On to Orlando! Some Initial Thoughts

I’ve come home from our 2007 Executive Board meeting, kissed my wife hello, ate some dinner, and have now retreated to my office to post initial thoughts on the Marriott Orlando Airport Hotel that awaits us for our future ICFA conferences. This is a wonderful site and full kudos go to Donald Morse and Jeri Zulli for finding this gem. While these are my personal thoughts and don’t necessarily reflect all the Board members’ official positions, I think it’s safe to say that the Executive Board was extremely pleased (maybe even thrilled) at the new location and the amenities it offers. It’s undergone (and will have completed by the time we’re there in March) a $17 million renovation and the quality shines forth. Here are some of the perks (in no particular order):

•a 24 hr. gym with state-of-the-art equipment (including 5 treadmills, 3 stair steppers, 3 stationary bikes, weights, change rooms with sauna/steam (male and female), lockers (but no locks; bring your own), a rubber floor, hot towels, and fresh fruit; also, the gym overlooks the indoor pool…

•…which also becomes the outdoor pool. The two pools are connected so one can swim indoors and then swim through a plastic barrier and, voila, you’re swimming outdoors. The pool varies in depth from 3-7 feet. There is also a baby pool for any attendees who bring young ‘uns and want them to go for a safe dip. The pools are open until 10:00 PM but we know hotel guests (including an Executive Board member or two) were swimming at 11:00 PM and even at 2:00 AM. The indoor pool also has a hot tub beside it and, of course, there are plenty of towels available; and, . . .

•. . .speaking of availability, there are plenty of deck chairs/loungers surrounding the pool area that will facilitate those vitally important late-night sessions that are as equally important as ICFA’s paper sessions and panels. There is plenty of deck space and not all of it surrounds the pool. In fact, your Executive Board has already found an ideal conversation area and dubbed it “the Boardroom” (thanks to Gary for that), but I’m not telling where it is – I have to draw a line at my promotional responsibilities somewhere. Anyway, there is plenty of deck space for conversations; and, what would deck space be without . . .

•. . . the Tiki bar?! I don’t have the official name handy, but suffice to say it is a fully-stocked bar that we’ve been assured will stay open until 11:00 PM every night of the conference. They have all the drinks you could imagine (or at least I’m told; I don’t drink so my liquor knowledge is limited) and a fave was the mango daiquiri, both the regular version and the “Jeri” mango daiquiri (ask her about the difference). The bar/pool area is also surrounded by a little lake and there are trails around the lake area, although I didn’t personally go to them so I cannot really offer substantial commentary. There are also tennis courts and a beach volleyball court. But, don’t feel you need to stay at the outdoor bar/pool area all the time, because. . .

•. . . there is a wonderful indoor bar that is part of the Luxe Restaurant. That bar is equally inviting and an added bonus is that they will serve patrons in the bar but also in the many nooks and crannies located in front of the bar/restaurant area and in the lobby; after all, what would a lobby/lounge area be like if they didn’t allow for intimate gatherings? Well, the Marriott has taken this into consideration as there are plenty of couches throughout the lobby area of the hotel and they are also served by the bar staff. Also, speaking of the Luxe Restaurant. . .

•. . . the food was very impressive and reasonably priced. The food in Lauderdale was problematic as expensive prices were paired with poor quality. In this case, I thought the food quality was wonderful and the prices seemed (to me) reasonable for hotel food. Granted, there is a problem with vegetarian dishes (I don’t believe there were any on their dinner menu) and we’ve brought that to their attention so hopefully that’ll be rectified by March. They did directly tell us that they are sensitive to their patrons’ food needs, so that’s a good sign for vegetarians and those who do have food allergies. While we ate in the Luxe Restaurant (I can’t speak for anyone else, but their breakfast was delicious: two scrambled eggs, toast, three sausages, juice, and hash browns for around $12) we didn’t get a chance to eat in the upscale Porterhouse Restaurant. That establishment requires reservations and the cost of the entrees run anywhere from the mid-20s to 40s, all depending on your food choice. We were told that the Orlando Sentinel has a special section of their paper where they publish restaurants’ recipes and the Porterhouse has had its recipes published in the newspaper, so that’s gotta be a good sign. So, certainly give the hotel food a try because I thought it was quite good and aside from the problem with vegetarian dishes it seems the other Board members agreed on its quality; yet, if you wanted to take a break from the hotel food and venture out to another establishment. . .

•. . . you’re in luck! There are other restaurants. In addition to the Marriott, there are about five or six other hotels all within walking distance and you can obviously eat there. In addition, there is a Denny’s about 5-10 mins. away, a T.G.I. Fridays about 10 mins. away, another chain establishment that will go unnamed (be quiet, Bill!) also about 5-10 mins. away, and an entire series of pubs/restaurants anywhere from 5-10 mins. to 30 mins. away [note: all time references are based on walking]. So, for those of you who are on a budget, notably our valued Undergraduate and Graduate Students, there are so many more food options (as well as a Walgreens, Kinkos, etc.) than the Lauderdale location ever offered. But, what about that eclectic and/or specialized culinary fare? Well. . .

•. . . I really can’t tell you. Since Orlando is a tourist mecca and we were in a tourist hotel area, I didn’t personally see specialized restaurants. The hotel has a map (which we’re going to adapt) so that might be useful, but specialty/non-chain/non-pub restaurants might require transportation so perhaps a rental car might be in order. Oh, did I mention that conference attendees will have free parking during the conference?!?! So, transportation is certainly facilitated, and speaking of transportation. . .

•. . . we barely heard the planes. The Lauderdale location had a steady retinue of planes flying over our heads but that was not the case in Orlando. True, we did hear planes but the number was dramatically reduced. At one point we realized it’d been several hours since we heard a plane flying overhead, so that made the experience so much better. As many of you will agree, the Lauderdale location felt like we were abandoned in an industrial park with nothing around us, sorta like…well, the airport! The Marriott is dramatically different as airport-noise is less obtrusive and with all the surrounding amenities it just feels like we’re in a civilized area. Our Marriott representative said that they’ve tried to make the Marriott feel like a resort and not an airport-hotel and, from my perspective, it certainly feels that way. The overall ambiance is much more professional, including such “little” things as windows in the meeting rooms where we’ll be holding our panels, bigger registration space, working elevators that don’t lurch up-and-down before opening their doors (sometimes before actually stopping at the floor), an automated elevator voice announcing the floor as well as braille on the buttons, free Xerox copying at the front desk (max. of 20 copies per person; note: the per-page printing costs are unusually high), televisions in the lobby and weight room that can be turned down (or off) by the patrons, a directory providing nearby licensed/bonded childcare (thanks for that, Robin!), and a staff that generally wants to see us happy.

Overall, I think you’ll all be pleased with what Orlando has to offer us and this new environment appears well-positioned and well-suited to address ICFA’s needs and help contribute to our growing conference experience. More information will be forthcoming, but I thought I’d share these initial comments.

But wait! I know, some of you are going to miss that cat that wandered around the Lauderdale location (did it have a name?). Rest assured, the Marriott has some local wildlife on the premises, including cute lizards, ducks (ask Stacie what they were doing when she and I found them), a wide variety of birds, at least one raccoon, turtles (well, one anyway that I saw in the lake) and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see Al and Junior (you’ll find out).

On to Orlando!

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