Updated 20 March 2015 – Last year (in March 2014) the pilot banked his machine onto final approach and saw Chalet Suzanne’s long, grass airstrip ahead. Appreciating the length, he exclaimed, “Piece of cake!” as he flared the airplane and touched terra firma. The famished aviator taxied north to the gazebo and short of the adjoining pond. He gunned the engine while sharply kicking the left rudder peddle. The airplane responded and pointed its nose perpendicular to the strip. He reduced throttle and pulled back the mixture until the powerplant, starved of fuel, fell silent. Lastly, the traveler switched off the ignition, activated the parking brake and unfastened his restraints in preparation to exiting the cockpit. Today was “Free Lunch Friday,” a temporary winter event for pilots. “I wonder, he thought, “if today’s menu features the tasty Mexican lasagna and sopapillas prepared by owner Eric Hinshaw’s lovely and charming wife?” His mouth was already watering with anticipation. Chalet Suzanne had, for more than 75 years, been a fixture in central Florida. Having regularly heard about the business ever since relocating to Florida, Mr. J.R. Hafer, publisher of 20th Century Aviation Magazine, decided to investigate the famous resort. Eric Hinshaw greeted J.R. inside the reception center.
Mr. Hafer immediately put the following question to Eric Hinshaw: “What is central to Chalet Suzanne’s longevity and legacy? Mr. Hinshaw, without hesitation, replied, “Faith, family and customer service.” Afterward, Mr. Hafer learned from Eric that since the resort’s founding his family had operated Chalet Suzanne with exceptional customer service as their primary pursuit. Four generations, according to Mr. Hinshaw, lived and worked on the property.
Chalet Suzanne’s “philosophy was that “here all employees are like family. We were all dedicated to the tradition of excellence that has been our heritage.” Their concerted efforts showed in the relaxed and satisfied demeanors of their guests. “It was most gratifying to serve our clientele,” commented Eric Hinshaw. Many loved the romance and enchantment of Chalet Suzanne.
The Chalet Suzanne Restaurant consisted of 14 different levels with 5 connecting dining rooms. The food service building overlooked Lake Suzanne and had a capacity of 175 persons.
“Chalet Suzanne’s restaurant was selected as one of ‘Florida’s Top Twenty Restaurants’ for more than thirty years,” proudly noted Mr. Hinshaw. He continued, “We were a favorite choice for weddings, receptions, honeymoons, rehearsal dinners, bridesmaid’s luncheons and anniversary celebrations.” One of the Chalet’s exceptional products was “Moon Soup,” which traveled on 2 Apollo lunar missions.
In this hectic world Chalet Suzanne offered visitors quietude, fabulous food, personal attention, privacy and a variety of decors. Over the decades astronauts, actors, politicians and royals from around the world sought out the Chalet’s offerings. These assets included comfortable guestrooms and the intimate Little Swedish Bar and Chalet Village. “Some customers stayed with us for a night, weekend or a month,” remarked Eric. “We take pride in the fact that each guestroom had its own character – a brass bed, a romantic view and an intimate patio,” Eric proudly added. Notably, Chalet Suzanne was among Florida’s most romantic locales. The “Select Request” rooms were favorites among honeymooners. “Most,” he explained, “were roomier and furnished with king size beds and relaxing aqua jet tubs.” He added, “Our attendants ensured that fresh flowers, fruit and candies were replenished daily.”
Since 1931 weddings were a tradition at Chalet Suzanne. There were 5 distinct wedding ceremony sites on the 100-acre estate. With the Chalet’s multiple venues wedding parties numbering up to 500 were not uncommon. Eric stated, “We had the capability to accommodate a party at least one of the locations. Our ‘Wedding Gazebo’ overlooked Lake Suzanne and was perfect for sunset weddings. The ‘Swiss Dining Room,’ which featured European stained-glass windows and Swiss-style vaulted ceilings, was perfect for indoor weddings and receptions. Another option was the lush ‘Autograph Garden,’ which was populated with native plants.” He added, “The wall encircling the garden was filled with many autographed tiles that were personalized by wedding couples, celebrities and celebrants.” Furthermore,” he continued, “the ‘Rose Garden’ was a divine location for an intimate sunset ceremony.” In conclusion, he referenced the “Lily Pond.” It provided a picturesque backdrop for sunrise or sunset ceremonies.
As previously mentioned, the Chalet welcomes pilots. Each April, during the Experimental Aircraft Association’s SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In and Expo, Chalet Suzanne hosted an informal barbeque banquet to thank loyal aviators.
Eric Hinshaw, a licensed pilot and former Boeing 747 captain, explained that flyers are hardly new to Chalet Suzanne. During World War II the refuge hosted many American and British airmen who were training or stationed in the region. Eric stated, “Back in those days there was not much around, excepting Cypress Gardens, for relaxation and entertainment. There were many important flying training stations throughout sparsely populated Florida and several in this area. Therefore, aircrew would visit on weekend leaves or furloughs.” Although uniforms are no longer prevalent, the Chalet still receives occasional military visits because the airfield is good for Special Forces trainings.
The Lake Wales Chalet Suzanne Airstrip (X25) is licensed as a public use airport with well-irrigated, green sod over a limestone base. The airport is on the top edge of the Miami sectional chart.
Physically, it is situated some 4 miles north-northeast of Lake Wales Municipal Airport (X07). At the north end of the runway is a small, round lake, and a country road lies at the south end. A generous overrun at the south terminus is available if needed.
Chalet Suzanne’s CTAF (for traffic advisory) is Unicom 122.8 Megahertz. To park, taxi all the way to the north end of the strip and on the east side. There, one will be in sight of and within walking distance to the reception center and dining rooms. By coming into the reception center, which is adjacent to the swimming pool, pilots may sign their plane into the airstrip log.
The author (John Stemple) and J.R. Hafer thank Eric Hinshaw for his kind hospitality and cooperation.