Changing Tide in Northeast Florida

Daytona Beach welcome sign

New big-city amenities complement oceanfront experiences

Pulsating with coastal atmosphere and the roar of engines, Northeast Florida embodies passion and excitement, with just the right kind of danger. Featuring fast cars, hot nights, pirates, swanky new openings and plush lodging, the area has been a group destination hot spot for decades.

Now with billions invested in renovations and hundreds of brand new venues, hotels and eateries, the region is focusing on its future as a meetings mecca.

There are many things that draw meeting planners and attendees to Northeast Florida, starting with variety that goes beyond its beaches. Jacksonville, which boasts the 12th-largest population in the United States, is major league all the way, including its NFL Jaguars. In contrast, St. Augustine, less than an hour south of Jacksonville, offers a salute to the past, dating to the 16th century with Spanish Colonial architecture.

It’s the big and small and everything in between that makes Northeast Florida a remarkably varied meeting destination, where groups return year after year for a completely new experience each visit.

Daytona Beach Gears Up

bandshell-on-the-daytona-beach-boardwalkDaytona Beach Bandshell

With accolades such as World’s Most Famous Beach, Festival Capital of Florida, World Center of Racing and Spring Break Capital of the World, Daytona should be called City of Nicknames.

While these monikers hold true, new-and-improved Daytona Beach has added even more titles to its repertoire. Well-suited to the meetings and events industry, Daytona Beach is also bragging about state-of-the-art meeting venues, bend-over-backward professional service and thrill-of-a-lifetime activities and attractions. And its world-famous beach is a huge part of meeting there.

“Every meeting can begin steps away from our beautiful beach,” says Linda McMahon, director of group sales for Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our convention center is just 400 feet from the Atlantic Ocean.”

By all accounts, Daytona Beach is a five-star meeting experience. With unique group spaces and new opportunities at Daytona International Speedway, planners can think outside the beach sandbox to create an energizing program for attendees.

Daytona Beach has experienced nearly $2 billion in upgrades and construction, from new hotels to attractions and eateries. With more than 12,000 guest rooms in a variety of hotels and resorts, this evolving destination is a perfect place for fun in the sun.

hilton-daytona-beach-ocean-walk-village-guest-room2Hilton Daytona Beach Resort/Ocean Walk Village (photo by Hilton Hotels & Resorts)

Greg Phelps, CMP, organizes the annual American Ceramic Society international convention in Daytona Beach, where Ocean Center and Hilton Daytona Beach Resort provide a home away from home for attendees.

Ocean Center, situated in the heart of the Daytona Beach resort area, is the region’s convention, entertainment and sports complex. The fifth-largest convention center in Florida, it boasts 205,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The center also features the full spectrum of services, including decorators, tech specialists, a full-service box office and a business center. Hilton Daytona Beach Resort is next to the convention center, offering 744 guest rooms and suites, and 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

ocean-walk-villageOcean Walk Village, Daytona Beach

Ocean Center and the Hilton are key components of the $1 billion Ocean Walk Village, which was designed to enhance meetings and events. It’s a destination within the city, featuring shops, restaurants, condominium rentals and the famous Daytona Beach Bandshell.

“Daytona Beach exceeds expectations in regard to service, quality and value year after year,” Phelps says. “The local restaurants work hard to recognize the special needs of our guests, such as custom menus in multiple languages for our international guests.

“Finally, the CVB supports our meetings with a wide range of services and personal attention. We look forward to returning again and again.”

Sporting Heritage

daytona-international-speedway7Daytona International Speedway

Fans of the Birthplace of Speed can bask in history brought to life. Gear heads get revved up with the unique-to-the-area photographs, exhibits and artifacts that tell the humble beginnings of motor sports.

The most impressive oval of all, Daytona International Speedway is the world’s first motor sports stadium and continues to reinvent itself. The self-proclaimed “World Center of Entertainment” just saw the completion of Daytona Rising, an impressive $400 million investment to improve the experience, making it a perfect offsite outing. The tour admission price also includes a visit to the newly opened museum that commemorates the “Horsepower Heroes” in Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Daytona Beach also is U.S. headquarters of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), so perhaps a round of golf is in order. Groups can hit the links at one of the area’s many famous fairways designed by legends of the sport. Golf Digest recently ranked Daytona Beach among the top 15 places to play in the nation. Tee time, anyone?

