Why Orlando for Your Next Meeting or Event?
Orlando's legendary appeal to meetings and incentive groups of all ages is due to its magical blend of resorts, venues, dining, air accessibility, activities and — naturally — its theme parks and attractions.
As the no. 1 meetings destination in the United States (according to Cvent), Orlando is adding even more resources for meeting attendees, improvements at the conventions center, as well as new convention hotels, venues, and attractions and dining options now, throughout 2021 and beyond.
"Orlando is home to some of the most respected tourism brands in the world, and planners know and trust that we are a destination that marries strong safety measures with memorable experiences," says Mike Waterman, chief sales officer for Visit Orlando.
Transportation in & Around the Area
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
Cost by shuttle
- $20-$32 to downtown
- $21-$33 to the convention center/International Drive
- $23-37 to the Disney Resorts area
Both the airport and the connecting 445-room Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport have both received the Global Biorisk Advisory Council Star accreditation. The designation means that a facility has established and maintained a stringent cleaning, disinfection and infectious-disease prevention program to minimize risks associated with infectious agents like the novel coronavirus. The hotel has 42,000 square feet of event space spread among 32 conference spaces, the largest of which spans 10,612 square feet.
What's New? Attractions & Unique Venues
From theme park thrills to indoor entertainment, there are plenty of fun, new options for groups to enjoy after business hours that are a short walk (or drive) from the Convention District.
• Unreal! That’s the verdict commonly voiced about the newly opened Museum of Illusions Orlando, a mind-bending “edutainment” experience devoted to the world of mental deception. On International Drive in Icon Parktm, this facility’s collection of more than 50 interactive, immersive and at times incomprehensible displays are based on math, science and psychology. Visitors learn about the tricks of perception and how the human brain works as they move through each exhibit, from the impossibly vast expanse of the Infinity Room to the gravity-free Reverse Room. On-site safety measures include mandatory face masks, limited capacity, designated time slots, one-way paths through exhibits, ongoing cleaning by staff, and hand sanitizers and wipes for guests.
• The sure-to-be amazing “Drawn to Life” show presented by Cirque du Soleil and Disney will debut in spring 2021 at Disney Springs in the Walt Disney World Resort. The show will make classic Disney animation come to life on stage in a dazzling series of set pieces featuring the troupe’s patented acrobatics.
What's Open in Orlando Right Now?
Many hotels, theme parks and meeting venues are welcoming events back, with enhanced safety protocols, maximum capacity limits and more. Get the latest updates here
• Visit Orlando’s new site, OrlandoMeeting.com. It has many resources to offer planners, including new safety guidelines, and the added benefit of the 360-degree Orlando Virtual Tour.
• On International Drive, Icon Parktm is home to The Wheel and Starflyer attractions, will soon welcome more record-breaking attractions, including two major thrill rides:
o The Orlando Slingshot will catapult guests 450 feet into the air and be the World’s Tallest Slingshot ride.
o The Orlando Gyro Drop Tower will reach 400 feet, making it the world's tallest free-standing drop tower. Riders freefall at up to 75 miles per hour.
• A new venue coming to downtown Orlando in 2021 is the 1,700-seat Steinmetz Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The center will achieve an N1 sound rating — the lowest level at which humans can detect sound. The hall’s design will be fully customizable, its stage, walls and floor able to be lengthened, shortened or lowered, giving an endless range of configurations.
• One of Central Florida's most beloved symbols has a new name: The Coca-Cola Eye is now known as the The Wheel at Icon Park. New this summer is a nightly light show, synchronized with the Icon's plaza fountains.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando, opening spring 2021, dives through four launches that run both backwards and forwards and takes riders on the steepest vertical drop in Florida.
Riptide Race at Aquatica Orlando will be Florida’s first-ever dueling water slide, featuring side-by-side racing lanes through nearly 650 feet of slide.
Orlando International Airport
Beat The Heat
Northstar's downloadable white paper, "The Off-Season Advantage", profiles 10 U.S. cities -- Orlando included -- and their off-season group offerings. Get all the insight on the benefit of planning a "slow-month" meeting by accessing your copy here
More TSA security officers, bomb-detection dogs and screening lanes are popping up at Orlando International Airport. Still to be resolved is the airport's preliminary push to replace TSA screening officers with a private workforce. In other news, the facility will complete the $2.1 billion construction of a south terminal — said to be one of the most expensive public-works projects ever in Central Florida — in the fall of 2022.
