Florida: A Planner’s ParadiseJuly 1, 2016

July 1, 2016

Florida: A Planner’s Paradise

Clam Pass Beach at Naples Grande Beach Resort. Credit: Naples Marco Island Everglades CVB

Clam Pass Beach at Naples Grande Beach Resort. Credit: Naples Marco Island Everglades CVB

Florida is a planner’s paradise because it consists of several unique world-class destinations bound together by sunshine and beautiful beaches. Groups large and small can enjoy exclusive beach resorts, party all night in Miami, play at Orlando’s theme parks and chill out along the stunning Gulf Coast.

Central Florida

This region is home to some of Florida’s top meeting properties such as Streamsong Resort, a 229-room property located about 85 miles south of Orlando on 16,000 acres of lakes, lagoons and dunes.

Streamsong’s golf courses are a big reason why Clearwater, Florida-based Bouchard Insurance held a two-day meeting at the property last August for 65 sales executives and managers. It was the group’s first meeting at Streamsong after receiving recommendations from some company executives who had played golf at the property.

 “We were seeking a world-class golf facility, and we selected Streamsong because of the reputation of its golf facility. We will return to Streamsong in the future mostly because of the golf facility.”
— Mark Steinberg

Streamsong was ideally suited for the meeting. “We wanted to offer our guests a reward for their hard work, and the rooms, facilities and amenities helped us convey their importance to us,” says Connie Lance, assistant sales manager and meeting planner at Bouchard Insurance. “This location was chosen because it is central to our five Florida offices and offers a variety of activities for our guests.”

Streamsong’s layout was a perfect fit. “Our group enjoys being together and interacting,” says Lance. “Streamsong was a good match for our group because of its size, meeting space needs and activities that cover a wide range of interests. We held a day-long meeting the first day followed by dinner and then a game of cornhole (a game of tossing bean bags or bags of dried corn at a holed target) that turned into a tournament and extended well beyond our scheduled time. The Streamsong staff was very patient and accommodating in that situation. The next morning, we provided options for golf, fishing and the shooting range.”

Lance also was impressed with the value the group received from Streamsong. “The resort’s team worked closely with us to deliver the perks we wanted within our budget guidelines,” says Lance. “Following the meeting, some of our team members booked smaller scale events themselves.”

The Lure of Golf

Streamsong’s golf courses were the prime reason that Merrill, Wisconsin-based Church Mutual Insurance Company held a four-day meeting — the group’s first at the property — for 44 sales executives, risk management officers and business owners at the resort last fall.

The group enjoyed the resort’s Streamsong Red and Blue courses, which opened about three years ago and were recently named to Golf magazine’s list of “Top 100 Courses in the U.S.” while earning praise from Golfweek and Golf Digest. Streamsong is scheduled to open its third golf course, Streamsong Black, in autumn 2017.

Mark Steinberg, CPCU, AAI, senior vice president at Church Mutual, explains, “We were seeking a world-class golf facility, and we selected Streamsong because of the reputation of its golf facility. While we evaluate different locations throughout the year and try not to repeat the same location year after year, we will return to Streamsong in the future mostly because of the golf facility.”

Steinberg cites several other reasons for choosing Streamsong: “The attention to detail and location were critical considerations in choosing this property, and the service was outstanding,” says Steinberg. “All events, dinners, activities and receptions were held on the property, and the staff showed that they were well acquainted with what we wanted. All functions went beyond expectations to make our program one to remember for all attendees.”


Like many of the nation’s most popular destinations, Orlando attracts high volumes of first-time and repeat visitors. That’s one reason why Orlando continues to set visitation records. Visit Orlando announced that the destination welcomed a record 66.1 million visitors in 2015, up 5.5 percent from 2014. Visitation has more than doubled over the last 20 years.

According to Visit Orlando President and CEO George Aguel, “This new milestone and rapid growth over the past two decades is a result of having a tourism industry and community partners that are focused on growth and investment, dedication to the needs of our visitors, and the global marketing and sales efforts of our Visit Orlando team and member companies.”

New attractions at Orlando’s theme parks provide groups with more entertainment and activity options than ever.

Walt Disney World is doubling the number of shops and other venues at Downtown Disney to more than 150. The project, scheduled for completion by the end of this year, will include a diverse mix of retailers, entertainment, upscale restaurants and casual dining options.

Top meeting accommodations are available at the seven Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels, which are located within an easy walk to more than 75 shopping, dining and entertainment venues at Disney Springs. The seven Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels offer Disney Meeting Advantages through their unique status as Official Walt Disney World Hotels.

