The Sunshine State offers groups an astounding array of destinations, meeting venues, accommodations, dining options and activities. From historic towns to pulsating cities, from laid-back beach resorts to glitzy hotels with superstar entertainment, Florida has something for everyone.
Brightline, the state’s express intercity rail system that debuted last year, is now known as Virgin Trains USA. The change came after Virgin Rail Group became a minority shareholder in the company in late 2018. The line runs between Miami and West Palm Beach, with a stop at Fort Lauderdale. Service from West Palm Beach to Orlando is planned to launch by 2022; other extensions are being considered.
• Welcome to Margaritaville: The 187-room Margaritaville Resort Orlando debuted this spring with 30,000 square feet of meeting and function space, including the 7,000-square-foot Compass Rose ballroom and 777-square-foot Hemisphere Dancer breakout room, along with 10 meeting rooms. Other amenities include a lagoon-style pool, soft sand beaches, a waterpark, a spa, a fitness center, three dining outlets and a grab-and-go food outlet.
• In 2021, Orlando International Airport will open a 19-gate south terminal to help handle 150-plus daily nonstop flights from around the world.
• The 1,416-room Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee is undergoing a major expansion. The project will add 303 guest rooms and 90,000 square feet of meeting and prefunction space; when completed in 2021, the resort will have a new total of 490,000 square feet of convention, meeting and prefunction space. The additions include a new 30,000-square-foot ballroom, 30,000 square feet of breakout space and 30,000 square feet of prefunction space. Other enhancements include an expansion of the pool, which will get a lazy river, and a new events lawn.
• The new 516-room JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort will debut next year at Bonnet Creek, a 482-acre mixed-use resort community near Central Florida’s famed theme parks. Eighty guest accommodations will be suites, including 16 two-bedroom units with optional connections to create four-bedroom family suites. A 23,000-square-foot ballroom will be part of the hotel’s 50,000 square feet of meeting space. Among other on-site amenities will be an indoor/outdoor restaurant, a rooftop bar that will provide panoramic views of local evening fireworks, two pools, a spa with 10 treatment rooms, a fitness center and an amenity deck where guests can play tennis, basketball and shuffleboard.
• Beginning next year, the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek will transition into Hilton’s all-new Signia meetings-and-events-focused brand, becoming the Signia Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. The change will include the implementation of state-of-the-art hotel upgrades in tune with the needs of meetings and business travelers.
• The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is expanding its meeting space by about 32,000 square feet. When the new areas debut in 2020, the resort will offer a total of 102,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space comprising two ballrooms, exhibit space, event space, 45 meeting rooms and outdoor venues suitable for groups of up to 1,000.
• The Hilton Orlando has unveiled a 13,000-square-foot outdoor meeting and event space. The new area is adjacent to the pool and can accommodate up to 500 attendees. The property, which recently renovated all 1,417 guest rooms, includes two restaurants and four bars, a full-service spa and a 24-hour fitness center.
• The MidPointe Hotel has acquired the adjacent Rosen-owned Clarion Inn International, giving it a total of 356 guest rooms and more than 1,000 square feet of meeting space. The MidPointe sits alongside the 1,334-room Rosen Centre, which is connected to the adjacent Orange County Convention Center by an overhead pedestrian skybridge.
• The AAA Four Diamond Rosen Shingle Creek Orlando recently completed refurbishments of its 1,501 luxurious guest rooms and suites; the property is now finishing up an enhancement of its approximately 490,000 square feet of indoor meeting space.
• One of Orlando’s most famous attractions has a new moniker: The Coca-Cola Eye Ferris wheel is now known as the Icon Orlando.
The Orange County Convention Center
is undergoing a major expansion that will add an 80,000-square-foot ballroom and a new 200,000-square-foot, column-free multipurpose venue.
• The Orange County Convention Center is getting bigger and better with a $605 million expansion. Among the additions will be new meeting and exhibit space for the North and South concourses. The new, enclosed Convention Way Grand Concourse will connect the North and South buildings and will feature an 80,000-square-foot ballroom and a 200,000-square-foot, column-free multipurpose venue that will be able to accommodate 18,000 to 20,000 people for seated events. In the past five years, the walkability has been enhanced throughout the facility and its surrounding district. Five pedestrian skybridges now connect more than 5,200 guest rooms to the convention center.
• Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek has revealed a multimillion-dollar renovation of its 400 guest rooms. The hotel, located within Walt Disney World Resort, features 32,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space, five food-and-beverage outlets, a pool, an 18-hole championship golf course and the Blue Harmony spa.
