Organizing a corporate retreat or offsite meeting this winter? From world-renowned theme parks to meetings-centered hotels and resorts, Orlando offers the perfect balance for your group to work some and play some.
Groups never have to settle for business as usual at Universal Orlando Resort. With two theme parks — Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure — four (soon to be five) magnificently themed onsite Loews hotels and a dining and entertainment complex, Universal Orlando offers a wide variety of venues to accommodate events of all shapes and sizes — everything from corporate and association meetings to elaborately themed, customized experiences. According to a Universal Orlando spokesperson, “Meeting planners have a team of experienced meeting specialists, entertainment and production consultants, culinary experts, Loews Four Diamond and more services to help shape a one-of-a-kind event.”
In November 2014, Universal was the site of 1105 Media’s annual event, Live 360, which is an educational training conference for nearly 1,000 developers and network and systems administrators.
“This was our third year hosting the meeting at Universal Orlando’s Loews Royal Pacific Resort,” says Sara Ross, CMP, senior director of event operations for the Dallas, Texas, office of 1105 Media. “The theming of Loews Royal Pacific Resort makes it feel like you’re escaping to a tropical destination. Especially since our meeting was in November — when the weather is getting cold almost everywhere else — it provided an opportunity for our attendees to enjoy a tropical-themed event in the warm Orlando weather.”
1105 Media always hosts a Wednesday night event for attendees to network and enjoy the destination. At Loews Royal Pacific Resort, the island theming melded well with their planned luau with fire and hula dancers.
“I’ve done tons of events at different hotels in Orlando, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando offers the most for attendees to do right on-property; there is so much to do at the destination that we don’t have to pay for transportation to take attendees offsite for functions,” Ross says. “With the Loews Royal Pacific Resort meeting space expansion and opening of the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort next year, we’re excited about the additional space to grow our meeting. We will be able to move our lunch inside — we previously used an outside tent for meals — and accommodate more attendees at the same location.”
Universal Orlando Resort is in the midst of a series of new, boldly creative experiences. It began with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade in 2010 and quickly moved to Despicable Me Minion Mayhem; Springfield, hometown to America’s favorite animated family, The Simpsons; The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley; eight new venues at Universal CityWalk; and the retro Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
“The addition of Loews Sapphire Falls Resort in summer 2016, and the significant expansion of meeting space at Loews Royal Pacific Resort this fall, brings Universal Orlando Meetings and Events to an entirely new level, as our universe of options for meetings and events will be bigger and more convenient than ever before,” says the spokesperson.
Adding 115,000 sf of meeting space, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort will continue to establish Universal Orlando as a premier meeting and convention destination. The resort will be Universal Orlando’s fifth onsite hotel, bringing the total number of onsite hotel rooms to 5,200.
Upon opening, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort will connect to the recently expanded meeting facilities at Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which will offer more than 131,000 sf of function space starting in fall 2015. Together, the two uniquely themed resorts will offer meeting and convention planners nearly 247,000 sf of contiguous meeting space and 2,000 guest rooms.
The unique location of DoubleTree Suites by Hilton – Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Downtown Disney Resort Area and the property’s strong reputation for highly personalized service makes the hotel attractive to meeting planners, and is a main factor in bringing groups back.
“Ranked No. 1 in the Event Planner Satisfaction & Event Planner Loyalty survey for three consecutive years, gives planners a level of confidence that their guests will be well cared for,” explains DoubleTree Suites by Hilton – Orlando Lake Buena Vista’s Area Director of Sales and Marketing Kevin Renzi. “Also, being a smaller hotel, we provide an intimate, distraction-free environment that has great appeal to planners who don’t want to be adjacent to a large convention-like event.”
The hotel hosts many sales meetings and incentive programs that often include an offsite activity or Disney component in their agenda. The hotel features modern, spacious one- and two-bedroom suites with sliding barn doors for privacy.
Being an official Walt Disney World hotel, they can offer access to private events in the Disney parks, teambuilding, character greetings and entertainment onsite and much more. Through Hilton’s Meetings Simplified program, the hotel also offers a convenient all-day meeting package.
Groups at DoubleTree Suites by Hilton – Orlando Lake Buena Vista enjoy proximity to top Orlando attractions. They can walk to the Downtown Disney Area or board the complimentary shuttle to all Walt Disney World Theme Parks and Water Parks.
The DoubleTree Suites by Hilton completed extensive renovations in 2013 on all suites, meeting and public spaces. Additionally, they enhanced their infrastructure and now provide super high-speed Internet, up to 100mb/second, according to Renzi.
Vivian Alfonso, administrative assistant, global financial technology management for Miami-based Carnival Corporation, recently staged the company’s annual global financial technology conference with more than 100 professionals from across Carnival Corporation’s nine worldwide brands at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton – Orlando Lake Buena Vista.
