Gaylord Palms rec center: An alternative to a day in the parks

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KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The conventional wisdom in the Orlando hotel business is that people who stay in the area will go to the theme parks for recreation.

But convention-goers, many with families in tow, who make up nearly 80% of the guests at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, belie the norm.

Our guests told us they want to spend more time in the hotel, said Suzanne Stephan, Gaylord Palms director of marketing.

The guests Stephan referred to were part of a focus group commissioned by Gaylord Entertainment, the resorts owner, to determine what kinds of activities visitors would like to pursue at the hotel.

There were some surprising answers, and these answers became the basis for the design of a new recreation center scheduled to open Nov. 1.

The complex, which is in the hotels backyard, according to Stephan, consists of several distinct areas designed for specific recreational activities, as follows:

Executive putting course

The centerpiece is a nine-hole executive putting course, a golf course in miniature, with sand traps, roughs, water hazards -- practically everything a full-size course has.

The idea is to offer guests an opportunity for a quick round before the days events or between sessions.

Nearly all of the business travel is composed of conventions, and a significant number of those business travelers bring their families because of the nature of the destination, Stephan said.

Shuffleboard

The next surprise from the focus groups was that people enjoy playing shuffleboard.

We didnt think people were that enthusiastic about shuffleboard anymore, said Stephan, but we found that they are. Families like it because they can play it together. And its easy for kids to play.

Another sport that turned out to have appeal to the Palms guests was croquet, so the new recreation center has a croquet lawn.

We put emphasis on things people could do as a group or a family, said Stephan. Thats why croquet seemed to resonate well.

The focus groups also responded well to bocce, an Italian game similar to bowling on a lawn that is gaining popularity, according to Gaylords research.

We reinvented it, said Stephan. In a lot of hotels you have clay pits, but thats a little messy. We have a crushed coquina surface. Coquina is a rock-like substance made of crushed shells and sediment compressed at the bottom of the ocean. It has great resilience. It was used by early settlers to build forts because a cannon ball would be absorbed by it or bounce off.

The recreation center also includes a tile-floored piazza for functions, a sand volleyball court and an infinity pool called the South Beach Pool, designed with an art-deco theme reminiscent of Miami Beachs South Beach. The South Beach Pool is for adults only.

The resort also has a zero-entry pool that enables guests to wade in. It has family-oriented features, including an octopus water slide and water jets, as well as an adjacent sand-and-clay beach.

Cabanas will be placed by the side of the pool, where massages and spa treatments from the hotels trademarked Canyon Ranch Spa Club will be available.

We and the Venetian in Las Vegas are the only hotels that have the Canyon Ranch Spa Club brand, said Stephan. They also have one aboard the QM2. So we feel as though we are in pretty good company.

The hotel

Like the other hotels in the Gaylord Hotels chain (typified by the flagship Opryland Hotel in Nashville), the Gaylord Palms is a huge complex with a steel-and-glass atrium.

The four-and-a-half-acre atrium houses an assortment of shops and entertainment venues as well as an exhibition that celebrates Floridas environment and history.

The atrium is divided into three sections.

One section is designed around the theme of Floridas oldest city, St. Augustine, and includes a replica of the citys historic fort, Castillo de San Marcos.

A second section celebrates the Florida Keys and includes a lagoon with 160,000 gallons of water, fish and a 60-foot sailboat and dock.

A third section salutes the Everglades, with walkways mounted on wooden stilts, a sawgrass shack and exhibits with baby alligators, snakes and a turtle hatchery.

Icemen cometh

Beginning Nov. 19, as part of its Best of Florida Christmas Celebration, Gaylord Palms will bring back a popular feature called Ice!, an exhibition of statues and monuments carved from 2 million pounds of ice. The exhibition, carved by more than 40 artisans from Harbin, China, will run until Jan. 2.

Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center is located at 6000 W. Osceola Parkway. For reservations, call (407) 586-2000. The Web site is www.gaylordhotels.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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