Florida Meeting Planner’s Guide

Florida Meeting Planner’s Guide

Ed Schmidt Jr.

Byline: Ed Schmidt Jr.

WHAT’S NEW

In the past five years, Florida’s meeting and convention infrastructure has endured post-9/11 travel scares, a mild recession, and now, the battering of powerful and destructive hurricanes. Through all the disasters and tribulations, the people of Florida have proven their remarkable resilience.

Amazingly, only a few resorts closed temporarily because of the four hurricanes (Charley, Ivan, Frances, and Jeanne), and the state’s tourism infrastructure is intact. Among the meeting-oriented resorts that closed are the 600-unit South Seas Resort & Yacht Harbour Resort on Captiva Island near Fort Myers, which is undergoing extensive renovations; the 270-room Sundial Beach Resort on Sanibel Island near Fort Myers, which plans to reopen December 15; the 742-room Adam’s Mark Daytona Beach Resort, which is slated to reopen in late December or early January; and the 401-room Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in Fort Myers, which will reopen in early 2005 after a redesign. Almost all of Florida’s hotels are open, except in Pensacola in northwest Florida and St. Lucie on the central east coast, two of the hardest-hit areas. All of the state’s major convention centers were unscathed.

Statistics indicate that 2004 was an anomaly of grand proportions. From 1899 to 2003, 60 hurricanes made landfall in Florida, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center. This translates into about one hurricane every two years in Florida in more than 100 years. “To have four strong hurricanes hit the same state in the same year is almost unheard of,” says Max Mayfield, director, National Hurricane Center. “The last time four hurricanes hit any one state was in 1886.”

So Florida is looking to the future – not the past. Central Florida is aggressively courting larger groups. In January, Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center will host four major shows with an estimated attendance of 237,000 delegates and an economic impact of $286 million – on course to be the strongest convention month in Orlando’s history. Late last year, the OCCC Phase 5 expansion debuted, adding 950,282 gross square feet of exhibition space. And chances are good for more new hotel construction nearby. Hilton and Hyatt both own sites suitable for 1,500-room hotels within walking distance.

In Daytona Beach, the recently completed Ocean Walk Shoppes at the Village includes a 10-screen movie complex and a variety of restaurants and shops. Ocean Walk Village, which encompasses resorts and a convention center, is opening in phases through 2007. Currently offering 74,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, the Ocean Center convention complex will triple its size by 2007 with an additional 170,00 square feet of space.

In Fort Lauderdale, the $50 million redevelopment of The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale shopping complex features Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 will port during the winter at Port Everglades. And ArtsPark, set to open next year, will include an art gallery, theater, and an amphitheater with covered and lawn seating.

Miami has added several upscale properties (see “Facilities Update”). Celebrating a grand opening this month is the 570,000 square-foot Greater Miami’s Performing Arts Center, designed by architect Cesar Pelli. A major project within the Miami-Dade Empowerment Zone, the Center is the focal point of a growing arts, media, and entertainment district that will include the new home of Florida Grand Opera.

Last year the Palm Beach County Convention Center opened, set on 19 acres in West Palm Beach. The two-level, 350,000-square-foot complex features a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, as well as 23,000 square feet of breakout space divisible into 23 rooms.

Naples and Marco Island continue their dynamic growth with luxury and boutique hotel openings and several new golf courses. Scheduled to debut next year is a new 28-gate terminal at the Southwest Florida International Airport, which will replace the 17-gate terminal complex that opened in 1963.

In the Keys, Key West International Airport is building a new, 45,000-square-foot, $24 million terminal that is set to open in 2007.

FACILITY UPDATE

NORTHERN FLORIDA & THE PANHANDLE

JACKSONVILLE AREA

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The Hampton Inn & Suites Deerwood Park has 128 rooms and suites. The hotel opened in September.

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Ocean Hammock Resort recently opened The Lodge at Ocean Hammock, an intimate, full-service facility featuring 20 luxury rooms located beachside on the Atlantic Ocean.

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The 508-room Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Beach Club in Ponte Vedra Beach is set to debut its 20,000-square-foot Spa at Sawgrass in February. The resort recently completed an expansion of meeting facilities that brings its total to 56,000 square feet of meeting space.

