FloridaJanuary 23, 2024

New Hotels, Venues, Attractions Increasing the Sunshine State’s Appeal By
January 23, 2024


New Hotels, Venues, Attractions Increasing the Sunshine State’s Appeal
Downtown Miami. Courtesy of GMCVB

Downtown Miami. Courtesy of GMCVB

At first blush, an event organizer might bring a corporate meeting or incentive program to Florida for its warm weather and variety of destinations to choose from. Whether groups are suited to theme parks in Orlando, nightlife in Miami or sun worshipping on the West Coast, the Sunshine State meets those needs.

But now, Florida’s story has been made even more compelling for meetings and incentives. Expanded event venues, new hotel construction and renovation, as well as the introduction of attractions and entertainment options are boosting the state’s event infrastructure and appeal for attendees.


The massive Orange County Convention Center is getting bigger. Funding of $560 million for a 140,000-sf expansion was approved by the County in 2023. Still being designed, the new space at the North-South building will include an 80,000-sf ballroom and another 60,000 sf of meeting space. Construction is expected to take three years.

Meanwhile, building officials are pursuing capital for another expansion that would add a 200,000-sf multi-purpose venue to the North-South building. No timeline is in place for that project but when the two developments are completed, the North-South building will have 1.15 million sf of exhibit space.

At Universal Orlando’s Loews Hotels complex — which is comprised of eight properties — two new production stages debuted this year: one offers 17,500 sf of usable space while the other has 12,500. Situated between Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure, the stages give planners options for a unique dining space and after-hours events.

Plus, Universal’s Great Movie Escape at Universal CityWalk offers two adventures inspired by the Jurassic World and Back to the Future films — each providing eight immersive environments with state-of-the-art challenges and detailed sets, allowing groups to step into blockbuster movies for fun experiences or team building.

Planner Marc Farrugia, chief administrative officer, Sun Communities & Sun Outdoors, brought a group of 750 attendees to Loews Sapphire Falls Resort (one of the Universal properties) for a leadership conference last year, and has used Loews Universal properties before.

He had nothing but praise for the hotel, noting the staff’s great service and the property’s cleanliness. Overall, he said, “It is one of the best conference hotels we’ve ever used.”

Loews Sapphire Falls Resort’s meeting space is easy to navigate and designed to support the latest meeting technology, and the event management staff is “second to none,” Farrugia noted. Department heads consistently checked in with him to ensure that everything ran smoothly.

Food wise, Farrugia was similarly impressed. Banquet menus are designed by experienced chefs and dishes feature locally-sourced ingredients. Additionally, the staff was on top of accommodating dietary restrictions and focused on meeting guests’ food quality expectations.

Elements of the venue’s structure were a benefit too. “With more rigging points than most venues have, we’re able to execute an event that leverages large-scale LED walls to create visually stunning general sessions,” he added.

In short, Farrugia said, Sun Communities & Sun Outdoors chose Loews Sapphire Falls Resort because the company has built a relationship with the Universal Orlando team. That connection has helped the organization’s budget. “We work well together and having repeat events at the venue has made execution of our event more efficient. We’ve saved some expense, and the quality of our event increases each year.”

Event attendees seemed to agree with Farrugia’s glowing praise, rating their satisfaction with conference facilities at last year’s event 4.85 out of 5. Said Farrugia, “This is the highest rating we’ve received from our attendees across all venues we’ve used in prior years.”

At the Caribe Royale Orlando, a $140 million renovation is underway, while other upgrades recently were completed. This month, the 1,337-room property will open Stadium Club, a 9,000- sf, two-floor entertainment destination featuring eight pro-level sports simulators by Full Swing Golf, two 165-inch XHD projector displays, two bars and four venue buy-out areas for groups, including the SkyBox with a virtual reality suite.

The complex, which can host up to 500 people for a private buy out, delivers Caribe Royal’s eighth dining concept, being developed with celebrity chefs Janine Booth and Jeff McInnis. The culinary duo previously created Root & Bone, which has an outpost in Miami and other locations in the U.S. and Canada. Highlights of the Stadium Club menu include the chefs’ famous sweet tea brined fried chicken and Philly cheesesteak sliders with braised beef brisket.

