Orlando is known for its world-class theme parks, but for corporate and incentive meeting planners, Orlando also means world-class meetings infrastructure and services guaranteed to draw burgeoning numbers of international attendees. In fact, according to Business Review USA and Visit Orlando, 83 percent of meeting professionals say attendance spikes when meetings rotate to Orlando. Visit Orlando reports that among the record 72 million annual visitors to Orlando recorded in 2017, Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center welcomed an unprecedented 1.53 million attendees.
When Christine Gilmore, meeting planner and vice president of training at Bell Partners Inc. was planning to teach a daylong training session in April 2018, she chose Orlando as the destination for attendees. Specifically she selected DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld to host the event. “The hotel is really nicely renovated,” Gilmore says. “They have a beautiful meeting space and outdoor space. It is a great balance of the functional part of having a meeting and a relaxing atmosphere while you almost feel like you are on vacation.”
The location of DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando means guests can enjoy staying in the Downtown Disney Resort Area. The facility’s strong reputation for highly personalized service makes the hotel attractive to meeting planners, and is what keeps bringing them back. 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.
The team at Bell Partners was so pleased with the attention to detail and overall collaborative nature of the staff at the DoubleTree, that they have booked the company’s upcoming annual leadership conference, with more than 500 attendees expected, at the hotel.
“They are always very responsive and have the attitude of, ‘the answer is yes. What is the question?’ ”
— Christine Gilmore
Gilmore is not alone in her selectivity as it relates to Orlando. More and more meeting and event planners are turning to Orlando as a preeminent meeting location, and for meeting attendees, Orlando leaves nothing to be desired.
Orlando leads the pack for a variety of reasons, according to Visit Orlando, including affordability, accessibility, quality and variety of facilities, alongside the unforgettable experiences attendees enjoy.
Jane Scaletta, general manager at AlliedPRA Orlando, notes that the city never stops changing.
“One of the main reasons planners choose Orlando is because they can return with a program year after year and there is always something new and exciting to offer.”
— Jane Scaletta
What’s more, Orlando is the perfect fit for any meeting, incentive, convention or event because of the non-stop air travel from over 100 cities into Orlando, along with the near perfect weather of 65–75 degrees during the winter months, and the wide variety of offsite venues and restaurant choices at affordable prices. And better yet, Orlando is still considerably cost-effective compared to other large cities of this size.
According to Scaletta, Orlando has the second largest convention center and offers the second highest number of hotel rooms in the country.
“Also due to the location, we were able to really integrate some of our world-class theme park elements and entertainment that make Orlando so special,” Scaletta says.
What most people may not know is that Orlando hosts 40 percent of the HCEA (Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association) top 50 largest medical meetings and is quickly being known as the medical meetings hub of America.
“While we have the large convention center and lots of hotels rooms, we also have intimate and boutique hotels to handle smaller meetings,” Scaletta says. “We have restaurants that cater to smaller groups with private dining rooms, like Ceviche downtown and Mango’s Tropical Café, Tapa Toro, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House and Café Tu Tu Tango on International Drive, and Urbain 40 and Rocco’s Tacos in (the) Dr. Phillips area.”
As a constantly evolving destination, Orlando entices meeting and event attendees to return time and again.
For instance, Disney Springs has added intelligent parking garages, along with new shops and restaurants. One of Scaletta’s favorites is the newly opened 1920s-era The Edison, which exudes an “industrial Gothic” feel. Also the Wine Bar George is expected to be popular with more than 100 selections of wine by the bottle.
“With regards to hotels, Orlando is growing with many new hotels being built,” Scaletta says. The new Margaritaville is opening along with a new dining and entertainment district and 12-acre water park. What’s more, in August, Universal Orlando Resort is opening Aventura Hotel at Universal with a 16-story glass tower of 600 guest rooms and the first-ever rooftop bar and grill in Universal, Bar 17 Bistro.
DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld recently unveiled new state-of-the-art event spaces and services. Located at SeaWorld Orlando, the resort renovated guest rooms and public areas, and added a wealth of welcoming outdoor lawn spaces to enjoy Orlando’s beautiful weather. The hotel features 100,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space, which includes three conference centers each with their own ballrooms. The recent renovations resulted in the new 20,000-sf Majestic Ballroom, and the new outdoor Palm Promenade, which offers four distinct event spaces and a covered pavilion.
Rosen Hotels & Resorts’ three convention properties — the 1,501-room AAA Four Diamond Rosen Shingle Creek, the 1,334-room Rosen Centre Hotel and the 800-room Rosen Plaza Hotel — offer a combined 700,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space with flexibility for all types of events. For instance, Rosen Shingle Creek boasts 99 breakout rooms of all sizes.
According to Leslie Menichini, vice president, sales and marketing, Rosen Hotels & Resorts, “We can accommodate from the most intimate group of 10 to more than 9,000 in our 95,000-sf column-free Gatlin Ballroom. Being independently owned, we have the freedom to work with a planner to create the most unique experiences while keeping budget constraints in mind. We’re always up for a challenge,” she says.
Rosen Hotels & Resorts recently completed an ultramodern upgrade of Rosen Centre, including all of its 1,334 guest rooms and suites. Rosen Plaza, which is connected to the newly renovated Orange County Convention Center, also recently completed refurbishments of all 800 guest rooms and suites, and Rosen Shingle Creek recently refreshed its 1,501 guest rooms and the grand lobby with contemporary furnishings. The Shingle Creek Golf Club now features a newly redesigned championship course by Arnold Palmer Design Company. All three hotels recently have installed Sonifi Solutions in-room entertainment, which includes interactive TV options and streaming via Staycast. The system also will provide a new group messaging system, allowing planners to send mass messages, photos and video to their entire room block.
Space is also top of mind for planners who select the all-suite Caribe Royale Orlando, which features 29 breakout rooms, the 40,000-sf Grand Sierra Ballroom and the additional 26,000-sf Caribbean Ballroom within its Grand Caribe Convention Center. The resort’s standard suites are perfect residences for attendees, and the fully outfitted villas, located near the conference center, can provide extra meeting space as needed. And the facility’s new Island Spa, two-story fitness center and paved running and bike trail will appeal to those looking for a break from other activities.
And while Caribe Royale Orlando offers flexible meeting space, the same can be said for The Grove Resort & Spa Orlando, which offers indoor and outdoor meeting venues for groups of up to 125 people. Set on Lake Austin, amid a portion of Central Florida’s conservation grounds, the resort is a sanctuary from the boisterous pace of the theme park areas. Recently, The Grove Resort & Spa Orlando enhanced its family-centric appeal by opening its Surfari Water Park, which features waterslides, a winding lazy river and a dual-rider surf simulator. Perfect for meeting attendees who bring their families, Surfari Water Park is set on its own parcel of the 106-acre resort, separate from The Grove’s three existing swimming pools.
Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek also embraces the natural beauty of the surrounding area. Situated on 482 acres of nature preserve, the resort-style hotel boasts nearly 132,000 sf of flexible meeting and function space, including four ballrooms and 44 high-tech breakout rooms. Planners also can take advantage of stunning and unique outdoor venues including a pavilion with sweeping views of waterways and the golf course. When it’s time to take a break from work and enjoy some play time, Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek offers a relaxing lazy river, glorious spa and Rees Jones-designed championship golf course.
Nearby, Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace features 108,000 sf of modern event space. The newly renovated property offers state-of-the-art technology and is a mere 10 minutes from the Orange County Convention Center. In addition, the resort features the Disney Institute, which allows meeting planners to access programs, speakers and behind-the-scenes tours. What’s more, a meeting’s entertainment can be significantly enhanced with the available stage shows and character appearances.
Considered one of the largest meeting properties in the Orlando area, the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate recently underwent a $40 million expansion, which added 100,000 sf of event lawn and conference center space at the Osceola Conference Center. The 862-room resort now offers a total of 248,111 sf of indoor-outdoor meeting and event space. The new Grand Salon Ballroom, designed particularly for galas and special events, boasts a new porté cochere for private arrivals, an expansive new ballroom, and a delightful terrace with a fireplace, promenade, patio space, event gardens and grand event lawn.