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The Grand Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort opened the 60,000-square-foot Baytowne Conference Center last year. It can accommodate up to 1,600 people, and features the 13,500-square-foot Magnolia Ballroom. The center is right next door to the Grand Sandestin, a condominium hotel. Scheduled to open in fall 2005 at the entrance to the resort are a Courtyard by Marriott and a Marriott Residence Inn. Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort will manage and operate both Marriott properties, which together will offer almost 300 rooms and suites.

THE WEST COAST

BONITA SPRINGS

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The three-year-old Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs, midway between Naples and Fort Myers, is adding nine holes to its Raptor Bay golf course, now at 18 holes, in early 2005. The resort has 450 rooms and 73,000 square feet of meeting space.

FORT MYERS

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After damage from Hurricane Charley in August, the 600-unit South Seas Resort & Yacht Harbour Resort on Captiva Island, with 24,000 square feet of meeting space, is undergoing extensive renovations and is expected to be fully operational this month.

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The Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in Fort Myers, hit hard by Hurricane Charley, should be fully operational by the beginning of 2005. All 401 guest rooms; the main lobby and the lobby at the Inn at Sanibel Harbour, a boutique hotel located on property; three F&B outlets; and 45,000 square feet of function space with four ballrooms and 24 meeting rooms will have been redesigned at opening.

MARCO ISLAND

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The 100-suite Marco Beach Ocean Resort recently expanded its meeting space, for a total of 10,000 square feet.

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The 727-room Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa, with 36 meeting rooms and 60,000 square feet of meeting space, recently debuted a 24,000-square-foot spa.

TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG AREA

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The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, a complex that encompasses a 90,000-square-foot casino, several restaurants, a spa, a total of 12,000 square feet of meeting space, and a 12-story hotel tower with 250 guest rooms, opened this spring.

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Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, a 480-acre resort with 800 rooms, two championship golf courses, and 82,000 square feet of meeting space, will complete an $8.5 million guest room and suite redecoration program by the end of this year.

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The 445-room Hyatt Regency Westshore has completed a multimillion-dollar redesign of all guest rooms to become the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.

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A $12 million Hampton Inn & Suites with 132 rooms is scheduled to open in Ybor City Historic District in 2005.

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The 272-room Quorum Hotel – Tampa, formerly the Crowne Plaza Westshore, with 12,000 square feet of meeting space, has completed a $5 million renovation.

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The 250-room Ramada Inn Conference Center, with 12,000 square feet of refurbished meeting space, has re-opened as the Park Plaza Hotel.

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The $45 million, 293-room Renaissance Tampa Hotel International Plaza opened its doors in August with 12,500 square feet of meeting space.

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The 585-room TradeWinds Island Grand Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach has finished an $11.5 million renovation that included the addition of high-speed Internet access.

CENTRAL FLORIDA

GREATER ORLANDO

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The 1,338-room Caribe Royale All-Suites Resort & Convention Center has debuted its 40,000-square-foot Grand Sierra Ballroom, bringing the total meeting space to 150,000 square feet, and added two new restaurants.

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The 167-suite Embassy Suites Orlando Downtown has debuted its new 2,800-square-foot ballroom.

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Grande Lakes Orlando has expanded its meeting space with the addition of the 28,000-square-foot Coquina Ballroom to the JW Marriott.

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By 2006, the 2,000-room Orlando World Center Marriott will have added 115,000 square feet of exhibit space to its conference center. The resort now has 214,000 square feet of meeting and pre-function space.

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The 1,051-room Wyndham Orlando Resort recently completed an expansion that added a 42,000-square-foot conference center.

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The 891-room Peabody Orlando, with 57,000 square feet of meeting space, has completed a remodeling of its lobby and introduced the Peabody Dream Bed by Simmons Beautyrest.

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The 146-unit Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort offers a 14,000-square-foot conference center, 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus – designed golf, a golf academy, and an equestrian center available for special events. Its sister property, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, has 750 guest rooms and about 65,000 square feet of meeting space on two levels.

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A $14 million renovation slated for completion in late 2006 is under way at the 742-room Doubletree Hotel at the entrance to Universal Orlando (formerly the Radisson Hotel Orlando). It has 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

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Five blocks from the Orange County Convention Center and two blocks from SeaWorld Orlando, the 1,102-room Sheraton World Resort offers 75,000 square feet of meeting space and a full-service business center.

