Orlando Sentinel: Emirates Gala

In one last red-and-gold splash, Emirates airlines celebrated the new nonstop service between Orlando and Dubai with a gala in downtown Orlando Wednesday.

About 400 of the state's top travel and business leaders and airline executives gathered at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts for the formal dinner event.

Attendees included Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Travel Association; Frank Kruppenbacher, chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority; and Buzz Aldrin, former American astronaut.

"Yesterday's inaugural flight carried passengers from over 29 countries, including the U.S., South Asia, the Middle East and Africa, which shows the breadth of our network and the mix of people that we have," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline & Group.

The daily service launched Tuesday when an Airbus A380 landed at Orlando International Airport shortly after 11:30 a.m. It was the first ever scheduled landing of that type of plane at the airport.

Wednesday's gala featured early performances by the Florida String Trio and the Eclipse dance company.

After the meal, consisting of filet mignon, Maine lobster salad and seared scallops, Grammy award-winning musician Ricky Martin entertained the crowd for almost an hour.

Martin also performed during the Emirates gala celebrating the launch of service between Los Angeles and Dubai in 2008.

Wednesday's gala, an opulent event where everyone dressed in their finest cocktail attire, marked Emirates 10th U.S. destination.

"On behalf of the state of Florida, and I think most especially the 1.2 million people that are employeed in the Florida tourism industry, I would like to welcome Emirates to the Sunshine State," said Will Seccombe, Visit Florida's president and chief executive officer.

Seccombe, who called tourism the "backbone" of Florida, said the connection offers the "tremendous opportunity to strengthen the Florida economy through a boon in growth in international tourism."

Megan Chartier

Austin, TX