Orlando International Airport’s South Terminal Complex is expected to open in 2021. The three-floor terminal facility will feature 19 new gates to accommodate at least 24 aircraft and more than 10 million passengers.
Orange County Convention Center
The Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), the second-largest convention center in the country, welcomes more than 200 conventions and events each year and 1.4 million attendees. In the past five years, walkability and connectivity have been enhanced throughout the facility and its surrounding district. Four pedestrian skybridges now connect more than 5,200 guest rooms to the convention center.
The center is launching a new state-of-the-art digital broadcast center for hybrid conventions and trade shows, called the OCCC Executive Studio. From extensive conferences to board meetings, the venue will allow clients to host their event remotely using flexible and interactive tools that integrate both new and familiar technologies. The studio room also will feature classroom-style seating to accommodate a physically distanced audience, while providing customizable options for lighting, A/V and digital solutions. The studio will be available for booking starting in early 2021.
Hotel Additions & Renovations
Home to more than 450 hotels and resorts, including 150+ meeting hotels, Orlando is in the midst of the biggest two-year period for hotel expansion in over two decades.
• Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites, the newest hotel at Universal Orlando Resort with an impressive 2,050 rooms, opened in December 2020, with an inviting low starting rate of $79 per night and the option of two-bedroom suites starting at $120. Meanwhile, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando resumed operations in December. Safety and well-being protocols will be in place throughout both hotels, as they are across all of Universal Orlando’s hotels and theme parks.
• The 516-room JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort opened in July 2020 at Bonnet Creek, a 482-acre mixed-use resort community near the city's famed theme parks. Eighty guest rooms are suites, including 16 two-bedroom units with optional connections to create four-bedroom family suites. The hotel has 50,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 23,000-square-foot ballroom. Other property offerings include an indoor/outdoor restaurant; a rooftop bar that provides 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.
• The Surfside Inn and Suites opened in June 2019 with 750 rooms. With proximity to the Convention District, the resort is ideal for citywide convention needs.
• The Tru Hotel by Hilton Orlando Convention Center opened in the heart of the Convention District in September 2020 with 259 rooms, a variety of on-site amenities, and a walkway leading to the Orange County Convention Center’s west concourse.
• Cambria Hotel Orlando International Airport has broken ground on its new hotel property. Set to open in 2021, the five-story, 106-room hotel will have upscale amenities, an open concept lobby, multi-function meeting and event space, and is located less than two miles from the airport.
• The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort will add a new hotel tower to its resort in 2021. The project has reached a key construction milestone with the topping off of its 14th floor. The tower is scheduled to open next summer as a 349-room property to complement the iconic Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin’s two original hotels. The occasion also marks a change to the project’s name. Formerly The Cove, the new hotel will now be called the Walt Disney World Swan Reserve. It will offer 22,000 square feet of meeting space and 16,700 square feet of flexible outdoor space. Features include two ballrooms, 12 meeting rooms and a rooftop reception space that will provide views of the nightly Walt Disney World fireworks. Once the tower opens, the resort will have a grand total of more than 2,600 guest rooms and 350,000 square feet of meeting space. In addition, a landscaped 16,800-square-foot elevated deck with a fire pit and pool will be built; a 90-seat restaurant and a 50-seat lounge will serve refreshments; and guests will have access to a health club, a business center, a grab-and-go market and an upscale craft-cocktail lobby bar.
• Also coming to Walt Disney World Resort in 2021 is a Star Wars–themed hotel. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will offer two-night, all-immersive stays featuring a launch-pod entrance and a variety of interactive activities. Reservations will open later this year.
debuted last fall near the Orange County Convention Center. The venue offers more than 100 climate-controlled hitting bays using technology that tracks the accuracy and distance of players' shots. The facility has a full-service restaurant and five rooms for private events; full buyouts are available.
• Just opened is the 184-room Margaritaville Resort Orlando. The 300-acre property features a wide range of amenities, including 30,000 square feet of meeting and function space, 200,000 square feet of retail space, a dining and entertainment district, a 12-acre waterpark, a wellness center, wooded fitness trails, bike trails, a water-taxi system and a three-acre swimming area.
