The Thing About Theme ParksAugust 23, 2021

An Abundance of Family Friendly Fun By
August 23, 2021

The Thing About Theme Parks

An Abundance of Family Friendly Fun
For Scentsy, the Walt Disney World Resort, with its abundance of themed activities, was the perfect place to host an incentive event. Photo courtesy of Eldon Gale

For Scentsy, the Walt Disney World Resort, with its abundance of themed activities, was the perfect place to host an incentive event. Photo courtesy of Eldon Gale

How better to celebrate the star performers on your team than with an incentive event or corporate meeting at a “fun in the sun” theme-park meeting destination? When your goal is to reward, relax and reset in a unique and innovative venue, theme-parks have it all: family friendly attractions, interactive outdoor adventures, safe animal encounters, plus plenty of food & beverage options to satisfy a variety of menu preferences and special dietary needs for any attendee.

Walt Disney Resorts

Attendees thinking theme parks don’t need to look any further than Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort. From a world cultures and cuisines showcase at Epcot, to celebrity interactions at Hollywood Studios, beach parties at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and wild animal sightings at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, meeting planners have a plethora of captivating entertainment possibilities for meetings and events. California’s Disneyland Resort offers similar thrills, chills and character interactions. “There’s no better place to ‘wow’ an attendee than a Disney theme park,” says Amy Pfeiffer, director of convention sales & services, Walt Disney World Resort. “One major advantage is that theme parks offer dozens of elaborately themed locations, which can be an enormous cost saving. Nothing says ‘special’ or ‘VIP’ to attendees more than having a world-famous Disney attraction or land privatized for them.” Pfeiffer assures meeting planners that “Disney Meetings & Events takes pride in being a trusted resource and uses a customized approach to enhance the in-person and digital experience.” For example, “Our creative services can include ‘Disney at Home’ touches, such as a customized, themed box of products to engage remote attendees before or during the meeting, professional development and content provided through Disney Institute and National Geographic, and shared interactive experiences and even gamification.”

At Walt Disney destinations, Disney’s beloved cast of characters are waiting to welcome planners and attendees to “The Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland, or “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” Disney World. And plans are well underway to kick the festivities up a notch in October with the launch of “The World’s Most Magical Celebration,” an 18-month celebration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Disney World. Another advantage of hosting meetings at Disney destinations, Pfeiffer adds, is that “Both resorts always have something new to offer, whether it’s amazing new attractions, festivals or seasonal entertainment,” and to mark the 50th anniversary, the parks will feature new experiences certain to enhance meeting attendance.

For Scentsy, the Walt Disney World Resort, with its abundance of themed activities, was the perfect place to host an incentive event. Photo courtesy of Eldon Gale

For Scentsy, the Walt Disney World Resort, with its abundance of themed activities, was the perfect place to host an incentive event. Photo courtesy of Eldon Gale

Eldon Gale, director of events for Scentsy, selected Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort for his company’s incentive meeting held in June. “We do a family incentive every five years, and Disney is a natural choice,” Gale says. “We chose Coronado Springs because it’s large enough to accommodate our entire group without using multiple hotels. It also helps that the resort was freshly remodeled in the last few years.” Currently, the resort features 220,000 sf of function space that includes 2,416 guest rooms with 64 suites, an 86,000-sf exhibit hall, and a boardroom for up to 24 attendees while 10 loading docks provide ease and convenience for truck access. Numerous on-site dining options — four full-service restaurants, three private dining rooms, six lounges, and four quick-service dining options — ensure guests will never go hungry.

Gale rates Scentsy’s experience with food & beverage at Coronado Springs as “very positive.” “Because of the restrictions required by COVID-19, we took a much less traditional approach,” he says. “Breakfast was grab and go. Everyone got a pre-made boxed breakfast with all the cold items, then they selected their hot item, juices, beverages, etc. It worked very smoothly. Our priority was time on the attractions in the park before it opened to the public, as well as avoiding long lines caused by delays from having to have all buffets served. Attendees were in and out and appreciated not having to sit down for a meal, but liked the option that they could if they wanted to.” When it came to his group’s evening events, “We kept things simple and served foods that fit the land where the attractions were — pop tarts, grilled cheese and tomato soup in Toy Story Land, etc. We also kept things very family friendly and easy to eat with your hands and on the go. We didn’t necessarily give Disney a chance to flex their culinary muscle, but they met our needs by being flexible and accommodating, and for me, that’s even more important.” Gale also mentions the resort’s transportation capability, another key concern for meeting planners moving large groups between venues. “We used the meeting space for queue lines for three large group moves to the parks. When I say large, I’m talking monumental. We moved 2,300 guests in 45 minutes. Having the space at the hotel to line people up really helped make this as smooth as possible.”

