Our Town

People and places that define Orlando



Lucky Day

The opening date of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando may seem less than ideal, but October 1 has a good track record.

You might think this is a bad time to be opening a luxury resort in Orlando—or anywhere, for that matter. But Tom Parke feels that timing will be on his side when the project he’s been overseeing for two years makes its debut October 1. That’s the opening date of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando-Hilton Bonnet Creek, and Parke, the resort’s marketing director, says it’s a lucky day, to be sure. The New York Waldorf Astoria opened on that day in 1931 (amid the Great Depression), as did Walt Disney World in 1971 and, 12 years later, the Disney Hilton. October 1 is a good omen, he believes, so spare him the negativity.

“We’ve been making reservations for this property for 10 months,” Parke says of the resort, near Downtown Disney. “It’s unlike anything we could have scripted to date. You read it in the paper and say it’s not going to work, but the customer says differently.”

The Waldorf name alone assures the new hotel instant recognition in an area with fewer than a dozen competitors in the luxury golf-and-spa resort market. The Orlando Waldorf also carries a distinguishing characteristic: It is only the second newly built Waldorf Astoria.

In size and scope of luxuries, the Waldorf-Hilton partnership is similar to The Ritz-Carlton-JW Marriott Grande Lakes, Orlando, concept of providing unique experiences at each site but with the same high level of service. The 497-room Waldorf Astoria and the 1,000-room Hilton, situated on 482 acres of green space, woods and water, are connected by a spacious corridor of ballrooms and meeting space.

Both hotels offer a range of amenities: cabanas at one of the Waldorf pools, celebrity chef Donna Scala’s super-cool La Luce Italian restaurant in the Hilton, the Waldorf’s dark-wood Bull and Bear Steakhouse (an institution at the New York Waldorf Astoria and named for Wall Street trading lingo), the Waldorf Astoria Spa by Guerlain, and a 7,025-yard golf course designed by Rees Jones.

And while the two hotels are similar in their rectangular exteriors, inside they are a contrast in styles. Like its upper-crust sister up north, the Waldorf Astoria Orlando exudes old money and social privilege, with its conservatively appointed décor and afternoon teas.  The Hilton, however, has a casual feel, with modern lighting fixtures, inlaid tile as accents in walls, and airy spaces with tile floors.

The press release on the Waldorf listed peak season rates starting at $539 per night, but Eva Cooper, director of leisure sales for the resort, says prices were cut to reflect market conditions. “I’m sending deals to everyone,” she says, adding that starting rates at the Waldorf Astoria and the Hilton are $229 and $179 per night, respectively, during an introductory period.

Travel industry guru Peter Yesawich, CEO and chairman of Ypartnership in Orlando, calls the Waldorf a “home run” over the long haul. “It also will be a magnet for high-end corporate needs” once travel business rebounds—in 2011, by his forecast—and luxury resorts aren’t considered no-go zones anymore.

The Waldorf Astoria “is probably one of the most well-recognized luxury brands,” Yesawich says. And “that will add some additional panache to Orlando.” —Mike Boslet

 

High Flier

UCF’s new Pegasus once starred in the Lipizzaner touring show.

The white horse galloping into Bright House Stadium before the kickoff of UCF football games has more experience performing in front of thousands of spectators than any of the players on the field.

The new Pegasus doesn’t have a set of wings, but as a former star of the World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions touring show he has soared to great heights. Known as Maluso, an Andalusian stallion, the horse performed a solo routine for 12 years in the equine troupe renowned for its graceful dancing and leaping.  After retiring from that troupe, Maluso had some time on his hooves, so his owner, Gary Lashinsky, lent him to UCF when the reigning Pegasus died after the last school year.

Lashinsky, a University of Miami alumnus, produces the World Famous Lipizzaner show and owns a stable in Oviedo where he boards and trains 31 Lipizzaners.

Three UCF students, all coeds on the school’s equestrian team, take turns as the Knight riding Pegasus. —Mike Boslet

 

Keeping It Clean

With its swimsuit-clad employees, Baywash Bikini Car Wash hits pay dirt.

In recent weeks, I have begun to pay a lot more attention to my car’s appearance.

This heightened awareness began to emerge, coincidentally, just after I spotted the Baywash Bikini Car Wash at South Semoran and University boulevards. Baywash is similar to other car washes in that it offers washing, waxing, detailing and so on. The place, however, does have one small distinction: The women who work there are young, attractive and dressed in skimpy red swimsuits.

