As a meeting and incentive travel destination, Florida offers something for everyone. And Joanne Luce, meeting planner and vice president of marketing for Val-Test Distributors, can attest to the draw of “all things Florida.” Each year in January, Val-Test Distributors, a buying and marketing group of distributors servicing the hardware, sundries, plumbing and electrical industries based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, hosts their annual show for their distributors and suppliers in Florida. The show allows the distributors to meet one-on-one with the suppliers whose products they house in their warehouses to discuss new products, discounts, marketing and promotions for the coming year.
A few years ago, Russ Meeks, president of Val-Test, along with Luce, found a unique resort located in Naples, Florida. They met with the management and decided to partner with The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club for their annual event. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“We have tried to move the conference to another location and our folks don’t want us to have the conference anywhere else.”
— Anita A. Frase
“The resort is in a great location; since many of our distributors are located in colder climates, it gives them a nice break to enjoy some sun and warm weather,” Luce says. “And due to the size of the Val-Test show, the resort works really well as a Val-Test venue.” Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club offers 34,000 sf of indoor meeting space and spectacular outdoor and beachfront venues on the Gulf. The 319-room property is Southwest Florida’s only resort directly on the beach with an onsite championship golf course — which recently completed a comprehensive renovation of its championship golf course. The redesign of the AAA Four Diamond beachfront resort’s course was done with input from golf icon and acclaimed course designer Jack Nicklaus in collaboration with noted course architect John Sanford.
While the warm weather climes are a draw for many, other corporate meeting planners enjoy the consistency that holding an event in Florida brings. Crye-Leike Realtors has held their company’s annual conference at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa every year since 2003.
“The resort is fantastic, our group loves the property from the ocean side to the bay side,” says Anita Frase, vice president of corporate projects at Crye-Leike Realtors. “It’s easy to get around on the property, and the staff at the Hilton are wonderful. We have tried to move the conference to another location and our folks don’t want us to have the conference anywhere else. They are used to making a mini vacation each year by bringing their families. The families get to have beach and shopping time while the agent attends the conference.”
Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa can accommodate groups ranging from 10 to 2,000 attendees. They offer 40,000 sf of award-winning flexible meeting space, as well as cutting-edge technological capabilities. Options include opulent ballrooms, smaller breakout and prefunction spaces, an elegantly appointed boardroom, a theater and hospitality suites, all refurbished in 2013 with tasteful décor and fixtures, and colors and materials inspired by the resort’s beachfront setting.
Each year, Crye-Leike Realtors plans their conference with the agents’ families in mind — from their big welcome party and exhibit events to their activities and final night talent show. “Everyone has a blast,” Frase says. “The resort offers easy access for our nine regions to travel to, and the property has everything that you need without leaving the property. That’s why we keep coming back every year.”
Deanna Ricci, meeting and event planner with Liberty Mutual recently orchestrated an event at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at SeaWorld. It was a training and information-based seminar for insurance investigators, law enforcement and defense attorneys.
“The organization that put the event together is based in Florida and 98 percent of our attendees are Florida based,” Ricci says. “DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at SeaWorld offers a magnitude of positive amenities. It’s easily accessible from the interstate, close to the theme parks and other exciting venues offered in Orlando. It’s spaced out beautifully, which enables our meeting guests to remain separated from the hotel guests and vacationers. The resort also offers large, comfortable meeting spaces and a wonderful menu from which to choose for our guests.”
But it’s the resort’s staff who have made the choice of hosting this event in Florida a good one. “Without them our event could not be a complete success, and for us that is very important and helps us to maintain retention of our repeated guests in attending the seminars we offer,” Ricci says. “We can put together an amazing day of presenters, but if the venue where the event is held is not top-notch, then that is what will be remembered by our guests. The relationship we have with DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at SeaWorld makes for an event that gets constant positive feedback all the way around.”
Of course, pairing golf with a meeting or event is always a draw for attendees, especially at one of Florida’s many world-renowned golf courses. And it’s just about to get a whole lot better. Streamsong Resort, home to two critically acclaimed golf courses, has announced plans to build a third course, which will open in fall 2017 on its 16,000-acre property in Central Florida. This is wonderful news for meeting planners like Therese Bottino at William Automotive Group.
Williams Automotive Group operates just north of Tampa, Florida, and Bottino recently organized an event at Streamsong Resort for a group of the company’s top managers to get offsite and have meetings as well as provide some bonding time together.