• The 2,009-room Orlando World Center Marriott recently completed a number of upgrades, including the addition of dining spot Latitude & Longitude and the HyCube, a multistoried hydroponic garden that supplies fresh produce to all the on-site eateries. The hotel has 450,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
Universal continues to expand its accommodations with the 2,025-room Endless Summer Resort from Loews Hotels
, a complex that will be made up of two properties: the Surfside Inn and Suites, which will debut this summer, and the Dockside Inn and Suites, opening in 2020.
• At Universal Orlando Resort, the 600-room Aventura Hotel debuted last year with a rooftop pool, a lobby bar, the rooftop Bar 17 Bistro, a lively game room and a “food hall” with multiple dining options.
Read about the new attractions and offerings at Universal Orlando Resort, including a new Harry Potter-themed motorbike adventure and more.
• The 2,267-room Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, which recently unveiled a three-year, $150 million renovation, is adding to its allure with a new 349-room, 14-story tower slated to debut in fall 2020 next to the Swan Resort. The tower will have more than 22,000 square feet of meeting space, comprising two ballrooms, 12 meeting rooms and a rooftop reception space that will provide views of the nightly Walt Disney World fireworks. When the addition is completed, the resort will have more than 2,600 guest rooms and 350,000 square feet of function space. The new guest-room inventory will feature 151 suites with built-in audiovisual systems and large conference tables. The new tower’s other amenities include a 16,800-square-foot elevated deck with a fire pit and pool, a 90-seat restaurant and a 50-seat lounge. Guests will have access to a health club, a business center, a grab-and-go market and an upscale craft-cocktail lobby bar.
Banded tulips, titan’s trumpets and Florida cones are among the rare seashells seekers can find on the Sunshine State’s Gulf beaches. Among the best shelling spots are Sanibel, Captiva and Marco islands.
• A 28,000-square-foot expansion of the in-house convention facility has been completed at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort. A 16,000-square-foot ballroom that can be divided into eight breakout rooms is part of the new space, as are three prefunction areas and two rotundas designed to promote networking.
• Debuting this summer at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World Resort is the 545-room Gran Destino Tower. Two new multipurpose breakout rooms and a boardroom will also be unveiled at the resort, which currently has 220,000 square feet of meeting space. According to Disney, the revamped resort “celebrates the daring spirit of the great Spanish explorers, artists, writers and architects.” The property’s more than 1,800 existing rooms also have been fully updated with new fixtures, furnishings and lighting, and a new restaurant will open on an island in the middle of the resort’s 14-acre Lago Dorado, accessible by new walkways.
Read about the new Star Wars and Toy Story lands, and other attractions coming at Walt Disney World Resort.
• Two new properties are in the works at Walt Disney World: the Disney Lakeside Lodge, a 900-room resort with nature-themed appointments, and Disney’s Riviera Resort, whose design has been “inspired by the European grandeur Walt Disney experienced in his travels along the Mediterranean coastline.” Opening dates for the two hotels, as well as meeting space and amenity details, had not yet been announced at press time.
Convention Center: Orange County Convention Center; exhibit space, 2.1 million square feet; number of meeting rooms, 74
Airport Transit: Orlando International Airport, about 13 miles southeast of downtown Orlando and 14 miles east of the Orange County Convention Center/International Drive. Transfer cost by taxi, $38-$45 to downtown, $38-$45 to the convention center/International Drive, $52-$68 to the Disney Resorts area; by shuttle, $20-$32 to downtown, $21-$33 to the convention center/International Drive, $23-37 to the Disney Resorts
Taxes: Orlando/Orange County: Room tax, 6%; sales tax, 6.50%; total tax on hotel rooms, 12.5%. Walt Disney World Resort hotels in Orange County: Room tax, 6%; sales tax, 6.5%; total tax on hotel rooms, 12.5%. Disney properties in Osceola County: Room tax, 6%; sales tax, 7%; total tax on hotel rooms, 13
Contact:Visit Orlando, (800) 972-3304
• The Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort has debuted with 180 suites and more than 7,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Other offerings include a pool with cabanas, the Harvest and Reel restaurant, and free shuttle service to the St. Augustine Historic District.
• The Guy Harvey Resort on St. Augustine Beach has reopened following a head-to-toe renovation. The property has 153 guest rooms and approximately 4,000 square feet of meeting and event space, as well as a bar and a restaurant. Kayaking, eco-tours and fishing charters take guests out on the waters.