KISSIMMEE

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The 144-unit MainStay Suites Maingate, featuring fully equipped kitchens, opened in September.

DAYTONA BEACH

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In Palm Coast, south of St. Augustine and north of Daytona, the 197-room Club at Hammock Beach opened in June. Highlights include a $6 million pool and water pavilion, oceanfront golf designed by Jack Nicklaus, and a full-service spa. A separate conference center has more than 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

PALM BEACH COUNTY

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The 569-room The Breakers in Palm Beach recently debuted its new family entertainment center. The resort is also redesigning and refurbishing its Breakers West golf course, with completion expected by mid-December. It will be renamed The Breakers Rees Jones Course.

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Boca Raton Resort & Club has rolled out a new meeting planner Web site that escorts users through the entire planning process. The resort also just added wireless Internet access in the public areas, from the pools and beach to the restaurants. The Mizner Center has 128,000 square feet of meeting space inspired by the southern Mediterranean architecture of the resort’s founder, Addison Mizner. Four ballrooms can accommodate groups from 15 to 1,800.

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The 339-room PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens has completed a $12 million renovation.

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The 352-room West Palm Beach Marriott was officially dedicated in October after a renovation and conversion from a Sheraton hotel. The hotel has a fully kosher kitchen and 18,000 square feet of meeting space. It serves as the headquarters hotel to the new Palm Beach County Convention Center.

SOUTH FLORIDA & FLORIDA KEYS

GREATER MIAMI

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The 308-room Conrad Miami on Brickell Avenue opened in March with 15,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel is the first American location of Hilton’s new high-end hotel brand.

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Also on Brickell Avenue, the 221-room Four Seasons Hotel Miami opened late last year with 14,210 square feet of meeting space and a 40,000-square-foot spa.

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Featuring 263 rooms and 2,300 square feet of meeting space, Miami Beach’s first Courtyard by Marriott Hotel opened earlier this year.

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The 36-story Fontainbleau II condominium-hotel is scheduled for completion in December, to coincide with the Fontainebleau Hilton Resort’s 50th anniversary.

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The 157-room Omni Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables recently added more than 7,000 square feet of ballroom space, bringing the total meeting space to more than 30,000 square feet.

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The former Renaissance Miami Biscayne Bay Hotel has been reflagged the Radisson Hotel Miami. It features 43,000 square feet of meeting space.

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The 390-room Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort, a $110 million project in Sunny Isles featuring 22,000 square feet of meeting space, opened late last year.

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The 395-room Turnberry Isle Resort & Club has been reflagged as The Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club.

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The 645-room Sheraton Bal Harbour Beach Resort in Bal Harbour has renovated its main ground-floor restaurant and recently completed a softgoods renovation in the South Tower. The resort has more than 52,000 square feet of meeting space.

GREATER FORT LAUDERDALE

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Starwood’s prestigious Luxury Collection opened The Atlantic, a 123-suite hotel and condominium on Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, in June.

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The 300-room Radisson Bahia Mar Beach Resort has added an Internet cafe in the lobby and recently renovated its guest room bathrooms. As of January 1, the resort will be renamed the Bahia Mar Beach Resort, and will no longer be a Radisson. Meeting space includes an 8,200-square-foot ballroom along with 12 breakout rooms.

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Scheduled for completion late next summer in Fort Lauderdale is Florida’s first St. Regis Hotel, The St. Regis Resort, Spa and Residences. This 23-story, $135 million luxury resort will include 166 guest rooms and suites, a 20,000-square-foot spa, and 14,000 square feet of meeting space. Exclusive to resort guests are tee times on the Jack Nicklaus – designed signature golf course.

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Starwood Hotels will open the $220 million W Fort Lauderdale Hotel and Residences in December 2006. The 346-room hotel and 171 luxury residences will be on a 4.5-acre site with views of the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway. The 23-story, two-tower hotel and residences will offer a 10,000-square-foot spa and fitness facility and more than 13,000 square feet of meeting space.

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In May the $200 million Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Resort opened in Hollywood with 500 rooms, a 130,000-square-foot casino, a spa, and 100,000 square feet of meeting space.

FLORIDA KEYS

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Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo recently debuted its 12,000-square-foot Town Hall Meeting Center. It can accommodate up to 100 guests for receptions.

