Florida boasts eight cities in the Cvent top 50 meeting destinations in the United States including the No. 1 Orlando. These top 50 cities were ranked as the most popular among planners by Cvent, which evaluated more than 1,000 cities.
Miami was No. 4 and Kissimmee ranked No. 20. Hollywood (28), Fort Lauderdale (30), Tampa (32), Boca Raton (43), Jacksonville (47) and Naples (49) round out the favored Florida destinations.
From among these and many other Florida destinations, planning pros can choose from an array of diverse world-class meeting destinations ranging from Orlando’s theme parks and Miami’s nightlife to the Panhandle’s white sand beaches and the laidback Southwest Coast.
Collectively, the Sunshine State’s destinations offer meeting experiences that include sophisticated cities, small coastal towns, the Florida Keys and coastal islands. Properties range from five-star oceanfront resorts to downtown meeting hotels and small beachfront properties.
A standout for incentive retreats includes the 229-room Streamsong Resort, located about 85 miles south of Orlando on 16,000 acres of lakes, lagoons and dunes. The resort’s two championship golf courses, Streamsong Red and Streamsong Blue, will be joined by a third course, Streamsong Black, scheduled to open in fall 2017.
Streamsong is one of several properties that Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Baird, a wealth and asset management firm, has chosen over the years.
Ruben Rivas, event coordinator for Baird, says weather is the main reason why Baird has held meetings at Streamsong and other Florida destinations. “We have also hosted groups in Miami Beach, Bal Harbour and Palm Beach,” he says. “Being based out of the Midwest with a vast majority of our clients being East Coast-based, Florida is a natural draw for us and our clients looking to find some sun and warm temperatures as winter wears on our parts of the country.”
In addition, everything that comprises the “Streamsong experience” is why Rivas scheduled the recent event for its executives and clients at the resort. “Streamsong is on our go-to list for great client events,” says Rivas. “This is the fourth time that we have met there in recent memory. We are very familiar with the quality of experiences at Streamsong, starting with the world renowned golf and ending with fantastic guest amenities.”
Baird’s status as a loyal customer of Streamsong enables the company to obtain good value and concessions. “With an established relationship, we are fortunate to have some flexibility in pricing and the scheduling for our group to fit our often very specific time frames,” says Rivas.
Streamsong’s amenities also are a good fit for the group. “We love hosting dinner in the Wine Room at Restaurant 59,” says Rivas. “Our industry demands private dining and dinner, and that room has become a must. We typically do a light-hearted ‘roast’ of clients at dinner, and the staff is always accommodating,” he says.
Central Florida, notably No. 1 Orlando, continues to increase its variety of meeting experiences. In fact, Cvent’s annual list of the top meeting hotels in the United States includes 13 Orlando hotels, which is the most of any city. (Chicago boasts 10, and Las Vegas claims 9 hotels in the top 100.)
Theme Parks in Orlando contribute greatly to the popularity of the destination, and there is always something new to report. For example, Universal Orlando Resort is opening a new attraction this summer at its Universal Islands of Adventure. The King Kong-themed attraction, “Skull Island: Reign of Kong,” will honor the legendary giant gorilla. Guests aboard vehicles will fend off threats while exploring ancient temple structures.
This summer, Universal Orlando Resort will open its fifth onsite hotel — the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. The 1,000-room property, which is built around a lagoon and towering waterfall, will feature more than 115,000 sf of meeting space. The Caribbean-themed property will connect to Loews Royal Pacific Resort. The two properties combined will feature 247,000 sf of meeting space.
Meanwhile, Universal Orlando Resort’s CityWalk opened the first-ever NBC Sports Grill & Brew. The restaurant offers private dining rooms, about 100 HDTV screens, an inclusive menu and more than 100 beer brands. In addition, The Loews Royal Pacific Resort has expanded its meeting and event space from 85,000 sf to 132,000 sf.
At SeaWorld, the DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld plans to complete a multimillion-dollar renovation by the end of this year. The project includes a new 20,000-sf ballroom, new pool decks and 100,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space.
SeaWorld also plans to open Mako, a new 200-foot-tall roller coaster premiering this summer that will be Orlando’s tallest, fastest and longest coaster, going up to 73 miles per hour.
This year, Walt Disney World will complete the transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs. The project will double the number of restaurants, shops and other venues to more than 150 with a high-quality, diverse mix of retailers, entertainment, upscale restaurants and casual dining options. Planners may wish to check out the seven Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels, formerly known as the Downtown Disney Resort Area Hotels. These seven Official Walt Disney World Hotels are ideally located within an easy walk to more than 75 themed and immersive shopping, dining and entertainment venues at Disney Springs.
The Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels include B Resort & Spa with 394 new rooms and suites, and 25,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space; the 325-room Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel, overlooking scenic Lake Buena Vista and catering to the small meetings market, for events from 10–120; the 1,014-room Buena Vista Palace, offering 90,000 sf of convention and meeting space, a business center, and five restaurants and lounges; DoubleTree Suites by Hilton – Orlando Lake Buena Vista, newly renovated, featuring 229 two-room suites, and accommodating groups up to 125 guests in 3,500 sf of meeting space; the 814-room Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, providing 78,000 sf of contemporary meeting space, with 22 breakout rooms, an Executive Boardroom and outdoor patios; the 323-room Holiday Inn located in the Walt Disney World Resort, offering 11,000 sf of meeting and event space, including a ballroom that can seat 500; the 626-room Wyndham Lake Buena Vista, featuring 19,000 sf of meeting and banquet space serving groups of 10 to 1,200 guests.
The seven hotels also provide groups with many enticing Disney Meeting Advantages through their unique status as Official Walt Disney World Hotels. The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel recently redesigned the Swan hotel’s 758 guest rooms and plans to do the same for the Dolphin hotel’s 1,509 rooms. The Swan and Dolphin also upgraded the Wi-Fi technology in its convention space to offer reliable and fast Internet service that can accommodate the bandwidth needs of groups of more than 15,000 attendees. The resort offers more than 329,000 sf of meeting space.
Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek is expanding its meeting space by 7,000 sf. The project will offer larger and more flexible spaces adjacent to the resort building. Completion is set for May 2016.
The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa, Bonita Springs recently completed a two-stage renovation of all 36,000 sf of indoor meeting spaces.
This region of Florida, headlined by Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, offers a growing range of property options, including some of the state’s most popular resorts.
A planner in the financial securities industry who chose to remain anonymous held a meeting for 1,000 executives, employees and investors at the 511-room Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra, which is undergoing a resort-wide refreshment of the front desk area, hotel façade, pool area and the Sawgrass Spa and Cabana Beach Club.
The planner chose the Sawgrass Marriott because of the group’s increasing number of attendees. “They had outgrown the hotel venue used in previous years in (another city),” says the planner. “At the time our space requirements were two to three consecutive general sessions and 30 smaller sized breakout rooms. The meeting space at the Sawgrass fit perfectly.”
Room rates also were favorable. “We were looking for a Florida destination hotel that was equal to the rates we were getting,” says the planner. “The opportunity for a property buyout was the main reason we booked Sawgrass. The contract concessions were generous for our needs, and due to the fact that we had a property buyout, the service level exceeded expectations.”
Sawgrass’ golf courses also influenced the planner’s choice. “It has numerous options for a golf tournament, and our program included one for a small number of executives who were excited about the courses available in the area,” says the planner. “Executives raved about the Lagoon Course at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.”
The Sawgrass Marriott features several onsite venues for dinners and receptions, and the planner took full advantage. “We held a welcome reception in the Island Green Pavilion, the perfect size and setting for the event,” says the planner. “We set up a golf simulator outside on the deck overlooking the lake along with a person who rolled Cuban cigars.”
The meeting also included two “nightcap” events in the hotel lobby bar and Alice & Pete’s Pub. “The expansive and relaxed setting with the decks overlooking the water were very popular with attendees, not to mention the convenience of proximity to guest rooms.
Post-meeting feedback was glowing for several reasons. “The size and ease of getting to and from the Jacksonville airport was mentioned, along with the atmosphere of the property for a business meeting,” says the planner. “They said that the close proximity of general sessions to breakout rooms was a key along with very good food and amazing service levels.”
Jacksonville is home to the largest convention hotel between Atlanta and Orlando — The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, which provides 951 newly renovated guest rooms and more than 116,000 sf of meeting space. The property recently introduced it “Recharge Your Meetings” program offering healthful meeting breaks including yoga, Zumba and stretching instructions on the outdoor terrace; fitness lessons in the fitness center; and healthful food and beverage options.
Among other Jacksonville properties, The DoubleTree by Hilton Jacksonville Riverfront has opened following a $12 million renovation that included the lobby, meeting spaces, guest rooms and restaurant. The 293-room property features 12,000 sf of meeting space.
About 30 miles north of the Jacksonville airport, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort offers 80,000 sf of meeting space, including a new 16,825-sf ballroom. The conference center provides more than 13,000 sf of prefunction space and an 11,000-sf event lawn.
About 20 miles southeast of Jacksonville, the AAA Five Diamond Ponte Vedra Inn & Club will complete a multimillion-dollar renovation of its Ocean House accommodations in fall 2017. The property recently renovated its Peyton House accommodations, and oceanfront Surf Club, opened the new Tavern Lounge and upgraded its complementary Wi-Fi system.
South of Jacksonville, the 212-room Shores Resort and Spa in Daytona Beach Shores offers 20,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space including a 6,800-sf grand ballroom that can be divided into five meeting rooms. The property also offers more than 8,000 sf of rooftop meeting space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that provide grand views.
Also in Daytona Beach, Westin Hotels & Resorts will open its first-ever property in the destination when The Westin Daytona Beach Resort & Spa opens by the end of 2016 after a $20 million renovation. The 200-room property, located close to the Ocean Center, has 25,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
Palm Beach County is home to the only property in South Florida that is directly connected to a convention center. The new 21-story, 400-room Hilton West Palm Beach opened in January with 24,000 sf of meeting space and is connected to The Palm Beach County Convention Center.
