During the next two years, more than 4,000 rooms and 434,000 square feet of new meeting space will become available as new Orlando convention hotel projects open. Hilton is dramatically increasing its presence in Orlando, with debuts this year of two major convention-oriented properties — a 1,400-room hotel linked to the Orange County Convention Center, and a 1,000-room resort hotel adjacent to Walt Disney World Resort. Recently opened near the Orange County Convention Center are the 315-room Westin Imagine Orlando, with 7,100 square feet of meeting space; and the 144-suite Pointe Orlando Resort, a condo hotel with 2,183 square feet of meeting space. And Peabody Orlando, across from the convention center, is undergoing a massive expansion.

Walt Disney World; Universal Studios, Florida; and SeaWorld Orlando are all introducing new attractions, rides, and shows this year. The dining scene continues to expand as well, with three new restaurants: Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar at The Pointe, with private event opportunities for groups up to 1,000 people; Ocean Prime on Sand Lake Road, specializing in fresh fish and steak with live piano music from the '50s, '60s, and '70s; and T-Rex, A Prehistoric Family Dining Adventure at Downtown Disney, a 600-seat interactive dining experience amid a themed environment of life-sized dinosaurs, waterfalls, and geysers.

But there are definitely signs that the down economy is hitting central Florida hard, resulting in a drop in tourist tax revenues. At press time, the opening of the city's new downtown performing arts center is in danger of being pushed back from its announced 2011 opening. On schedule for an October 2010 opening, however, is the $480 million, 20,000-seat special-events center on Church Street, just west of downtown. The complex will include a 31,000-square-foot arena floor that can be used for exhibits, trade show space, banquets, and meetings; a basketball court that can be used for event seating for up to 500 people; five banquet rooms and a conference room; and an outdoor patio with food and beverage service.

One of Orlando's fastest-growing sectors is the emerging Lake Nona Medical City near the Orlando International Airport. The area will be home to the University of Central Florida Medical School, Nemours Children's Hospital, Orlando VA Medical Center, and the Burnham Institute of Medical Research.

In Daytona Beach, 45 miles east of Orlando, a $76 million expansion of the Ocean Center convention. complex has been completed. The Center has doubled in size and now offers 452,491 square feet of space.

And in Tampa, the 60,000-square-foot Tampa Bay History Center debuted in January, and the 66,000-square-foot Tampa Museum of Art will open in the fall.

Facilities Update

Orlando

  • Slated to open in October at Bonnet Creek is the largest development in Hilton Hotels' history, consisting of the 497-room Waldorf-Astoria Orlando and the 1,000-room Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. The Waldorf-Astoria will have 28,000 square feet of meeting space and a 4,000-square-foot fitness center, as well as butler service on request. Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek will have 122,000 square feet of meeting space, a variety of pre-function areas, and Bonnet Creek Island, an outdoor venue surrounded by a lagoon on three sides. Both properties will share 150,000 square feet of meeting space and an on-site Rees Jones-designed championship course.

  • Disney has announced plans for a luxury destination resort anchored by a 445-room hotel along the northeast border of its property. Construction is expected to begin this year.

  • Scheduled to open this fall at Disney's Contemporary Resort is a 15-story tower that will house 295 two-bedroom villas complementing the resort's 656 rooms and suites and 115,000-square-foot convention center. The expansion caps off a three-year transformation of the resort, which includes completely redesigned common areas and guest rooms, a new entrance and lobby, and the addition of two new restaurants. One of its new restaurants, The Wave, featuring American cuisine with world flavors, offers a private dining room that can accommodate up to 52 people or be divided into two rooms that can each seat up to 28.

  • The 750-room Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Lake Buena Vista recently started accomprehensive $65 million renovation of all guest rooms, public areas, and restaurants, with anticipated completion in December 2009.

  • Set for an August opening is the 1,400-room Hilton Orlando Hotel at Orange County Convention Center, with 200,000 square feet of meeting space. It includes the 50,000-square-foot Orlando Ballroom and 30,000-square-foot Orange Ballroom, 21 meeting rooms, and nine boardrooms. The hotel will link to the 2.1-million-square-foot convention center via a pedestrian skybridge.

  • The 323-room Holiday Inn in Walt Disney World Resort, with 11,000 square feet of meeting space, recently completed a propertywide, $25 million enhancement program.

  • The 472-room Orlando Airport Marriott has newly renovated rooms, 14 suites, a concierge level, and amenities such as 29,700 square feet of meeting space in 27 meeting rooms.

  • Slated for completion in fall 2010 is an expansion program at the 891-room Peabody Orlando that includes the addition of a 31-story tower with 750 guest rooms and 145,000 square feet of meeting space. Upon completion, Peabody Orlando will encompass 1,641 rooms, including 210 suites; 210,000 square feet of meeting space, including a pillar-free, 55,000-square-foot Peabody grand ballroom and 80 breakout rooms; a 22,000-square-foot luxury spa; three swimming pools; and a new Napa Valley-themed fine dining restaurant.

