From Orlando to Kissimmee to Lakeland and beyond, tourism and transportation investments keep meeting professionals coming back to Central Florida.

Orlando

When Visit Orlando recently announced that a staggering 68 million visitors came to Orlando in 2016, no one was really surprised. What was surprising was the rapid growth in the past few years with “just” 51 million visitors in 2010 alone.

To accommodate this influx of leisure guests and meeting attendees, capital improvements are in evidence all over Orlando—from the new South Terminal Complex at Orlando International Airport, adding 16 gates and additional parking, to the expansion at the Orange County Convention Center to further accommodate its 200-plus events per year.  New hotels, meeting space, restaurants and attractions at the theme parks have truly made Orlando the place to meet.

“I’m always telling meeting planners that you can come to Orlando year after year and get a different experience every time,” said Fred Shea, senior vice president of convention sales & services at Visit Orlando. “Orlando has so much happening, with a wide variety of experiences in and outside the parks and new restaurants and attractions. I-Drive will soon open Andretti Indoor Karting & Games and Topgolf Orlando, both great for group events.  And high-end Circo Orlando, from New York’s famous Le Cirque restaurant, will open next to Mango’s Tropical Cafe on International Drive,” he said.

There are scores of other recent openings and renovations, including Rosen Plaza Hotel’s new 3NINE at The Plaza, a premier turnkey entertainment venue accommodating up to 1,500 guests when including ’39 Poolside Bar & Grill. Rosen Shingle Creek’s 1,501 luxury guest rooms, its grand lobby, Headwaters Lounge and Cafe Osceola have all been refreshed.  

Universal’s Loews Sapphire Falls Resort added 1,000 guest rooms and 115,000 square feet of meeting space, connecting to Loews Royal Pacific Resort, creating the Loews Meeting Complex with a combined total of 2,000 rooms. New attractions include the water theme park Volcano Bay and a new ride—Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon.

“Universal Orlando Resort is a truly unique meetings destination,” said Vince LaRuffa, senior vice president, resort sales and marketing for Universal Orlando Resort. “The recent opening of The Loews Meeting Complex means an additional 295,000 square feet of meeting space in addition to 6,200 guest rooms, making it an ideal location for groups of any size.”

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort’s planned expansion includes a new 15-story tower adding an additional 500 rooms to the resort, a new rooftop restaurant and meeting venues that include a boardroom and two multipurpose rooms that will add to the resort’s current 220,000 square feet of meeting space.

Also in the works is a 28,000-square-foot expansion of the convention center at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort, bringing the total amount of flexible meeting and event space to 100,000 square feet.

Entertainment complex Disney Springs announced several new restaurants: Paddlefish, in a reimagined steamship; The Edison, themed as a 1920s-era electric company; The Polite Pig; Planet Hollywood Observatory; and Wine Bar George.

Attendees can explore the magic of Nature ‘on’ Pandora–The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where they are immersed in a mystical world of bioluminescent rainforests.

Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek unveiled a 3,500-square-foot ballroom accommodating up to 360 people and a 2,155-square-foot expedition meeting room. Meanwhile, the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort is undergoing a $140 million multiyear redesign project to transform all of its 2,267 guest rooms.

Other hotels in the news include the Buena Vista Palace Resort and Spa, now the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace, commemorating a large-scale renovation project that includes 92,000 square feet of renovated meeting space.

Westgate Resorts recently opened Village at Westgate Lakes, a seven-story mixed-use development at Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa. The Village features Drafts Sports Bar & Grill and 20,000 square feet of conference and meeting space. In the works is The Sunset Key Island retreat and event center, a private island for up to 300 people, with palm trees, tropical flora, tiki figures and thatched-roof Chickee Hut, constructed by the Seminole tribe of Florida.