Today there is no need to prod, the fab five hop up the stairs, right into the water, splashing to the delight of onlookers. The adults smile and laugh, appreciating this posh hotel’s whimsical shenanigans.
Dave Robinson thinks his job is just ducky, in fact, he claims it’s, “the best one at the hotel.” No, he doesn’t play Donald at Disney World. Duck Master Dave leads a parade of mallards through the lobby of The Orlando Peabody Hotel, one of many Orlando hotels located on International Drive.
His duties include feeding and caring for these mascots: five mallards (1 drake and 4 females). Before twice daily processions, he lays red carpet from the elevator to the lobby fountain, and places a four-tiered step against the marble lip. Then he reserves an elevator and rides up to the rooftop Royal Duck Palace, which is really an enlarged gazebo.
Dave enters their home and taps the floor with a brass (what else?) duck-headed cane. The flock waddles out. Like cattle herders, Dave and the daily honorary Duck Master, round-up the brood, encouraging them into the elevator.
Assistant Laura stands guard, quarantining her fine feathered friends, while Dave calls the desk to report preparations are complete.
A crowd gathers in the lobby and an announcer recounts the hotel history, and then starts a recording of Sousa’s King Cotton March. The ducks hear the music; see the red carpet, which they associate with food, and proudly promenade. They strut round the corner and down the path, like movie stars on the famed Hollywood walk.
The lone male doesn’t necessarily command the lead or rear position. The ducks put themselves in a row.
The parade started as a joke, back in 1930, at the original Memphis Peabody Hotel. General Manager, Frank Schutt and a hunting buddy returned from a weekend trip, imbibing a little too much Tennessee whiskey. They thought it would be funny to place their live decoys (legal at the time) in the sumptuous fountain. They received such enthusiastic reviews, the ducks became a tradition.
When the lobby guests disperse, Dave cleans any dropping on the rugs and rolls them up. I ask, “Have you ever had to go on any wild goose chases, so to speak?”
“Oh yes,” Dave says, “we had to send one fella back to the farm, for more lessons. He liked to wander the hotel.”
Each team trained from birth, works for three years; six months on, then 6 months R & R, before being retired.
When Laura and I pass through the lobby an hour later, we find no sitting ducks but sleeping ducks. Ahh, life as it’s quaked up to be.
If you go:
All three Peabody Hotels parade live ducks to their fountains at 11AM and 5 PM. The opulent hotels in Memphis, TN, Orlando, FL and Little Rock, AK use a subtle duck logo on their linens, toiletries and napkins. The gift shop is a haven for fowl items. Their elegant restaurant, called Dux, serves no canard (duck).
The four-star Peabody Orlando is directly across from the Convention Center.
9801 International Drive, 407 352-4000 or www.peabodyorlando.com.