  • Rosen Hotels & Resorts plans a $100 million to $200 million expansion and renovation program designed to enhance six of its seven hotels within the next seven years (all except Shingle Creek). In September 2008, Rosen Hotels & Resorts was named one of only nine companies nationwide to receive the 2008 Apex Award from hub magazine, the official publication of UnitedHealth Group, for its “innovative and forward-thinking” in-house medical care and insurance program for its employees and their families.

  • Opened in November, the 155-room Venturella Resort & Spa in Lake Buena Vista includes 6,500 square feet of meeting space, nine meeting rooms, two boardrooms, a business center, a spa, and a fitness center.

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

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Kissimmee

  • The 1,406-room Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, with 400,000 square feet of meeting space, a 20,000-square-foot Canyon Ranch spa, and access to nearby Falcon's Fire Golf Club, has introduced an “Eco-Logical Package” for groups of 10 to 20, which focuses on earth-friendly amenities and healthy dining alternatives.

  • The 400-unit Ginn Reunion Resort recently debuted a new outdoor group venue, a 5,000-square-foot tiled patio with views of nearby golf courses and wetlands than can accommodate up to 300 people.

  • 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 late 2008, the 240-unit Mona Lisa Suite Hotel, in the town of Celebration, features one- and two-bedroom accommodations and 5,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 45-seat Da Vinci Meeting and Boardroom. There's also access to the nearby Stetson University Conference Center in Celebration, which has 10,000 square feet of meeting space in 15 meeting rooms.

Tampa

  • Slated to open this spring is the 221-room Crowne Plaza Tampa Westshore, with 9,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • In December, the 717-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. completed a $12 million renovation of 681 guest rooms and 36 suites.

  • The new 255-room Westin Tampa Bay Airport Hotel offers 6,800 square feet of meeting space.

  • About 20 miles east of Tampa Bay, in Plant City, an 87-room Fairfield Inn & Suites opened in January.

Trip Tips

  • Florida Eco-Safaris at Forever Florida features its new Zipline Safari experience, taking guests on a treetop nature tour reaching heights of 55 feet and speeds up to 20 mph.

  • Recently opened at Orlando International Airport is Solantic, a walk-in urgent care clinic that features cellphone pagers and lobby wait monitors.

  • Walt Disney World Resort has introduced Disney's Online Check-In Service. Guests can register and check in to their hotel from home.

  • The Orlando/Orange County CVB's 25th Anniversary Savings Celebration offers any meeting booked by May 1, 2009, and held by December 31, 2009, a 2.5% discount off the master account at any one of 30 participating Orlando area meetings hotels.

Ask The CVB

Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 544-0414
www.daytonabeachcvb.org

Kissimmee CVB
(800) 831-1844, ext. 42484www.floridakiss.com

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

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

Special Venues

  • The municipal Kissimmee Gateway Airport offers three unique venues: Stallion 51, with 12,000 square feet of covered space and an additional 15,000 square feet of outdoor space; Ranger Jet Center, two hangars with 12,000 square feet of space each and two hangars with 18,000 square feet of space each; and Kissimmee Air Museum, a facility dedicated to Warbird fighters featuring a 10,500-square-foot hangar with a 400-square-foot meeting room. www.meetings.floridakiss.com; (407) 944-2484

  • Walt Disney World Resort's recently opened, 70,000-square-foot Jostens Center at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex can host teambuilding activities as well as receptions for groups of up to 2,000. www.disneymeetings.com; (321) 939-7221

  • The Capital Grille Orlando at The Pointe, which features an award-winning wine list with 5,000 bottles of wine and dry aged steaks, offers groups private dining in three separate rooms: The Boardroom (seats 10), Orlando Room (seats 24), and The Wine Room (seats 36). www.capitalgrille.com; (407) 370-4392

  • The 35,000 square-foot Orlando Harley-Davidson Historic Factory Dealership regularly hosts indoor and outdoor events for 100 to 3,000 people. Events can start with a five-bike motorcade to escort motorcoaches to the dealership. Other popular event touches include biker bands, motorcycle stunt riders, tattoo artists, biker themed games, biker portraits of guests sitting on a bike, and biker-attired stilt walkers. www.orlandoharley.com; (407) 423-0346

  • Safari Lodge at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo recently opened. It features an 11,000-square-foot grand hall and the Reilly Reserve, a 3,000-square-foot elevated annex with panoramic views of the park's African Safari, home to giraffes, elephants, zebras, and more. www.lowryparkzoo.com; (813) 935-8552

Attractions Update

  • At Walt Disney World, Disney's Wide World of Sports will open a 100-lane bowling stadium in 2010; and Pleasure Island is closing all of its nightclubs to create a new family-friendly environment. A few venues, such as Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant and Sosa Family Cigars, are remaining open.

  • Slated to open in spring at Universal Studios, Florida is Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit, a new roller coaster with multi-sensory special effects. The Wizardry World of Harry Potter, a theme park based on the hugely successful Harry Potter book series, will open late 2009 or early 2010 at Universal's Islands of Adventures theme park.

  • This summer, SeaWorld Orlando will open Mana, a new roller coaster that transitions riders from air to sea. The marine theme park recently introduced a 30-minute theatrical production entitled “A'Lure, The Call of the Ocean.”

  • The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Titusville recently debuted Eye on the Universe, which features powerful Hubble Space Telescope images.