Attendees of the 1105 Media event look at the agenda wall at at Universal Orlando. Lotus Eyes Photography /

Attendees of the 1105 Media event look at the agenda wall at at Universal Orlando. Lotus Eyes Photography /

Though planning an event during COVID presented its own set of challenges, Gale cites the benefits as well. “As a traditional ‘resort program’ this one was very different for us,” he says. “Normally, we would host group meals and events at the resort in addition to time in theme parks. Because of the complexities brought on by COVID, we opted to not hold any events at the resort and instead hosted three private parties in the parks. One was an early morning event before the park opened, and the other two were after-hours parties. This gave our attendees the opportunity to experience the most popular attractions in the three busiest parks with virtually no lines, waiting or crowds, and allowed for plenty of social distancing without it feeling awkward. And having them in the morning and evening sure helped with the June heat.”

As a result of his group’s experience, Gale says, “We really lucked out with this one. Had we been contracted for any other location besides Disney for this program, I’m not confident we would have been able to move forward. Because Disney did such a good job of managing the pandemic for all guests, it gave us the confidence. As we got closer and closer to our event dates, restrictions continued to lift, which made the overall experience that much better. But even if all restrictions had remained in place, the program could have continued with very little disruption or inconvenience.” His best advice to event planners considering the property for group gatherings is to “Let Disney be Disney. Don’t try to change who they are to fit your needs. It’s best to maximize the experience they already do so well,” he says. “The more you try to reinvent the wheel, the more frustrating it will be for both sides. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask them to bring their ‘A’ game. They have so many incredible resources at their disposal that you really can create some fantastic experiences you could never attempt in other locations.”

As Gale also points out, having flexibility in meeting planning is key. “Pay attention to the weather and set realistic expectations for outdoor events. If you’re there in the summer [and most of my Florida events have been], you’re going to get extreme heat and most likely a fierce storm or two,” he says. “You could always get a lucky break, and I certainly have over the years, but I’ve also learned to be very flexible with planning and make sure your outdoor events can come inside without completely derailing your experience.” He suggests that planners looking to book in Disney World, “Start early and be flexible,” adding, “Disney is a large company, and the approval process can be complicated and long. Give yourself the time you need to get the best out of them, and give your best to the relationship, and you’ll have a successful event.” Despite the need to be flexible, especially due to the pandemic, Gale advises: “Don’t let this stifle your creativity. Use it as a springboard to do something different, something new, something you could not get away with in a normal setting. You might find that something different turns into a new standard with or without a pandemic at play.”

1105 Media chose Universal Orlando Resort to host a recent annual event. Pictured is the dessert luau at Loews Royal Pacific Resort for attendees and their families. Lotus Eyes Photography /

1105 Media chose Universal Orlando Resort to host a recent annual event. Pictured is the dessert luau at Loews Royal Pacific Resort for attendees and their families. Lotus Eyes Photography /

Universal Orlando Resort

Exceptional family fun entertainment also awaits meeting planners and guests at Universal Orlando’s three theme parks: Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventures and Volcano Bay. Star attractions feature thrilling Harry Potter escapades, a Jurassic Park River Adventure, and water and waves galore. Additionally, Universal CityWalk offers a complete dining and entertainment complex with customized options for meeting planners.

Universal Orlando’s resort hotels provide 295,000 sf of meeting space and 9,000 guest rooms. Convenient separate meeting entrances, private meeting planner offices, registration desks, ballrooms, banquet halls and business centers are among the many event amenities on site. In fact, “The amenities and great function space” is what draws Sara Ross, CMP, senior director of event operations at 1105 Media, to Loews Royal Pacific Resort — with overflow guest rooms at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort — year after year since 2012. Ross’ conference for developers and IT professionals typically number between 900 to 1,200 attendees. “As the event has grown, we have been able to add space — both guest rooms and meeting space. This has been ideal because it has allowed us to grow our event and keep the same location,” she says.

Among the most appealing factors of Loews Royal Pacific Resort for Ross’ group is the overall “resort feel” and proximity to Universal Orlando’s theme parks. “This hotel feels like you are in an exotic tropical locale. From the moment you cross the bridge into the hotel, you’ve entered a destination, and everything you need is there from food, entertainment, amusement parks, water parks and a conference center with meeting space,” Ross says. Attendees love bringing their families, turning “this work trip into a family vacation by adding on additional nights once the conference ends.” As for amenities, she adds, “Our group loves the pool and resort feel of the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. It feels like you are on vacation. When I walk around the pool, I can pick out our attendees relaxing with their families and networking with each other. I see them over at CityWalk in the evenings enjoying dinner or nightlife as well. It’s so nice to have all the amenities within walking distance, eliminating the need to rent a car.”

