There’s the chance to spot socialites and celebrities, to say nothing of exotic wildlife in Florida’s vast tracks of wetlands and wilderness. And the region’s rich history—palpable in some of the area’s most legendary venues—offers a glimpse into the lives of those industrial entrepreneurs who helped shape not only Florida but much of America. Today, southeast Florida lacks for nothing. One of its most alluring aspects is a diverse cultural mix, with Cuban and other Latin influences especially evident in the lively dining scene in Miami and beyond. It offers stellar institutions celebrating culture, history and the arts, and a multitude of activities are available to keep life interesting—golf, deep sea fishing, dolphin encounters and wild rides through the Everglades among them. Whether visitors are looking for sophisticated nightlife or tropical serenity, elegance or a barefoot-on-the-beach ethos, it’s all here. And you should be, too.
The beating heart of southeast Florida is Miami, a city infused with color and light that’s as much about urban chic as sunbaked beaches. No longer do Miami’s residents flee north when summer comes; this is a year-round destination with enough offerings to keep groups busy in any season—and there are multiple convention centers and neighborhoods to choose from. The biggest draw, however, may be something a bit more elusive—Miami’s inimitable vibe.
Ellen Dahlin, business manager for the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine, says that the group often convenes in Miami for its courses and Annual Congress. “Miami is an attractive destination not only to those in the United States, but also opens up markets for us by attracting delegates from Latin and South America. The availability of restaurants, shopping, the lovely weather, the friendliness of the locals and the lure of the Miami vibe are always draws.”
Major Meeting Venues
Miami Beach Convention Center accommodates groups of all sizes in its more than 1 million sq. ft., including 500,000-plus sq. ft. of exhibit space. The Miami Convention Center offers a 5,000-seat amphitheater, 444-seat auditorium and 28,000 sq. ft. in exhibit space. Miami Airport Convention Center is the city’s second largest convention and exhibition facility; its 172,000 sq. ft. include a 29,000-square-foot ballroom and 75,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space with plenty of room for more than 400 trade-show booths.
Many of Miami’s hotels also feature expansive meeting and event space, giving groups the option of staying and meeting under one roof. Among them is the famed Doral Golf Resort & Spa, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012. The resort also wrapped up a $16 million renovation last year and became part of the inimitable Trump Hotel Collection. The Doral has much to entice groups, including its Blue Monster golf course known the world over, now renamed TPC Blue Monster at Doral. It also has two additional golf courses, an expansive spa and more than 90,000 sq. ft. of event space, as well as an onsite event-planning team to work out all the details. Equally legendary, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, which received a $1 billion remake in 2008, has reclaimed its former glamor and provides an all-in-one setting even for large groups, thanks to 1,504 guest rooms and 107,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space.
Guest room at Fontainbleau Miami Beach
Few Florida hotels command the legendary status of The Biltmore in Coral Gables, southwest of downtown Miami, which turns 87 this month. The National Historic Landmark has hosted royalty, presidents, socialites and celebrities, and it remains utterly impressive. It has the largest hotel pool in the country—23,000 sq. ft. lined with polished marble—and its head-turning tower, modeled after the gleaming Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain, is one of the area’s most recognizable landmarks. Lavish gardens, carved furnishings and hand-painted frescoes add to the allure. The Biltmore has 275 rooms, a superb golf course and 76,000 sq. ft. of function space evocative of the property’s grand history. Another historic property, the Royal Palm Hotel, reemerged in December as The James Royal Palm, gorgeous and art-centric with design elements recalling the hotel’s original Art Deco stylishness. In addition to 179 guest rooms and 211 studios and suites, there’s a spa, a signature restaurant, Florida Cookery, and 10,000 sq. ft. of function space.
If a name says it all, the 313-room JW Marriott Marquis Miami has double the cachet. It’s the first property to combine both of Marriott’s star brands in one name and one hotel, and it features 80,000 sq. ft. of space. Canyon Ranch is another notable name, especially among corporate and incentive groups. Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa in Miami Beach was brilliantly designed by David Rockwell to create a synergistic pairing of Miami Beach style and the serene ambience of well-being for which Canyon Ranch is known. Some 40 classes keep attendees fit and alert or relaxed and renewed, and true to its tagline—“escape to a healthy retreat”— the property also offers its much-lauded delicious, healthful cuisine at three onsite restaurants and a juice bar. Ideal for groups of 30 or fewer, the hotel supports corporate goals through a variety of programs, including fitness-oriented team building and wellness retreats. The hotel has 150 one- and two-bedroom suites and 3,000 sq. ft..
Sometimes it’s about convenience. The Hyatt Regency Miami is connected to the Miami Convention Center, but also has 100,000 sq. ft. of its own space along with 612 guest rooms and stellar views of the city and bay. The 334-room DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Miami Airport & Convention Center makes it easy for groups to meet in record time thanks to a location one mile from the airport. The hotel adjoins the Miami Airport Convention Center and Miami International Merchandise Mart and also features 20,000 sq. ft. of its own flexible space, including a 9,600-square-foot ballroom able to accommodate up to 800 attendees.
