Orlando's ever-expanding accommodations menu is taking on a luxury theme. With existing properties and those under construction, Orlando will feature a Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Waldorf-Astoria, JW Marriott, and Disney's Grand Floridian by 2010.

Near the Orange County Convention Center, the 1,400-room Hilton Orlando Convention Center, 315-room Westin Imagine Orlando, and 137-room Element Hotel are under construction. The 891-room Peabody Orlando is undergoing a $400 million expansion that will include a new tower with 750 guest rooms (for a total of 1,641 guest rooms) and an additional 140,000 square feet of meeting space (for a total of 210,000 square feet).

Nearby, off-site dining and entertainment options will be more plentiful with the improvement and expansion of Pointe Orlando, an entertainment and shopping complex across from the OCCC. Five blocks from OCCC, The Mercado shopping complex will be replaced by The Square, a 340,000-square-foot mixed-use project slated to open in 2010.

Construction abounds as well at Walt Disney World. Opening this summer is the Jostens Center, a multipurpose event facility at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex that will feature more than 70,000 square feet of space. Disney has also announced plans for a luxury destination resort anchored by a Four Seasons hotel on 900 acres along the northeast border of its property. Formerly occupied by Disney's Eagle Pines and Osprey Ridge golf courses, the property will include the hotel, slated for a 2010 opening, and an 18-hole championship golf course.

Downtown Orlando's skyline is changing, with several condominium hotel projects under development, a $385 million events center opening in 2010, and a $376 million performing arts center set to open in 2012. Plans call for the events center, which will be home to the NBA's Orlando Magic, to measure in at a minimum of 750,000 square feet with about 18,500 seats. The Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center will have a 2,800-seat hall; an 1,800-seat hall for opera, concert, dance, and drama; and a 300-seat multipurpose hall. The Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium is also being renovated to include a 40,000-square-foot banquet space by 2011.

To the west, Tampa has plans for three museums — the Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa Bay History Center, and Children's Museum of Tampa — to debut in 2009.

On the east coast in Daytona Beach, a $76 million expansion of the Ocean Center convention facility will add 227,491 square feet for a total of 452,491 square feet, including 30,000 additional square feet of meeting rooms. Other features will include a 14,000-square-foot ballroom and 10,000-seat arena.

Central Florida/Facilities Update

Orlando

  • Kissimmee

    Construction will begin this year on Amalfi, a 242-room, 16-story hotel on the old Mercado retail complex property on International Drive. The project is expected to be complete in 2010.

  • Tampa

    Disney's 2,012-room Coronado Springs Resort added two event venues: the 5,000-square-foot Rix Lounge, which can host up to 300 guests, and the Laguna Bar, which can handle outdoor dessert parties and receptions for up to 80 people.

  • Trip Tips

    The Grosvenor Resort recently became Regal Sun Resort. The new name corresponds with the completion of a $25 million renovation of the resort's 626 guest rooms, 19,000 square feet of meeting and pre-function space, lobby, restaurants and lounges, and pool area.

  • Ask the CVB

    The 900-unit Ravallo Resort & Conference Center, a $520 million luxury condo-hotel with 140,000 square feet of meeting space, is under construction, with an expected 2010 opening.

  • The 297-room Renaissance Orlando Airport Hotel recently completed a propertywide renovation, including its 20,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. Ideal for groups up to 500, the Renaissance has a 4,000-square-foot ballroom and 18 meeting/breakout rooms.

  • The 315-room Westin Imagine Orlando, a new hotel near the Orange County Convention Center, opened in April.

  • Slated to debut in late summer 2009 is the 1,400-room Hilton Orlando Hotel at Orange County Convention Center, with a 15,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, restaurants and bars, and 130,000 square feet of meeting space, including 38 meeting rooms and a 50,000-square-foot grand ballroom. The hotel will link to the convention center via a pedestrian sky bridge.

  • Special Venues

    Scheduled to open in summer 2009 at Bonnet Creek Resort, next to Walt Disney World Resort, is a 1,000-room Hilton. Also on the property is the 498-room Waldorf-Astoria Orlando Bonnet Creek, expected to open in September 2009. The Waldorf-Astoria recently topped out, completing its final floor, the 14th. It will have 28,000 square feet of meeting space. The development will offer a total of 145,000 square feet of meeting space, an 18-hole Rees Jones-designed golf course, and a 25,000-square-foot spa and fitness center.

  • In October 2007, the Orlando World Center Marriott celebrated the grand opening of its 105,000-square-foot Cypress Ballroom, a pillar-free space that can accommodate 9,000 attendees banquet-style or 13,000 theater-style. The Cypress can also be connected to the Palms Ballroom to create over 160,000 square feet of contiguous, pillar-free meeting space.

  • Planned for an early 2009 debut is the 400-room Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Hotel and Spa Bonnet Creek Resort, adjacent to the Walt Disney World Resort, with meeting space to accommodate up to 300 attendees, a 14,000-square-foot spa, full-service restaurant, and 18-hole Rees Jones golf course.