• A 28,000-square-foot expansion of the convention center has been completed at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resort. The new convention area includes a 16,000-square-foot ballroom that can be divided into eight breakout spaces, as well as three prefunction areas and two gathering rotundas designed to promote networking.
Two New Properties Are Set to Open at Walt Disney World:
• Disney Lakeside Lodge; a 900-room, nature-inspired resort
• Disney's Riviera Resort, “Inspired by the European grandeur Walt Disney experienced in his travels along the Mediterranean coastline.”
No opening dates have been set for the hotels.
Orlando Travel Essentials
Convention Center: Orange County Convention Center; exhibit space, 2.1 million square feet; number of meeting rooms, 74; (407) 685-9800 or (800) 345-984
Taxes: Orlando/Orange County: room tax, 6%; sales tax, 6.50%; total taxes 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) 643-0482
Rides, new hotels and more are on tap at the resort.
The ever-expanding Universal Orlando Resort has new accommodations and exciting theme-park attractions set to open in the coming months. Among them are the following:
• The new Jurassic World VelociCoaster in Universal’s Islands of Adventure will make its debut in summer 2021. Details are still being kept tightly under wraps, but the conveyance promises to take intrepid adventurers through a primitive ecosystem featuring all manner of dinosaurs.
• The Bourne Stuntacular, a cutting-edge live-action stunt show based on Universal Pictures’ blockbuster Bourne films, is now open at Universal Studios Florida.
• Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is an epic new addition to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™. Guests fly deep into the wilds of the Forbidden Forest, beyond the grounds of Hogwarts™ castle. Anything can happen here.
• The sleek Universal's Aventura Hotel debuted in August 2019 with 600 guest rooms and a rooftop pool. Also on-site are a lobby bar, the rooftop Bar 17 Bistro, a game room and a "food hall" with other dining options.
• Among the recent roll-outs in Universal are the 2,025-room Endless Summer Resort, comprising two properties: the Surfside Inn and Suites, which debuted in summer 2019, and the Dockside Inn and Suites, which opened in early 2020.
• An outpost of hip Voodoo Doughnuts has opened at Universal CityWalk. Among the delightfully weird and delectable offerings is the iconic Voodoo Doll doughnut, which comes with its own pretzel stake.
Whole New Worlds
The spotlight's on Toy Story, Star Wars and more at WDW Resort
Two beloved franchises in the Disney family — Toy Story and Star Wars – began to take center stage at Walt Disney World Resort back in 2018. Here's some of what's going on:
• It's out of this world! Climb in the cockpit of a brand-new attraction, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It transports guests to a never-before-seen planet. Disney debuts the next generation of all-electric, life-like animatronics, called A1000s, here.
• “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance” opened in December 2019 and is the second attraction for the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
• The first-ever Mickey-themed ride-through attraction, “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway,” has opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Epcot has been undergoing one of the biggest transformations of any Disney park in history, bringing a host of new attractions and experiences over the past year, including:
• Three new films: Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along, Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360 and Awesome Planet.
• Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, shrinking guests to the size of Chef Remy and racing them through Gusteau’s restaurant on a wild adventure.
• HarmonioUS, the largest nighttime spectacular ever created for a Disney park.
• La Crêperie de Paris, a new restaurant in the France pavilion.
• With three on-site properties, Legoland Florida Resort is perfect for small family-friendly meetings. The resort’s new 150-room Pirate Island Hotel offers a heated pool, hundreds of Lego models, the Shipwreck Restaurant, the Smuggler’s Bar and lots of pirate-themed entertainment.
Culinary Highlights Around Orlando
Named a top food city in the United States by WalletHub, Orlando’s breadth and quality of dining options continue to attract celebrity chefs and independent restaurateurs.
Knife & Spoon at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, is a concept from Chef John Tesar, James Beard Award semifinalist and “Top Chef” contestant; the restaurant opened in October 2020.
Ole Red, a new restaurant by country superstar Blake Shelton, merges southern hospitality, good food and live country music, opened in summer 2020. Ox Grill, which opened in December 2019, offers contemporary fare with steaks, pasta and a selection of international dishes. Both restaurants are located at ICON Park on International Drive.