To capitalize on the tropical feel, the group hosts a luau one night of the conference. “The Royal Pacific Resort makes this so easy, and it’s a great fit with the property. It’s something attendees and their families look forward to every year,” she says. “It fits the theme, and since attendees can bring their families and guests, it’s a great addition to their vacation experience.” Ross appreciates the resort’s flexibility and willingness to customize or make modifications to the menu. “Food and beverage at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort has always been very good. Our attendees really enjoy the lunch buffets. There are lots of selections, and as a planner, their buffets are very well thought out to offer something for everyone. There are lots of vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free options, or easy modifications that make it where everyone can eat from the buffet, which makes for a more inclusive experience for our attendees.”

Meeting planners have a variety of programming options to consider, such as after-hours theme park events, team-building activities, group dining and private use of CityWalk clubs/restaurants. Fun CityWalk venues include Block Party, Big Fire — the resort’s newest restaurant that showcases open-fire cooking, Bob Marley – A Tribute to Freedom, featuring the a replica of the musician’s Jamaica home — and CityWalk’s Rising Star, for guests who want to elevate their karaoke talent with an emcee introduction, live band and back-up singers.

Ross recommends Orlando as “an easy sell” to meeting attendees, with “so much to see and do in the area,” plus the region’s “affordable and convenient” air and ground transportation. For event planners considering the destination, Ross advises, “Look at the full package. There is so much here and the price is very affordable, especially when you realize everything included in this location — a resort atmosphere [with no resort fee], incredible pools and theming, lots for family and attendees to do [amusement parks, water parks, CityWalk].” In summing up her experience working with the property, Ross says: “This hotel has been great partners with us. The sales team has been amazing to work with through the challenging year of 2020. The event staff have been fabulous to work with, and it’s great to see the same faces year after year. They know our program and partner with us to execute a flawless event. The Loews Royal Pacific Resort is a wonderful place to host a meeting.”

Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Duane and Lauren Spires, president and vice president, respectively, of Success Team Enterprises LLC, chose Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for three 2021 events because “It is a high-energy, vibrant, and most importantly, fun venue.” The partners explain by saying, “We are known in the industries we serve as elite-level consultants who always host the very best live events. Busch Gardens is an amazing venue that reflects our exceptional brand.”

At Busch Gardens, event planners have their choice among several select venues: Serengeti Plain features free-roaming African animals and Serengeti Overlook, an outdoor patio for cocktail parties and receptions; centrally located Dragon Fire Grill offers market-style dining and a fully equipped stage for live entertainment and award ceremonies; Gwazi Pavilion, designed for private events; and Adventure Island entices attendees with sandy white beaches and tropical atmosphere. Event planners can also opt for a Busch Gardens Park buyout for 3,000+ guests, and/or exclusive area rentals that include the park’s top attractions, such as the Cheetah Hunt, Cobra’s Curse and Montu in the Egypt area.

Duane and Lauren Spires selected Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for three of their client events scheduled in 2021. Courtesy of Lauren Spires

Duane and Lauren Spires selected Busch Gardens Tampa Bay for three of their client events scheduled in 2021. Courtesy of Lauren Spires

For the Spires, the Busch Gardens theme-park experience was unique because their clients “had the opportunity to have a blast before, during and after each day of the event.” In fact, the Spires say, “Many of our clients reported that it was the most fun they have ever had at any industry event, and it was amazing to be able to jump on roller coasters during breaks.” For their client venues, “We used the Stanleyville Theater and hosted an exclusive social mixer in the Jungle area, and our members loved the tiger exhibit,” they add.

Beyond the tiger exhibit, special touches that enhanced the attendee experience included other animal encounters. “We actually had two incredible cheetahs live on stage with us, as well as a flamingo, an owl and a sloth each morning as attendees were arriving at the theater.” The Spires recommend that meeting planners explore their venue options — theaters, live entertainment, animal exhibits and encounters — with the Busch Gardens staff. “The amazing part about working with Busch Gardens is that they are able to make anything happen.” Working with the property “has far exceeded our highest expectations,” they say. “They are attentive, quick to respond and committed to making your event a huge success. It’s more than just a venue … You get a team of rockstars.” Do consider the weather when scheduling events, recommends the event-planning duo, who add, “Florida is known for amazing fall and spring seasons that are mild, dry and bug-free. The summers are nice, too, but the daily rainstorms can make it a slight challenge for any late-afternoon outdoor events or activities.”

Ultimately, clients who have hosted programs at Busch Gardens leave with an overwhelmingly positive impression, say the Spires, who add that their “minds were blown,” and that they felt they were on a “learning vacation.”   C&IT

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