“Streamsong was the perfect location for us,” Bottino says. “We operate just north of Tampa so the resort was far enough away without my team having to spend a ton of time traveling. I was very pleased with the wide variety of activities offered to my group. The bass fishing and the clay shooting were highlights, and of course the golf and steakhouse were wonderful. Streamsong really has an exclusive resort feel while being conveniently located to us. We hope to see them again for another function in 2017.”
Streamsong features a 216-room lodge, with three acclaimed casual and fine dining restaurants, conference and event facilities, a spa and infinity pool. Streamsong’s Clubhouse includes 12 guest rooms, a restaurant and bar, an award-winning golf shop and meeting space with breathtaking views. In addition to golf, guests can enjoy such activities as bass fishing, sporting clays, nature trails and tennis.
Streamsong Resort’s newest course, Streamsong Black, will be designed by Gil Hanse, architect of the Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and co-designer of Castle Stuart Golf Links in Scotland. With the addition of Streamsong Black, the resort will become the only location in the world where guests can enjoy three distinct courses designed by four legendary architects, including Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw of Coore & Crenshaw and Tom Doak of Renaissance Golf Design. And the resort plans to add a second practice facility, clubhouse and restaurant to serve guests playing Streamsong Black.
Many venues in Florida cater directly to corporate meeting professionals to make their meeting or event truly one to remember. The recently opened Hilton West Palm Beach, connected to the Palm Beach County Convention Center, has worked diligently to provide unique meeting opportunities for planners and attendees alike. The property boasts more than 24,000 sf of meeting space, including the 13,350-sf Oceana Ballroom and the 5,800-sf Coral Ballroom, which can be utilized as one entity, or separated into five individual meeting spaces. The hotel exterior includes two 2,400-sf expansive lawn spaces for meetings or special events.
Of course, if planners need more space, the convention center is directly accessible via a covered walkway from the hotel. An architectural masterpiece with state-of-the-art amenities, the 350,000-sf center features a 100,000-sf exhibit hall, a 22,000-sf ballroom and 21,000 sf of flexible breakout space divisible into 19 rooms.
As part of Hilton West Palm Beach’s group activity planning, meeting attendees can have hands-on, impactful experiences. For example, while ice sculptures are common at events, attendees can “cool off” by being challenged to create their own ice sculptures. The hotel provides tools and techniques, and then participants are divided into teams to sculpt a block of ice into a masterpiece.
The hotel’s music curator creates exercises for attendees to create their own mashups using DJ gear and remix software. Everyone gets their song recorded live and takes home a CD.
And for those groups struggling to get through obstacles on their road to success, Hilton West Palm Beach’s kickboxing instruction will teach a class to use wood as a metaphor for the obstacles in achieving goals. The group will write their barrier on the board and then break through with their hand or foot using traditional martial arts exercises.
Located directly across the street from CityPlace, meeting group attendees at Hilton West Palm Beach enjoy access to more than 60 specialty retail shops, a distinguished collection of restaurants and bars, and an open-air plaza with a distinctive dancing fountains water feature. Groups also experience entertainment, dining and attractions on Clematis Street, Norton Museum of Art and Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, which are all near the hotel.
Superlative staff service has defined the Florida-based meetings experienced by Pike Enterprises. The company recently held their annual supervisor’s meeting at Margaritaville Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida. There were approximately 160 attendees from all over the U.S. at this event.
“This is a yearly meeting we have to gather all of our field supervisors along with management from our corporate office to do a recap, review and forecast of our business,” says Sandy King, meeting planner and director of executive support at Pike Enterprises LLC. “We have meetings where the entire group is together, and then we also break out into different meetings.”
As King explains, the most important aspect for her, as the meeting planner, was that every level of staff she encountered was very helpful and attentive to their needs.
“Each person, from the time we walked in, made it clear that they were there to help our meeting be a success,” King says. “I was given a name and contact information from the beginning that I could reach out to for any need that arose. For example, if there was an attendee that showed up that was not on our rooming list, I could call this person who would take care of getting a room. I could call this person if the temperature in the meeting room needed adjusting or to have boxes moved. It was such a convenience having one person to call for all the needs that always seem to arise during these meetings. The meeting spaces were awesome, the restroom facilities were immaculate, the food we had was the best ‘hotel’ food we have had in my 25 years of doing this.”
Another main contributor to Pike Enterprises’ decision to use this resort was that the attendees did not have to leave the facility. Once they arrived from the airport, they did not have to leave the resort until it was time to return to the airport.
