One of the country’s meetings hotbeds, Orlando always has new attractions coming online that can spark the interest of attendees who have visited the city numerous times. This June will see the debut of Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Resort, a tropical island-themed water park. Also this summer, Walt Disney World Resort will introduce Pandora – The World of AVATAR. The largest expansion in the history of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Pandora will feature elements such as floating mountains, bioluminescent rainforests and a Banshee flying attraction.
Disney Springs, the resort’s shopping, dining and entertainment hub, welcomed the reimagined Planet Hollywood Observatory last fall. “The five completely different spaces have been expertly designed to accommodate groups of all sizes, and our amazing event staff has been trained to deliver the most memorable experiences groups can have,” said Robert Earl, Founder and Chairman, Planet Hollywood International, in a statement. Groups can use a state-of-the art, 4,500-sq.-ft. immersive video wall for corporate messaging, and enjoy the interactive DJ spinning nightly on the main floor.
On the hotel front, Orlando will see the debut of the 187-room Margaritaville Resort late this year, a completed renovation at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in the fall, and the one-year anniversary of the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort in July.
Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
From spring to fall 2017, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort’s Dolphin lobby will undergo a $12 million redesign. The project is the final stage of the resort’s $140 million makeover, which also includes the transformation of all 2,267 guestrooms, along with upgrades to the hotel’s meeting space.
“This lobby will mark the final piece of an exciting transformation for the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort,” said General Manager Fred Sawyers. “The space is designed specifically to cater to today’s guests and offer an inviting place where they can come together to relax, network and grab something to eat or drink.”
The centerpiece of the new lobby will be a custom crystal chandelier that will sparkle above the fountain and use the latest in color-changing lighting technology. Two new food and beverage options will be incorporated into the lobby, including a bar and lounge space seating up to 150. The Dolphin Resort lobby will remain open throughout the renovation with minimal impact to resort guests.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort
Last summer’s opening of Loews Sapphire Falls Resort directly adjacent to Loews Royal Pacific Resort has created The Loews Meeting Complex at Universal Orlando, which offers a total of 2,000 guestrooms and more than 247,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. That wealth of meeting possibilities ensures that “We are always ‘right sized’,” remarks Barb Bowden, Managing Director for the Complex. Individually, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort offers 1,000 guestrooms and 115,000 sq. ft. of total meeting space, including the 41,000-sq.-ft. Grand Caribbean Ballroom (divisible into 12 sections), 30,000-sq.-ft. Kingston Hall and 16,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space.
The indoor meeting space utilizes three methods of transit — escalator, elevator and stairs — to shuttle meeting participants between sessions without crowding. Jennifer Hodges, Director of Public Relations for Loews Resorts, explains that a common complaint among meeting attendees is that in some resorts it can take up to 10 minutes to get from the guestrooms to the meeting space, but at Loews Sapphire Falls attendees can walk from their guestroom to any location within the resort in under five minutes.
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort was built to take advantage of its proximity to Universal Studios. A river taxi continuously pulls up to the resort, shuttling meeting attendees to Universal CityWalk, which contains multiple dining, shopping and nightlife activities. Meeting planners can coordinate offsite events at CityWalk venues without having to arrange any transportation. CityWalk also harbors the entrance to Universal Studios, including the popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, and Islands of Adventure.
One of the most attractive onsite locations at Loews Sapphire Falls is Cayman Court Pavilion. Its “forever lawn” is an outdoor event area where staff from the Caribbean can bring their homeland to life through music, dancing and authentic food. Cayman Court is situated directly between the convention center and hotel and has its own drive-up access so even offsite event attendees can have ease of arrival and departure. The convention center itself can also serve as a dining area where proper lighting can be programmed and chandeliers can be brought in to turn any part of the available 115,000 sq. ft. into an intimate space. —Deborah Shapiro