FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Magic Touch: Orlando Takes Center Stage for Business and Leisure

by Marlene Goldman

Sep 12, 2023

© The Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando

September 2023

Orlando’s magic spreads far beyond its theme parks. The Central Florida family haven sits atop both leisure and business travel in the United States, drawing for its hospitality, amenities, signature entertainment and culture-filled downtown core.

“Not only did Orlando remain the most visited destination in the country by welcoming 74 million visitors in 2022, but we were also named the top meetings destination by Cvent,” said Casandra Matej, president and CEO, Visit Orlando.

“The meetings business is strong and continues to grow,” Matej added. According to Visit Orlando, this past June was anticipated to bring more than 300,000 in citywide attendance for the area, and from June to August, advance hotel booking pace for the group segment was ahead of the same time last year by 15 percent.

The award-winning Orange County Convention Center hosts Or- lando’s largest trade shows and conventions, providing approximately $3 billion in economic impact to Central Florida annually. In recent years, the Center has averaged nearly 200 events, including 115 conventions and trade shows attracting more than 1.5 million attendees to the region each year.

OCCC announced its newest Gold Key Partnership with Walt Disney World in May, providing exclusive benefits for meetings and events attendees at OCCC. The agreement runs for a three-year term, with options for renewal. OCCC also has Gold Key partnerships with SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort.

“The Center’s Gold Key Partnership with Walt Disney World will greatly enhance our mission and support our clients’ events in our destination,” said Mark Tester, executive director, OCCC, in a statement.

Universal Orlando Resort recently amped up its offerings with its new Meeting Enhancements at select on-site hotels. “Imagine a meeting where Optimus Prime (from Transformers) introduces the keynote speaker, or the fun-loving Minions make a guest appearance,” Matej said. Other options include customized educational programs at SeaWorld Orlando or a private Disney fireworks cruise on a 25-foot chartered boat.

On the horizon, a new theme park, Epic Universe from Universal Orlando Resort, will open in 2025. New and upcoming hotels include Conrad Orlando, part of the expansive Evermore Orlando Resort. Set to open December 2023, Conrad Orlando will debut with 433 rooms; 40,000 square feet of indoor meeting space; a spa; and a signature rooftop experience.

exterior

© Drury Hotels Company

Another property, Drury Plaza Hotel Orlando – Disney Springs Area, recently opened with 604 guestrooms and more than 17,000 square feet of meeting space. Meanwhile, Waldorf Astoria Orlando
unveiled the new 8,000-plus-square-foot Central Park Ballroom; nearly 2,600 square feet of pre-function space; and a planned 8,700-square-foot covered outdoor patio.

Downtown Orlando also brims with new off-site options, including Orlando Fringe’s Fringe ArtSpace, a year-round performing arts venue with two theater spaces. The downtown Orlando hotel scene continues to expand its offerings. The Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando completed a renovation with new additions, such as Altira Rooftop Pool Lounge
for cocktail events. The hotel includes more than 10,000 square feet of event space. Nearby, the new AC Hotel by Marriott Orlando Downtown features 2,000 square feet of meeting space.

On the culinary front, the Michelin Guide adds 13 Orlando restaurants to the 2023 edition. Orlando’s dining scene offers a choice of 46 Michelin-recognized establishments, including four starred venues, 11 Bib Gourmands and 31 Recommended.

Transit to Orlando is also getting easier by air and rail. Last year Orlando International Airport’s South Terminal Complex debuted, adding 15 gates to the facility. The airport, the busiest in Florida, offers non-stop flights from 151 destinations and more than 800 flights daily. The new terminal also now features Brightline Orlando Station.

Brightline’s high-speed rail service will connect South Florida, including Miami, with Orlando, starting late summer. According to Visit Orlando’s Matej, the station lays the foundation for creating a multimodal transportation system. It has the capacity to grow the city’s transit system and someday connect the airport, downtown Orlando, the Convention Center, south International Drive and Tampa.

“Brightline’s arrival in Orlando marks a transformative milestone
for the business community,” said Johanna Rojas, senior vice president, Partnerships & Sales, Brightline Trains. “The new Orlando station will connect two major destinations, allowing meeting planners and attendees to get around Florida more easily and the ability to plan ‘bleisure’ travel to get a taste of all our regions.”

For cruisers, Florida’s Port Canaveral ranks as the world’s second-busiest cruise port in multiday embarkations. The port lies about 45 minutes from Orlando, making the city an ideal spot for pre- and post-cruise exploration.

heron

© Matt Cuda | Dreamstime.com

Scenic Drives

Green Mountain Scenic Byway sits just west of Orlando and runs about 19 miles from Winter Garden to Mount Dora. Though Green Mountain is not an actual mountain — the name refers to the town of Monteverde located along the route — the drive offers views from Sugarloaf Ridge, set about 312 feet above sea level and the highest point in Central Florida. Highlights along the route include views overlooking Lake Apopka and nearby nature preserves such as Ferndale Preserve. For birders, the Byway is the spot for bird-watching, with more than 360 species along its path.

You’ll also find more than a dozen buildings and sites eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, with Harper House in Montverde already listed. The Byway has become one of the most popular cycling routes in Florida, with bicyclists from around the world using it for training and touring.

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