The Meeting Magazines: Florida
New Hotels, Venues, Attractions Increasing the Sunshine State’s Appeal
By: Rayna Katz
The massive Orange County Convention Center is getting bigger. Funding of $560 million for a 140,000-sf expansion was approved by the County in 2023. Still being designed, the new space at the North-South building will include an 80,000-sf ballroom and another 60,000 sf of meeting space. Construction is expected to take three years.
Meanwhile, building officials are pursuing capital for another expansion that would add a 200,000-sf multi-purpose venue to the North-South building. No timeline is in place for that project but when the two developments are completed, the North-South building will have 1.15 million sf of exhibit space.
At Universal Orlando’s Loews Hotels complex — which is comprised of eight properties — two new production stages debuted this year: one offers 17,500 sf of usable space while the other has 12,500. Situated between Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure, the stages give planners options for a unique dining space and after-hours events.
Plus, Universal’s Great Movie Escape at Universal CityWalk offers two adventures inspired by the Jurassic World and Back to the Future films — each providing eight immersive environments with state-of-the-art challenges and detailed sets, allowing groups to step into blockbuster movies for fun experiences or team building.
Planner Marc Farrugia, chief administrative officer, Sun Communities & Sun Outdoors, brought a group of 750 attendees to Loews Sapphire Falls Resort (one of the Universal properties) for a leadership conference last year, and has used Loews Universal properties before.
He had nothing but praise for the hotel, noting the staff’s great service and the property’s cleanliness. Overall, he said, “It is one of the best conference hotels we’ve ever used.”
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort’s meeting space is easy to navigate and designed to support the latest meeting technology, and the event management staff is “second to none,” Farrugia noted. Department heads consistently checked in with him to ensure that everything ran smoothly.
Food wise, Farrugia was similarly impressed. Banquet menus are designed by experienced chefs and dishes feature locally-sourced ingredients. Additionally, the staff was on top of accommodating dietary restrictions and focused on meeting guests’ food quality expectations.
Elements of the venue’s structure were a benefit too. “With more rigging points than most venues have, we’re able to execute an event that leverages large-scale LED walls to create visually stunning general sessions,” he added.
In short, Farrugia said, Sun Communities & Sun Outdoors chose Loews Sapphire Falls Resort because the company has built a relationship with the Universal Orlando team. That connection has helped the organization’s budget. “We work well together and having repeat events at the venue has made execution of our event more efficient. We’ve saved some expense, and the quality of our event increases each year.”
Event attendees seemed to agree with Farrugia’s glowing praise, rating their satisfaction with conference facilities at last year’s event 4.85 out of 5. Said Farrugia, “This is the highest rating we’ve received from our attendees across all venues we’ve used in prior years.”
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