  • The 1,260-room InterContinental Resort at Palazzo Del Lago will be the largest InterContinental Hotel in the world. It is set to open in late 2009.

  • The 510-room Florida Hotel & Conference Center, connected to the Florida Mall, received more than $25 million in upgrades in the past two years. The property has 50,000 square feet of meeting space, including five ballrooms, 13 breakout rooms, and four executive boardrooms. It recently received “Green Lodging” certification from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and implemented a smoke-free policy in all guest rooms and common areas.

  • The 14-story, 1,500-room Rosen Shingle Creek, with 445,000 square feet of meeting space, has received a 2008 AAA Four Diamond Designation and its golf shop was selected for the third year in a row by Golf World magazine for the “Top 100 Golf Shops in the U.S.”

  • Icon Celebration, to be located in the town of Celebration, is a two-phase condo-hotel that will begin construction in mid-2008. The property will have 441 luxury one- and two-bedroom units and will open in late 2010. Amenities will include 14,000 square feet of meeting space and a 6,000-square-foot spa.

  • The 272-room Quorum Hotel-Tampa is putting the finishing touches on a $3.5 million renovation and expansion project, which includes updating all guest rooms and adding a new outdoor deck area for functions.

  • California Grill, the 258-seat restaurant atop Disney's Contemporary Resort, is known for its innovative menu and wine selection. Diners conclude their meal with an almost eye-level view of the Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks display.

  • To avoid airport congestion, consider the Orlando Sanford International Airport, a full-service airport approximately a 35-minute drive from the tourism corridor. Flights on Allegiant Air travel to and from more than 30 cities.

  • The ultra-luxurious Mall at Millenia, a 15-minute drive from the Orange County Convention Center, offers several superb dining options including PF Chang's China Bistro & McCormick and Schmick's Seafood Restaurant.

Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 544-0415
www.daytonabeachcvb.org

Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau
(407) 847-5000
www.floridakiss.com

Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau
(407) 363-5872
www.orlandoinfo.com/meetings

Tampa Bay & Company
(813) 223-1111
www.visittampabay.com

  • B.B. King's Blues Club opened in December at Pointe Orlando on International Drive. The 16,000-square-foot supper club-style restaurant has three VIP rooms for private dining. Live music is performed nightly. The club can host 1,000 for receptions. www.bbkingclubs.com; (407) 370-4550

  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park offers groups a chance to experience cultural traditions and tribal rituals at an African street party in Harambe Village, enjoy a private event among the “ruins” of an Indian palace, or take part in a night of revelry at Dinoland U.S.A. Event options are available for small groups under 50 people as well as for groups of 5,000 or more. Disneymeetings.com; (321) 939-7221

  • Courtyard at Lake Lucerne, an inn complex with four historic buildings in downtown Orlando, has an outdoor event space that can accommodate up to 60 people. www.Orlandohistoricinn.com; (407) 648-5188

  • The Red Coconut Club at Universal CityWalk in Orlando is the entertainment district's newest nightclub, with multicolored, high-tech lighting and contemporary furnishings. It can accommodate 280 for a reception and 230 for a buffet. www.uomeetingsandevents.com; (888) 266-2121

     


On Location: Feel Like a Rock Star

From the moment I pulled up to the Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando, I knew I was in for an experience. The doorman poked fun at my shirt, which happened to have another hotel's logo on it, and we had a good laugh. What a terrific first encounter with a staffer at the Loews Hotels-managed Hard Rock, one of a trio of themed meeting properties at Universal Orlando Resort. My delight continued as the chipper front desk clerk filled me in on what to expect: music throughout the hotel and resort complex all the time.

My natural high continued as I entered my room, decorated with early Beatles and Hendrix photographs, and saw the recycling bags. Earlier that week, on Earth Day, all three Loews hotels — the 650-room Hard Rock, the 1,000-room Royal Pacific Resort, and the 750-room Portofino Bay Hotel — became certified members of the Florida Green Lodging program. The voluntary program encourages guests and staff to be more environmentally responsible, and the Loews hotels allow guests to recycle plastic bottles, newspapers, aluminum cans, and office paper in their rooms. An energy-management program ensures programmable thermostats and high-efficiency lighting in all 130,000 square feet of meeting space across the three properties.

Loews has trained staffers to anticipate guests' needs. And there are other reasons meeting planners keep bringing meetings back: the walk to Universal Orlando theme parks (Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventure) and to Universal CityWalk, a restaurant, club, and retail complex. Blue Man Group, for example, performs daily. And hotel guests need only their room keys to get to the front of the rides with Express Ride at the theme parks.

For a special VIP event, book your group at the Hard Rock Hotel on the third Thursday of the month. The property transforms its lobby into a concert venue and features name talent for its Velvet Sessions. Nothing like hanging out with rock stars to feel like one.