The resort’s self-automated business center means that meeting professionals and attendees can have access 24 hours a day.
And in this era of “doing good and giving back,” to help companies further their philanthropic and sustainable giving initiatives, Omni is working to end hunger in America by contributing one meal per actualized reservation, allowing companies to give back for each attendee who stays at the resort.
When not attending a work or meeting event, attendees can enjoy the resort’s 15 acres of pools, including the newly expanded pool deck and recreational space, 36 holes of championship golf and Orlando’s only resort wave pool, lazy river and nine restaurants.
Being connected to the country’s second-largest convention center makes Hyatt Regency Orlando a perfect locale to work some and play some. Not only can attendees move seamlessly from the resort’s state-of-the-art Orlando convention space to the Orange County Convention Center via a skywalk, but the hotel features more than 315,000 sf of event space including five ballrooms, 105 breakout rooms and an awe-inspiring 56,000-sf rotunda.
If getting away from it all while still having access to the myriad of Orlando theme parks sounds appealing, Reunion Resort may be the perfect retreat for an upcoming corporate meeting or event. Situated on 2,300 rolling acres, Reunion Resort features championship golf and recreation aplenty. The resort, which offers a variety of accommodations including one-, two- and three-bedroom villas plus vacation rental homes, also boasts 25,000 sf of meeting and event space, as well as a Grande Event Pavilion, complete with stunning views and a luxurious waterfall.
Universal Orlando Resort’s five onsite hotels — Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort — offer a total of 5,600 guest rooms. Meeting attendees can enjoy convenient access to a myriad of event options at Hard Rock Live, Universal CityWalk and all of the Universal Orlando theme park amenities. And when it’s time to get down to work, the Loews Meeting Complex offers more than 295,000 sf of meeting and event space indoors and another 97,000 sf of outdoor space, as well as an expansive business center. The complex connects the meeting space at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort and Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
Universal recently introduced Fast & Furious Supercharged at Universal Studios Florida. In addition, Universal’s new Volcano Bay water park offers new ways for meeting attendees and their families to beat the heat.
Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is synonymous with exceptional event experiences, thanks in part to its expansive meeting facilities and ideal location between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and nearby Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. Comprised of two distinct hotels, the Swan and the Dolphin boast a combined 330,000 sf of meeting space. The resort also has recently completed a $140 million renovation, giving the convention space, Dolphin hotel lobby and the resort’s guest rooms a major facelift. Guests of the hotel enjoy special access to extended theme park hours, character encounters and more.
New and upcoming at Walt Disney World Resort are Pandora — The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom, featuring the exhilarating 3-D ride Avatar Flight of Passage; the Frozen Ever After attraction in Epcot; Star Wars: Galaxy Edge, opening in 2019 in Disney’s Hollywood Studios; and the Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster in Epcot, which will be one of the world’s longest enclosed coasters when it opens in time for Disney’s 50th anniversary in 2021.
If golf is the draw for meeting attendees, the Villas of Grand Cypress features 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature-designed golf, including a new Scottish links course, and a 21-acre Academy of Golf training center. Accommodating groups of up to 240 meeting attendees, the Villas of Grand Cypress’ 7,200-sf Mediterranean-style Executive Meeting Center features meeting rooms that surround an open atrium overlooking a scenic garden terrace. Because of its beautiful locale, the 1,500-acre property also boasts 10,500 sf of outdoor event space.
At the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek, the well-appointed lakefront hotel is equipped to handle business functions, from board meetings and large conferences to corporate fundraisers and trade shows. It’s been two years since the Wyndham added approximately 6,000 sf of meeting space to its facilities for a total of 32,000 sf of meeting and event space. Located on the banks of a beautiful 10-acre lake, Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek offers peaceful surrounds — the perfect backdrop for productive, yet enjoyable events. The Bonnet Creek area, also home to Hilton Bonnet Creek and The Waldorf Astoria Orlando, will welcome a new JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek resort with 50,000 sf of meeting space in early 2020. C&IT