East Central Florida continues to impress
Dependably sunny skies, world-famous theme parks, a NASCAR speedway, hundreds of golf courses and endless beaches are the main attractions in East Central Florida. Add to that affordable, high-tech meeting and event venues and services, plus top-notch international airport accessibility, and you begin to understand why Orlando, Kissimmee and Daytona Beach are unbeatable for meetings and conventions.
With nearly 116,000 rooms in more than 450 hotels, the second-largest convention center in the U.S., 3-million sq. ft. of meeting space and a mind-blowing array of entertainment options, it’s no wonder that more planners intend to hold meetings in Orlando than in any other North American location over the next three years. In fact, the city attracts 10-million meeting and convention attendees every year.
No longer the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the area’s sales and marketing organization is now known as Visit Orlando. In a new marketing role believed to be one of the first of its kind for a U.S. CVB, Tina Jones was appointed to the position of meetings and conventions marketing executive for the organization. She says, “I think of myself as an extension of our clients’ marketing teams, helping them to build attendance for their conferences and conventions.”
Jones assists groups on a complimentary basis in a variety of ways, from providing social media content and print collateral to producing delegate websites, as well as original videos and webinars that present the city’s newest hotels, meeting spaces, and dining and entertainment options.
Jones adds, “We help with obtaining exhibitors, too. For a recent scientific association, we put together a webinar about our exhibition services and high-tech infrastructure, and offered information about marketing sponsorships. For a convention of a several-thousand-member transportation association, we produced a video to appeal both to their international and local attendees, relating [everything from] the history of their industry to the advantages of meeting in Orlando. Based on this success, we’ll definitely do more of that type of outreach.”
Within a mile of more than 20 hotels and 11,000 guest rooms, the Orange County Convention Center is a 2.1-million-square-foot, eco-friendly complex comprised of two huge buildings connected by an open-air bridge with moving sidewalks across International Drive.
ccording to Barbara McDaniel, director of conferences and programs for the National Training & Simulation Association, “The OCCC is remarkable with its high-tech, forward-thinking technology. We had about 20,000 registrants from 57 countries and nearly 500 exhibitors. I especially appreciated the SmartCity staff who got to know our shows and understood the needs and capabilities of our attendees and exhibitors. We’ll be back!”
Touting the largest solar array in the Southeastern U.S. and annual donations of more than $1 million in conference products to local charities, the OCCC is attractive to planners who focus on corporate social responsibility. President and CEO of MPI, Bruce MacMillan, says, “We are thrilled to bring our 2011 World Education Congress to a city like Orlando with such a rich history in corporate social responsibility. MPI will bring the latest in technology, strategic meeting management, CSR initiatives and education to bolster the evolution of our industry to Orlando.”
Housing for the conference, scheduled for July 23–26, will be in four downtown hotels—the Hilton Orlando, Peabody Orlando, Rosen Centre and Rosen Plaza—with after-hours receptions at Universal Orlando, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and other off-site venues.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
Connected via covered skywalk to the OCCC, the 18-story, 1,400-room Hilton Orlando opened in late 2009 with more than 175,000 sq. ft. of function space, an elaborate pool complex, and a large spa and fitness facility.
Hilton Hotels & Resorts also recently opened two more properties: the Waldorf Astoria Orlando and the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. Both are part of the new 482-acre Bonnet Creek Resort, a swank, exclusive enclave surrounded by a verdant nature preserve and bordering the Walt Disney World Resort.
With 1,498 rooms between them, the two new properties combine more than 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, an 18-hole Rees Jones-championship golf course, 12 dining and lounge options, and a myriad of recreational facilities. The largest ballroom is a whopping 36,000 sq. ft., and 42 meeting rooms and five boardrooms come equipped with the latest high-tech bells and whistles.
Orange County Convention Center, Orlando.
Connected by a pedestrian bridge to the OCCC, the Four-Star, 32-story Peabody Orlando has unveiled a $450-million expansion that nearly doubled its room count to 1,641 and increased its meeting space to 300,000 sq. ft. The expansion also includes the pillar-free, 55,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom, a massive rotunda for networking and registration, a spa and athletic club, and new restaurants. Attendees can also conduct serious post-meeting networking over hand-crafted cocktails in the hotel’s new high-energy Rocks Lounge.
Adjacent to Walt Disney World, the sprawling Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress recently completed a $45-million renovation of all of its 750 guest rooms and 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. A major attraction is 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature golf. Also within the Grand Cypress Resort, the Villas of Grand Cypress is an exclusive retreat with villas that serve as private havens for smaller events and board meetings.
As part of another project, Rosen Hotels and Resorts will complete a $50–100-million expansion and renovation at six of its properties during the next few years and will add a new pedestrian bridge to the OCCC from its 1,334-room Rosen Centre Hotel. And the International Plaza Resort & Spa has been reflagged as the Doubletree Resort Orlando-International Drive after a $35-million makeover of its guest rooms and lobby.