Unique Activities & Venues

museum-of-arts-sciences_cici-and-hyatt-brown-museum-of-art_permanent-galleryMuseum of Arts & Sciences, Daytona Beach (photo by Hilton Hotels & Resorts)

Attendees can sink their toes in the sand on 23 miles of beautiful beaches and experience a moment of serenity with the ocean. There are 33 miles of hiking and biking multiuse trails, with gorgeous vistas of lush tropical flora on display. The truly ambitious can bike all the way to St. Augustine, 54 miles on the A1A Scenic Byway.

Daytona Beach Bandshell hosts free concerts on the beach from April through October, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The amphitheater was built of coquina in 1937. It can hold activities for groups of up to 5,000 people.

“The Bandshell is the most unique venue we have for all of our events,” said Bill Boggs, senior vice president for National Cheer Association and National Dance Association and event director for Collegiate Cheer Championships, which have been held in Daytona Beach for 20 years.

There are a variety of cultural and adventure attractions. Museum of Art & Sciences, which features a planetarium, is a member of American Alliance of Museums and is an affiliate of Smithsonian Institution. Cici & Hyatt Brown Art Museum opened in 2015 to showcase hundreds of works by Florida artists.

Food with a View

Daytona Beach’s burgeoning gourmet scene features a growing host of one-of-a-kind local eateries, craft breweries and an emerging food truck culture, which offers a refreshing variety of yummy options.

From Hog Heaven BBQ to Crabby Joe’s Deck & Grill seafood, to ethnic favorites such as Chucherias Hondurenas, to the vibrant social atmosphere of Tomoka Brewing Company, the area bursts with flavors to savor.

Daytona Beach Ale Trail features nine local craft breweries. Nothing says group bonding like competing for stamps in a tap-house passport. Cheers to that.

Jacksonville

gastrofest_2016Hemming Park, Jacksonville

Not only is Jacksonville the largest city in Northeast Florida—it has the state’s largest population, ranking No. 12 nationally.

Jacksonville boasts all the requisite accoutrements that major meetings demand, including downtown EverBank Field, home of the NFL Jaguars. It offers a variety of spaces for events ranging from 20 to 3,000 attendees. Terrace Suite offers 42,000 sq. ft., boasting floor-to-ceiling windows to create one of the stadium’s premier venues. FanDuelVille is located in the stadium’s north end zone, and features two spas and 22 cabanas.

Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center’s downtown location adds to Jacksonville’s meetings pizzazz. It features 265,000 sq. ft. of flexible space, plus 78,500 sq. ft. for exhibitions. A monorail connects the convention center to 354-room Omni Jacksonville Hotel.

Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront is nestled along the beautiful St. Johns River in the heart of downtown. It offers 951 guest rooms and 116,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and exhibit space, including a 28,000-square-foot ballroom. The largest convention hotel from Atlanta to Orlando, it features outdoor terraces and event space overlooking the river.

The convention and entertainment district includes Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, which welcomes Broadway touring shows and symphony orchestras to its three main rooms; it seats 600 to 2,900. In addition to the superb performance venues, the center has more than 20,000 sq. ft. of lobby and reception space that is available for social events, dinners and meetings.

Hemming Park has been overhauled to add to the revitalization of downtown. With several stages, the park has been used for a variety of F&B and music festivals.

Beach lovers won’t be disappointed as Jacksonville boasts spectacular beaches, from Mayport to the county line. Casa Marina in Jacksonville Beach is a historic hotel set on the dunes of the Atlantic since 1925; attendees will love History Happy Hour for cocktails in the penthouse, with a bit of history served with a twist. Offering just 23 suites and rooms, groups can book the entire venue and never leave the sand.

For a sleeker, more modern feel, One Ocean Resort & Spa in Atlantic Beach is the call. Located exactly where Interstate 10 hits the Atlantic Ocean, the resort offers 193 rooms and 10,500 sq. ft. of event space, including a ballroom and covered oceanfront venue.

St. Augustine & Ponte Vedra

flagler-courtyard-sarah-williamson-novFlagler Courtyard at Flagler College, St. Augustine (photo by Sarah Williamson)

Less than an hour south of Jacksonville, Florida’s Historic Coast beckons. The area is rich in lore and architecture, with the United States’ oldest European settlement, 451-year-old Saint Augustine, as the main attraction.

