There’s a reason that Orlando is consistently ranked as one of the top meeting destinations in the U.S.—its overall mix of modern event facilities and family-friendly entertainment options are unmatched.
From the impressive attractions and hotels at Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World Resorts to the massive Orange County Convention Center, the second-largest convention center in the country, Orlando has a lot to offer both large and small groups looking to meet in a memorable setting.
And there are also plenty of new developments on the way, as witnessed in a recent 2-in-1 press trip with Universal Orlando Resort and Visit Orlando that took place Feb. 23-28.
Universal Orlando Resort
The Universal Orlando Resort includes two theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and five on-site hotels—Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay—in addition to the sprawling Universal Citywalk entertainment and restaurant district outside the theme parks.
I stayed at the 1,000-room Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which features a South Pacific-themed setting and over 132,000 square feet of recently renovated function space. On my first day at the property I had some downtime, so I enjoyed some fish tacos by the large lagoon-style pool.
The pace immediately picked up that evening when my group was whisked over to a private party and welcome dinner at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which included a ride on the Hogwarts Express from Hogsmeade in Universal’s Islands of Adventure to Diagon Alley in Universal Studios.
I’m no Harry Potter fanatic, but I know enough of the story to appreciate all of the details that went into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and even those unfamiliar with the books will be impressed by the unique event setups each venue can offer for a group reception—with Butterbeer on tap for dessert.
Major incoming Universal Orlando Resort additions include a Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction and the brand-new, 1,000-room Loews Sapphire Falls Resort with 115,000 square feet of meeting space.
Visit Orlando Media FAM
I have to admit by the second part of the Orlando press trip with Visit Orlando I was pretty exhausted from all of the previous theme park excitement (Us meetings industry scribes live a rough life!), but I managed to loosen the belt a notch and partake in even more dining and exploration across Orlando.
Visit Orlando is the official tourism resource for the Orange County area and is also the largest such outfit in the world. So there’s no doubt that they take care of meeting planners (and journalists). I was able to stay at the Walt Disney World Swan Resort, which makes up half of the Swan & Dolphin Resort.
As par for the course, upon my arrival I was immediately greeted with an excellent back-of-house dining experience with Meetings Today Top Chef Robert Ciborowski, who served up a series of gourmet eats. The next day, my group hopped aboard the resort’s private Fan-ta-sea boat for a VIP breakfast.
We rode the Fan-ta-sea across the waterways that connect the various Walt Disney World theme parks, including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom. While a little overwhelming, Disney theme parks can also accommodate groups for themed functions.
However, if your attendees are like me, Disney Springs might be more their style, with an impressive mix of restaurants, nightlife and entertainment that is in the midst of an on-going expansion that will double the number of shops, restaurants and other venues to more than 150 establishments later in 2016.
In total the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort offers more than 329,000 square feet of meeting space, including 84 meeting rooms, four ballrooms and some impressive outdoor venues.
Some additional Visit Orlando press trip highlights included a stop at the I-Drive 360 entertainment complex, which includes the Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds, Sea Life Aquarium and Skeletons Museum attractions, and a tour of the Waldorf Astoria Orlando.
So, what are the big takeaways from my 2-in-1 Orlando press trip?
Prepare for some delicious meals, definitely pack some walking shoes (if that’s your primary means of travel), and the folks at Universal Orlando and Visit Orlando will take care of you and your group from there, whether large or small.