Disney Springs Properties

The hotels include the 1,014-room Buena Vista Palace, offering 90,000 sf of convention and meeting space, a business center, and five restaurants and lounges; B Resort & Spa with 394 new rooms and suites, and 25,000 sf of indoor and outdoor 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 newly renovated DoubleTree Suites by Hilton, Orlando Lake Buena Vista, featuring 229 two-room suites, and accommodating groups up to 125 guests in 3,500 sf of meeting space; 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 Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel, has renovated the Swan hotel’s 758 guest rooms and will do likewise for the Dolphin hotel’s 1,509 rooms. The Swan and Dolphin also increased the bandwidth of the Wi-Fi technology in its convention space to offer more reliable and faster internet service that accommodates the online needs of groups exceeding 15,000 attendees.

With the installation, the Swan and Dolphin becomes the largest convention hotel in Florida to implement the technology, which offers faster and more reliable internet service that handles groups exceeding 15,000 attendees. The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin offers 2,267 guest rooms and more than 329,000 sf of meeting space including 84 meeting rooms and 110,500 sf of contiguous convention/exhibit space.

Near Walt Disney World and all the attractions of this popular area, The Grove Resort & Spa will open this fall on Lake Austin. Billed as the largest development of its kind currently underway in Orlando, the first phase of construction will include up to 292 two- and three-bedroom residential-style guest suites. When completed, the Grove Resort & Spa, part of the Benchmark Resorts & Hotels portfolio, will boast 878 guest suites, several dining options and four swimming pools. The 6,000 sf of flexible indoor meeting space will accommodate up to 300 people and provide onsite catering and audio-visual support.

King Kong Cometh

Universal Orlando Resort opened a new King Kong-themed attraction at its Universal Islands of Adventure. Dubbed “Skull Island: Reign of Kong,” the attraction honors the fictional giant gorilla. Guests aboard vehicles fend off threats while exploring ancient temple structures.

Loews Sapphire Falls Resort also opened at the resort, increasing the number of Universal Orlando Resort’s onsite hotels to five. The 1,000-room Caribbean-themed resort was built around a towering waterfall and lagoon, and connects to Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which has completed an island-themed renovation of its guest rooms, and expanded meeting and event space from 85,000 sf to 132,000 sf. The two properties form the new Loews Meeting Complex at Universal Orlando boasting a combined 247,000 sf of meeting space.

Universal Orlando Resort’s CityWalk opened the first-ever NBC Sports Grill & Brew. Groups can meet in private dining rooms and enjoy 100 HDTV screens, a diverse menu and more than 100 beer brands.

At SeaWorld, the DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld is scheduled to complete a multimillion-dollar renovation by the end of this year. The project includes 100,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space, a new 20,000-sf ballroom and additional pool decks. SeaWorld also opened Mako, a new 200-foot-tall roller coaster.

The Palm Beaches

Discover The Palm Beaches, Palm Beach County’s tourism marketing corporation, has launched promotional videos featuring golf legends and Olympic contenders. The videos feature several of the 60 current or former professional golfers who live in the Palm Beaches, including Jack Nicklaus, Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, touting the area as Florida’s Golf Capital.

Palm Beach County also is home to top meeting properties, including Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, one of just six new hotels in the U.S. named to Forbes Travel Guide’s 2016 Five Star Hotels. The 309-room Eau Palm Beach, which offers 30,000 sf of meeting space, has helped set the tone for today’s modern Palm Beach lifestyles.

Eau Palm Beach recently hosted a combination four-day meeting and incentive for 110 attendees (including spouses) of a financial group. Prior to this year’s meeting, the group considered choosing another location in 2017. “They were thinking about going to Arizona or another location in Florida, says Paget Kirkland, president and owner of Lake Worth, Florida-based Kirkland Event and Destination Services Inc. “But the company did a survey after the meeting and it got all good and excellent reviews, so they decided to come back to the same property next year.”

An enjoyable diversity of experiences in The Palm Beaches contributed to the group’s decision to return. “Palm Beach County has all of the fun things to do and all of the resources you need as a planner,” says Kirkland. “This area has something for everybody, whether it’s the water, art, nightlife, sports, nature with the Everglades and high-end properties.”

The meeting kicked off with a welcome reception at Eau Palm Beach that included a teambuilding event in which attendees divided into teams of six to create art designs.

Atlantic Sailing

After the reception, unknown to attendees, Kirkland’s staff transferred the designs to flags. The next day, when attendees arrived at docks to participate in a sailing regatta, they were pleasantly surprised to see the flags had been placed in the boats used by each six-member team. During the race, the teams wore t-shirts bearing their company’s logo.