“We know the majority of our attendees will try to find a bar to have drinks at the end of the evening and with this resort, there were plenty of bars within walking distance, and we did not have to worry about their safety or driving after drinking,” King says. “Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort is a gorgeous facility. In all my years of planning these events, this by far has been the best we have ever utilized, and we will go there again.”
With more than 30,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting and event space, the Forbes Five Star Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa accommodates groups from 10 to 1,000 and offers a wide variety of indoor and outdoor venues for private events. Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa has four restaurants and is just minutes from the lively Palm Beach nightlife and shopping. As the preeminent “see and be seen” destination on the Palm Beach culinary scene, the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa features Breeze Ocean Kitchen, a stunning, redesigned oceanfront restaurant concept led by executive chef Josh Thomsen. Awash in pale yellow and blue hues, the space is a subtle reflection of the recently reimagined guest room aesthetic. Airy and sophisticated furnishings seat up to 120 and are punctuated with striking design details such as a runway fire feature that lights up evening lounge areas. A “look out” bartop floats above the resort’s private beach to offer extraordinary views of the Atlantic Ocean. Situated on a private beach, the 309-room Eau Palm Beach’s spa also has earned a Forbes Five Star rating, making it a top pick for upscale meetings.
In Hollywood near Fort Lauderdale, the 1,000-room Diplomat Beach Resort is completing a $100 million transformation with reimagined guest rooms, indoor/outdoor event spaces, spa and more than 10 dining concepts. Among the culinary offerings are The Diplomat Prime steakhouse; Monkitail, featuring Japanese-inspired fare crafted by famed chef and restaurateur Michael Schulson; Point Royal, showcasing celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s coastal-American fare with modern seafood dishes and raw bar; and Playa, a beachfront nuevo-Latina restaurant and bar with an extensive selection of rum and tequila. The largest hotel in Broward County, the Diplomat also offers 209,000 sf of meeting and event space including a 50,000-sf Great Hall, outdoor special event areas including the pool deck and 33rd floor lounge space. The newly renovated guest rooms at the Diplomat, which feature ocean or Intracoastal views, fit one of two separate design schemes: Sunrise or Sunset. Sunrise rooms are modern, vibrant and refreshing with earthy tones that provide a soothing, calm atmosphere accented with blue ocean colors, with vintage artwork that harkens the region’s history. Sunset rooms reflect a more subtle, modern and organic design scheme.
Location, location, location is a hallmark of the Hilton Miami Downtown, situated in the vibrant heart of the Performing Arts District — a few minutes from The Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts — and near trendy South Beach, three miles away. The hotel, which boasts views of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline, is next to the Metro Mover light rail system, 15 minutes from Miami International Airport and near the Port of Miami — the cruise capital of the world. For meetings, the hotel has 45,000 sf of flexible event space accommodating up to 2,000 attendees. There are 19 meeting rooms, including five boardrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, and the largest ballroom in downtown Miami at 17,000 sf.
Located along one of America’s top beaches and adjacent to a 208-acre environmentally protected state park, The Henderson, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast in Destin, opened last November. Reminiscent of a grand seaside manor, The Henderson features traditional coastal architecture. The resort features 170 spacious guest rooms and suites, a nature-inspired spa, Gulf-to-table cuisine, an octagonal bar with panoramic Gulf views, a rooftop terrace, two outdoor swimming pools, 30,000 sf of flexible indoor and outdoor event space, and private beach access.
Following a $17 million renovation to its 146 guest rooms, the Villas of Grand Cypress has reconfigured its Mediterranean-style Executive Meeting Center, a standalone complex that houses 7,200 sf of flexible indoor/outdoor event space with four meeting rooms divisible into eight self-contained spaces. The four-star, four-diamond resort, which claims 1,500 acres in Lake Buena Vista, boasts 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature-designed golf; a golf academy; an equestrian center with options for equestrian-themed shows to entertain reception or banquet guests; and the Nine 18 Restaurant, which doubles as a fully equipped meeting space for small groups.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, which opened at Universal Orlando last July, added 115,000 sf of meeting space last fall that includes a 41,000-sf ballroom, 30,000-sf hall and 16,000-sf outdoor event area. The space connects by air-conditioned bridge to Loews Royal Pacific Resort, providing a combined 247,000 sf of meeting space in the Loews Meeting Complex at Universal Orlando, which officially opened in October.
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at SeaWorld is adding 40,000 sf of new indoor and outdoor conference and event space, scheduled to debut this summer. The hotel’s existing 60,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting space also will be upgraded.
