Why Orlando for Your Next Event?
Get details on meeting venues and hotels, new attractions, travel essentials and more here
Updated Feb. 5, 2021
Orlando continues to be a top-tier meetings destination, complete with the nation's second-largest convention center, as well as plenty of theme parks and attractions. Many of these are open and ready to welcome back meeting attendees safely, while following Florida's current restrictions for gatherings.
The Orange County Convention Center was one of the first in the nation to become GBAC Star certified in coronavirus cleaning and prevention. The venue has hosted more than 50 events since last March, and has a busy calendar for 2021. Upcoming shows include the Florida Wedding Expo in late February, with an expected attendance of 2,500. Meanwhile, the Orlando Boat Show, on March 5-7, is expected to draw more than 7,700 people.
To provide planners with peace of mind, the OCCC has teamed up with local health-care network Orlando Health to offer a free medical-concierge program for all events booked at the convention center in 2021. Medical professionals will be available to answer any questions meeting professionals have during the planning process, and can help review and improve an event's safety plan. In addition, planners will have access to an on-site medical expert at the event and the availability of coronavirus testing for all attendees and staff. Attendees will also be able to get 24/7 medical help though Orlando Health's Virtual Visit program, which can connect guests directly to a physician through their phones, tablets or computers.
"We know convention planners and attendees want to know our destination is going above and beyond to create a safe environment for their event," said Mike Waterman, chief sales officer for the city's convention and visitors bureau. "Visit Orlando has played a critical role in co-chairing our destination's economic recovery task force, bringing together government, business and medical leaders to ensure a safe reopening and a strong ongoing compliance throughout the region. We also pioneered a groundbreaking new program with Orlando Health to provide each group their own customized medical-concierge program."
Hotels and theme parks are also welcoming guests. Following are details on which venues and attractions are open, as well as Covid-19 restrictions and the safety protocols that have been implemented to keep guests safe while visiting Orlando.
Florida entered phase three of reopening on Sept. 25. Bars and restaurants are allowed to operate at full capacity when following social-distancing protocols. While there are no restrictions on gathering sizes, event organizers are encouraged to follow guidelines from the state's health department.
An executive order from Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings requires everyone over the age of two to wear a face mask in public. Local updates on Covid-19 cases and restrictions can be found here.
Walt Disney World
Disney World began welcoming guests back on July 11. New safety protocols have been implemented to keep guests safe, including a mask mandate for anyone over the age of 2. Face coverings are only to be removed when actively eating or drinking, and guests should be stationary and properly distanced when doing so. Masks must fully cover the nose and mouth, and should be made with at least two layers of breathable material. Bandanas and face coverings with valves, mesh or holes will not be accepted.
Touchless thermometer screenings are required for entry to some Walt Disney World Resort locations, including theme parks, the Disney Springs area and table-service restaurants at Disney Resort hotels. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or above will be directed to take a second screening. If their temperature is still high, they will not be allowed in and the rest of their party will be turned away, as well.
Disney World has also enhanced its cleaning procedures, giving extra attention to high-traffic areas, such as elevators, handrails, benches, tables, handles and restrooms. Signage, ground markings and physical barriers have been added to enforce social distancing. To reduce contact with guests, housekeeping services at resort hotels have been modified and cashless payment options have been added wherever possible.
Open Attractions and Hotels
Following in Disney's footsteps, a number of other attractions have reopened, including:
Most local hotels have revamped their safety practices and are hosting guests, including the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, Hilton Orlando, JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes and more. Hilton, for example, has rolled out its CleanStay With Lysol Protection and EventReady programs to ensure the highest levels of safety, from check-in to check-out. Food-and-beverage services have been readjusted at Hilton properties, electrostatic sprayers have been added to the disinfecting process, and all guest rooms and event spaces are now sealed after cleaning. Since reopening in June, the Hyatt Regency Orlando has hosted more than 100 face-to-face events, while following the hotelier's Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment standards.
In addition, new hotels continue to open. The latest to debut is the 180-room AC Hotel Orlando Downtown, which welcomed its first guests on Jan. 12. Also new to the city is the 2,050-room Universal's Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites, which opened on Dec. 15. Meanwhile, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando is planning to unveil a $30 million renovation this month, which will include updates to its 582 guest rooms, as well as the pool, cabanas and the club lounge.
Among new properties coming in 2021 is the 106-room Cambria Hotel Orlando International Airport, which is accepting bookings beginning in April. Also in the spring, the 604-room Drury Plaza Hotel Orlando Lake Buena Vista will open its doors with more than 12,000 square feet of meetings space.
A full list of all theme parks, attractions, accommodations, restaurants and other facilities that have reopened can be found here. Additional details on what's new and upcoming in the city can be found in our Orlando Destination Guide.
Back to Business
The Orange County Convention Center, which was recognized as a 2020 Stella Award winner for best convention center in the Southeast, released its Recovery and Resiliency Plan in early June, outlining new safety protocols for meeting rooms, food-and-beverage service, A/V and more. The guidelines were created in partnership with Orlando Health.
"We are one of the only convention centers nationwide that is hosting large-scale conventions — safely and without incident. We have a stellar reputation for customer service, flexibility and doing the right thing," said Mark Tester, executive director of the OCCC. "We are open, safe and ready for business. We are focused on the future and ready for our community to make its comeback."
He notes that the OCCC currently has 103 events booked for the 2021 fiscal year, with hopes to grow that number by another 25-40 gatherings. Venue-safety precautions include an increased number of hand-sanitizer stations, staggered-attendance suggestions, specific entries and exits for traffic flow, wider aisles with directional signage, floor stickers, temperature checks, and enhanced cleaning.
December was the venue's busiest month since the pandemic began. One high-profile event was the Central Florida International Auto Show, held Dec. 18-20. The event attracted an estimated 13,000 people. All attendees were required to undergo temperate checks, complete a health-declaration form and wear a mask.
Also in December, the American Kennel Club's National Championships were held there. The six-day event, from Dec. 8-13, brought together nearly 6,000 people. Attendance was limited to exhibitors, handlers, handler assistants and owners. To allow for proper social distancing, no spectators were allowed. The estimated economic impact from the event was $15.4 million.
"Events at the Orange County Convention Center are implementing multiple health and safety measures to ensure attendees, exhibitors and employees are safe," said Tester, citing the AKC championships as a prime example. "I saw firsthand how the staggered attendance, proper social distancing through signage, floor stickers and safety protocols were implemented to create a safe and controlled gathering."
The convention center is also prepared for a hybrid future, having added a digital broadcast studio in November. The OCCC Executive Studio features a stage and classroom-style seating that can accommodate a physically distanced crowd. The space also is outfitted with all of the lighting, A/V equipment and technology necessary for recorded sessions or live broadcasts.