MEDINA — The folks from Visit Orlando are camped out at the Medina Ice Festival this weekend recruiting snow birds to fly back with them to sunny Florida.
But they’re not playing fair.
OK, it’s natural all the smiling young staffers in the 30-by-40-foot heated Visit Orland tent would sport T-shirts and suntans.
And a drawing with a grand prize of a $5,000 trip to Orlando wasn’t a surprise.
Nor were the steaming cups of hot chocolate.
But bringing a couple 4-foot alligators to amaze the children is going too far.
“We wanted to take a little bit of Orlando to Ohio,” Edward Delgado said.
Delgado was one of a half dozen members of Visit Orlando, the trade organization representing more than 1,200 businesses and other groups in Orange County, Fla.
Orlando attracts 55 million visitors a year, he said, and claims the title of the most popular travel designation in the nation.
It’s no secret many of those tourists are refugees seeking respite from frigid northern winters.
“Ohio is a very important market for us,” Delgado said. “We wanted to be in the Cleveland area around January or February and we heard about the Ice Festival.”
The Visit Orlando tent was a first for the 19th annual festival, one of the city’s biggest attractions, drawing between 20,000 and 25,000 people over four days.
As always, the featured attractions are the ice sculptures — about 60 this year, the most ever. The carvings are spread along the sidewalks surrounding and crossing Public Square.
Festivities kicked off Friday afternoon with three speed-carving contests.
By 6:30 p.m., hundreds of visitors gathered in the square to watch the lighting of the Ice Tower — a dozen blocks of ice surrounding stacks of wood — marking the official start of the festival.
Main Street Medina, organizer of the festival, hosted a wine-tasting Friday evening and will again today and Sunday at the Medina Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, 32 Public Square. Four different wines will be served at $5 a glass.
FirstMerit Bank presents the team-carving competitions 1 to 4 p.m. today and individual carving competitions 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
The event is sponsored by FirstMerit Bank, Main Street Medina and Elegant Ice Creations.
The ice sculptures will remain on display through Monday afternoon.
The weather certainly is cooperating to make the sculptures last.
Highs today and Sunday are predicted to remain well below freezing — in the mid- to upper 20s — and there’s a 50 percent chance of snow showers.
Megan Casey, of the Orlando Visit team, said Thursday’s brief flurry of flakes was the first time she had seen snow in years.
“They made fun of me yesterday when I asked, ‘Is this snow?’ “ she said.
Casey and her comrades had a diabolically appropriate final reminder of what northern Ohioans are missing by not flying south with the birds in the winter.
Near the exit of their tent was a table filled with freebie car windshield ice scrapers with bright orange — what else — handles emblazoned with “VisitOrlando.com More Fun, More Sun … Less Ice.”
Contact reporter David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.