The word in Florida when it comes to meetings is luxury. Enhancing the line-up of plush properties are the massive, multimillion-dollar refurbishments of two of Miami Beach's venerable oceanside resorts.

Fort Lauderdale has seen the arrival of several luxury flag hotels in the past year and is anticipating the debut of 1,000-room headquarters hotel adjacent to the Broward County Convention Center. Meanwhile, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale has added five new cruise ships.

Downtown Orlando is undergoing a renaissance spurred on by the construction of two important projects: The $480 million, 18,500-seat special events center, which will serve as home to the NBA's Orlando Magic, set to open for the 2010-2011 season; and the $408 million Dr. P. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center, scheduled to open in 2012. The Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium is also being renovated to include a 40,000-square-foot banquet space by 2011.

Next year is a big one for Universal Orlando Resort, which will open two major attractions, a high-speed roller coaster and a sprawling “theme park within a theme park,” based on the Harry Potter books.

Near Walt Disney World, Kissimmee has established itself as a superb golf destination with lots of meeting space. The Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate has two golf courses. The Ginn Reunion Resort offers three courses and the Annika Sorenstam Golf Academy. The Gaylord Palms has access to Falcon's Fire. And two on-site hotels in the master-planned community of Celebration offer play on a Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course.

Daytona Beach's expansion of the $76 million Ocean Center convention complex has doubled its size to 452,491 square feet.

In Tampa, three new museums will open in 2009. At the Lowry Park Zoo, the Safari Lodge, set to open next year as well, will be a 17,000-square-foot, indoor, multi-use event facility that will seat 1,000 people.

Naples now has an off-site venue for larger groups with the September opening of the Big Cypress Market Place, with a 13,000-square-foot EXPO for special events.

Facilities update

The west coast

  • Slated to open in 2009 in downtown St. Petersburg is the 32-story Grand Bohemian Hotel & Residences, with 166 rooms and suites, 16,000 square feet of meeting space, and a spa.

  • The 277-room Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel has completed construction of a new ballroom, adding more than 5,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Scheduled to open in March is the 16-story, 255-room Westin Tampa Bay Rocky Point, which will offer 7,500 square feet of meeting space.

  • Scheduled to open in 2010 is the 18-story, 225-room Waldorf-Astoria Sarasota, which will be a centerpiece for The Proscenium, a mixed-use project. The new hotel will have a 38,000-square-foot ballroom along with meeting and exhibition space.

  • Opened earlier this year, the Naples Bay Resort, a mixed-use development, features 85 hotel rooms, 108 two- and three-bedroom cottages, and 3,150 square feet of meeting space.

Central Florida

  • Disney has announced plans for a luxury destination resort anchored by a 445-room Four Seasons Hotel along the northeast border of its property. Construction is expected to begin in 2009.

  • Scheduled to open in August 2009, the 1,400-room Hilton Orlando Hotel at Orange County Convention Center will be connected to the 2.1-million-square-foot convention center and will feature 200,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Slated to open early 2009 is the 323-room Holiday Inn in the Walt Disney World Resort, with more than 11,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • The 891-room Peabody Orlando is undergoing an expansion set for completion in 2010. It includes the addition of a 31-story tower with 750 guest rooms and 145,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • The 144-suite Pointe Orlando Resort, with 2,183 square feet of meeting space, opened earlier this year near the Orange County Convention Center.

  • The 315-room Westin Imagine Orlando opened this year across from the North/South Concourse of the Orlando Orange County Convention Center. The 12-story hotel has 7,100 square feet of meeting space with 23 breakout rooms.

  • In Orlando, the first phase of the International Plaza Resort & Spa's multimillion-dollar makeover saw 120 newly remodeled guest rooms and suites come online earlier this year. The remaining of its 1,100 guest accommodations should be completed by the end of this year. The hotel is located across the street from SeaWorld's new Aquatica waterpark. It has 60,000 square feet of event space.

  • The 155-room Venturella Resort & Spa, opening in early 2009 in Lake Buena Vista, will have 6,500 square feet of meeting space.

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

  • In Kissimmee, the world's largest Travelodge has re-emerged after a $10 million renovation project as the 444-room Holiday Inn Main Gate East, with 4,200 square feet of meeting space.

  • Icon Celebration, a 441-unit condo-hotel, is expected to open in the town of Celebration in late 2010 with 14,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Opened in May in Celebration, the 240-suite Mona Lisa Suite Hotel features the DaVinci Meeting & Boardroom as well as access to on-site Stetson University Conference Center, with 10,000 square feet of meeting space in 15 meeting rooms.

South Florida & The Keys

  • The 631-room Eden Roc Renaissance Resort & Spa has completed a $45 million restoration. Reopened in October, the Miami Beach property features 43,000 square feet of indoor and 20,000 square feet of outdoor event and meeting space and a 50,000-square-foot spa.

  • Gansevoort South, a mixed-use development that includes a 232-room hotel, opened in summer 2008 in Miami's South Beach area.