Attendees also enjoyed a creative evening function at Ragtops Motor Cars Palm Beach, a vintage-car museum. “This group wanted to go completely out of the box and do something they have never done before,” says Kirkland. “So we did an old-fashioned sockhop with music from the 1950s. We got one of the executive VIPs to do a drive-in entrance sitting on the back of a classic convertible. After dinner we brought in a Good Humor ice cream truck to add a fun component to it.”

One of The Palm Beaches’ top golf courses also was on the agenda. “They played a tournament, in foursomes, at Trump International Golf Club and were entertained by a golfer who did trick shots like hitting two balls with a club in each hand,” says Kirkland. “They thought they were returning to the hotel for lunch but we surprised them by taking them to The Mar-a-Lago Club for lunch. It was a big ‘wow’ for them.

Lastly, the group enjoyed some local culture. “Bruce Helander, a local artist gave a talk about making collages and showed them how to do it,” says Kirkland. “Afterwards, the group went to his home for lunch. We later framed the collages and sent them to everybody.”

Paradise Coast

Florida’s Paradise Coast – Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades – hosted a record 3.1 percent increase in visitors in 2015, up from 1.8 million visitors in 2014, according to the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The growing popularity of the Paradise Coast has been recognized through several awards. These include the 2015 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Top American Cities for Food, and Marco Island’s inclusion in the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards Ten Best Islands – United States.

One of the Southwest Coast’s most popular resorts, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa, has completed phase one of a $250 million renovation. Phase one includes a redesigned lobby and grand front entrance, and 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 810-room Marriott beachfront will be rebranded to the JW Marriott Beach Resort Marco Island and offer 100,000 sf of meeting space and a 12,000-sf indoor entertainment zone.


Upscale Naples offers its share of top-shelf properties, including the recently opened Hyatt House Naples/Fifth Avenue, located on the Gordon River. The 183-room property features 3,315 sf of meeting space and a spacious waterfront restaurant/bar.

Nearby, the AAA Four-Diamond Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, on the Gulf of Mexico, is renovating its championship golf course with completion scheduled by December. Famed golfer Jack Nicklaus is heading the redesign in collaboration with course architect John Sanford. The $9 million redesign follows $50 million in renovations over the last few years. Upon completion, the new, par-71 routing plan will include five tees ranging from 4,800 yards to more than 6,900 yards, and a 300-yard practice and teaching range.

Northeast Florida

Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, Northeast Florida’s largest convention hotel, has completed its multimillion-dollar renovation of all 951 guest rooms while adding six hard-walled meeting rooms on the fourth level of the property’s Terrace Building. The renovation also included corridors, the rooftop fitness center and Regency Club Lounge, which now provides additional space for small meetings, networking areas and workstations overlooking the city skyline.

Located 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.

A short drive 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. Recently, the property renovated its Peyton House accommodations and oceanfront Surf Club, opened the new Tavern Lounge and upgraded its Wi-Fi system.

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach, one of the most popular destinations in Northeast Florida, is currently investing about $2 billion for renovations and construction.

Projects include a recently completed $400 million renovation at Daytona International Speedway that converted it into a motorsports stadium that includes three new concourse levels spanning the front stretch; five expanded and redesigned fan entrances dubbed “injectors”; 11 social areas called neighborhoods; more than 60 new luxury trackside suites with patios; and 17 elevators and 40 escalators in the new grandstand.

Groups can choose from a range of properties in Daytona Beach, including several new hotels. These include the Residence Inn by Marriott Daytona Beach Oceanfront, the Hilton Garden Inn and the Chateau Mar Beach Resort. Projects in the planning stages include a new Hard Rock Hotel & Cafe, scheduled for completion in 2018, and an upscale Westin property. The former Desert Inn will reopen in 2017 as The Westin Daytona Beach Resort & Spa after a $20 million renovation. It will be Westin Hotels & Resorts’ first-ever property in the destination. The 200-room beachfront resort will offer 20,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

Another favorite, the 212-room Shores Resort and Spa in Daytona Beach Shores offers great views from its 8,000-sf rooftop meeting space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The property provides a total of 20,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space including a 6,800-sf grand ballroom that can be divided into five meeting rooms.


Planners are attracted to Miami partly because of its plentiful supply of meeting space, spearheaded by the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC), which is undergoing a $500 million renovation and expansion.

The $615 million project, scheduled for completion in 2018, includes plans for an adjacent headquarters hotel. Upon completion, the MBCC will offer 505,000 sf of contiguous exhibit space, a newly added 60,000 sf Grand Ballroom and 81 new breakout rooms spanning 190,000 sf.

