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It's Viva Las Vegas, but This Time It's in Florida

News, Tips & Bargains

January 27, 2002

Florida goes Vegas this week with the opening of two behemoth hotels linked to convention centers and replete with lagoons and fantasy landscapes.

The $450-million Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center sprawls across 63 acres in Kissimmee, south of Orlando and about five minutes from Walt Disney World Resort. It has more than 1,400 guest rooms. Its centerpiece is an atrium built with 4,700 panes of glass over a tropical landscape of orange groves, a mini-swamp, a lagoon, a fountain and a replica of a 16th century Spanish fort. The hotel is attached to a convention center with a 178,000-square-foot exhibition hall and three ballrooms. Other facilities include a spa run by Canyon Ranch, longtime operators of spa resorts in Arizona and Massachusetts; two swimming pools; several restaurants and lounges; a child-care center; and a dozen specialty stores.

The complex was built by Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment Co., which among its many interests owns the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville and the radio station that broadcasts its music. The hotel, opened to guests earlier this month, has its grand opening Saturday. Rates are $250 to $450 per night. (407) 586-2000, www.gaylordhotels.com.

Farther south the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa is to open Thursday on the Intracoastal Waterway in Hollywood, about seven miles from the Fort Lauderdale airport. The hotel has 1,000 rooms and a five-story atrium lobby with palm trees and water cascades. Outdoors is a lagoon pool with waterfalls and cabanas wired with phone and Internet access.

A breezeway links the hotel to a convention center about half the size of Gaylord's that has a 50,000-square-foot exhibition hall. Across the street, Diplomat Landing, a shopping, restaurant and entertainment complex, is to open later this year. Together they are designed to create a "mini-village," a spokeswoman said.

Hotel guests can also be ferried by water taxi to the nearby Diplomat Country Club, which has an 18-hole course, 10 tennis courts, a pool and a 30,000-square-foot spa. Room rates start at $289. (800) 937-8461, www.starwood.com.

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