Also set to open in the early part of this year at the property is a number of sport options, including two pickleball courts, half-court basketball and more.

Last fall, Caribe Royale added The Grove, a 19,000-sf palm tree-lined green space that accommodates up to 1,500 people for an outdoor reception. In total, the property has an expansive 240,000 sf of meeting space, including a new 50,000-sf ballroom.

The Rosen Centre Hotel is one of the most unique hotels on Orlando’s International Drive. And now is even better thanks to new, redesigned VIP suites with an impressive view of the city, perfect for corporate and incentive planners looking to combine business and pleasure. In all, the Rosen Centre has 150,000-plus sf of creative, dedicated high-tech meeting space, along with exceptional, personalized banquet and dining services. The property is connected by skybridge to the Orange County Convention Center, itself the second largest such facility in the U.S.

Faruggia is clearly a fan of Orlando. “Orlando has an extensive list of amenities and activities to offer planners and attendees. It has incredible options for shopping — whether it be finding great deals at any of Orlando’s several outlet malls, high-end shopping at traditional malls, or locating unique souvenirs from theme parks and resorts.”

He continued, “I think another benefit to meeting planners is that Orlando is a hospitality-focused city. It has the infrastructure to support transportation logistics for large groups. The people ‘live and breathe’ hospitality and are incredibly well-equipped to host events of all types, such as incentive trips and corporate meetings. There is no shortage of entertainment venues, unique dining experiences, themed resorts, high-end resorts, etc. Orlando literally has something for everyone.”


In Miami, where celebrities come to play and there are diverse cultures — the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau reports that several hotels are debuting or renovating. Opening in 2026, the 800-room Grand Hyatt Miami Beach Hotel & Convention Center will feature a whopping 90,000 sf of indoor meeting space plus another 10,000 sf outdoors. Adjacent to the Miami Beach Convention Center, the hotel will emphasize sustainability.

The legendary 1,504-room Fontainebleau Miami Beach renovated its all-suite Trésor Tower while the Hilton Cabana Miami Beach Resort redid all 231 rooms last year. The 40-year old InterContinental Miami, the city’s Bayfront icon that lies along the downtown waterfront and was built around Henry Moore’s famous sculpture, “The Spindle,” re-did its 653 guest rooms. The club lounge also underwent a $36 million redesign. From exquisite Pan-Latin flavors and rooftop elegance overlooking Biscayne Bay to one of the best breakfasts in Miami, attendees won’t need to go far for renowned dining. And speaking of good food, bolstering Miami’s restaurant scene, celebrity chef Daniel Boulud updated his Boulud Sud location at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami while Top Chef contestant CJ Jacobson brought an outpost of Mediterranean chain Aba to Bal Harbour. Also, Rum Room opened at the Convention Center last year, replacing the Carl Fisher Clubhouse. The spot offers contemporary food and drinks from a rotating roster of local chefs.

For groups looking to create monumental moments, the iconic, stylish and luxurious Trump National Doral Miami is one of Miami’s legendary golf resorts with breathtaking views. Conveniently located eight miles from Miami International Airport, Trump National Doral Miami is infused with the Trump standard of excellence.

Boasting four championship golf courses, among them the legendary Blue Monster, the prestigious Trump National Doral Miami offers various recreational spaces, the Royal Palm Pool with 18 cabanas and a 125-ft slide, the brand new Har-Tru tennis courts and a clubhouse — the hub of the resort.

With more than 100,000 sf of Miami event space options, like the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom, 643 exquisitely appointed accommodations, and premier dining at BLT Prime, Champions Bar & Grill and Palm Grill. The 48,000-sf The Trump Spa creates an oasis for attendees to rejuvenate after a day of meetings and gatherings.

Fort Lauderdale | Hollywood

Just a short distance from Miami is Fort Lauderdale. The city is famous for its beaches, arts, culture and events. Meeting planners looking to create memorable experiences for their attendees will find a plethora of tours and activities at a variety of historical landmarks, which adds a charming and distinctive tropical touch to meetings.

