The word in Florida when it comes to meetings is luxury, with an abundance of plush properties. Enhancing the luxury lineup are the massive, multimillion-dollar refurbishments of two of Miami Beach's venerable oceanside resorts. Meanwhile, downtown areas in many cities, including Orlando, Panama City, and Tampa, are also undergoing impressive redevelopments.

Fort Lauderdale has seen the arrival of several luxury flag hotels in the past year and is anticipating the debut of a 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 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. And two hotels in the master-planned community of Celebration offer play on a Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course.

Forty-five miles east of Orlando, Daytona Beach can now accommodate larger groups with the completion of a $76 million expansion of its Ocean Center convention complex. The Center has doubled in size and now offers 452,491 square feet of space.

In Tampa, three new museums — Tampa Museum of Art, Glazer Children's Museum, and the Tampa Bay History Center — will open in 2009. At the Lowry Park Zoo, the Safari Lodge, also set to open next year, will be a 17,000-square-foot 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 Center for special events.

Jacksonville, with its beaches, bustling downtown area, and affordably priced accommodations, has also become increasingly attractive to visitors and groups. More than 4.1 million people visited in 2007, a 21 percent increase over the previous year.

Accessibility is the key in northwest Florida with the arrival of the new $330 million Panama City-Bay County International Airport slated to open in late 2009. With longer runways, the airport will be able to accommodate larger jets, thereby increasing flights and encouraging more competitive fares. Meanwhile, Pier Park, a sprawling retail, dining, and entertainment complex on Panama City Beach is complete with over 90 stores and restaurants, including Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and Guy Harvey's Grill.

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 added a new ballroom, with more than 5,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • The 717-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina completed a $12 million renovation of 681 guest rooms and 36 suites this month. The hotel also invested $4 million to renovate its meeting space late last year.

  • The 585-room TradeWinds Island Grand on St. Pete Beach recently completed a $1.6 million refurbishment of its 35,000 square feet of meeting space, including all ballrooms and meeting rooms, front desk, and concierge area.

  • The 294-room Hyatt Regency Sarasota, with 20,000 square feet of meeting space, recently completed a $22 million renovation that included its guest rooms, lobbies, front desk, restaurants, meeting space, fitness center, business center, and library.

  • 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 next year.

  • Scheduled to open in August 2009 is the 1,400-room Hilton Orlando Hotel at Orange County Convention Center. Connected to the 2.1 million-square-foot convention center, the hotel will feature 200,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 50,000-square-foot ballroom.

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

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

  • Rosen Hotels & Resorts plans a $100 million to $200 million expansion and renovation of six of its seven hotels within the next seven years (all except Shingle Creek).

  • 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, a new luxury condo-hotel with 2,183 square feet of meeting space, opened earlier this year on International Drive 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.

  • 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, the property has meeting space for up to 300 attendees, a 14,000-square-foot spa, and an 18-hole Rees Jones golf course.

  • 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.

  • The 240-suite Mona Lisa Suite Hotel opened in May in Celebration, featuring the DaVinci Meeting & Boardroom (seats 54 theater style, 36 classroom) as well as access to on-site Stetson University Conference Center, with 10,000 square feet of meeting space in 15 meeting rooms.

  • Feltrim Developments has contracted to acquire the Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Resort in Haines City and will invest $300 million in extensive redevelopment over the next 10 years.

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 luxury mixed-use development with a 232-room hotel, opened this summer in Miami's South Beach area.

  • The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne in Miami will complete renovations to its 402 guest rooms and suites in December.

  • The Fontainebleau Miami Beach has completed its $1 billion expansion and 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 is the 396-room Miami Met Marquis, a JW Marriott Collection hotel, with 25,000 square feet of meeting space. It will be located in a $1 billion multi-use project that will encompass 20,000 square feet of retail shops and a spa.

  • In August, the St. Regis Hotel, a 192-room oceanfront property, was rebranded as The 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 200-room Key Largo Grande Resort and Beach Club became the Hilton Key Largo Grande Resort & Beach Club in mid-April and recently completed a $12 million renovation and expansion that doubled the meeting space to 17,000 square feet.

  • The 280-room Doubletree Hotel Palm Beach Gardens plans to open Florida's first LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), PURE-designated (allergy-friendly) 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.

