WHERE TO MEET, PLAY, AND EAT
A Salamander Golf & Spa Resort in Palm Harbor, has more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space (65,000 square feet of it indoors). The biggest is the 14,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom in the Inverness Hall, which also has an 8,000-square-foot foyer.
The Epicurean, Tampa
A partnership between Marriott's Autograph Collection, Mainsail Lodging, and Tampa's famous Bern's Steak House, The Epicurean's focus on food and wine includes Bern's Fine Wines & Spirits; Élevage, a restaurant created with Bern's; and the patisserie Chocolate Pi. It also boasts a large, state-of-the-art culinary classroom, the Epicurean Theatre.
Edison & Ford Winter Estates
For an off-site dining venue fit for business titans, look no further than the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, which includes the Edison Ford Museum, 20 acres of botanical gardens, and nine historic buildings including Edison's Botanic Research Laboratory.
The Ft. Myers/Sanibel area shows why Florida's Gulf Coast beaches are ranked among the best in the world
When it comes to beaching out, there are few better places to go than Florida's west coast. Leading the way is the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, where the white-sand beaches are regularly voted among the best in the nation. This year was no exception, with St. Pete Beach being voted TripAdvisor's best beach in its list of the "25 Best U.S. Beaches." Caladesi Island State Park and Clearwater Beach also made the list.
Marco Island also got some love from TripAdvisor's readers, being voted top island destination in the U.S. and fourth in the world. Naples was voted one of the 20 best U.S. food cities in Condé Nast Traveler's Readers Choice Awards.
For those interested in going off-shore, several local providers of water-related activites recently joined together in the Experience Pure Paradise Alliance. It offers meeting and event planners a one-stop shop for everything from shelling and fishing excursions to Jet Ski, air boat, and float-plane rides. A marine photography company is even included. Sea Excursions, Inc., will handle group bookings for the alliance.
In the Fort Myers area, U.S. News & World Report ranked Sanibel Island's Bowman's Beach No. 10 on its list of the "12 Best Beaches of the World" in 2013. Beach renourishment projects have also recently been completed along 6.4 miles of Captiva and northern Sanibel, 3.1 miles of Gasparilla Island/Boca Grande, and a mile each at Bonita Beach and Lovers Key State Park.
One of the most popular destinations along Florida's portion of the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa has two new hotels opening in 2014, which will follow The Epicurean, a 137-room, food-themed hotel that opened in December 2013. The AAA Four-Diamond hotel has 5,200 square feet of event space, a 2,800-square-foot Evangeline spa, and a culinary theater.
Opening in June in the 108-year-old, landmarked Federal Courthouse, the 130-room Le Méridien Tampa will have 4,800 square feet of meeting space, including a 2,200-square-foot ballroom set in the old courtroom, which has 18-foot ceilings. The Aloft Tampa Downtown, opening in July, will be a 130-room boutique hotel in the former Mercantile Bank building on the Tampa Riverwalk, featuring a terrace pool deck with views of the Hillsborough River and downtown. It will have a 685-square-foot meeting room and a chic bar.
The first new hotel on St. Pete Beach in 20 years, the Hotel Zamora, opened in May with 72 rooms and the Spanish-influenced Castile restaurant and rooftop lounge. A new restaurant (Guy Harvey's RumFish Grill & Bar) is set to open at the Guy Harvey Outpost - a TradeWinds Beach Resort, located on St. Pete Beach. It will feature a 33,500-gallon, snorkelable aquarium with seating for 150 inside and 160 outside. Opened last May, The Birchwood Inn in downtown St. Petersburg is an 18-room boutique hotel that offers an 8,000-square-foot ballroom and two restaurants.
On Clearwater Beach, several new hotels are in the works. Construction has begun on an as-yet-unnamed 230-room hotel on the site of the old Adams Mark Hotel, and the developers have announced plans to begin work on another area hotel when that one is finished. Another developer is planning a 208-room hotel as part of a planned mixed-use development called Marquesas.
Naples, Marco Island, & the Everglades
The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club joined Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) in February, becoming its first member in Southwest Florida. The 317-room resort with 34,000 square feet of meeting space joined ALHI's Beach, Golf, and Historic collections.
The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, finished up a redesign in October, redecorating its 450 rooms and changing several of its seven restaurants. The AAA Five-Diamond resort has 42,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, as well as a spa with more than 30 treatment rooms.
The Inn on Fifth in Naples has added 32 new Club Level suites, which have a separate check-in, private rooftop hot tub, and sunbathing area, with snacks and drinks available all day. It also added a 1,000-square-foot boardroom, increasing the meeting space to nearly 9,000 square feet.
Fort Myers and Sanibel
The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village, near Fort Myers, has completed a number of upgrades, including the addition of four new breakout spaces, each of which can accommodate up to 49 guests and feature expansive, uncovered outdoor terraces overlooking Tarpon Point Marina. The 119-year-old Island Inn on Sanibel Island has completed a $3-million renovation, adding fresh décor and larger bathrooms while preserving the inn's original look.
And the City of Fort Myers is in talks with Sheraton about developing a new, downtown convention hotel. Discussions about a renovation of the Harborside Events Center are also underway.