It is, of course, solely my newfound concern for my car’s appearance that brings me, on a sunny Monday afternoon, to Baywash, where I am supervising (not leering at, mind you) two bikini-clad women as they wash, rinse and vacuum my car. The charge: $10. Trucks and SUVs cost $15.

Diligently scrubbing away at the front of my Toyota Corolla is Shelby Hasselbach, an 18-year-old Apopka brunette who has been on the job more than a month. Working on the rear bumper is Priscilla Smith, 19, a blonde from Geneva who has been with Baywash only five days. (She wears a pink-and-white patterned bikini because her official red one has yet to arrive.)

Baywash was started in May by Steve McMahon, 42, a commercial mason from Winter Park who was ready for something new when the construction business cratered. Thirteen years earlier, he’d gotten the idea for Baywash while watching the then-popular Baywatch show, which starred David Hasselhoff and featured buxom beach bunnies in one-piece red swimsuits. So naturally McMahon got the idea that motorists would want to get their cars washed by women in red bikinis.

Sounds good to me.

So far, it’s all been good—at least for male customers.

“We get women,” says McMahon, “but not as many as we’d like.”

No surprise there, considering that some women may find the whole concept uninviting if not offensive. Still, there must be a market for such a service: In late August, McMahon and a partner opened a second Baywash on East Colonial Drive, near Fashion Square. And he plans to add even more locations.

“We take a little longer than other car washes,” says McMahon, “but customers don’t mind.” I certainly don’t mind—because, of course, the women are getting my car so darn clean.

Also on the job this afternoon is Jennifer Wojtas, 21, a confident 21-year-old blonde from Deltona with an easy smile; she’s busy spiffing up a BMW that’s parked just behind my car. Wojtas, Smith and Hasselbach (not Hasselhoff) all say they like working outdoors and that tips generally run $5 and up.

Still, they allow that the job does have its drawbacks. Occasionally, customers make crude remarks and so do people driving by. As if on cue, some guy in a passing car suddenly lets out an ear-splitting wolf whistle.

The women roll their eyes and smile knowingly.

With those teenie-weenie bikinis and all the bending and stretching these women are required to do, I have to ask if wardrobe malfunctions are a concern. But all three have nothing serious to report.

“Maybe just a slight wedgie here and there,” Wojtas admits. “Not so bad, really.” —Jay Boyar

 

The Butterfly Effect

Lorenzo Zayas has made the life cycle of butterflies his life's work.

It’s a Saturday morning at the Winter Park Farmers Market and vendors’ tables are overflowing with finished masterpieces from the garden—juicy peaches, bright yellow squash, huge beefsteak tomatoes.

Over at the Butterfly Man’s table, though, nature is still hard at work—a gorgeous black swallowtail is coming to life inside a plastic terrarium.

“Chrysalis, not cocoon,” the Butterfly Man gently corrects someone watching the former ugly caterpillar emerge from its papery confines.

The show will go on all morning, and Lorenzo Zayas will introduce every arrival like a proud father. This is his life’s work, after all—to spark inspiration and foster transformation through education.

Since 1993, the Cuban-born entomologist has made a career of selling home butterfly-rearing kits—consisting of enclosure, food plants, caterpillars or pupae, and instructions. His interest in the insects began in his grandmother’s garden when he was a boy. Today he is often invited to local schools to share his knowledge and enthusiasm about a life cycle like no other.

“I love to see that sparkle in the kids’ eyes when I give them a caterpillar to hold for the first time,” says the Orlando resident. “They enjoy it so much, their faces light up—that is so rewarding to me.” 

Lisa Paton, a teacher from Audubon Park Elementary, is a frequent customer of Zayas’. On this Saturday she is buying a refill for her classroom kit. “They have a lot of fun coming into the room every day and checking on their caterpillars,’’ she says of her first-graders. “They watch them change, learn about their cycle, then the kids set them free.”

Zayas, 62, has spent more than 20 years lecturing on the benefits that caterpillars can bring to a garden as mature, pollinating butterflies. At first, “I would get the looks. They thought I was strange. Most people were using pesticides to get rid of the caterpillars.” Today he experiences the rewards of his life’s labor when people ask him how to nurture caterpillars.

Zayas also provides butterflies for weddings, funerals and other special occasions through his business, Nature’s Way Butterfly Gardens. Whatever their role, the creatures are short-timers—butterflies generally survive only a few weeks. But somehow, through their collective lives, they have perfected the ability to touch ours.

The Butterfly Man tries to explain. “Studying them, watching them change, has made me a better person,’’ he says as three winged beauties cling to the front of his shirt.

“I am more patient. I appreciate people and their differences. I appreciate life so much more now.’’ —Tyler King

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