The Lightner Museum
, nestled within the ornate former Hotel Alcazar, has launched several new guided tours, including what it bills as its “Upstairs, Downstairs” tour, which gives visitors a glimpse of what it was like to live and work at the hotel in its heyday.
• The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum has added an archaeology/education center, which includes a laboratory that provides a walk-through viewing room where guests can see archaeologists working to conserve their finds from the waters off the St. Augustine coast.
Airport transit: Jacksonville International Airport, approximately 50 miles from St. Augustine’s downtown district and 33 miles from Ponte Vedra. Transfer cost by taxi to Ponte Vedra, about $85
Convention center: St. Johns County Convention Center at the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village; exhibit space, approximately 33,000 square feet; number of meeting rooms, five; bit.ly/2DypHlX
Taxes: Room tax, 4%; sales tax, 6.5%; total tax on hotel rooms, 10.5%
Contact: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau; floridashistoriccoast.com
THE PALM BEACHES
• Discover the Palm Beaches, the official destination marketing organization for Palm Beach County, saw an impressive 98 percent increase in room nights booked for meetings and conventions from 2014 to 2018. In 2018 alone, the DMO reported that the area logged a record-breaking 231,000 meeting- and convention-related hotel room nights — nearly double the number that was recorded in 2014.
• With 42 hotels in the pipeline and 12 others currently under construction, the Palm Beaches area is on the way to expanding its tourism product throughout the county. This year, two new hotels are primed to open in downtown West Palm Beach: a 208-room Marriott Autograph Collection hotel and a boutique 150-room Canopy by Hilton, the latter with a rooftop bar and pool deck.
• The Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences is scheduled to open on Singer Island in late 2019. The wellness-based property will have a 100,000-square-foot, four-story spa. Stay tuned for further details.
• The Mandarin Oriental Boca Raton will debut in 2020 in Boca Raton’s downtown. Part of a mixed-used development, the 118-room property will comprise two adjacent towers and will feature several meeting and event spaces, including a ballroom spanning 4,500 square feet.
• The Ray, a new 141-room hotel, will open later this year in Delray Beach’s Pineapple Grove District with a rooftop pool and lounge, a fitness center and event space for up to 300 guests.
• The 150-room Banyan Cay Resort & Golf, a Noble House resort, is scheduled to open its doors in West Palm beach by the end of this year. The property will feature a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, a clubhouse, a spa and a restaurant, as well as conference facilities.
• The 219-room Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach has reopened following an extensive renovation. Among the many enhancements were the addition of a second pool and a new fine-dining restaurant, Florie’s, the first U.S. venture by the internationally acclaimed Argentine-Italian chef, Mauro Colagreco (his flagship eatery, Mirazur, in France, is ranked third on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018 list from Eater.com and was awarded a third Michelin star in the 2019 edition of the prestigious Michelin Guide France).
Convention Center: Palm Beach County Convention Center; exhibit space, 100,000 square feet; number of meeting rooms, 19
Airport transit: Palm Beach International Airport, approximately four miles west of West Palm Beach. Transfer cost by taxi to West Palm beach, about $15
Taxes: Room tax, 6%; sales tax, 7%; total tax on hotel rooms, 13%
Contact: Discover the Palm Beaches
• The 24-acre, 199-room Isla Bella Beach Resort has opened at Seven Mile Bridge in the Middle Keys. Amenities include a 4,000-square-foot spa, a fitness center, five pools and 24,000 square feet of meeting space.
• On Key Largo, the 200-room Baker’s Cay Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton property, recently opened. On site are 12 meeting venues for up to 4,090 attendees, two bars and a restaurant.
• The all-inclusive, adults-only Bungalows Key Largo debuted last year. This 12-acre, 135-unit property features a spa, four eateries, and 4,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor event space.
• On Islamorada, the 25-acre oceanfront Islander Resort has reopened following a renovation. The property has 138 guest rooms and 25 two-story, two-bedroom bayside town-house units and 110,000 square feet of beachfront event space.
• The 60-acre Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key unveiled its $50 million revamp in 2018. The resort has 250 two- and three-bedroom villas and 177 guest rooms, along with 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
• On Key West, the five-acre, 148-room Parrot Key Hotel & Villas has completed a $25 million renovation.
- Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, Best Hotel/Resort, Southeast, Gold winner
- Hawks Cay Resort, Best Hotel/Resort, Southeast, Finalist
- Brazilian Court Hotel Palm Beach, Best Boutique Property, Southeast, Gold winner
- Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, Best On-Site Support Staff, Southeast, Bronze winner