Orlando Excites

From a new convention center to new theme parks, Orlando is on the move

Orlando's meetings, conventions, and events sector is off and running following a record year in 2017, according to George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando

"The year has started off strong with marquee events such as Design & Construction Week, a joint event with the International Builders' Show and the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, the PGA Merchandise Show, and the International Sign Expo," he says. "We are seeing our clients and their attendees benefit from the addition of new and renovated hotel properties, as well as walkable dining and entertainment options within the convention center district that have opened in the last few years." 

And with more developments in the works for the convention district and the I-95 corridor leading to it, Orlando is ready for more growth, he adds. "As planners work to grow their event content and attendance, we're working towards meeting their demands for additional space, improving walkability, and providing an unmatched destination experience," Aguel says. 

Planning is underway, pending county approval, for a 200,000-square-foot addition to the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), Aguel says. The multi-purpose venue provides a new space for events with arena seating that will roll out of the wall for general sessions or other events of 12,000 to 15,000 people. The project is expected to take four-and-one-half years from the time it is approved, Aguel says, adding that "the OCCC recently completed an extensive, $187 million renovation, which included a new 7,000-square-foot Destination Lounge, the OCCC Vision Gardens, a new pedestrian bridge connecting the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and new ballrooms." 

More broadly, Aguel says, the biggest trend he sees is the growth in popularity of the experiential meeting. "In Orlando, we have plenty of event spaces and concepts that are designed to showcase the uniqueness of the destination and provide a truly immersive experience," he says. "Whether they are attending a reception in front of a life-sized volcano, utilizing a branded character moment to introduce a keynote speaker, or participating in a unique, behind-the-scenes theme park event, Orlando gives planners a wide range of unique options to create experiences for attendees that they cannot anywhere else."

Universal Orlando
That volcano, of course, is in the Universal Orlando Resort, part of its third theme park which opened last year. Universal's Volcano Bay is a 30-acre fantasy land set around a volcano and lagoon. 

Coming this spring is Fast & Furious - Supercharged, bringing the high-adrenalin film and stars like Ludacris and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to Universal Studios Florida. It will include 15 of the movie's cars and was designed with private events in mind. On the technology side, it features Universal Orlando's new Virtual Line system via the waterproof TapuTapu wearable, letting attendees book a line-free time at the attractions, as well as offering the ability to access exclusive attraction-related content on the official Universal Orlando Resort Mobile App while in the park. Another recent Universal Studios attraction is Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, with a "flying" 72-seat theater that takes guests on a wild ride through New York City with The Tonight Show's host. 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has an eye-catching addition in the form of the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle, a light show illuminating the school's exterior with film-themed projections, a great enhancement for private evening events. 

Universal's Aventura Hotel, opening this summer, is the sixth on-site hotel at Universal Orlando Resort. It will be a value property with 600 guest rooms and the first hotel rooftop bar and grill in the resort. 

Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World is welcoming Andy, Woody, and Buzz Lightyear this summer when its massive new Toy Story Land opens on June 30 in Disney's Hollywood Studios. Based on Disney-Pixar's hit Toy Story films, the attraction is designed to make guests feel like they have shrunk to the size of a toy in Andy's backyard. The 11-acre attraction features giant building blocks, outsize board game pieces, and characters like Slinky Dog and Green Army Men, as well as nostalgic toys such as the Rubik's Cube and Tinkertoys. 

Toy Story Land is part of the largest expansion in Walt Disney World's history. Next year, the reimagined Disney's Hollywood Studio will unveil a 14-acre attraction, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, set in a trading post on the edge of the Star Wars universe's civilization. And last year, The World of Avatar opened in Disney's Animal Kingdom, bringing to life James Cameron's epic film. Attractions include Avatar Flight of Passage, a high-tech ride on one of the film's mountain banshees, across the colorful landscape of the top-grossing film of all time. 

On the hotel front, Disney's Yacht & Beach Club Resort will complete a major transformation this summer, with all 1,190 guest rooms renovated and a 28,000-square-foot addition bringing its total meeting space to 100,000 square feet. This will include a 16,000-square-foot divisible ballroom, as well as three pre-function spaces and two rotundas suitable for networking

Also coming later this year, Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, the largest of Walt Disney World's convention hotels, is adding a new, 15-story hotel tower with an additional 500 rooms, as well as a rooftop restaurant and lounge with panoramic fireworks views. A new meeting room and two function spaces, as well as 12,000 square feet of outdoor event space, will be added to the resort's current 220,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The resort's existing 1,910 rooms will be refurbished as well, and the landscaping updated with a series of floating gardens and an island oasis featuring a bar and grill designed with networking events in mind. 

Last fall, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort wrapped a three-year, $140 million renovation project including a redesign and technology upgrade of all 2,267 guest rooms. All 332,000 square feet of meeting space have been updated with a new look and Wi-Fi upgrades offering high-speed, uninterrupted internet access for groups as large as 15,000. A new 2,800-square-foot event space with scenic lake views has been added as well. 

Other Hotel News
In nearby Kissimmee, the big news is the Margaritaville Resort Orlando. A new destination on a 45-acre manmade lagoon, the $90 million property is expected to open later this year with 175 rooms, three restaurants, and 30,000 square feet of meeting space. 

In downtown Orlando, the Delaney Hotel, a 54-room boutique property in the SoDo district, will open in late spring with high-tech amenities such as remote check-in, tablet-based concierge services, and smartphone room keys. 

Other hotels going high-tech are the three Rosen Hotels & Resorts properties: the 1,501-room Rosen Shingle Creek, the 1,334-room Rosen Centre, and the 800-room Rosen Plaza, all on I-Drive. The three properties have unveiled interactive television technology in all rooms, including SONIFI from Google Chrome, which lets guests project apps directly from phones or tablets onto their room TVs. Among the benefits is access to streaming TV accounts like Netflix without giving the hotel your password. It can also be used for room cleaning, to order room service, and for check-out. On the group front, the system also allows for group messaging, including photos and videos, to the entire room block.

Other big news from the Rosen properties includes the renovation of the Rosen Centre, which wrapped recently. All of the guest rooms were redone with sleek, ultra-modern new furnishings and a calming blue color palette. More outlets and USB charging ports were added, and 1,024 rooms were upgraded to double queen beds. The property has 150,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

At the 2,009-room Orlando World Center Marriott, the newest tech offering is its World Finder app, an interactive wayfinding program providing guests with turn-by-turn navigation from check-in to check-out. The app also features information on the property's dining, recreational offerings, and more. Guests can also tap the "Near Me" function to locate nearby on-site offerings. The property has more than 450,000 square feet of event space.

Here are three great spots in Orlando -- one to stay, one to meet, and one to play:

Orange County Convention Center
Orlando's giant convention center will likely get a new addition that will not only add 200,000 square feet of space, but it will connect the two existing buildings.

 Rosen Centre
The newly renovated 1,334-room Rosen Centre has brought a new, calming color palette and very modern aesthetic to its rooms.

Topgolf Orlando
There's a reason Topgolf has been growing so fast: It's a fun way for small and large groups to gather and tee off without skill level mattering all that much.