Event planners have their choice of numerous excellent beach locations in the vicinity. One such gem is The Vault at the Treasury on the Plaza, a 1920s era-evoked bank vault located inside St. Augustine’s first and only skyscraper, the six-story 1927 Mediterranean Revival-style tower.

casa-monicaPoseidon Spa at Casa Monica Resort & Spa, St. Augustine

For something even more historic, visitors look to the restored 1888 landmark, Casa Monica Resort & Spa. The luxurious Spanish-style hotel offers can’t-miss experiences such as Poseidon Spa and Bohemian Art Gallery, and is regularly named one of the top hotels in Florida. Flagler College, formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel, has opened its ballroom—a Spanish Renaissance masterpiece surrounded with Tiffany stained-glass windows—to events.

Collector Luxury Inns & Gardens, with 30 guest suites located in a collection of historic houses in downtown St. Augustine, is scheduled to open in November. It will serve as the perfect homage to its place in history.

Calling all swashbucklers! St. Augustine’s deliciously dangerous past is now part of its present. Nothing evokes Northeast Florida’s wild coastal locale like pirates. For a most excellent marauding experience, Stan Taylor, a former meeting planner and video producer, has created a totally unique program where meeting participants can learn more about the pirates that once raided St. Augustine.

“Think Like a Pirate, Command Success” is a team-building event that combines the so-called business principles followed in the golden age of piracy with modern technology for an outrageously fun experience that focuses on the five points of (pirate) success: teamwork, leadership, mission, strategy and reward.

Farther up the coast in St. John’s County, Ponte Vedra Beach boasts several magnificent venues for retreats. Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa has been refreshed with $23 million in improvements. The Butler Wing is the latest big deal, with the 31-room wing boasting separate check-ins and preferential tee times at TPC Sawgrass, making this the ideal locale for golf-obsessed VIPs. Opening this fall, SurfStream wave simulator will offer the world’s first true standing surfing in a pool.

Ponte Vedra Inn & Club is a diamond on Florida’s northeast shore. The AAA Five Diamond rated resort, which dates to 1928, is located in the picturesque seaside village of Ponte Vedra Beach. With the Atlantic Ocean as a dramatic backdrop, the resort features 250 guest rooms and suites, the surf, beach, pools, two golf courses, 15 tennis courts, a fitness center, a luxury spa, dining and shopping.

Amelia Island & Fernandina Beach

marsh-view-bar-grill-deck-view_omni-amelia-island-plantation-resort-medGrill Deck View, Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, Fernandina Beach (photo by Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort)

Up against the Georgia border north of Jacksonville, Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach offer beach worshippers fantastic options. American Beach, Peter’s Point and Amelia Island State Park all win awards, routinely turning up as top beaches in Florida’s impressive collection.

Smack dab on the beach, Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort is a 404-room property featuring 80,000 sq. ft. of versatile meeting space, including the largest conference center on the island. Meeting space includes a new 16,825-square-foot ballroom, an additional 13,200-square-foot prefunction space and a new 11,000-square-foot event lawn to take advantage of Amelia Island’s beautiful scenery and weather. Ideal for executive retreats, the resort has 54 holes of championship golf and 23 tennis courts.

marshviewbarandgrillchickenlollipopsChicken lollipops at Marsh View Bar, Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, Fernandina Beach (photo by Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort)

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, which features 446 guest rooms and a 13,348-square-foot ballroom, specializes in pairing ideal conference and meeting space with impeccable service and creative team-building opportunities. Onsite event coordinators, conference concierges and an expert catering staff make every meeting flawless. During down time, attendees can enjoy a world-class spa and golf.

For foodies, Burlingame is the tastiest place in town. The brand new restaurant, with a simple menu of perfectly executed dishes such as steak frites and seared scallops, allows guests and groups to sit outside under the beautiful trees on the patio.

Nothing says Northeast Florida quite like great food al fresco as the sea breezes cool the night air.


Natalie Compagno is an avid traveler and has written for The Huffington Post, Yahoo Travel and more.


Major Meeting Venues

Amelia Island & Fernandina Beach

Amelia Hotel at the Beach

Sightseeing opportunities on land and sea; 86 guest rooms; 1,066 sq. ft. of meeting space for up to 50 people; fitness center.

Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort

On Fernandina Beach; 404 guest rooms; 15 meeting rooms; 80,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; nine restaurants; 23 tennis courts.