Miami’s most popular properties include Turnberry Isle Miami, a 408-room Mediterranean-style resort with 40,000 sf of meeting space, and 241 recently renovated guest rooms and suites in the resort’s Magnolia and Jasmine buildings.

Just north of Miami, the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, one of South Florida’s premier meetings resorts, has received kudos from AAA, TripAdvisor and Orbitz. In addition, Cvent named the resort a Top 100 Meeting Hotel. The honors stem partly from the resort’s luxurious indoor and outdoor meeting space and scenic location between the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway.

The Keys

The iconic Florida Keys is a 125-mile-long island chain that offers a range of intimate and spacious venues for large and small meetings, incentives and retreats.

One of the Keys’ most popular properties, the Ocean Reef Club, offers teambuilding events such as bingo night, bungee run, the cardboard boat regatta and sand castle competitions. Groups also can enjoy field trips and eco-kayak tours through the Ocean Reef’s 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.

The Ocean Reef Club also features 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, 36 holes of golf, a salon and spa, more than a dozen restaurants, a 175-slip marina and a private airport. In addition, the property’s Carysfort Hall, a modern meeting and function space features a 5,688-sf ballroom and five additional meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 300 guests.

New and Noteworthy

The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort in Bonita Springs is building a $7.1 million triple waterslide and lazy river pool complex. The waterslide will be located next to an existing two-acre pool scape and add to the resort’s two existing waterslides, three pools, secluded island and beach. The triple waterslide is scheduled to open in late 2016. The resort also has renovated more than 37,600 sf of meeting space including two ballrooms, two prefunction spaces, eight meeting rooms, one executive boardroom, a meeting planner’s office and two technology nooks.

The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village is building a $15 million, 35,000-sf conference center that accommodates groups of up to 1,250 guests and will increase the property’s existing 15,000 sf of function space to 28,000 sf. The new conference center will include a 13,000-sf Grand Ballroom that can be divided into several spaces and accommodate up to six smaller banquet rooms.

In addition, the property offers a 4,754-sf prefunction area, a 1,728-sf terrace overlooking the Caloosahatchee River and a multifunction room for board meetings. The conference center is scheduled for completion in late 2017.

In Boca Raton, the upscale 189-room Renaissance Boca Raton Hotel completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. About 15,000 sf of meeting and conference spaces feature upgraded décor, ergonomical furniture and natural lighting. A range of new meeting rooms comes with onsite event planners to help plan meetings, conferences and events for up to 600 people.

Palm Beach County’s new 21-story, 400-room Hilton West Palm Beach, which opened in January with 24,000 sf of meeting space, is the only hotel in South Florida connected to a convention center — The Palm Beach County Convention Center.

In Central Florida, The Hilton Orlando has added 11,000 sf of new meeting space divisible into eight separate meeting rooms and adjacent to the existing 15,000-sf Florida Ballroom. The new meeting space includes the Key Largo and Key West rooms, which offer 4,764 sf and 4,145 sf of meeting space, respectively. The hotel is connected to the Orange County Convention Center.

Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa, a stylish Orlando condominium resort, recently increased its total meeting space to 36,000 sf with the addition of 20,000 sf of meeting and banquet space that accommodates up to 1,000 people and is divisible into eight rooms.

In Immokalee, just northeast of Naples, the Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee has added a new 99-room hotel that features 80 guest rooms and 19 suites. The entire casino and entertainment complex now has a total of 175,000 sf, up from 75,600 sf previously.

Planners and meeting-goers looking for a beachfront site find that Sundial Beach Resort and Spa on Sanibel Island is popular for laidback corporate events. Nine meeting rooms, each with comprehensive audio-visual capabilities, comprise the 12,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space, and the resort boasts that it is the only destination on the Florida Gulf Coast’s Sanibel Island capable of accommodating up to 300 guests.

New dining options include a daily breakfast buffet and a new restaurant, Shima Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar, that can be used for private group events.

Currently, the Sundial Beach Resort and Spa offers special value for groups that book by December 31, 2016, including the following:

  • Complimentary one-hour cocktail reception.
  • 10 percent off F&B.
  • Waived resort fee.
  • Complimentary meeting space.
  • Complimentary internet in meeting rooms.

For more information, contact meetings@sundialresort.com.

Groups small and large with diverse meeting goals can find the perfect destination and property in Florida. Due to the state’s immense variety of properties and geographic diversity, groups can meet in Florida year after year and still have completely different experiences. IFMM

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