Greater Orlando - A Successful Meetings Destination - 2006-05-18

Forever linked as it may be to its theme park and family-friendly origins, Orlando is quietly expanding its appeal with the arrival of new upscale shopping, dining, entertainment, and lodging opportunities. In the past few years, the arrival of celebrity chef-led restaurants, major retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s, and hoteliers like Ritz-Carlton, have made the destination appealing to a wider variety of meeting and incentive groups.

Essential Tool Box

Convention Facilities:

ORLANDO: Orange County Convention Center 2,053,820 sf of dedicated meeting space, with 235 meeting rooms, largest accommodating 61,200 theater style.

KISSIMMEE: Osceola Heritage Park 89,500 sf of flexible meeting space; arena accommodates 11,000 theater style.

For complete listings, visit Tools & Resources at

Hotel Rooms: 114,527 (by Dec 2006)
Rooms Close to the Center: 8,000
From Airport to Center: 13 miles

Average Daily Business Travel Costs:
Hotel $195.26
F&B $74.52
Car Rental $79.33

For More Info:
Orlando Orange Co. CVB
Kissimmee CVB
*Business Travel News 2006 Corporate Travel Index

The Big News

Greater Orlando’s hotel room inventory has amassed more than 115,000 rooms, but only recently has the market begun to see the arrival of small, luxury, boutique hotels.

*The 150-room Regent Winter Park Spa & Residences, operated by Regent Hotels International, will open later this year in Winter Park.

*The 227-room Lexington Hotel, situated within walking distance of the TD Waterhouse Centre and Bob Carr Performing Arts Center, will open next month in downtown Orlando with 4,400-sf of function space and banquet capacity for up to 250.

*Practically flanking the Orange County Convention Center are two projects: the 260-unit, 10-story Sage Resort, a new condo hotel, which is slated to open June 2007; and a 30-acre village called Imagine, located on Universal Boulevard and developed by the Intrawest Corporation, which is scheduled to open Phase I in 2008 with a mix of 1,000 residential homes, townhomes, condo-hotel units, shops, and restaurants.

*A 150-room W will debut at Veranda Park in 2007, and rumors persist of a Four Seasons to be built at Celebration, Disney’s concept town near Kissimmee.

*On the dining front, new restaurants include Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant at Downtown Disney’s West Side; Manny’s Chophouse in Longwood, featuring aged steaks, fine wine, and seafood; and Dixie Crossroads, a Titusville landmark seafood restaurant that opened a location at Festival Bay on International Drive.

*Across from the Orange County Convention Center, Pointe Orlando, a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex, is being totally revamped with a new lineup of tenants that includes the restaurant Oceanaire, which features a menu with fresh seafood flown in daily from around the world; The Capital Grille, Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Cafe & Emporium, and B.B. King’s, a full-service bar and restaurant featuring nightly live entertainment. The redevelopment project is expected to be completed late this year.

*Near Universal Orlando in MetroWest, a master-planned, 1,800-acre golf course community, Veranda Park, a $500-million luxury project comprising office space, specialty shops, restaurants, a high-tech, digital 20-screen movie theater available for corporate events, and a boutique hotel, is opening in phases through 2007.

*Restaurants and clubs debuting this spring include Bice’s Grand Cafe, Dan Marino’s Fine Food & Spirits, and Automatic Slim’s nightclub. Kissimmee’s newest open-air shopping complex is The Loop, which features familiar stores like Old Navy and Kohl’s and dining options such as Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Chili’s, and Johnny Rockets.

*Last Sept, Universal Orlando Resort launched, a website to help planners access its accommodation, venue, and activity offerings. Disney Resorts also has a website,



* At presstime, the long-awaited—really!—second tower for the 891-room Peabody Orlando is expected to break ground at the end of this month. Following the original 1997 expansion plan, the tower will feature 750 guest rooms, 145,000 sf of meeting space, and a spa.

* The 1,338-unit Caribe Royale All-Suites Resort & Convention Center with 150,000 sf of meeting space recently debuted a two-story, 3,500 sf fitness center that offers 40 pieces of high-tech cardio and strength equipment, and personal trainers.

* The 510-room Florida Mall Hotel, formerly known as the Adam’s Mark at Florida Mall, is undergoing a $23-million total property enhancement program scheduled for completion this summer and featuring 20,000 sf of new meeting space and technology upgrades.

* Scheduled for a Sept 2006 opening at the 584-room Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes is a new 14,135-sf ballroom (accommodating up to 1,500 people, with a separate 3,000-sf private exterior patio available for outdoor functions) for a total of 47,635 sf of “Ritz-y” meetings space. (Orlando-based real estate trust CNL Hotels & Resorts, which has a portfolio of 95 properties nationwide, has purchased the 500-acre Grande Lakes Orlando resort, which includes JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Orlando).

* The 2,000-room Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center will debut a 105,000-sf Cypress Ballroom in 2007, the largest pillar-free resort ballroom in the nation.

* At Universal Orlando, the 750-room Portofino Bay Hotel has completed an extensive $5.5-million renovation that included new bedding, pillows, curtains, upholstery, artwork and lamps, and carpet in all rooms.

