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Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, Kissimmee, Florida

Recreating the spirit of the Sunshine State

On Superbowl Sunday Gaylord Palms threw a party. Guests watched the game on a gargantuan and permanent TV screen that hung high above Emerald Plaza, the hub of the hotel. From our room and small balcony facing the courtyard we could see the action. Nevertheless, we went downstairs and joined the fun. A temporary bar and extra tables and chairs had been set up. The glass-covered atrium in which we sat is approximately 20 stories tall and gave the feeling of being outdoors. It wasn’t as thrilling as being at Reliant Stadium, but the seats were pretty good and the excited crowd did plenty of howling and cheering.

Castillo De San Marcos Fort

Incorporated into the design of Gaylord Palms are four Floridian destinations, each with its own distinct look. The arrangement makes it easy to navigate the 63-acre property. The décor of the guestrooms in every wing and the public atrium space below are coordinated to reflect the style of the locale for which it is named.

To invoke the feel of the tropical island community Key West white furniture and bold colors like those found on cabana fabrics were used. The focal point of Key West’s atrium is a 60-foot sailboat moored in a 161,000-gallon wave-filled coral reef and doubling as a bar. To reach the S.S. Gaylord you cross the boardwalk and stroll through Mallory Square, which houses a shop selling arts, crafts and other items that might be found in a beach town. Nearby is Sunset Sam’s Fish Camp, a restaurant with the kind of waterfront setting where Hemingway might have drank and dined.

A reproduction of the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest fort in North America, anchors St. Augustine’s atrium and is used for private functions. The corner bell tower is a replica of the actual landmark on the campus of St. Augustine’s Flagler College. Furnishings copy Old Spanish and Mission décor. Turtles crawl on the rocks and gold fish and other small fish swim in water that surrounds the area. Brick-lined St.George Street is the setting for a row of stores and a few villa-like rooms for holding small meetings.

Everglades with its river of grass is the lushest of all. Alligators swim in its steamy swamps created by mist pouring through jets. At night when the jets are invisible you can pretend that you are in the National Park surrounded by stately cypress trees.

Emerald Bay, a boutique hotel within the hotel, has the best guestrooms on the premises and its own meeting and boardroom facilities. The architecture was inspired by that of Flagler College and the colors were copied from the white sand and emerald green waters of the Emerald Coast. Packages for meeting groups who stay here include many extra amenities.

The Convention Center is separated from the resort by a bridge. Its three floors offer more than 400,000 square feet of space. The 10,000 plus people who attended the same conference that we did were easily accommodated in the center.

We were housed in St. Augustine in a cheerful enough room. The bathroom was amply sized, but we were disappointed that it only had a shower. About 25% of the more than 1,200 rooms do not have tubs. Keith Salwoski, public relations manger, said that hotel designers queried focus groups about bathroom layouts and only mothers traveling with children wanted tubs.

We did not see many children. Perhaps they were out-of-sight because they were at the La Petite Academy Kids Station. Perhaps they weren’t around because Gaylord Palms seems much more like a convention-centered hotel than a resort for family vacations. When we were there we felt that the dining facilities were not family-centered.

A perusal of the room service menu gave it thumbs up for selections. But then how often do you want to eat in the room? Missing was a casual restaurant. Planet Java, a coffee shop, did not fill the need. Salwoski says that will soon change. The hours at the South Beach Pool Bar are being extended, indoor seating is being constructed and the menu is being enlarged.

S. S. Gaylord

Of the three serious restaurants Villa De Flora is the most laid back. At breakfast, lunch and dinner the buffet groans with European market favorites inspired by the cuisines of France, Italy, Greece, Spain and North Africa. The atmosphere in Sunset Sam’s is informal, but waiters bring the seafood and Floridian and Caribbean specialties to the tables.

Old Hickory Steakhouse offers outstanding food. Solid lumps of crabmeat were fresh and pristine and smoked salmon was tasty and beautifully garnished. Buffalo, served with bearnaise sauce, was so tender it hardly seemed like game meat. Our lobster weighed three pounds, but was as juicy as the smaller crustaceans. Instead of dessert our waiter chose a plate of artisanal cheeses for us from New York Chef–Proprietor Terrance Brennan’s fromagerie. He chose well.

Canyon Ranch, the group of destination spas dedicated to "mind, body, spirit" has teamed up with "world-class" hotels and cruise ships to design and manage SpaClubs on their properties. The club at Gaylord Palms is one of three, which are currently in operation, but more are on the horizon. Euphoria, a beauty treatment lasting 100 minutes and combining several body therapies, is a ranch exclusive. Use of the fitness center with more than 20 weight-training machines is included in the room rate. Certified instructors conduct private fitness classes, but yoga for which there is no charge is the only regularly scheduled class

The complimentary amenities include an in-room computer with high-speed internet access, a small refrigerator stocked with orange juice and water and a shuttle to DisneyWorld that runs every 30 minutes. Returning from the park is difficult because the bus picks up only once every hour at the different park properties.

Gaylord Palms is at an intersection of two highways and has no close neighbors. If you want to explore the area and do not arrive by car, you can rent one at the Hertz desk near the lobby. Most registered guests are at the resort to attend meetings. Although activities and entertainment are plentiful, the resort is primarily a destination for conventions.

Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, 6000 W. Oscela Pkwy., Kissimmee, FL 34746. Tel. 407-586-0000. http://www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylordpalms/