Monday, May 7, 2012

Backstage at the Gaylord Palms

When I was offered the chance to spend last weekend at the Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee FL, I jumped. It wasn’t just the prospect of a few days of luxury basking in the sun. They were offering far more…a chance to tour back of house, a stint in the pastry kitchen and some good schmoozing with meeting planners from across the country, one of my very favorite things to do.

On their part, Gaylord Palms wanted to show off their $50 million renovation and let planners experience the hospitality they’re famous for.

The property is a smaller, more-easily-navigated version of its big sister in Nashville. Its signature atriums and gorgeous floral and landscaping is just as impressive as the larger properties, however, and I spotted a new flower or architectural feature every time I wandered the meandering pathways.

The events they planned for us demonstrated that they “get”planners. Planners like to know how things work, so we got a tour of the underbelly of the resort, a city within itself, where the “stars” (staff) have an awesome cafeteria ($1.50 for a complete meal), a free laundry for work-related clothes, a convenience store and a horticulture department with seven full-time gardeners.

Then it was off to the pastry kitchen where executive pastry chef Sergio taught us how to make truffles (“What do you do with your mistakes?Eat them!”) and gave us a quick lesson in chocolateology. Hint to planners: the interactive cooking/tasting/chef personality gig is still really hot—and it really works to loosen the crowd. The champagne doesn’t hurt either.

Other highlights were a flash mob performance by the sales staff aptly titled “We’re Awesome and We Know It,” (use your imaginations), a Kentucky Derby party complete with betting, prizes and make-your-own derby bonnets at the new, awesome Wreckers sports bar and of course, Shrek ogre ears for everyone at Villa de Flores, the charming Italian restaurant in the main atrium. (Yes, even I wore ears.)

But the most impressive part of the trip for me was witnessing first-hand the “stars” in action behind the scenes…just normal folks going about their business but in a very special way.

Case in point: Imagine feeling your eyeglasses slip from the top of your head while sitting on your ninth floor balcony, and realizing with dread that they’ve disappeared over the railing. A “star” searches them out the next morning, and attempts to repair the cracked frame before returning them to you. (Confession: Yes, that was me.)

Case in point: a member of the group accidentally tosses out his name badge in the trash along with his truffle-making apron. Gaylord“stars” sift through the garbage in an attempt to retrieve said badge.Unsuccessfully, but they tried.

And there’s more: a gardener noticing a child’s interest in the flowers she’s potting, so she invites the child to help choose which flowers to plant. A housekeeper who smiles and says “hello” every time we pass her in the hall—four times in 15 minutes. A management type in a suit walking the halls stopping to pick up a food tray outside a door.

Now, that’s the kind of star quality meeting planners love.

Disclosure: Yes,Gaylord Palms did pay my way for this trip. But they did not make any attempt to influence any of my coverage, nor did they even ask if I was going to write anything at all. As always, my blog is my honest opinion about my experiences in the wonderful world of events and meetings.