Residence Inn Amelia Island

One block from beach; 133 guest rooms; 1,100 sq. ft. meeting space; outdoor pool with spa tub and fire pits; fitness center.

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

ritz-carlton-amelia-island

Private beach; 446 guest rooms; 48,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space; 15 meeting rooms; five restaurants, including AAA Five Diamond Salt; championship golf course; multilingual staff.

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach Resort

On the beach; 322 guest condos with kitchens; spa and fitness center; 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Hilton Daytona Beach Resort/ Ocean Walk Village

Adjacent to shops, entertainment and restaurants of Ocean Walk Village; 744 guest rooms; 60,000 sq. ft. meeting space; 28 meeting rooms.

Ocean Center

Convention center 400 feet from Atlantic Ocean; 9,300-seat arena; 205,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 12,000-square-foot banquet hall; adjacent to Ocean Walk Village shops and restaurants.

The Plaza Resort & Spa

Oceanfront pool; three restaurants; 323 guest rooms; 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; full-service spa; 24-hour fitness center.

The Shores Resort & Spa

Oceanfront Palapa Tiki Bar with Adirondack chairs around fire pit; 212 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. meeting space; full-service spa.

Jacksonville

Casa Marina Hotel & Restaurant

In Jacksonville Beach; only Historic Hotel of America in Northeast Florida; courtyard for events; ocean vistas from third-floor meeting space; 23 guest rooms; 6,000 sq. ft. of event space; Historic Happy Hour.

Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront

Completed $8 million renovation in 2015; 951 guest rooms; 116,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 30 meeting rooms, some with river views; heated pool; rooftop hot tub; state-of-the-art rooftop fitness center.

Lexington Hotel and Conference Center

The former Wyndham has a nautical theme; major renovation underway, including new guest room decor, reconfigured lobby, new landscaping, redecorated meeting rooms and remodeled pool area; 323 guest rooms; 23 meeting rooms; 35,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Omni Jacksonville Hotel

$9 million complete overhaul; 354 guest rooms; 15 meeting rooms; 14,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 24-hour business and fitness centers; Juliette’s Bistro is modern and sleek with new furniture, flooring and Edison light bulbs.

One Ocean Resort & Spa

In Atlantic Beach; 193 guest rooms; 10,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; nine meeting rooms; oceanfront spa; 2015 Conde Nast Traveler Top 100 List.

Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center

prime-f-osborn-iii-convention-center

265,000 sq. ft. of space; 5,000-square-foot kitchen capable of serving more than 3,000 guests; wired for audiovisual capabilities; 15 minutes from Jacksonville International Airport; less than a mile from more than 2,000 hotel rooms; Skyway monorail connection to Omni Jacksonville Hotel.

St. Augustine & Ponte Vedra Beach

Casa Monica Resort & Spa

Historic 1888 Spanish Renaissance Autograph Collection hotel; 138 elegant guest rooms; 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; Grand Bohemian Art Gallery; Costa Brava restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine; Cobalt Lounge features New World martini menu.

Ponce de Leon Ballroom

On Flagler College campus; magnificent 1888 Spanish Renaissance ballroom with Tiffany stained-glass windows; 8,990-square-foot facility; reception area for 400 guests; dining salon for 300.

Ponte Vedra Inn & Club

theinn_floridarm_landscape_13738

AAA Five Diamond rated; 250 guest rooms; 25,000 sq. ft. of indoor event space; room for up to 350 people; golf course; 15 tennis courts; four pools; five restaurants; five bars/lounges; full-service spa; built in 1928.

Ponte Vedra Lodge & Club

Sister property of Ponte Vedra Inn & Club; 66 condos on the beach;13,000 sq. ft. of meeting space spread out among seven rooms; spa and fitness club.

Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa

$23 million refresh; Butler Wing with 30 guest suites; SurfStream standing wave simulator; 511 guest rooms; 61,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space; nine restaurants; adjacent to TPS Sawgrass golf course.

Treasury on the Plaza

Key St. Augustine event venue holds 250 guests seated and 450 for receptions; large dance floor.

World Golf Village Renaissance St. Augustine

Complementary shuttle service to historic downtown; 301 guest rooms; 61,875 sq. ft. of event space; spa; golf, miniature golf, driving range; hiking/biking trails.

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