LAND OF THE MOUSE
KISSIMMEE, Fla. - I knew this was the land of Disney. But I didn't really understand that the Gaylord Palms Resort had bought into the whole Disney concept.
This is a fine hotel and I have the room that's triple the size of some downtown condos. But I don't get the massive, and I do mean "massive" atrium. They have glass roofs here the size of the Rogers Centre (nearly), with fountains and restaurants where you can dine al fresco (but not really as you're in a controlled environment that only feels like outside) and a fake fort and a bar that sits on a sailing ship that's actually anchored in an indoor pond. There's also a gator pond (sigh) and every flower you can imagine; potted daffodils and tulips alongside Himalayan palms, verbena and purple orchids. There are several waterfalls cascading over fake piles of rock, plus piped-in sounds of frogs and maybe even birds, all inside three atriums that carry the names Everglades, St. Augustine and Key West.
My room overlooks both Key West and St. Augustine, which is a neat geographic trick. And you can eat at the Old Hickory Steakhouse or at Villa da Flora or the Asian-inspired Sora, then "get down" at Auggie's Jammin' Piano Bar. It reminds me of a giant cruise ship, except it doesn't move.
It's one-third amazing, one-third overwhelming and one-third revolting to have all this fakery amidst a pretty good year-round climate.It might, repeat, might, make sense in Niagara Falls. But the weather here is terrific 320 days a year; why is everything in a controlled environment?
But there's a great kid's pool with fountains and a nice adults pool with beautiful palm trees and rioutous pink oleander bushes. And there appear to be a couple places where you can actually drink your morning coffee outside, and not under the protection of the atrium. Just don't tell anyone.
THERE BE TREASURE HERE
There's a huge contingent of folks here for this week's Travel South conference, which highlights the southern U.S. states. Fine people; very kind. They put on a nice spread by the adults pool on Saturday night, with fine plates of shrimp and salads and mini cheeseburgers (in paradise). They also had a wandering pirate, two girls with big sashes that said "Miss Cypress Gardens" (was there a tie or were they from different years; I'll never know) and a couple young women dressed as mermaids. They say you get used to the giant fish tail, but it looked pretty awkward to me.
They served up some fine "pink flamingo martinis" at the welcome party. But they ruined it, at least for some of us, when they trotted out a skinny, three-foot long alliggator with its mouth taped shut and let people have their pictures taken with it. Isn't it enough we've destroyed the natural environment? Now we have take these poor animals and subject them to being held by journalists from Canada and tour operators from Little Rock or Charleston? It's not right.
As the Star's Fixer has pointed out, they've remade the Canada movie at Epcot after complaints it was badly outdated. I never saw the original, but the 14-minute one they have on display now is pretty good.
It begins with a blizzard and talk about polar bears and all that before Martin Short (who I've never liked but is pretty good here) comes on and sets the record straight by balancing the Moose and Mounties with shots of the Film Festival in Toronto and the skyscrapers of Calgary and the majesty of Montreal.
There also are shots of the Bay of Fundy, Niagara Falls, Butchart Gardens, Victoria, Vancouver, Newfoundland, the Prairies, the north and just about everything in between. There's also some good hockey hits, some snowboarding action, whitewater rafting, sailing, skating on the Rideau Canal and shots of moose and eagles and beavers and polar bears and all the other things tourists seem to love to see, all brought to you by young, attractive Disney workers in red and black plaid lumberjack shirts. The girl who did the intro identified herself as Heather from Gananoque, Ont.
I'm not sure, but it sounded like Short tells the audience that when you visit Victoria "you'd swear you're in England" and that Vancouver is "home to Canada's exciting film industry." If the latter is the case, I'm not sure what to make of the giant new filmport on the Toronto port lands. Buththose are fairly minor annoyances in what is, overall, not a bad representation of such a vast country in a mere 840 seconds.
Anway, when it was over, a middle-aged guy in the audience told me the show's much better than before.
"I've seen this one before," he said. "It inspired me to take a real extensive tour of Canada."
Then he paused.
"But I never did it."