In December, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel completed a $5 million renovation of its 329,000 sf of meeting space to refresh all the meeting rooms at both the Swan and Dolphin hotels. The renovation included updated carpet and paint, along with the installation of new technology in the meeting areas. The meeting space refresh is part of the hotel’s multiphase, multiyear $140 million redesign project, which also includes transformation of all 2,267 guest rooms. In 2015, the Swan guest rooms were completed; Dolphin Hotel guest room renovations will wrap up by the end of 2017. As the final stage of the largest makeover in the Orlando resort’s history, the Dolphin lobby will undergo a $12 million redesign beginning this spring and will be completed in the fall.
The former Buena Vista Palace Resort & Spa was recently reflagged as the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace, located in the Disney Springs area. The 1,011-room hotel completed a major makeover featuring newly designed guest rooms, a new outside terrace and refreshed meeting spaces totaling 92,000 sf. As the hotel is an official Walt Disney World Hotel, groups are offered entertainment and event production services through the Disney Event Group as well as the Disney Institute’s educational programs.
The three Rosen Hotels convention properties — Rosen Plaza, Rosen Centre and Rosen Shingle Creek — are undergoing major renovations from guest rooms to restaurants. Rosen Plaza recently completed refurbishments in all 800 of its guest rooms and suites, and now features expanded flexible indoor/outdoor event space with 3NINE, the hotel’s 5,000-sf state-of-the-art entertainment venue. 3NINE can accommodate 500 people indoors or 1,500 guests when the event is extended to the patio and pool deck ‘39 Poolside Bar & Grill. The venue provides groups with a dedicated, onsite daytime or evening event space outfitted with all audio-visual needs and already fully decorated and themed.
The new 343-room Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach is celebrating its debut on January 18 with 22,000 sf of elegant, flexible function space including the area’s largest ballroom. Flexible function space includes seven meeting rooms divisible into 12 breakout rooms, plus the 10,632-sf Dunes Ballroom, which can host up to 800 guests and boasts among its many features, $250,000 programmable chandeliers.
The Waldorf Astoria Naples on the Southwest Florida coast recently transitioned to the independently branded Naples Grande Beach Resort after completing $18 million in renovations. New guest room décor offers a soothing, coastal-inspired design and a new signature restaurant, Catch of the Pelican, featuring fresh Florida seafood. The resort recently completed $2 million worth of enhancements to the lobby lounge and Vista Ballroom, which received a décor refresh, modern fixtures, updated drapery, plush carpet and modern furniture. The lobby lounge and Spressi seating area feature new seating, lighting and a complete bar upgrade. The renovated spaces further enhance the property’s 83,000 sf of fully customizable indoor and outdoor function space. The property, which also boasts five onsite restaurants and bars, three heated pools, fitness center, tennis facility and luxury spa, is surrounded by 200 acres of a protected mangrove estuary intertwined with a system of bridges and elevated walking paths that afford access to three miles of beachfront on the Gulf of Mexico.
Guests dining at the restaurants at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples enjoy greens so fresh they appear on plates within just hours of being harvested from the resort’s onsite Grow House. The first of its kind in a resort setting, The Grow House is a repurposed shipping container with the capacity to grow one acre of produce.
Planners looking for fun, interactive activities for their groups can cross the bridge from Fort Myers to Sanibel Island, where Sundial Beach Resort & Spa recently added 12 regulation pickleball courts to its lineup of resort amenities and public offerings. The Plexicushion system courts will provide the area with state-of-the-art tournament-grade facilities in a beautiful, lakefront setting. Construction is underway with an anticipated early spring 2017 opening. A combination of tennis, badminton and table tennis, pickleball now claims the title of the fastest growing sport in North America. Lessons, round robins, and clinics for all ages will be available to both resort guests, residents and visitors. Sundial offers 198 guest rooms and 12,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting and event spaces.
The Keewaydin Express is a new water taxi providing service from a variety of Marco Island locations to Keewaydin Island’s expansive, deserted beaches, which are accessible only by boat.
Following an extensive $320 million renovation, the has converted to a JW Marriott luxury property. The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort offers 100,000 sf of meeting space and 726 guest rooms. Scheduled to open at the resort in fall 2017 will be a 94-room, adults-only tower, with Gulf-view rooftop pool, restaurant and a 12,000-sf, state-of-the-art indoor entertainment center.
The 310-room Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa will debut this month, after a $40 million renovation, which features new luxury family suites, newly designed pool and the reimagined indoor/outdoor Deck at 560 Bar & Restaurant. A beachfront event lawn will make its appearance this fall as will a redesigned, 5,200-sf Grand Ballroom. C&IT