“The two-week conference included beta-testing of our new financial systems as well as various presentations, seminars and breakout sessions,” Alfonso says. “This was the third time hosting this conference at the property, and soon we will host our fourth conference there.
“It was really the ideal venue for our conference,” Alfonso says. “Not only is the venue’s management team extremely flexible and accommodating — providing additional conference space as needed, as well as extra bandwidth and seamless wireless connectivity — the entire staff was extremely helpful and professional, providing an exceptional level of service. That’s the reason we keep coming back year after year.”
The Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek is a well-appointed lakefront hotel, which is equipped to handle business functions from board meetings and large conferences to corporate fundraisers and trade shows. The contemporary 25,000 sf of meeting and event spaces feature high-tech audio-visual support, Internet access and business-center services, all enhanced by top-notch catering.
According to Mark Phillips, president of San Diego, California-based Map Your Events Inc., Wyndham Grand Orlando’s location near Disney World offered attendees of his recent annual corporate conference ample opportunities for mixing business and pleasure.
“There were many activity options available, and the hotel is not so large that your group is lost like many of the mega hotels,” Phillips says. “It felt like a private buyout of the property. Also, the staff is wonderful to work with in the preplanning stage and outstanding during the onsite operation of the program. The attendees felt very special and well taken care of during their stay. We have already rebooked for 2017.”
For Scott Washburn, president and CEO of Las Vegas-based Event Consultants LLC, working with excellent staff at any chosen venue is paramount. He has held a myriad of events at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.
Designed for networking, Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, and its sister property, Waldorf Astoria Orlando, boast inviting environments that naturally bring people together. Waldorf Astoria Orlando offers a distinguished business setting replete with nearly 42,000 sf of multifunctional space including a 7,945-sf Grand Ballroom (divisible into two sections) featuring an additional 4,049-sf prefunction area with sweeping views of pool and golf course; and a new 8,712-sf Central Park with adjacent 5,544-sf Central Park Gardens scenic outdoor function space; 13 meeting rooms and two stately boardrooms.
“Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek always exceeds my expectations — great sleeping rooms, great meeting space, great recreational options, great food and fantastic staff,” Washburn says. ‘With the two different hotels, you have great options for all guests. Plus, the location of the meeting space right between the two hotels makes it easy for everyone. If your meeting includes spouses and families, too, there is plenty to keep them busy while the attendees are in the meetings. Plus, the location is close enough, yet far enough away from the parks.”
Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek features 132,000 sf of total meeting and function space including a ballroom, pavilion with sweeping views of waterways and golf course, 26 high-tech breakout rooms and exquisite outdoor function venues.
“I can say that in my 35 years of event planning, both large the small, this staff is by far, the best I have ever worked with,” Washburn says. “From the very beginning sales process, to the very end, every staff person, in every department ‘gets it’ and knows that the hotel guests are what pays their bills. Hearing a ‘welcome back’ from everyone puts a smile on my face as well as the attendees. This staff has an uncanny way of anticipating almost every need. This is why many of my groups are booked here through 2020.”
The combination of 315,000 sf of meeting space, 1,639 guest rooms with 200 suites, a distinctive collection of resort-style amenities and the convenient location across from and directly connected to the Orange County Convention Center make Hyatt Regency Orlando an unrivaled destination for meetings and events of all sizes.
As a spokesperson for Hyatt Regency Orlando explains, the hotel was built upon decades of meetings experience, and offers meeting planners flexibility to create success in any space.
“Whether you’re hosting an executive meeting or elaborate convention, our team is able to harness all of these strengths to ensure your attendees have access to all the action yet feel like they are in a world all their own,” he says.
Each year Hyatt Regency Orlando hosts more than 2,500 events with 1 million total attendees annually.
The Hyatt Regency recently hosted Symantec’s Worldwide Sales & Marketing event, which brought together 2,400 employees from around the globe.
“The Hyatt Orlando by far exceeded our expectations,” says Ashely King, senior global event manager for Mountain View, California-based Symantec. “The venue also has functional meeting space that is large enough to host a large group like Symantec yet provides an intimate feeling.”
“Additionally, the Hyatt staff was extremely customer-oriented and went above and beyond to help us achieve our program goals.” — Ashely King
In addition to fully customizable space, including 26 contiguous pillar-free ballrooms named from Regency A to Z, the hotel offers state-of-the-art technology and audio-visual services, and exceptional catering.
The spokesperson explains, “We’ve transformed our meeting space to host concerts featuring national acts, lively marketplaces and an extravagant circus-themed gala; and, we utilize networking niches throughout the hotel to enhance events both large and intimate to create engagement opportunities for attendees that extend beyond the ballroom.”
Symantec traditionally has hosted their annual sales conference in Las Vegas due to its group size. But as King explains, the Hyatt Orlando provided an opportunity for change and was very well received by the attendees and executive management team.