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

  • The 550-room Breakers in Palm Beach, which debuted the John Webster Golf Academy earlier this year, has completed a 15-year, $250 million revitalization program and continues to invest $25 million each year in capital improvements.

Northern Florida

  • In Destin, the 1,800-unit Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort's 55,000-square-foot Linkside Conference Center recently underwent renovations, including the installation of new wall coverings and carpeting.

  • The 660-unit Amelia Island Plantation Resort, with 49,000 square feet of meeting and special-event space, 54 holes of golf, and a 13,200-square-foot spa with 25 treatment rooms, recently received the coveted Green Lodging destination certificate, awarded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

  • The 376-unit Bay Point Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Panama City Beach has put the finishing touches on a $20 million renovation project that included a new 12,000-square-foot spa, 8,000-gallon tropical lagoon pool, and 32-inch LCD screen televisions in each room.

  • One Ocean Resort in Atlantic Beach, 15 minutes from downtown Jacksonville, has completed a major renovation. The 193-room resort has 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, a spa, two restaurants, and access to golf at the Mark McCumber-designed Queen's Harbour Yacht & Country Club.

  • The Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village in St. Augustine completed a $10 million renovation earlier this year, which included all 301 guest rooms and suites, the lobby atrium, the restaurant and bar, and the main ballroom.

  • Scheduled to open in spring 2010 is the 162-room Hotel Indigo in Pensacola, a boutique luxury hotel with 3,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • The 206-room Holiday Inn on Pensacola Beach is slated to open in spring 2010 on the former site of the Beachside Resort, with 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

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. www.wdwinfo.com

  • Adventure Training Concepts in Naples has corporate teambuilding activities, with themes such as Indiana Jones, Survivor, and Mission Impossible. www.adventuretrainingconcepts.com

  • 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. www.paradisecoast.com

Ask the CVB

Visit Florida
(850) 488-5607
www.visitflorida.org

Daytona Beach Area CVB
(800) 544-0414
www.daytonabeachcvb.org

Florida Keys & Key West CVB
(800) Ask-Keys
www.fla-keys.com

Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB
(954) 765-4466
www.sunny.org

Visit Jacksonville
(800) 733-2668
www.visitjacksonville.com

Kissimmee CVB
(407) 847-5000
www.floridakiss.com

Greater Miami CVB
(800) 933-8448
www.MiamiandBeaches.com

Orlando/Orange County CVB
(407) 363-5872
www.orlandoinfo.com/meetings

Palm Beach County CVB
(561) 233-3000
www.palmbeachfl.com

St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area CVB
(877) 352-3224
www.floridasbeach.com

Panama City Beach CVB
(800) PCBEACH
www.visitpanamacitybeach.com

Beaches of South Walton
(800) 822-6877
www.beachesofsouthwalton.com

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

Special Venues

  • Aquatica, SeaWorld Orlando's new South Seas-inspired waterpark, with 36 slides, six rivers and lagoons, and 80,000 square feet of 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. www.seaworld.com

  • For eco-minded groups, the 12-acre Tree Hill Nature Center in Jacksonville features exhibits, animal encounters, Butterfly Garden, Hummingbird Garden, and guided nature tours. A covered, outdoor, 250-seat amphitheater can accommodate a wide variety of special functions. www.treehill.org

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

  • 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. www.yachtstarship.com

  • The new CityWalk's Rising Star at Universal Orlando Resort elevates karaoke to a new level. Performing guests are introduced to screaming audiences by an emcee, and they sing with a full live band and backup singers. The club can accommodate 275 people for a standing reception, 266 for a buffet, and 206 for a plated dinner. www.uomeetingsandevents.com

  • The Deering Estate at Cutler, located along the edge of Biscayne Bay in Miami, is a 444-acre environmental, archeological, and historical preserve encompassing 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. www.deeringestate.org

  • Icebar Orlando, the first permanent bar made of ice in the U.S., opened in October on International Drive. 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, where even the glasses are made of ice. Before or after the icebar, guests enjoy the Chill Lounge, which offers live entertainment and beverage service in an upscale Nordic setting. The venue can accommodate groups up to 250. www.Icebarorlando.com