Out & About
Hip and new, Art Deco or Gilded Age splendor? Why choose when you can host an event in spaces that define all of the above? Marlins Park, opened in 2012, has event venues for 20–37,000 attendees, the availability of Latin dishes for a true Miami experience from caterer Levy Restaurants, a retractable roof to shield guests from the weather and advanced tech features. One of South Beach’s newest venues, Studio 743, has a dramatic entrance with a water feature and towering obelisk. Its 6,000 sq. ft. can accommodate 245 attendees for a sit-down affair or 550 for a reception, and it offers A/V capabilities that include programmable LED lighting for dramatic effect. The Temple House, an iconic Art Deco venue in South Beach five blocks from the Miami Beach Convention Center, has hosted celebrity-studded galas, product launches and corporate events. Among the impressive spaces is the Grand Room with its 25-foot ceilings. The Gilded Age is represented by Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, an opulent estate built between 1916 and 1922, complete with lush gardens, an expansive terrace, quiet pools and extraordinary artwork. Evoking a Venetian palace, Vizcaya is set at the edge of the bay and is truly a one-of-a-kind setting.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami
Fort Lauderdale has shed its image as a freewheeling destination for spring breakers. Today, this fashionable city features extensive cultural offerings and fine restaurants, excellent shopping and undeveloped areas that draw nature lovers and sports enthusiasts. Its extensive waterways are more than an enticing backdrop: They’re a fun and functional way to get around to some of the city’s hotels and restaurants via water taxis, and tour boats offer intriguing off-site possibilities for attendees. And the meetings infrastructure is extensive.
“Greater Fort Lauderdale offers planners ease, convenience, affordability and more than 600 daily flights to and from more than 60 destinations… [we’re] a top city in America, with the lowest tax burden, so planners can stretch their meeting budget much further,” says Christine Roberts- Tascione, CMP, VP convention sales and services for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Major Meeting Venues
The Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center sits along the Intracoastal Waterway with 600,000 sq. ft. of flexible space on three levels and state-of-the-art technology, including a user-friendly cybercafe. The center has been awarded LEED Gold certification.
Carol Cazessus, CMP, president of CAZ Meetings & Incentive, brought an educational training meeting to the city last summer and was impressed by the service she experienced. “‘With only 90 days lead time, the Fort Lauderdale CVB and the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center were instrumental in securing meeting space and hotel accommodations for a conference of 3,200 attendees; the convention center was very responsive to our needs, pre-planning and onsite.”
Three of the area’s largest meeting hotels are located right outside Fort Lauderdale, two of them just south in Hollywood. The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa has it all, starting with 1,058 rooms and 217,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including the 50,000-square-foot Great Hall. The resort also has a golf course, tennis center, spa, expansive pool areas and children’s facilities, so attendees with family along have plenty of options. Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood also is a destination unto itself. Beyond its 500 guest rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of space, the AAA Four Diamond hotel has 19 restaurants; Body Rock Spa; 22 retail shops; 14 bars, nightclubs and lounges; a 140,000-squarefoot casino; a 400-seat theater; and the 5,500-seat Hard Rock Live venue, which has hosted such acts as Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Chris Rock and Kathy Griffin. It’s also Green Lodging Certified, meeting the needs of groups looking for an environmentally friendly venue. Bonaventure Resort & Spa, on 23 acres in Weston, claims the area’s largest spa and has 500 rooms, 60,000 sq. ft. and a AAA Four Diamond rating. Look for this property to enhance its public spaces and meetings technology and venues in the coming months.
The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale
Within Fort Lauderdale, planners have many choices. The AAA Four Diamond Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa sits on 16 oceanfront acres and offers 650 rooms and 40,000 sq. ft. of space. A range of activities from spa-going to water sports keeps attendees onsite. Another AAA Four Diamond recipient, Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six, has 384 rooms and 25,000 sq. ft. to complement its Intracoastal Waterway setting.
Some hotels with 250 guest rooms or fewer also have meeting space, including Riverside Hotel with 214 rooms and 10,450 sq. ft., Lago Mar Resort and Club with 204 guest rooms and 12,000 sq. ft. and Pelican Grand Beach Resort with 156 guest rooms and 7,500 sq. ft. At the airport, with maximum convenience for in-and-out meetings, the 250-room Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport & Cruise Port Hotel has 16,000 sq. ft.
Out & About
Groups wanting to engage in team building and CSR with an environmental bent have ample opportunities here. Thousands of volunteers have helped clean up Broward County’s canals and waterways over the years, primarily during the Annual Waterway Cleanup that takes place each March. And the county’s parks and rec division has set up EcoAction Days, during which small and large groups can join community members cleaning up local beaches and parks.
For the car lovers among your group, the Dezer Collection Museum & Event Center, opened in 2012, has 250,000 sq. ft. including an indoor drive-in movie theater. The largest space accommodates 1,500 attendees. The museum has 1,200 vehicles, both classics and “cars of the stars.” The James Bond exhibit includes not just those famously fast and fiendishly outfitted cars, but also submarines, airplanes and helicopters.