One of the most popular vacation destinations in the world, the Walt Disney World Resort encompasses four theme parks, two water parks, shopping complexes and thousands of hotel rooms. Add to that SeaWorld Orlando and the Universal Orlando Resort, and the pre- and post-meeting fun will never stop.
Walt Disney World Resort offers a variety of hotel choices for meetings. Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort encompasses 1,921 guest rooms and 220,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 60,214-square-foot ballroom and an 86,000-square-foot exhibition center. Disney’s Contemporary Resort has 655 rooms and 115,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including four ballrooms, one of which measures 40,000 sq. ft. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa (where The Smart Meeting will take place Sept. 25–28) offers 817 guest rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including two ballrooms and 16 breakout rooms. For smaller meetings, Disney’s Boardwalk Resort offers 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Beyond the hotels are many choices for creative events, from behind-the-scenes tours and after-hours parties to live, Disney-style entertainment, animation, and light-and-water shows. For example, Frontierland has a festival arena with a stage, picnic lawns and the Golden Horseshoe Saloon.
Unique Orlando Entertainment
Across the street from the OCCC on International Drive, Pointe Orlando is packed with shops, restaurants, theaters and nightclubs, including B.B. King’s Blues Club and The Pointe Performing Arts Center. The new 400-seat Improv Comedy Club and Dinner Theater at Pointe Orlando arranges private seating for groups of up to 400, and under the same roof, Fat Fish Blue features New Orleans-style bistro fare and live music.
At SkyVenture Orlando, attendees feel like they are falling—without a parachute—in a wind tunnel that replicates skydiving, minus the scary jump out of a plane. Groups from eight to 72 people are guided through the suiting-up-and-soaring experience, and 12 people at a time can fly together while their friends watch.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the American Idol Experience gives guests a chance to audition and perform on stage, while the audience cheers and votes for its favorite singer. Another Hollywood-themed park, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, offers a popular behind-the-scenes theme park tour of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride.
The five-story Orlando Science Center, with its 50,000 sq. ft. of exhibits, can accommodate up to 2,000 people for special events and parties, and next door, at the Orlando Museum of Art, elegant gatherings can be held for 50-1,000 guests.
The Orlando Harley-Davidson Historic Factory Dealership, which attendees can arrive at via motorcycle motorcade, hosts up to 3,000 people for biker-style parties, amid six acres of motorcycles, parts, accessories and gear.
The Hulk Roller Coaster, Universal Studios, Orlando.
The new home of the Orlando Magic basketball team, the dazzling 875,000-square-foot Amway Center is the site of sporting events, concerts, stage shows and exhibitions. It has 70 suites on three levels, a hospitality room overlooking downtown, the rooftop Sky Club and six banquet rooms. Surrounded by windows with downtown views, the facility’s Fairwinds Tower Room can accommodate 250 people for receptions.
Anchoring a 23-mile strand of wide, sandy Atlantic Coast beaches, the small city of Daytona Beach is all about family vacations at the shore and thrilling motor sports at Daytona International Speedway. Planners for medium-sized and smaller groups look to this East Central Florida destination for affordability, dependably sunny weather and unique event venues. The meetings-oriented hotels, most of which are located directly on the oceanfront, provide more than 12,000 hotel rooms.
To help with advance planning, the Daytona Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau website publishes a five-year calendar of “sell-out” Daytona Speedway events, when as many as 200,000 NASCAR fans at a time descend on the city to attend the Daytona 500. Other events, such as the NASCAR Coke Zero 400 in July, Bike Week in March and Biketoberfest in October, are also big draws. That, plus the fact that Daytona Beach is a popular spring break and summer vacation destination, means that meeting planners are strongly advised to study the city’s event calendar.
When racing and biking fans have left town, conference attendees can play around at the Daytona 500 Experience, an arcade and museum adjacent to the speedway. Team competition is adrenaline-building in 200-mph racing simulators. In addition to these exhibits, a 3-D Imax theater shows films on racing history, and groups can take tram rides on the speedway’s high-banked track. VIP tours also can take groups behind the scenes at places including the Daytona 500 Club, the Sprint Tower and the Sprint Cup garage.
For the ultimate thrill, the Richard Petty Driving Experience puts a fearless driver into a NASCAR race car with hands on the wheel and a foot on the gas, as they fly around the track. Participants can also ride shotgun with a pro at the wheel—at speeds of up to 165 mph.
The Daytona area’s natural attractions are big draws, as well, especially parasailing, deep-sea fishing, and kayak and airboat tours in the mangroves and cypress swamps of the Indian River and the Intracoastal Waterway. Private guided tours can be arranged at the Sugar Mill Botanical Gardens, and Daytona Beach Aqua Safari can transport groups in a double-decker bus to fishing and eco-cruises that stop at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and the Marine Science Center.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
A $1-billion complex of hotels, entertainment and meeting venues, shops and restaurants just steps from the beach, the six-block-long Ocean Walk Village consists of The Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, the Wyndham Ocean Walk, the Ocean Walk Shoppes and Ocean Center.