Sear + Sea at the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek Resort opened Sept. 2020 in the property, offering a refined dining room and a more relaxed bar area. The Alaskan King Crab and Prime Angus Beef belie the eatery’s surf-and-turf ethos, all of it delicious.
Three Talented Chefs Showcase Their Culinary Prowess in Orlando.
• Rick Bayless: Frontera Cocina at Disney Springs
Eight-time James Beard Award-winner Bayless is a master of modern Mexican fare as amply demonstrated here. Try his version of ribeye steak, with ancho chile, crispy onion strings, Cotija mashed potatoes, caramelized plantains and other south-of-the-border ingredients for un comida mas excelente.
• Wolfgang Puck:Wolfgang Puck Express at Disney Springs
This new outpost from famed chef Puck offers a Mediterranean-influenced menu with an ambience “inspired by California.”
• Melissa Kelly: Primo at the JW Marriott Grande Lakes
Melissa Kelly, who rose to fame with her original Primo in Maine, crafts dishes here using ingredients from the resort's on-site organic garden. Try the sautéed scaloppini of pork saltimbocca with garlic mashed potatoes, prosciutto, spinach and sage-infused mushroom madeira jus.
Partners' Properties and Venues
Orange County Convention Center: Together Again
Presented with a new reality, the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) developed a plan to revise the traditional trade show experience to offer a safe and controlled environment for attendees, exhibitors, speakers and participants. Then in July 2020, the OCCC implemented its new Recovery and Resiliency Guidelines by successfully hosting the Together Again Expo.
Adopting a hybrid event format, the Together Again Expo combined traditional meeting elements with virtual capabilities to engage more than 1,000 on-site and 8,000 remote attendees. With ample space at its disposal, the OCCC offered plenty of room for physical distancing at the modified expo. Show organizers designed a touchless registration process, then once registered, attendees received a complimentary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kit for use throughout the event. Following a countywide mask mandate, all Together Again Expo attendees, exhibitors, speakers and employees were required to wear a face covering while inside the OCCC. The facility offered its unique medical concierge service, a first-of-its-kind program to provide a safer environment for guests by offering a vast network of health-care services and expertise.
For more information, visit www.occc.net/Planner
They Miss You at Mango's
The folks at Mango’s Tropical Cafe miss you, but your safety and well-being and that of their staff is top priority. Mango’s will remain closed until it is safe to reopen with a clean, safe, fun and vibrant environment for all. They are closely monitoring and following the guidelines of local, national and international authorities and will reopen the minute it is safe to do so. Soon enough, they will be singing, dancing, dining and entertaining you in grand “Mango’s” style with your utmost safety top of mind.
For more information, visit mangos.com/mangos-orlando/
- Best Hotel/Resort, Southeast: Rosen Shingle Creek, Silver winner
- Best Hotel/Resort, Southeast: Doubletree Hilton Orlando by SeaWorld, Finalist
- Best Décor/Design, Southeast: Rosen Shingle Creek, Silver winner
- Best Food & Beverage, Southeast: Rosen Shingle Creek, Silver winner
- Best Golf Resort, Southeast: Rosen Shingle Creek, Bronze winner
- Best On-Site Support Staff: Rosen Shingle Creek, Southeast, Gold winner
- Best On-Site Tech/WiFi, Southeast: Hilton Orlando, Gold winner
- Best CVB/DMO, Southeast: Visit Orlando, Gold winner
- Best Hotel/Resort, Southeast: Rosen Shingle Creek, Bronze winner
- Best Golf Resort, Southeast: Rosen Shingle Creek, Bronze winner
- Best Décor/Design, Southeast: Rosen Shingle Creek, Bronze winner
- Best Food and Beverage, Southeast: Hilton Orlando, Gold winner
- Best On-Site Support Staff, Southeast: Hilton Orlando, Gold winner
- Best On-Site Support Staff, Southeast: Rosen Shingle Creek, Bronze winner
- Best Renovation, Southeast: Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, Gold winner
- Best Renovation, Southeast: Hilton Orlando Altamonte Springs, Finalist
- Best CVB/DMO, Southeast: Visit Orlando, Gold winner