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There's just one week left to catch that whimsical march-of-the-ducks at the Peabody Orlando

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There's just one week left to catch that whimsical march-of-the-ducks at the Peabody Orlando

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There are lots of hotels along International Drive.


Photo by Jim Hill

But there's only one hotel in Orlando that has ducks etched in its front windows ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and a marble mallard inlaid right in the floor of its lobby.


Photo by Jim Hill

When you see this many ducks outside of WDW's Magic Kingdom, there's really only one place that you can be. And that's the Peabody Orlando.


Photo by Jim Hill

he story of this I-Drive hotel doesn't actually start in Orlando. But -- rather -- in Memphis, Tennessee. Which is where the original Peabody Hotel is located.


Copyright Peabody Hotel Group. All rights reserved

When this 12-story, 615-room hotel originally opened back in 1925, it quickly became famous for a lot of things. Its elegant appointments. Not to mention the Peabody's superior service. But for a lot of folks who were visiting Memphis, the reason that you just HAD TO visit this hotel could be found in the lobby.


Copyright Peabody Hotel Group. All rights reserved

To be specific, could be found swimming around in the ornate marble fountain that stood / stands at the very center of the Peabody Hotel.


Copyright Peabody Hotel Group. All rights reserved

Your eyes aren't deceiving you. Those really are live ducks swimming around in the fountain that's located in the lobby on the Peabody Hotel. As the story goes, this tradition dates back to the late 1920s / early 1930s. Where -- after they'd been out duck hunting (not to mention knocking back a few to stay warm in that duck blind) -- hotel manager Frank Schutt & his friend Chip Barwick placed their decoys in the Peabody's fountain. Which then (for some reason) created a lot of publicity for the hotel.

Well, if fake duck decoys could get the Peabody written up in Memphis' newspapers and mentioned on the radio, Schutt wonder how people would react to real ducks swimming around in the fountain in his hotel's lobby. So Frank reached out to a local farmer. And then next thing you know, the Peabody Hotel in Memphis was famous for its fine furnishings, its attentive service AS WELL AS the ducks that swam around in its fountain.

Now jump ahead some 50 years. And the folks who own the Peabody Hotel in Memphis are now looking to spread their wings. They're looking to add a second hotel to the chain. Only this custom-built hotel will be located in the South's new center of tourism: Orlando, FL.

So the Peabody Orlando opens on November 1, 1986. And back then, I-Drive wasn't nearly as developed as it is today. So this 891-room luxury hotel was kind of out there on the Central Florida frontier -- miles from both downtown Orlando as well as the Walt Disney World Resort.

So how did the Peabody Orlando get tourists to come by and check out this brand-new hotel? By doing just what the original Peabody Hotel in Memphis did. By laying down the red carpet every morning at 11 a.m. ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... so that the ducks would first take the elevator down from their pagoda-shaped "duck palace" up on the roof. They'd then exit the elevator and waddle down that red carpet into the lobby. Where these water fowl would then encounter a short set of stairs.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

And after hopping up that set of stairs ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... jump down into that fountain for a swim & a snack.


Photo by Jim Hill

And just like it did in Memphis, this twice-daily walk (i.e., the ducks enter the lobby and waddle down the red carpet each morning at 11 a.m. They then exit the fountain and return to their duck palace on the hotel's roof at 5 p.m.) became a huge draw for the Peabody Orlando. With hundreds of tourists making a special trip to this hotel in the morning & the afternoon. Just to get pictures of those famous ducks ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... splashing around in that fountain.

Which is why -- in order to help Central Florida visitors commemorate this quack-filled occasion -- Viaggi, the Peabody Orlando's main gift shop, always made sure that it kept plenty of duck-related merchandise for adults ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and kids in stock.


Photo by Jim Hill

Remember how I mentioned that the Peabody Orlando used to be located out in the middle of No Man's Land along I-Drive? Well, once the Orange County Convention Center was expanded ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... and was then connected to the Peabody via overhead walkways ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... the Peabody Orlando tried to take advantage of its extreme good fortune with a $440 million expansion & renovation. Where it was hoped that this hotel's new 32-story building and its additional 750 rooms would help the Peabody Orlando capture even more convention business.

It sounded like a great plan. And after  2 1/2 years of construction, all of the appropriate pieces (including three beautifully landscaped pools) ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... were in place for the Fall 2010 grand relaunch of this I-Drive hotel. But something must have gone wrong (The rumor is that UST Hotel Joint Venture Ltd., the parent company of the Peabody Orlando ran into some pretty serious financial problems), because Hyatt Hotels Corp. swooped in back in August and bought the Peabody Orlando for $717 million.

"So what's going to become of those ducks that have been marching back & forth through the lobby of the Peabody Orlando since November 1986?," you ask.


Copyright Peabody Hotel Group. All rights reserved

Well, since Hyatt is planning on rebranding this I-Drive as the Hyatt Regency Orlando Convention Center, the current plan is that this hotel's duckmaster ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... will lead her charges one last time through to the lobby of the Peabody Orlando one week from today. On Monday, September 30th, to be exact. And after that, the hotel will close for a brief rebranding / renovation while the three groups of five ducks who regularly paraded back & forth to this beautiful marble fountain ...


Photo by Jim Hill

... will then retire to a yet-unnamed Central Florida farm.

So if you want to experience this unique I-Drive tourism  tradition, you have just seven days to make your way to the lobby of the Peabody Orlando to see these ducks in person. Not to mention picking up some deeply discounted duck-themed merchandise in the Viaggi gift shop.


Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, if you're one of those folks who just hates to see traditions like this fade away, I guess you could always head on over to Charge.org and then sign that online petition which is trying to persuade the Hyatt Hotel Corp. to hang onto the ducks. Make them a feature of  the Hyatt Regency Orlando Convention Center.


Photo by Jim Hill

Whichever thing you decide to do here (i.e. visit this hotel this week to see the Peabody Orlando's ducks in person and/or sign that online petition), now is not a time to dawdle, folks. So you'd better get quackin' ... er ... crackin'.

Your thoughts?

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  • I don't usually sign online petitions (mainly because nobody really seems to pay attention to them), but in this case I made an exception. The Peabody and the ducks are about the only reason I go anywhere near OCCC on an Orlando trip, and they usually make a nice bit of money from buying drinks and snacks while I wait for the ducks to make their departure to the rooftop.  

    I'm sure Hyatt figures that they'll make more money and get more convention business by rebranding, but the last thing Orlando needs is yet another cookie-cutter hotel that you can't distinguish from any other hotel anywhere in the world once you're inside the doors.

  • I never knew they did this in Florida!  I have experienced it in Memphis.  I hope they aren't doing away with it there.  From what I understand, the Peabody Hotel goes through periods of having severe financial problems. The one in Memphis actually closed for a number of years and was reopened in the 1980s. I think it was closed for at least ten years, maybe 25 years. It feels like the people who run that hotel just aren't good with money.

  • "... will then retire to a yet-unnamed Central Florida farm."

    Just in case this is only PR happy talk, don't eat the roast duck at the hotel restaurant for a few months...

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