The Boca Raton Resort & Club, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Palm Beach County, was an ideal fit for her group who met in Palm Beach County for the first time, says Kendra Murray, CMM, CIS, program manager for Bishop-McCann, a strategic meetings management company in Kansas City. “The overall value was great, and we had a favorable rate, which balanced out the food and beverage pricing,” says Murray. “The venue is spread out, but the meeting space was awesome and perfectly fit our agenda event pattern. The size of our group pretty much maxed out the space. The hotel also provided extra ground transportation to the beach and main resort buildings to ensure that attendees didn’t need to wait.”
The beach location and meeting spaces also were a good fit for the several on-property events. “We had a yacht club-themed welcome reception and awards dinner, a beach pool party and games with a deejay, and a ‘Love Boat’ theme celebration dinner with a band,” says Murray. “The agenda also included a general session with five keynote speakers, meetings and other events.”
Also in Palm Beach County, Eau Palm Beach was recognized as one of only six new hotels in the U.S. to be named one of Forbes Travel Guide’s 2016 Five Star Hotels. Launched in mid-2013, the re-envisioned Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa has quickly established itself as the preeminent authority on the modern Palm Beach lifestyle.
The resort boasts more than 30,000 sf of flexible space in 20 stylish locations. With group rates beginning at $159, planners can book a minimum of 10 guest rooms per night and receive the following: one hour complimentary beer and wine reception, including dry snacks; complimentary basic meeting space Wi-Fi; 10 percent off Eau Spa services; one per 50 complimentary room policy; two upgrades to Ocean Front Suites over the peak nights; two complimentary welcome amenities — chef’s selection. These perks are applicable to contracts signed by August 31, 2016 for travel until December 20, 2016.
Miami offers Latino-flavored urban chic, lively beaches, a throbbing nightlife and plenty of entertainment. No wonder the number of overnight visitors to Miami and the Beaches increased 5.4 percent during the 12 months from September 2014 to August 2015, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Miami also offers plenty of meeting space, led by the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC), which is undergoing a $500 million renovation and expansion. The project is scheduled for completion in 2018. The $615 million project includes plans for an adjacent headquarters hotel. Upon completion, the MBCC will have 505,000 sf of contiguous exhibit space, a newly added 60,000 sf Grand Ballroom and 59,000 sf of breakout space.
Among Miami’s properties, Turnberry Isle Miami, a 408-room Mediterranean-style resort with 40,000 sf of meeting space, recently premiered 241 renovated guest rooms and suites in the resort’s Magnolia and Jasmine buildings.
Just south of Miami, the Florida Keys, a 125-mile-long island chain featuring an array of venues from large corporate spaces to more intimate settings, is a great option for meeting and corporate retreat organizers. Planners will discover a variety of new activities to keep their groups comfortable and entertained throughout their island getaway including:
Groups at Key Largo’s private Ocean Reef Club can enjoy field trips and eco-kayak tours through their Nature Center and group activities at the property’s all-new cooking school, which accommodates cooking demonstrations, private parties and tasting events for up to 150 people. Meeting-goers also can participate in teambuilding events such as bingo night, bungee run, cardboard boat regatta, sand castle competitions and more.
The Ocean Reef Club features 36 holes of golf, a salon and spa, more than a dozen restaurants, a 175-slip marina and a private airport. The club boasts 30,000 sf of indoor meeting and function space as well as outdoor venues including two oceanfront pools and Lagoon Beach, which can accommodate up to 400 people. In addition, the property opened Carysfort Hall, a beautiful, modern meeting and function space designed to accommodate groups of up to 300 guests. The new space features a 5,688-sf ballroom, five additional meeting rooms and covered patios along the marina that are ideal for outside functions.
Scheduled to open in April 2016, Key Largo’s Playa Largo Resort will feature 167 luxury guest rooms, 10 private bungalows and a private beach house.
Additionally, the 14.5-acre property will feature more than 39,000 sf of meeting space with multiple inside and outside venues.
On the Southwest Coast, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa is phasing in enhancements. Phase one, already completed, includes a redesigned and enhanced lobby and grand front entrance, removal of the Islands Ballroom to make way for the new adult-only 94-room Lanai Tower. Upon completion of all three phases in 2017, the Marriott beachfront resort will offer 810 guest rooms and suites across three towers, and 100,000 sf of event space. The property also will include a 12,000-sf indoor entertainment zone.
The Northwest Gulf Coast is home to this region’s largest full-service beachfront resort hotel — The Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, which offers privileges at four championship Sandestin golf courses – Burnt Pine Golf Club, Baytowne Golf Club, The Links Course and Raven Golf club.
Mega-states such as Florida offer a greater variety of meeting destinations, which is why planners can bring the same group to the Sunshine State time after time and get totally different experiences. The options are endless for all types of groups. I&FMM