Is “Arkansas Upscale Travel” An Oxymoron?

When I first found out that the North American Travel Journalists Association Convention was being held in Little Rock, Arkansas, I was less than thrilled — if I may write frankly. Since I cover “luxury” travel, I thought that there would be slim story pickings here.

Which just goes to show how wrong one little redhead can be. I HAD A BLAST! Never have I been to a place with such hospitable, gracious, and hysterically funny people. But since it’s Bill Clinton territory — it goes to figure.

The convention was held at the only 5 “duck” hotel in Little Rock, the Peabody, part of the chain.

The hotel was quiet, comfy, lovely service, (one morning I had placed a scribbled “sticky note” on my door reminding myself to buy batteries and set a wake-up call, and a few hours later when I was returning to the hotel, my cleaning lady came running up to me, waving the note and profusely apologizing that she couldn’t read my handwriting and asked me to decipher “What did I need her to do for me?” Now that’s what I call service!) with all the usual amenities including a club floor with complimentary breakfast and cocktail hour, and a perfect location, walking distance to the hip River Market District.

But the high point of my stay was watching the adorable “March of the Mallards.” This famous duck walk is held at all the Peabody’s, but the tradition actually began in Arkansas: “It all started back in the 1930s when Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody Hotel Memphis, and a good friend, Chip Barwick, Sr., both avid outdoorsmen, returned from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas. After partaking of perhaps a little too much of the local moonshine, it seems like they thought it would be a hoot, I mean quack, to sneak some live ducks in the previously barren Peabody fountain and the tradition stuck.

Every day, at 11:00 A.M.(the return trip is at 5:00 P.M.) the Duckmaster, all decked out in a ceremonial gold and crimson outfit — reminiscent of the Buckingham Palace Guards, herds the ducks into a glass elevator, from their penthouse suite to the lobby, where they waddle down the plush red carpet to the stirring tones of John Philip Souza’s King Cotton March. They spend the rest of the day swimming around the large fountain and hamming it up for photo-ops. The process is reversed at 5:00 P.M. when the ducks retire to their rooftop sleeping quarters. Silly but a lot of fun… particularly when you see their little heads peeking out of the glass elevator.

To see what I mean, check out the duck walk on youtube.