ORLANDO, FL –
Back in the 1970s, the portion of International Drive north of Sand Lake Road was thriving. Local high school students “cruised” up and down I-Drive mingling with tourists and creating general mayhem. It was all still relatively new and a product of the Disney era that began with the opening of the Magic Kingdom in 1972.
Fast-forward to the 1980s and developers began eyeing the area south of Sand Lake Road. Largely undeveloped, it was a natural extension that became home to the Orange County Convention Center.
Attached to the convention center a hotel was planned. The land was sold from Martin Marietta to Belz Enterprises, owners of the original Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN. When the deal was completed, Martin Marietta kept a 50% interest in the 893-room hotel. Locals remember this was the former home of Martin Marietta’s business park intended for missile testing facilities for the defense contractor.
The grand opening took place November 1st 1986.
Tourists and locals alike flocked to the resort (pun intended) to see the famed march of the ducks. The Peabody ducks began as a practical joke by a guest at the Memphis hotel, but the tradition stuck and became a symbol of the brand now known worldwide.
That tradition is about to change.
On October 1st 2013, Hyatt Hotels will be taking over the Peabody Orlando. They recently purchased the resort for $717 million. There is still some conjecture as to what the new name will be, but sources say it will not be a “Grand” Hyatt reserved for their flagship hotels.
Employees hope the existing restaurant tenants will remain the same. In 2011, the restaurant Napa was named best resort restaurant by a local magazine. Napa offers organic, sustainable options for diners.
Will the duck march tradition continue? There were initial hopes that it would, however most patrons and employees we asked believe it won’t due to fears by Belz it would dilute the Peabody brand. Typically, the pampered ducks are raised to maturity and then sent off to local duck ponds or petting zoos. Well-wishers can still see the march of the ducks each day as they emerge with music and fanfare at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. when they go to the roof to roost.
During a recent visit, we checked restaurant menus in the hotel to see if duck is on the menu. So far, the well-fed celebrity ducks appear to be safe from hungry patrons awaiting the change of ownership.
Both Belz and the GM/Press office at the Peabody were unavailable to comment due to the holiday weekend.
Elizabeth Dougherty has been a food writer for over 10 years, attended culinary school and holds a Bachelor’s degree, Magna Cum Laude in Hospitality, Business and Labor Relations from NYIT. She has been a talk show host of nearly 200 episodes of Food Nation Radio which airs each Saturday morning at 8 on the Business Talk Radio Network nationwide, Saturday afternoons at 4 on flagship WWBA AM820 News, and Sunday mornings at 8 in Orlando and on the Space Coast on WAMT AM1190 News and WIXC AM1060 News, respectively. You can read her articles and hear previous shows on her podcast page on the Food Nation Radio Network website and on Facebook.