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Hawk’s Cay Resort on Duck Key, with 25,000 square feet of meeting space, has a new spa and 26 new two-bedroom units in Sanctuary Village, which complement its 177 guest rooms and suites.

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The 216-room Doubletree Grand Key Resort in Key West opened a 3,500-square-foot conference center earlier this year.

ASK THE CVB

Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (800) 544-0415 www.daytonabeachcvb.org Total Hotel Tax: 11.5%

Emerald Coast CVB (800) 322-3319; (850) 651-7131 www.destin-fwb.com Total Hotel Tax: 10%

Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB (954) 765-4466; www.sunny.org Total Hotel Tax: 11%

Florida Keys & Key West CVB (800) Ask-Keys; www.fla-keys.com Total Hotel Tax: 11%

Greater Miami CVB (305) 539-3000 www.miamiandbeaches.com Total Hotel Tax: 13%

Greater Naples, Marco Island and The Everglades CVB (800) 688-3600 www.classicFlorida.com Total Hotel Tax: 9%

Jacksonville & The Beaches CVB (904) 798-9111, ext. 26 www.visitjacksonville.com Total Hotel Tax: 12%

Kissimmee-St. Cloud CVB (407) 847-5000 www.floridakiss.com Total Hotel Tax: 12%

Lee Island Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau (800) 237-6444; (239) 338-3500 www.leeislandcoast.com Total Hotel Tax: 9%

Orlando/Orange County CVB (407) 363-5872 www.orlandoinfo.com/meetings Total Hotel Tax: 11.5%

Palm Beach County CVB (561) 233-3000; www.palmbeachfl.com Total Hotel Tax: 10%

Panama City Beach CVB (800) PCBEACH; (850) 257-1225 www.800pcbeach.com Total Hotel Tax: 10.5%

Pensacola CVB (850) 434-1234 www.visitpensacola.com Total Hotel Tax: 11.5%

St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area CVB (877) 352-3224; (727) 464-7200 www.floridasbeach.com Total Hotel Tax: 11%

Sarasota CVB (941) 955-0991 www.sarasotafl.org Total Hotel Tax: 10%

The Beaches of South Walton (800) 822-6877 (850) 267-1216 beachesofsouthwalton.com Total Hotel Tax: 10%

Tampa Bay CVB (813) 223-1111 www.visittampabay.com Total Hotel Tax: 12%

Phantom Planner

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At certain times of the year, flying insects can spoil an outdoor event in Florida. It’s a good idea to have the area sprayed a couple of days before an event, as well as use silent bug zappers and citronella candles. Also, provide staff members with insect spray.

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For groups that want to incorporate a launch viewing at the Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, admission-launch packages are available at www.kennedyspacecenter.com.

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By purchasing tickets in advance at Walt Disney World, attendees can save an additional 10 percent on special multi-day meeting/convention tickets. Available exclusively to meeting attendees, these tickets feature “Park Hopper” privileges, which let attendees come and go as they please among all four theme parks. Each ticket also offers complimentary admission to Downtown Disney Pleasure Island or DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park.

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An excellent way to incorporate two different Florida destinations is by using Key West Shuttle, which operates a year-round ferry service between Key West and Fort Myers Beach and November through Memorial Day service from Key West to Marco Island.

Wow Factor

ORLANDO

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Set to open in 2005 at Disney-MGM Studios is the Disneyland Paris Stunt Show Spectacular, a thrill-show featuring car and motorcycle stunts.

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Expedition: EVEREST at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, slated to open in 2006, will feature a high-speed train bound for Mount Everest. The venue will also be available as a centerpiece for private group events.

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The recently opened Waterfront at SeaWorld is a 5-acre entertainment, dining, and shopping venue. Other new happenings at SeaWorld Orlando include the recently premiered Makahiki Luau show, a nightly Polynesian experience; and Odyssea, a circus-like performance.

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Universal Studios Florida opened The Revenge of the Mummy thrill ride, based on the hit movie The Mummy, in May.

MIAMI

Parrot Jungle Island moved to its new location in June. The new 18.6-acre park is between downtown Miami and South Beach.

TAMPA

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay introduced KaTonga, an African-inspired, 40-minute musical production of animal folklore.