One of the most iconic landmarks is Las Olas Boulevard, which is lined with stores and restaurants of all kinds serving all tastes or the famous wave wall on Fort Lauderdale beach. Greater Fort Lauderdale also has an eclectic food scene, acclaimed restaurants dotting restaurant row on Las Olas Boulevard include YOLO (because “you only live once”), Louie Bossi’s and Lobster Bar Sea Grille. Lively lounges and cafés with sidewalk seating provide the perfect places for people-watching and colorful nightlife. Attendees can take a tour of Fort Lauderdale’s oldest and most historically significant surviving structure, the Historic Stranahan House Museum, or walk in the magical estate, Bonnet House Museum and Gardens.

The Omni Fort Lauderdale will be opening in late Fall 2025 in the heart of Fort Lauderdale, and is accepting group booking requests for 2026 and beyond. Giving the city a group selling point, Omni Fort Lauderdale will connect to the Broward County Convention Center, which is undergoing an expansion that will add over 525,000 sf of function space for a total of 1.2 million sf. Significant upgrades to the building’s technology are also planned.

Once completed, the hotel will offer 801 guest rooms and suites, along with over 120,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event spaces that include pre-function space with waterfront views. Attendees will enjoy Floridian-Caribbean comfort food at the Mangrove Pool Bar & Grill or all-day dining at Hidden Key. During the day, they can pop into Sand Bar Lobby Lounge or relax on IBIS Rooftop Lounge, take a dip in the pool, browse the retail outlets or venture to Mokara Spa for an indulgent massage.

Known as The Guitar Hotel, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, is truly an architectural marvel that redefines the South Florida skyline. With 638 luxury guest rooms and suites, and designed to resemble back-to-back guitars, complete with guitar faces and brightly lit strings — this masterpiece reaches 450 feet into the sky, outfitted with floor-to-ceiling glass panes.

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino offers event spaces for small gatherings and large-scale events. Equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual facilities, no doubt, their venues will certainly leave a lasting impression on attendees.

The Palm Beaches

The Palm Beaches has much to crow about. America’s first resort destination is home to world-class dining and some of the best golf, spa and events in South Florida. According to the official tourism marketing corporation for the county, “The diversity of options for planning a meeting in the Palm Beaches are seemingly endless.” The county has over 18,000 guest rooms at 200 hotels, 1 million sf of meeting space to choose from and two walkable downtown meetings districts featuring dining, entertainment, cultural and wellness options.

Their inspiring oceanfront event venues, resorts and restaurants share the stage with vibrant communities and breathtaking natural beauty — ideal for attendees looking for a memorable experience.

On the hotel front, Hilton Singer Island Oceanfront Palm Beaches Resort is set to unveil a renovation of its 223 guest rooms this year, as well as its meeting space, dining concepts and public spaces. It will reopen as The Singer Oceanfront Resort.

Hilton West Palm Beach revealed a $25 million facelift last year, with spruce ups of its 400 guest rooms and four restaurants, plus new wellness activities. Attendees are within a 15-minute drive of Port of Palm Beach and The Square — one of its downtown’s dining, arts, entertainment and shopping havens. This 4-star hotel is 0.2 miles from Palm Beach County Convention Center and half a mile from Clematis Street — the city’s heart — which is surrounded by four walkable, diverse historical districts.

Palm Beach Airport is also undergoing a multi-million renovation that will add a 3,000-sf restaurant and even a sensory room to create a calming space for travelers with autism, among other enhancements.

Tampa Bay | St. Petersburg

Some of America’s award-winning, “sugar-sand” beaches can be found along the coast of Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg. Downtown St. Pete is home to the world-renowned Salvador Dali Museum with the largest collection of Dali’s work outside of Spain. There, attendees can find top-rated restaurants, the beautiful Fort De Soto Park and the Chihuly Collection on Central Avenue to witness mind-blowing glasswork.

With so many things to do — from dining to entertainment, the waterfront escape is the perfect getaway for attendees after a day of meetings.