The Ocean Center reopened in February 2009 after an $80-million expansion. It now has 264,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event spaces, a 9,000-seat arena, 36 meeting rooms and a theater-in-the-round. From a Harlem Globetrotters game to an Elton John concert and an Amway confab to medical symposiums, every type of event happens at the center.
Marilyn Myers-Bolduc, coordinator of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association conference that is returning there this year, says, “With the renovations the facility is even more versatile and offers a variety of options for groups of all sizes. Our annual conference has 800 participants, numerous audiovisual sessions, exhibits, and food and beverage service for three days. The Ocean Center staff works tirelessly to provide us with superior service and a pleasant attitude.”
Also here in the beachside meeting district, the Peabody Auditorium is known for superb acoustics in its 2,521-seat auditorium. It plays host to symphony performances and to acts such as Merle Haggard, “Lord of the Dance” and Broadway shows, and can also be used for memorable functions.
With one of the largest event complexes on Florida’s east coast, the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort sits on the waterfront across the street from Daytona Lagoon Waterpark and Arcade and Ocean Center. The resort has 60,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including an 18,000-square-foot ballroom, a huge ocean-view reception loggia and open-air terraces.
Within walking distance of the convention center, fresh from a $70-million renovation, the historic, 322-room Plaza Resort & Spa now offers 32,000 sq. ft. of event space, including a 13,000-square-foot ballroom.
The Four-Diamond Shores Resort & Spa recently emerged from a $31-million upgrade and includes more than 20,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor function space, oceanside boardrooms and terraces, and rooftop meeting rooms with panoramic views of the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. Groups can book the Ultimate Board Package at the Shores, which includes a team-building surfing lesson with a professional surfer, plus an executive meeting setup with high-tech amenities, VIP upgrades, welcome reception and more.
Multi-bedroom, condo-style suites are available for groups at the beachfront Wyndham Ocean Walk Resort, where up to 280 people can be seated in the 5,000-square-foot ballroom.
A half-hour from Orlando International Airport, and not far from central Florida’s theme parks and beach resorts, Kissimmee manages to keep its small-town charm. Planners go there for budget-friendly accommodations that come with big-city conference services.
Chris Long, PR representative for the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau, says, “We offer unique advantages for the medium- to small-sized conference by providing the same services a large convention would expect. Last year for the FHSAA Cheerleading State Championship, which brought in 10,000 attendees, we coordinated over 200 volunteers through schools and the CVB staff, assisting the group with event management, media management and hospitality. The competition was held in the 10,500-seat Silver Spurs Arena, which is part of the Osceola Heritage Park entertainment complex.”
Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.
Among the CVB’s meeting amenities and services are an information desk, site inspections, area guides, tote bags, help finding the best vendors and suppliers, and convention marketing assistance.
Outdoor fun in the Kissimmee area is a big draw too, with attractions such as historic Gatorland and airboat rides. Boggy Creek Airboat Rides takes groups for high-speed spins on Lake Toho, with up-close-and-personal alligator and exotic bird encounters; there are nighttime tours, too. Seating up to 150 people, picnic pavilions are shaded by century-old oaks.
Popular for more than 50 years, Gatorland shows off thousands of grinning gators and crocs in a walkable preserve, with live shows and a new zip-line, as well as daytime and nighttime tours.
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
A whopping 400,000 sq. ft. of meeting space spread out over 61 rooms, including a 178,500-square-foot exhibit hall and four-and-a-half acres of indoor gardens under glass, make the 1,406-room Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center a premier property in the region. The resort also recently launched a comprehensive green program and reopened its now refurbished 25,000-square-foot Relache Spa.
With its multi-guest room villas and rentable private homes, the Four-Diamond Reunion Resort and Club Wyndham Grand Resort is an appealing option. Parties for large groups can be held on a tented event lawn, in the pool pavilion or under the stars in the 11th-floor rooftop lounge. The Grande Ballroom offers 8,160 sq. ft. of space and the 4,700-square-foot Heritage Ballroom—tucked away near the Heritage Crossing Villa—is also available.
Surrounded by more than 1,000 acres of Florida’s iconic natural wetlands and two Greg Norman-designed golf courses, the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate provides two large ballrooms, 28 meetings rooms, eight hospitality suites and outdoor pavilions, multi-room villas and even a tiki-torch-lit sandy beach for luaus. A fleet of golf carts can wait outside meeting rooms to whisk attendees around the sprawling resort.
With additional hangar space, the Kissimmee Air Museum at Kissimmee Gateway Airport offers more than 30,000 sq. ft. of flexible event facilities, as well as team-building activities and a site for small trade shows. Helicopter flights are available, as well as thrilling rides in WWII fighter planes. Through the museum’s VIP program (Very Important Planes and People) visiting pilots and planes come to share their stories.
- Orlando International Airport is 12 miles from downtown Orlando and 20 miles from Kissimmee. It is the closest commercial airport to Orlando’s theme parks and the Orange County Convention Center. More than 30 airlines provide daily nonstop service from 90 cities in the U.S. and 20 international cities.
- Daytona Beach International Airport is 4 miles from Daytona Beach. Delta and US Airways are the main carriers serving it.