of easy ways on their website including the one that I’ve participated in which is to get thyself down to their headquarters and pitch in!  What better way to get involved in Earth Day 2017, or heck just any day of the year.

So, to borrow the excellent tag line you find on the Earth Day Network official website:

Stay connected.  The earth needs your help.

 

 

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Things Were Just Great at the OK Corral!

OK Corral eventcenterbest_800x428

Welcome to the OK Corral Gun Club in Okeechobee, FL!

Sometimes you just gotta step out of your comfort zone, and that’s exactly what husband and I did last weekend when we took a road trip down to Okeechobee, FL for a visit to the OK Corral. More specifically, the OK Corral Gun Club.  Yep.  You read that correctly, but before I give you the details, let me just set this little road trip up for you by saying this was for a family reunion celebrating a special birthday.  And since the hosts of this event live in Okeechobee their venue choice made perfect sense.  But still, the ‘back-story’ is worth telling because, well, it went something like this:

I receive a IM message with the initial invite.  My response: “Ok, we’re in.  Where and when?”

Reply:  “Here, at the OK Corral,” which I, being an uniformed Orlando City Slicker, thought was just a cutesy name for their homestead in Okeechobee.

Me again:  “Can you give us an actual address, please?”

Reply:  “The OK Corral.”

All righty then!  Me, one more time:  “Is this your home, or what exactly are we looking for in our directions?”

Reply:  “It’s a gun club with a really cool restaurant.  The OK Corral Gun Club.  Okeechobee.  See you soon!”

OK Corral highnooncafe1

You don’t have to be a cowboy to love this food!

And just like that, after weathering last weekend’s near miss of a hurricane, husband and I were in the car on Sunday headed for the OK Corral Gun Club (and restaurant).  I’m still smiling as I write this because, well gee whiz, doesn’t that name just put an inquisitive grin on your face while envisioning what delightful stories lie ahead if you find yourself on a journey to a gun club in Okeechobee called the OK Corral?  Well let me tell you, it was indeed more than ‘just a gun club.’ It was it’s own brand of adventure park complete with all types of range sports for both pistol and rifle, as well as a “cowboy action range” (huh?) and a competition park where, according to the brochure, “qualified shooters and instructors with reservations can participate in the action by drawing from holster and moving while shooting.”  To that there was also the sporting clay courses for trap and skeet including both a “covered 5-stand and a wobble deck.” (And no, I don’t know what any of this is which is why I have to keep using quotation marks around the descriptions as I pull them directly from the brochure.  Hey, I’m honest,  and I like that about me!)  Lodging?  Check.  Event center? Check-check.  This list continues.

OK Corral liverystable4%20(800x533)

Note the presence of golf carts at the livery stable? Only in Florida, right?

OK Corral cowboy parkFeb20120001

Part of the Cowboy competition park

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK Corral wobbledeck2

Oh, so THIS is what a wobble deck looks like?

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that you’ve correctly surmised I’m woefully uneducated in matters of guns, but even I had to admit this place was cowboy cool, for sure!

Oh, and that restaurant?  It was the perfect combination of great food,  wonderful ‘spunky’ atmosphere, and just enough of that old west gun-slinging ambience to make you appreciate the sport involved with a gun club.  But the best part was that it wasn’t over the top, and by that I mean if you up-routed that OK Corral and put it here in Orlando well, I think we all know where this is going.  It would just be another theme park in an area where fantasy worlds trump reality.  But out there in Okeechobee it was the real deal.  Genuine.  And definitely worth the trip for any city slicker.  Even this one.

And while there was no time for me to even get close to a gun (which is a really good thing. . .), our group did have a wonderful celebration including some whiskey throw-backs.  Thanks, Florida Georgia Line for that yummy new blend of peaches & pecans you concocted for all of us.  Cheers to Old Camp Whiskey AND the OK Corral!

Florida Georgia Line showcase their new whiskey, Old Camp. This cowgirl-for-a-day loved it, too!

Florida Georgia Line showcase their new whiskey, Old Camp. This cowgirl-for-a-day loved it, too!