The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys, which stretch over 100 miles from just south of Miami to the Dry Tortugas, offer a compelling alternative to Florida’s more traditional destinations. There’s no large convention center, but smaller groups will find welcoming boutique and midsize properties with meeting space, and one-of-a-kind venues for events and bonding. Marching to its own inimitable beat, Key West has perhaps the greatest variety of options to offer; however, there’s more to this region than its most famous enclave.
“The Keys are especially attractive to incentive groups of 35 or fewer who want to live like a local, explore the history in our museums and enjoy the beauty of our natural backdrop,” says Jack Meier, group and incentive sales manager for the Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Council.
Major Meeting Venues
Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Key West
Among the Key West hotels is Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort. Opened in 1920, the hotel today exudes the same luxury and refinement it always has, with 311 guest rooms and 22,600 sq. ft. of meeting and event space. Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel has 222 guest rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of space, including the area’s largest ballroom, while the 178-room Westin Key West Resort & Marina has 6,000 sq. ft. and one of the city’s most enviable locations, next to Mallory Square, where everyone in town goes to experience Key West’s infamous nightly celebration, aka sunset.
What’s new down at mile marker 82.1, just an hour from the mainland, is the Florida Keys Conference Center at Islander Resort in Islamorada. The 4,000-square-foot center features a ballroom with 2,760 sq. ft., a boardroom, a library and a verandah with sweeping ocean views. This 25-acre resort with 1950s vintage decor is also a place to revel in the outdoors, either in more than 100,000 sq. ft. of pool, beach and courtyard space or in a sport fishing challenge on the private 200-foot pier.
Hawks Cay Island Resort is in Marathon, about halfway down the archipelago. It offers 292 rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of space, but it’s best known for its stellar dolphin encounter programs.
Out & About
Wind and Wine Sunset Sail
The Keys are known for drop-dead-gorgeous sunsets— and a level of appreciation for them that borders on, well, the obsessive. Groups can join the applauding throngs at Mallory Square in Key West any evening, but a more serene experience awaits on Danger Charters’ Wind and Wine Sunset Sail.
Even those who have been there before are drawn back to the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West. One of America’s greatest authors, Hemingway remains a larger-than-life figure whose adventures and literary prowess still thrill us. Groups can stage functions there, with history and romance still palpable in the home and grounds.
Southeast Florida offers far more than a meeting experience against a backdrop of sun and sand. Of course, it does offer that; however, meeting-goers will also experience cosmopolitan cities and international dining; a sense of romance and adventure in a history populated by literary legends and wealthy entrepreneurs; some of the bests golf in the U.S.; and meetings infrastructure that can accommodate the largest, smallest, most sophisticated and most technologically savvy groups.
Main image: Ocean Drive, Miami Beach
Florida is the state to sample the best of Cuban cuisine, whether at a bakery or takeout counter or dining in on white tablecloths. But make no mistake: Florida excels in fresh seafood, too, from stone crab in Fort Lauderdale to the best conch this side of the Caribbean in the Keys. If you’re meeting over several days, your attendees can try it all—networking and bonding at no additional charge.
• Versailles Restaurant: Self-billed as “the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant,” this Little Havana landmark, a favorite of politicians, celebrities, locals and visitors, has been dishing up Cuban cuisine for decades.
• Lario’s on the Beach: Owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, this restaurant celebrates the 1950s glory days of Havana with traditional Cuban fare and a fabulous location on Ocean Drive.
• Estiatorio Milos Miami by Costas Spiliadis: This Miami Beach outpost of Estiatorio Milos opened in May featuring a 13,000-pound, hand-cut marble art installation on the wall. The menu focuses on fresh seafood with a Greek influence.
• Blue Moon Fish Co.: Chic Blue Moon has a Deco-inspired exterior, a contemporary American menu of fresh Florida cuisine and a setting along the Intracoastal Waterway. Its stellar reputation goes far beyond its Lauderdale locale.
• 3030 Ocean Restaurant: Chef Dean James Max serves up exquisite fare from the ocean in a chic bistro with the Atlantic as backdrop—a perfect pairing of ambience and cuisine. 3030 Ocean is a 2012 Wine Spectator Restaurant Award recipient.
• Truluck’s Seafood Steak and Crab House: If fresh Florida stone crab is on your must-eat list, add this restaurant to your group’s itinerary. There are plenty of other menu options fresh from the state’s productive waters, too.
• For more selections, check out the Fork Lauderdale dining app, free for iPhones, an ideal planning tool for exploring Fort Lauderdale’s expansive restaurant scene.
• El Meson de Pepe: Combine fab Cuban fare with the nightly sunset revelry at this family-owned restaurant adjacent to Mallory Square in Key West. Catering menus include Cuban favorites and conch fritters.
• Key Largo Conch House: Cracked conch Benedict? Omelet with grilled conch? Conch salad? Or maybe you should go with lobster and conch ceviche, a Key Largo Chamber Cook-off first-place winner in 2009. However you want your conch, it’s here, along with other fresh seafood, chicken and steak options.
Cuisine from 3030 Ocean Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale