June 28, 1996 Features & Images » Feature Story

feature 326 

In search of By David Branigan Is Whistler's rampant pace of development turning our fair hamlet into a ski Disneyland? To answer this burning question Pique sent this intrepid reporter on an all expenses paid, two-week field trip into the number one tourist attraction on the planet — Disney World in Orlando, Florida, with side trips to South Beach in Miami and the Florida Keys. I wish. Florida was where Billie and I honeymooned, and did some comparative shopping. Costwise, Whistler is cheap compared to South Florida, pure and simple. The Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Epcot Centre and MGM Studios all have a $38 entry fee, US funds of course, plus the 7 per cent Florida state tax. That compares with a $50-plus-tax daily lift ticket this past winter. But where we get 7th Heaven and Burnt Stew Basin, there are no dual access passes for the feature attractions, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator 3D, at Universal Studios, and Honey I Shrunk The Audience, at Epcot Centre — two of the most expensive movies ever made due to the three-dimensional holographic technology involved. The only package pass is a one week Disney pack for around $265 US per person — bring the family. Disney World appears the be the raison d’être for Orlando which, like Whistler Village, was created solely as a commercial support system for its financial master. The only discounted rate is if can you buy a package which includes hotel rooms. In essence you can buy a three-night stay and pretty much save the cost of admission, which is the reason you came in the first place, but that's because there are hotels galore all over Florida; from the five star to the five cockroach. Instead of bed limits they have bed lottery's and the chains that put the most units into the state gets free dolphins to put in their display signs. The midline hotel runs $80 US per night plus tax in the low season, which we conscientiously planned to hit due to budget constraints. What we weren't told by the travel planners was that shoulder season coincides with hurricane season and our first day in Miami made the spring rains here look like the spit of a camel too long in the Sahara. Another rather civilized scenario came when we were travelling merrily down the Florida Turnpike towards Orlando, where for $10 US in toll fees you could make the 220 mile trip north from Miami at speeds of 80 mph, with cops passing you smiling. Let's be honest with ourselves people; on the twisty sections of the Sea to Sky Highway reality enforces the speed limit, but 80 km/h on a double-lane straightaway is just asking for citizens to break the law. Anyway, I was eating up the miles in my Chrysler Cirrus rental unit, ($280 US per week, unlimited mileage with LDW, state tax and car rental tax plus dual driver fee), when we saw a huge sigh saying "YEEHAW!" Several miles later — or about five seconds — came another sign saying "YEEHAW! Discounts on hotels, restaurants and Disney World." I figured it was a timeshare scam but the new Mrs. Branigan, flexing her new-found authority, ordered me to pull off the turnpike. At YEEHAW! we secured a room at the five star Omni Hotel, regularly priced at $140 US, for $69 US, and at the Days Inn, regularly priced at $70 US for $30 US. But unless we wanted to sit through a two-and-a-half-hour timeshare presentation, they could only shave $2 off the tightwads at Disney. Nevertheless, that night we drank champagne after our shrimp and watched Sense and Sensibility from the 40th floor overlooking the pool. The remainder of the trip we talked to YEEHAW! daily. One major difference we noted between the resort towns was the tipping situation. In Coconut Grove in Miami we couldn't figure out why our dinner bill was so high until we saw in the fine print at the bottom that "For Your Convenience a 15 per cent service gratuity is built into your bill." Then it dawned on us why the previous night's dinner bill was so high, yet we'd still tipped on top of it because Billie is a waitress and she knows how hard service staff work. Beckoning over our server we queried him about the built in tip. At first he was defensive, but when we mentioned that we served in the hospitality industry in Whistler he relaxed. (Not one person in Florida had heard of Whistler). He said the reason for the policy was Florida drew such an international crowd that with service staff tipping out the bar, bus and kitchen staff, when waiters worked large groups of say, British customers, who as a rule don't tip, they ended up losing big money on the night due to the tipout. The 15 per cent was determined to be 5 per cent tipout and 10 per cent for the service staff, who work almost everywhere for minimum wage. This we found to be a double-edged sword. First you had to check your bill to determine if the tip was included or not, and secondly many restaurants where tips were a given had nonchalant, assembly-line service that didn't deserve the 15 per cent. On the personal security side Whistler rules. Miami has the highest crime and AIDS rate per capita in the States, while Orlando and the Keys are as warm-water-bath comfortable as Whistler. Having said that, Miami and the Keys are a police state with cops in cars, cops on motorbikes, mountain bikes and rollerblades, at every turn. On South Miami Beach it sometimes seems like a 10:1 person-to-cop ratio. Criminologists have statistically proven that the more police you have, the more crimes they will detect, which equals a higher crime rate which justifies even more police. It is a biofeedback loop that's gone wild in Florida. Talking to the locals they said just use common sense. Don't walk on the beach after dark. Stay in the open with people around and stay the hell away from crack-infested inner city slums like Overtown or even the fairly deserted downtown Miami core at night. Whistler wins this one hands down, which is the only advantage we have over the Floridian night life. The clubs in Orlando, like the Pleasure Island complex, are slick, with beers going for $4 US and cocktails $5 US. There was an $18 US joint cover for seven clubs in Pleasure Island, which is the unofficial Disney version of decadence (bring the family). These rooms ranged from country, to disco with slick production values and total themes, from staff to design to cocktails to musical format. Boring. On South Beach, which is renowned world wide for its club scene, Washington Avenue boasts a couple blocks that have nothing but nightclubs, side by each. And I thought Whistler's proximity was competitive. Bar openings ranged from 10 p.m. to midnight and their closing was no earlier than 4 a.m. Some after hours, but still fully licensed bars, open at 3 a.m. and go to 9 a.m., and there were rumoured to be rooms that opened at 9 a.m. and ran until noon, for the vampires unafraid of the sun. These liquor laws make ours look anal and they make Ontario look like it's run by Pilgrims. What I found most surprising was that with these late hours, coupled with huge crowds of youth drinking and roaming in packs until all hours, things never felt out of hand. It almost seemed saner than when all the clubs simultaneously discharge their rabble into the village here at 2:30 a.m. It’s probably because the night there has ebbs and flows and people fade in and out with the rhythm of the waves. One of the reasons I chose Miami for our honeymoon was to see what these hotshot clubs are doing differently or better than us here in B.C. Let's link up certain areas population wise. Say Key West and Whistler, and Miami and Vancouver. Key West is the southern-most tip of the Florida Keys, three hours due south of Miami and as close to Cuba as Whistler is to Vancouver. It is where Ernest Hemingway lived and it's where I saw Mission Impossible and laughed with the local crowd when Tom Cruise's character talked about his parents being mistaken for drug smugglers in the Florida Keys. Whereas Miami has a Latino population at least as large as Vancouver's Chinese community, along with a substantial black minority, the Keys are as white as Whistler. In Key West, many of the clubs and bars are on Duvall Street. The Pyramid, the latest techno-formatted club, was advertising ladies nights where ladies paid no cover and drank champagne for free all night. The big tourist tradition there was sundown at the pier, where buskers and street entertainers would play for a mix of tourists and locals who watched the sun sink into the Caribbean in a blaze of colour at 8:19 on the night we witnessed. From there it was into the restaurants, (a late lobster dinner at the Sheraton cost $25 US, margs $6 US) and then around midnight it was into the clubs until 4 a.m. All the clubs, like everything else in south Florida, were at least as expensive as in Whistler, but in US dollars — Ouch! You could get some decent buys on seafood, due to the proximity of the source, but we were trying to live cheap and it just didn't happen. NEXT WEEK: South Florida’s club scene.

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