 

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Cooking Up a New Career

From time to time I like to write about different jobs in the hospitality industry because, well, there are tons of them.  So many, in fact, that I always tell people if you are unhappy with your current hospitality position you have no one to blame but yourself because all you need to do is look around and spread your wings – fly right,turn left, look up, then down. There is such a variety of jobs under this broad category that I could write about a different one every day of the week and you and I both would still be learning .  But, I’m not going to do that because, well, frankly that might get boring.  Plus, I’m not a headhunter (please don’t start sending me your resumes), so I’m going to spare you the details of Hospitality Jobs 101 and go straight to some of the more interesting ones.  Please consider this part of the advanced course.

My last post about an interesting hospitality career position was last August, and you can read about here Have You Ever Been First?. That was explaining how Jenna Borreggine, Assistant Director of Sales, got to be hired as employee #1 at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort at Walt Disney World Resort.

Now, judging by the title of today’s post you might think this story is about a waiter who decided to become a chef, but you would be incorrect. This is a story about a Chef who left the kitchen for the excitement of event operations at a major convention hotel, the Orlando World Center Marriott.  In fact, this facility is the largest convention hotel in the worldwide Marriott family, and Jon Espelage, Director of Event Operations, has no ordinary hospitality job.  Jon oversees a staff of over 500 (plus hundreds more that come and go on a temporary basis as needed to work larger events).  The permanent positions include those in catering and conventions services (the people who organize all the details of the meetings and events that clients bring), banquet staff (those that serve and supervise the coffee breaks and banquet meals), housemen (they do all the meeting room set ups including the heavy lifting of tables and chairs placed to the client’s specifications), the ‘famous’ Marriott Red Coats (if you manage meetings and events you know these people as being your ever-present assistants), and more.  You see, in case you haven’t been involved in this end of the industry before, it really does take a village to make a convention into a flawless and memorable event.

mcowc_phototour194

Aerial view of Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center

 

From the beginning stages with his newly minted degree from Johnson & Wales University, a hotbed for those training in culinary arts, Jon worked in the kitchen climbing up from Banquet Chef (where he once supervised a complete meal service to over 7,000 guests at one sitting and yeah, that’s impressive even in this industry) to Sous Chef (the second-in-command right under the head or executive chef) where you could spend an entire day plating twenty very special covers (meals), to Food and Beverage Director (usually responsible for all restaurant outlets within a hotel plus banquets) and now this position where no two days are alike.  “My daily routine is dictated by what’s going on in the hotel.  Are we turning banquet rooms and meeting space from one group to the next, are we in pre-planning meetings for the next customer, are we trying to accommodate some planners special set-up or menu requests, or are we winding down from the last big push?  All these efforts require appropriate staffing, massive paperwork, meetings with each department as well as plenty of vendors and clients to pull it all together.  My typical day is never the same, and I like that about this position.”  And while each of Jon’s past positions have been stepping stones in his career growth, by his own admission, he still had a learning curve when he settled in to this one which is a common denominator for many who are on an expanding career path in other professions as well as in hospitality.

Jon Espelage MOWC Jan 2016

Jon Espelage, Director of Event Operations, Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center

IN HIS OWN WORDS:

ME: Can you share any ‘secrets’ from your time in the kitchen?

JON:  “Buy the best quality ingredients and execute flawlessly.  At some point, everyone wants to attempt ‘scratch cooking’ (taking a recipe for something you loved in a restaurant and trying to replicate it back home),  but they might look at the ingredients and try to substitute or find a short cut, but there are no short cuts to doing in properly.”

ME:  Where do hotel executives go on vacation or what do you do in any spare time?

JON:  “Always learning, I seek out cool food places.  As far as vacations, cruises are the best way to totally disconnect.”

ME:  I know you’re a guest lecturer at UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, what’s your best advice for industry newbies?

JON:  “Find what you want to do and become a master of it.  Take something off your boss’s plate if you want to be the boss.  Get your head out of the gadgets and focus on building relationships, because that’s what really matters in this industry.”

Good advice for anyone, don’t you agree?  

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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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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?

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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