In Tampa Bay, Koya, Lilac and Rocca restaurants their first-ever Michelin stars last year. The eateries, respectively, offer food that’s Japanese; Greek and Turkish influenced, from Michelin-starred John Fraser; and Italian.

Meanwhile in 2023, the Tampa Convention Center added 18,000 sf of space during a $38 million upgrade, and the Epicurean Hotel, a ‘foodie-centric’ property within Marriott’s Autograph Collection, has undergone a $21 million expansion that adds 51 guest rooms and a 1,138-sf rooftop terrace that can host up to 130 people, with 44 seated guests. The main hotel has 137 rooms and 5,200 sf of meeting space.

Visit Tampa Bay sees itself as more than a destination marketing organization because it actively engages with community leaders across various sectors. Those connections are advantageous for event professionals when they seek local expertise. For example, the destination marketing organization recently facilitated a visit from Water Street Tampa at a large financial services organization’s conference that was focused on sustainability.

The Pink Palace of St. Pete Beach, aka The Don CeSar — which gets its nickname from its pink exterior — completed a multi-year, multimillion renovation in 2021. It features 38,000 sf of meeting space and unique activity offerings, like moonlight kayaking, dolphin watch excursions and more. A member of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America, The Don CeSar has 277 guest rooms.

Meeting planner Haley Brust, senior account executive, Talley Management, has brought three groups of up to 325 attendees to The Pink Palace recently because it is “a stunning hotel in a great location with many amenities.” The area surrounding the hotel features many restaurants and stores selling items at a wide range of prices, which can’t always be found in other destinations.

Continuity with the staff also is key, she said. “We keep coming back because I trust the sales team and Don CeSar team members. The longevity of the staff is a plus; we know them and they know us.”

From a meetings perspective, she noted, “The Don CeSar boasts amazing function space with natural light and beautiful outdoor space. With its four retail shops, five restaurants, Uncle Andy’s marketplace, two pools and on-site water sports, the Don CeSar encourages our attendees to make the most of their stay.”

In terms of cost and convenience, she said, flights into Tampa International Airport are reasonable and plentiful while the drive to, or from the airport is short, making it convenient for fliers to drive or hire a car, which comes at a fair price given the short distance.

Gulf Coast

Along the Gulf Coast is Sanibel, where pastel colored shells from the Gulf of Mexico wash up while the golf courses, fishing and boating are reportedly in a league of their own. In fact, Sanibel Island is home to J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which houses endangered species and 6,000 acres of mangrove jungles and wetlands.

Overlooking the island is the Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa, where a renovation of the property’s 45,000 sf of meeting space — indoor and outdoor — was done last year. The hotel features 278 guest rooms and all six of the hotel’s restaurants have been refreshed as well.  The Courtside Steakhouse is an OpenTable 2023 Diner’s Choice Award Winner.

Additionally, following damage caused by Hurricane Ian in 2022, the property’s 40,000-sf spa was upgraded last year. The facility has new recreation options, including eight pickle ball courts and three tennis courts.

Emerald Coast

The Emerald Coast got its name for its clear, emerald-green water and sugar-white sands. But it is actually the coastal area on the Gulf of Mexico that stretches about 100 miles of sandy beaches and five counties: Santa Rosa, Escambia, Okaloosa, Walton and Bay. The most popular destinations there include Pensacola Beach, Destin and Panama City Beach.

The Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in South Walton, near Destin, has become an unforgettable venue for countless attendees. Last year, it underwent a $35 million renovation, refurbishing all 590 guest rooms, guest floor hallways and design elements of its 60,000-sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space. Additionally, the property’s six restaurants were refreshed, and their outdoor spaces, which include three connecting expansive beachfront decks, offer planners a variety of food choices and events right on the sand with the most fantastic views in Florida.

“Florida is a safe destination that offers rich cultural diversity and culinary experiences,” concluded Farrugia.

Beyond enchanting parks, innovative outdoor events and a healthy dose of sunshine, blue skies and fresh, salty waters, Florida is the perfect destination for planners because there’s an endless array of hotel types, welcoming convention centers and activity choices for attendees. Besides, everything is better by the beach — meetings and events included. C&IT

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