LA DOLCE VITA

Spa Style

Like everyone else, Florida has gone spa crazy. Whether your meeting is at a posh oceanfront complex, a theme park hotel, or golf resort, rest assured, there’s always a spa nearby. Here’s a glance at some of the newest additions to Florida’s resort spa menu:

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The Four Seasons Hotel Miami features a 40,000-square-foot spa with 10 treatment rooms and the Four Seasons in One signature treatment package.

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Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa recently debuted its 24,000-square-foot Balinese Health Spa with 24 treatment rooms and a warm, tropical decor highlighted by shades of peach and terra cotta.

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The Marriott Orlando World Center offers a 10,000-square-foot spa with 25 treatments and group and personal wellness counseling.

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The newest spa in Orlando is at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, a 10,000-square-foot European-style facility with 10 treatment rooms featuring hot stone massage, a full-service beauty salon, and a fully equipped health club.

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The Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort is home to the 8,000-square-foot Mandara Spa, which offers a program of personalized spa treatments designed to appeal as corporate gifts and rewards.

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The Ritz-Carlton Spa at Grande Lakes Resort (midway between the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, Orlando) is the largest spa in Orlando, with more than 40,000 square feet of space that features 40 treatment rooms, a beauty salon, a fitness center, a lap pool, and a spa cafe. The resort spa has been a huge hit since its opening last year.

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The Aquanox Spa at the new Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort in Sunny Isles features six treatment rooms, a fitness center, massage therapy, and total facial and skin care treatments.

The Show Must Go On

Opening a 730-room major meeting-oriented resort is a difficult task, but how would you like to battle three furious hurricanes during the process? That’s what the staff at the Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate had to do. Amazingly, the 16-story hotel, framed by two Greg Norman – designed championship golf courses, opened on time on October 10.

“We basically planted our trees four times,” says Paul Pebley, Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate marketing director, referring to the deja vu – like effect of hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne. “Fortunately, we never received any structural damage. All of the problems were cosmetic in nature.”

Pebley says one of the biggest challenges was to train his staff in such a limited amount of time. “Many of our employees were battling the hurricanes on a personal level and trying to protect their own homes,” says Pebley. “We went to 10-hour training days instead of eight, and reached our goal. You find out about the quality of people you have on board when you see how they react to adverse situations.”

The new resort features the world headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, seven food and beverage outlets, a spa, fitness center, outdoor heated swimming pool, and a family activity pool with water slides and a “lazy river.”

The resort can handle groups of up to 2,000 with 70,000 square feet of meeting space.

Special Venues

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For large receptions of up to 3,000, the Apollo/Saturn V Center in Titusville offers a 100,000 square-foot facility at Kennedy Space Center. The center features reenactments of an Apollo launch and lunar landing, authentic flight hardware, and an actual moon rock. (321) 449-4400; www.KennedySpaceCenter.com

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Gulfstream Park in Hallandale recently opened the Finish Line Sky Suite, which provides a luxury box setting for private groups. The climate-controlled, glass-enclosed suite, with a spectacular view of the racetrack, features a wet bar, refrigerator, large flat-screen TVs, seating for up to 15 guests, and a dedicated concierge. www.gulfstreampark.com

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The National Croquet Center complex in Palm Beach, headquarters for the U.S. Croquet Association, has a 19,000-square-foot clubhouse and 12 full-sized courts. Sit-down parties for up to 200 can be accommodated on the first floor of the clubhouse, and a second-floor museum can handle up to 223 guests for banquets. www.croquetNational.com

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Lady Tampa Bay, a 92-foot yacht docked in downtown Tampa, can accommodate 149 for receptions and 120 for sit-down banquets. www.visittampabay.com

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The Orlando Harley-Davidson Historic Factory Dealership, a 35,000-square-foot complex, offers a motorcycle showroom, regulation test track for rider education programs, motorcycle rental, and special events capabilities, including bike rides. www.orlandoharley.com

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The Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships in Key West offers the 80-foot, 49-passenger schooner Liberty and the 125-foot, 115-passenger Liberty Clipper for private and group charters featuring Caribbean cuisine. www.libertyfleet.com

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Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum in Key West, with collections of gold, silver, jewels, and artifacts salvaged from the sunken Spanish galleon Atocha, has a landscaped courtyard with seating for 225. www.melfisher.org

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