Everglades National Park
Coastal Living and Travel & Leisure declared Sanibel Island the top shelling spot in the United States, and one of the best in the world. Locals say that all of the Gulf-side shelling beaches, from the lighthouse to North Captiva, are outstanding. If you want to organize an offsite shelling event, there are several local companies, such as Gulf Coast Marine Excursions and Captiva Cruises, that can connect groups with guides.
For more active downtime, kayaking is an excellent solo or group outing. Explore the Paradise Coast waterways and get closer to the manatees, dolphins, birds and even alligators that call Florida home. Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples offers kayak tours Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while Naples Kayak Company provides kayak and kayak fishing tours of Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades.
Nature enthusiasts also flock to Everglades National Park for biking, hiking, canoeing, camping, bird-watching and more. In Southwest Florida, visitors can access the northern part of the park through Everglades City.
Before planning a group trip for meeting attendees, planners should consider the seasonal schedule in the area. Dry season, when the full slate of ranger programs is offered, runs from November to March. Wet season, when bugs thrive, is less appealing to some visitors. It lasts from April to November.
If the links are calling louder than the wild, golfers will be delighted to learn the Sunshine State is home to hundreds of private, semiprivate and public courses. According to Golf Digest, several of the best public courses are in Southwest Florida: Tiburon Golf Club, Naples Grand Beach Resort, Lely Resort Golf and Country Club in Naples; and Gateway Golf and Country Club in Fort Myers.
JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort
When it’s time to unwind, retreat to the area’s luxurious spas, such as Spa by JW at JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort. The Massage and Facial Center at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples offers a golfer’s relief massage, a sublime way to help the shoulders, lower back and legs recover after 18 holes.
Planners can literally bring out the big guns at Gulf Coast Clays. Located between Naples and Everglades City, the club offers trap, skeet, sporting and five-stand clay shooting. The multistation sporting clay course is located in an Everglades wilderness setting with shotguns and equipment for rent, and experienced instructors available for lessons.The Florida Gulf Coast has plenty to offer visitors, including beaches, spas, golf and nature. Plus it’s all accessible from the myriad hotel options available in the area.
If you haven’t visited Southwest Florida recently, you might not recognize some of the venues. A number of outstanding properties have been completed or are currently undergoing major renovations and expansions.
JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort underwent a major transformation in January via a $320 million renovation that will continue through mid-2017. The resort now features 716 newly enhanced guest rooms, new dining options and a refreshed lobby. Work continues on the new adults-only Lanai Tower, featuring 94 guest rooms, a luxurious new pool deck and new meeting space—bringing the resort’s total flexible event space to 100,000 sq. ft.
A half-mile south, the AAA Four Diamond Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa just completed a $40 million renovation. New dining options at the resort include The Deck at 560 Restaurant and Bar, an indoor/outdoor bar and restaurant with everything from casual drinks at the pool to indoor and deck seating for cocktails and dinner. The resort’s 12,000 sq. ft. of meeting space received an upgrade, including a redecorated 5,200-square-foot grand ballroom and patios for pre- and post-event gatherings.
Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa, Bonita Springs
At Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort in Bonita Springs, venue renovations have created a better experience both inside and out. After a $4.1 million interior update, the resort boasts 454 guest rooms and 82,500 sq. ft. of meeting space. In November, Hyatt unveiled the venue’s Lazy River, a $7.1 million water park that includes three triple-story slides and a 1,095-foot heated river. The 3-acre pool complex is one of the largest resort poolscapes in the state—and it’s available only to hotel guests.
In Fort Myers, The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marine Village is building a new conference center, slated to open in January 2018. The center will include 30,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and more than 15,000 sq. ft. of versatile space. Nearby DiamondHead Beach Resort & Spa just completed a $2.5 million guest-room renovation—the final phase of resort-wide enhancements.
Westin isn’t the only big name with new lodging in the area. Tampa-based Mainsail Lodging & Development is looking to break ground in June 2017 on Luminary Hotel & Co., next to the Fort Myers Harborside Event Center. The hotel, with a planned 2019 completion date, will join the Autograph Collection Hotels, a Marriott International portfolio of boutique properties.
For planners looking for eco-friendly venues, Hilton Naples has earned the Three Palm designation in the Florida Green Lodging program administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This makes it the second Three Palm-designated hotel in the greater Naples area.