(VIDEO: Aren Elliott explains what makes a tourist town on location in Panama City Beach, Florida)
Next time you’re on vacation, look around. See any highrise hotels? Inverted houses? Fountains that play music?
You could be in a tourist town. A real tourist town.
We know about tourist towns because we live in Orlando. We’ve also been traveling around the country staying in hotels and vacation rentals over the last year for our family travel blog, and we’ve seen only a few examples of true tourist town — a place designed to capture the attention of a visitor just long enough to take a few hard-earned vacation dollars.
Here are the hallmarks of a real tourist town:
Highrise hotels. Although it’s not unusual to find properties that tower over a vacation hotspot, these highrises are different. They’re clustered together and often reach 20, 30 even 40 floors and have a capacity that better resembles the population of a city. Las Vegas is the perfect example of a highrise cluster.
The sinking ship. This is a fairly recent addition, and it’s as unmistakeable as it is jarring. We’ve spotted one in Branson, Orlando and Panama City Beach, Fla.. It looks a lot like the Queen Mary or the Titanic sinking to the bottom of the road and is often nowhere near the ocean. The one in Panama City Beach where this video was taped belonged to a Ripley’s museum — yet another sign that tourists are near.
The upside-down building. How can you not stop and stare? Wonderworks turns everything on the outside, upside down. Even some of the exhibits inside run outside the mainstream. If your town center has a topsy-turvey White House or historic building, there be tourists!
Synchronized fountain shows. The sound of laughter and splashing is nothing new, but then you’re probably thinking of a pool. These elaborate fountain and light shows soar and splash to radio hits from the 70s, 80s and sometimes pumped up Disney medleys. Too bad they only run about 10 to 15 minutes, just long enough to keep you occupied while waiting for a table at the restaurant.
Lots and lots of mini golf. Who knew there were so many viable themes for the mini range? You’ll find everything from pirates, jungles, spaceships, shipwrecks, volcanoes and dinosaurs if you’re in a true tourist town. That’s a new one for each day you’re in town.
(VIDEO:Shark Swims through it Ocean City, Maryland)
Animals are coming out of the woodwork. No animal is off limits, apparently. In northern tourists towns, look for buildings with bears, moose and possibly wildcats protruding from the architecture. In coastal centers, it’s whales, sharks or dolphin. One notable spot in South Dakota had a Mammoth. It’s all part of the decor of the tourist town, something that says this here animal is one we associate with. What does that say about the enormous seashell in Key Largo, Fla?
Suggestively-named restaurants. Yeah, you know what we’re talking about. And no I don’t only mean Hooters. Anything with a form of Richard, the word wench or a reference to any pair of round objects is included. Maybe you’d like to share your favorite name below, but please remember — this is a family website.
To some visitors, the sight of one or more of these signs is enough to make them run. Not us. We admire a town’s ability to lure visitors to itself and are as intrigued as everyone else by these shiny pieces of bait. In some ways, it’s the perfection of commerce.