“While we did not have all sleeping rooms at the Hyatt, the Hyatt sales staff was instrumental in coordinating with our overflow hotels to ensure a seamless planning and onsite experience,” King says. “Additionally, the Hyatt staff was extremely customer-oriented and went above and beyond to help us achieve our program goals. Our favorite part was two-fold: Working with the staff who had a true desire to deliver a customized event experience for Symantec, and working in a destination outside of Vegas, which opened up fresh options for off-property events.”
Walt Disney World Resort offers planners everything they need to create unforgettable events. Just ask Erica Alatorre, senior meeting planner at SocialMedia.org in Austin, Texas. Alatorre planned the company’s Brands-Only Summit held in October 2014 at Walt Disney World Resort.
“We like to look at this event as the conference, festival and family reunion for social media leaders at really big companies,” Alatorre says. “There are three things that distinguish this event from any other social media conference: it’s invite-only, brands-only and off-limits to vendors.”
As Alatorre explains, when SocialMedia.org decided they wanted to have a big annual meeting, Disney World was the first place that came to mind.
“We already knew we wanted our Brands-Only Summit to be over-the-top amazing, so it was only fitting to have this event at a venue that was just that,” Alatorre says. “It’s not your standard hotel. There’s plenty of space for breakouts and keynote sessions without feeling like you’re stuck in a generic convention center. And most importantly, we pride ourselves on giving attendees a great experience by following some simple core values: We run on time, we offer the right food and beverage for everyone, attendees never wait in line, and attendees never see setup/teardown. These values cannot be met without the help and support of the venue. The great folks at Grand Floridian Resort and Spa understood our willingness to amaze and were on board with all of our values.”
A complete city in its own right, Walt Disney World covers more than 40 square miles. Here planners will find six convention resorts and another 10 resorts for overflow and more than 700,000 sf of flexible space.
“After meetings are over, there are four world-famous theme parks and two nighttime entertainment districts,” says a spokesperson for Walt Disney World Resort. Walt Disney World also is a sporting paradise with three championship golf courses, lakes for boating and fishing, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which is home to professional and amateur sporting events.
“More than facilities, a meeting or event at Disney opens the door to an array of exclusive Disney Difference benefits, including private events in the Disney theme parks, powerful programs content by the Disney Institute and premier creative resources from the Disney Event Group,” says the spokesperson.
Personalization is key for many companies looking to host offsite events, and SocialMedia.org is no exception. “We are more than just a community, it’s a family,” Alatorre says. “By having everyone together at Disney spending their days and evenings together really embraces that family atmosphere we strive for. With this being our big annual meeting, we wanted it also to be somewhere that was family-friendly. And it also gives us the opportunity to make our members feel special. Where else can they say they rode Toy Story Mania with fellow SocialMedia.org members after the park closed? We go the extra mile when it comes to our members. We genuinely care for them. Disney has that same feeling toward their guests.”
Universal Orlando Resort has announced a new groundbreaking attraction opening in summer 2016 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. “Skull Island: Reign of Kong” will honor one of the most monumental figures in movie history, King Kong.
The 1,000-room Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando is scheduled to open in the summer of 2016 with more than 131,000 sf of meeting space. The property will be located near the Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which is set to complete expansion of its meeting space from 85,000 sf to about 140,000 sf this fall.
Universal Orlando Resort announced plans for a new water theme park called Volcano Bay, which will join Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure and in 2017 become the resort’s third immersive park. According to Universal Orlando, Volcano Bay will offer radically innovative, thrilling attractions, peaceful moments of relaxation and an inspired guest experience that will forever change the perception of water-theme parks. It will be set in a highly themed, completely immersive environment inspired by postcard-perfect tropical islands.
The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel is undergoing a $125 million multiphased renovation, the largest makeover in its history. The project includes every guest room in the 758-room Swan Hotel and the 1,509-room Dolphin Hotel. The makeover will be completed by the end of 2017 and will not disrupt service or the availability of the majority of guest rooms and meeting rooms.
MyMagic+, which is taking the Walt Disney World Resort experience to an all-new level, makes it easier than ever for attendees to customize and personalize their time at the resort. An important part of MyMagic+ is the My Disney Experience website and app that lets attendees start planning before they even leave home. They can reserve access to select attractions and shows in advance with the enhanced Disney FastPass+ service, book dining reservations and more.
The innovative MagicBand links the entire MyMagic+ experience. This colorful wristband is actually an all-in-one device that effortlessly connects the attendee to all the choices made through My Disney Experience. The MagicBand lets guests travel lighter throughout their stay: It unlocks the hotel room, allows entrance to the theme parks, and buys food and merchandise. Plus, the MagicBand gives FastPass+ access to all the experiences already selected online, so guests can simply concentrate on enjoying the fun after meetings are over. C&IT