* The 778-room Renaissance Orlando Resort at SeaWorld is undergoing a $20-million makeover this year with a renovation plan that calls for the complete refurbishment of the Crystal and Coral ballrooms and upgraded bedding in the guest rooms. The hotel also plans to open a full-service spa in 2007.

* Royal Plaza in the Walt Disney World Resort has reopened following an extensive, multimillion-dollar renovation of its 394 guest rooms, common areas, and 17,500 sf of meeting space.


* The 718-room Radisson Resort Orlando-Celebration, formerly the Radisson Resort Parkway, is undergoing a propertywide update of guest rooms, common areas, and meeting space to satisfy the needs of meeting groups.

* The Stetson University Center at Celebration has recently debuted a meeting facility that can accommodate seminars, workshops, and conferences from 15 to 150. Amenities include land-based and wireless high-speed Internet access, teleconferencing, document cameras, desktop and laptop computers, catering services, and an on-site network administrator.

Groups Should Consider these recommendations from Successful Meetings Home Team experts. Top choices include the 1,400-room Gaylord Palms Resort, the 510-room Florida Mall Hotel, and the 750-room Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.

Recommended for Dining

The restaurants below have group facilities and were selected from the Zagat Survey of Orlando: La Coq au Vin (French); Palm, Morton’s The Steakhouse, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House (steak houses); McCormick & Schmick’s (seafood); Chatham’s Place (Continental); Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando (Italian); Roy’s Orlando (Hawaiian); and Harvey’s Bistro (American).

For more information on these and other restaurants in Orlando, please click on

Contributors who informed this section include Home Team members Melissa Biele, CMP; Sherri Cook, CMP; and William Youngs. (Contact them at [email protected])

Readers Recommend

Our subscribers gave Pinnacle Awards to the following:

Orlando/Orange County CVB
Kissimmee CVB
Orlando World Center Marriott
JW Marriott Orlando
Peabody Orlando
Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate
Caribe Royale All-Suites Resort & Convention Center
Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club
Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center
Hard Rock Hotel Orlando
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
Portofino Bay at Universal
Rosen Centre
Rosen Plaza
WDW Swan & Dolphin

For complete listings, visit Tools & Resources at


Greener Horizons: Shingle Creek Resort

In the 1990s, hotelier Harris Rosen, who owns and operates six properties in the Orlando area, gambled by building two high-rise hotels, the Rosen Centre and Rosen Plaza, on either side of the Orange County Convention Center. He came up a big winner, with market-leading occupancy rates at both properties. Now Rosen, a self-described maverick, is betting meeting groups want a multi-amenity, self-contained golf resort less than a mile east of Orlando’s largest meeting and convention facility.

On schedule for a September 30th opening, the 230-acre, 1,500-room Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, fashioned in a Spanish Revival style, will feature 250,000 sf of meeting space, including three column-free ballrooms (95,000-sf Gatlin, 60,000-sf Sebastian, and 40,000-sf Panzacola). The oversized guest rooms will offer views of the golf course and surroundings. Dining options will be highlighted by an upscale steak house and a fine-dining Italian bistro.

Taking full advantage of its location at the headwaters of the Florida Everglades, the resort’s recreation lineup will feature outdoor activities like seasonal canoe trips, nature trails, fishing, and a rock-climbing wall. But for most, the main event will be Shingle Creek’s centerpiece, a Dave Harman-designed, 18-hole, championship golf course, which opened in 2003.
The course’s challenging layout, the closest to the Orange County Convention Center, has undulating fairways that weave through oaks, pines, and palms. Each hole has five sets of tees, affording play opportunities for all skill levels, and the on-site Brad Brewer Golf Academy has clinic and special-event opportunities. —ES

Disney World Expedition Everest

At one turn I laughed uncontrollably like a wide-eyed 12-year-old. Seconds later, I screamed in fright, wishing I was back on the Tea Cups at the Magic Kingdom.
Towering nearly 200 feet high at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, Expedition Everest is destined to be one of the entertainment giant’s most popular rides. A massive, snowcapped replica of the Everest peak dominates the experience, but Disney imagineers have also recreated the trappings of a mountain expedition, where guests must stop in the “booking office” to obtain permits, then at the general store to get supplies necessary for the arduous journey.

Afterwards, on their way to board the actual ride—a seemingly vintage 34-passenger industrial railway that races out-of-control inside and outside of the mountain—the prospective explorers pass through an old tea warehouse that houses an elaborate museum showcasing artifacts that reflect Nepalese culture, a history of the Himalayas, and tales of the yeti (aka the “Abominable Snowman”).

Through attention to detail, authenticity, and with its own special event concept (“Everest Yeti-Fest”), Expedition Everest, which debuts next month, can accommodate 800 guests for a buffet dinner and up to 1,000 guests for a stand-up reception. Groups can arrive at the authentic-looking Asian village of Anandapur (pictured) for a buffet dinner with music and entertainers, then have dessert at Base Camp at the foot of Expedition Everest where they can also ride the attraction and possibly meet a yeti.

In fact, at Disney, what are the odds?—ES