  • The Fontainebleau Miami Beach has completed its $1 billion expansion/renovation. The 22-acre oceanfront complex features 1,504 guest rooms and suites, 11 restaurants and lounges, and a 40,000-square-foot spa. Extensive meeting facilities include a 19,000-square-foot meeting center with three ballrooms.

  • Scheduled to open in 2010, the 396-room Miami Met Marquis, a JW Marriott Collection hotel, will have 25,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • In August 2008, the 192-room, oceanfront St. Regis Hotel, was rebranded as Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale.

  • The 301-suite, 24-story, Trump International Hotel & Tower Fort Lauderdale is slated to open in 2009.

  • Opening in February, the 433-room Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach will have 32,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Scheduled to open in January, the 517-room W Fort Lauderdale will have 12,400 square feet of indoor meeting space.

  • The 1,043-room Boca Raton Resort & Club is giving its Boca Beach Club a massive makeover. The hotel rooms, lobby, and the interiors at the Boca Beach Club are scheduled to reopen in 2009.

  • The 280-room Doubletree Hotel Palm Beach Gardens plans to open Florida's first LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), PURE-designated (hypoallergenic) conference center in 2009. It will have 15,500 square feet of meeting space.

  • The 270-room Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach recently completed a propertywide, $100 million enhancement and opened a 28,000-square-foot spa.

Northern Florida

  • In Destin, the 1,800-unit Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort's 55,000-square-foot Linkside Conference Center has recently been renovated.

Sidebar: Trip Tips

  • A refreshingly different way for a group to tour Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort is by Segway personal transportation vehicles. Groups of up to 12 can be accommodated.

  • Adventure Training Concepts in Naples has group teambuilding activities that include themes such as Indiana Jones, Survivor, and Mission Impossible.

  • Brambles English Tearoom in downtown Naples offers afternoon tea combined with live theater performances. The Afternoon Tea & Theater experience can be moved onboard the Naples Princess yacht for special events.

Sidebar: Ask The CVB

Visit Florida
(850) 488-5607

Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 544-0414

Florida Keys & Key West CVB
(800) Ask-Keys

Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB
(954) 765-4466

Visit Jacksonville
(800) 733-2668

Kissimmee CVB
(407) 847-5000

Greater Miami CVB
(305) 539-3000
(800) 933-8448

Orlando/Orange County CVB
(407) 363-5872

Palm Beach County CVB
(561) 233-3000

St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area CVB
(877) 352-3224;
(727) 464-7200

Beaches of South Walton
(800) 822-6877

Tampa Bay & Company
(813) 223-1111

Special Venues

  • Aquatica, SeaWorld Orlando's new South Seas-inspired waterpark, with 36 slides, six rivers and lagoons, and 80,000 square feet of sandy beaches, has a new event called “Permission to Play.” It features beach games, artisan demonstrations, fire-knife performances, and dancing on the beach. The evening events are designed for groups of 500 to 7,500, while daytime events can accommodate groups of 100 to 400 using the Banana Beach Patio for picnics.

  • NGALA Private Reserve, located on 42 acres east of Naples, specializes in customized events for up to 500 featuring encounters with exotic animals and gourmet dining in luxury tents.

  • Yacht Starship, a 180-foot dining yacht, offers five private dining rooms to accommodate from 25 to 600 guests. The vessel is available for private charters out of Tampa, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, St. Petersburg, Bradenton, and Sarasota.

  • The Deering Estate at Cutler, on the edge of Biscayne Bay in Miami, is a 444-acre environmental, archeological, and historical preserve with two historic houses and a spacious, manicured lawn overlooking the bay. A ballroom can accommodate 150 people for a reception and 100 for a seated event; small meeting rooms can handle two to 30 people.

  • Icebar Orlando, the first permanent bar made of ice in the U.S., opened in October on International Drive. Its Chill Lounge, a 4,000-square-foot bar, features live entertainment, caviar flights, and beverage service in an upscale Nordic setting. Before entering the 1,000-square-foot air-locked Icebar, guests are provided with a cape and gloves to stay warm during their 45-minute experience. Temperature is kept at 27 degrees Fahrenheit, and the walls, tables, seating, sculptures, and bar are made entirely of ice. The venue can accommodate groups up to 250.

Disney Update

At Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, the Disney Institute recently launched an updated version of its 3.5-day teambuilding program “The Disney Approach to People Management.” Participants go behind the scenes of the theme parks and resorts to learn how Disney recruits, selects, trains, rewards, and recognizes its more than 62,000 “cast members.” The program helps organizations that want to create a positive, service-driven culture. The Disney Institute offers many other professional development workshops and seminars. Go to for descriptions.

  • Two as-yet-unnamed cruise ships will be added to the Disney Cruise Line fleet in 2011 and 2012. Each will have 1,250 staterooms and will be two decks taller than the existing Disney Magic and Disney Wonder ships.

  • Walt Disney World is closing all of its nightclubs at Pleasure Island to create a new family-friendly environment. A few venues, such as Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant and Sosa Family Cigars, remain open.

  • At Disney's Wide World of Sports, a 100-lane bowling stadium is slated to open in 2010.

  • The Disney-MGM Studios has changed its name to Disney's Hollywood Studios.
    Ed Schmidt Jr. and Alison Hall