The southwestern coast of Florida is warm and wild. Nestled along the Gulf of Mexico and serving as a gateway to Everglades National Park, Collier County has inviting charm and adventure that combine for a winning meeting experience.
On the meeting side of things, Paradise Coast is about to get a huge shot in the event arm. Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort will be rebranded as JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort on Jan. 1, marking the first beachfront JW Marriott in the continental United States. The three-phase, $300 million project includes the addition of the adults-only Lanai Tower, expected to debut next spring.
The property will expand to 810 guest rooms and suites, and offer more than 100,000 sq. ft. of event space. The new tower will feature a rooftop restaurant and meeting space on its first three floors, including 30,000-square-foot Calusa Grand Ballroom, overlooking the gulf and with 24-foot ceilings and five outdoor terraces.
“It’s going to shine a real bright light on the whole destination,” says JoNell Modys, public relations and communications manager for Naples, Marco Island and Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s going to be a magnet for groups.”
Groups fall in love with Florida’s Paradise Coast because it exudes a tropical essence akin to a Caribbean island, with all the comforts and conveniences of a U.S. destination. A popular destination among migrating Midwesterners, Collier County’s sunny disposition and group-oriented resorts have helped bring balance to the offseasons in recent years.
Hyatt House Naples/Fifth Avenue opened in March on the Gordon River. The 183-room property is the first new hotel to open in Naples since 2008. It has 3,160 sq. ft. of meeting space and Latitude 26, a popular waterfront restaurant/bar. Studios and one- and two-bedroom suites are perfect for extended-stay business travelers.
Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee has added 99 new guest rooms to its entertainment complex. It’s the only gaming destination in southwest Florida with slot machines and table games.
The Ritz-Carlton, Naples underwent a complete overhaul in 2013. It offers more than 42,000 sq. ft. of event space, including a ballroom that can accommodate up to 1,000. There are 450 guest rooms, a world-class spa and seven restaurants.
Artis-Naples is a concert venue and gallery that is home to the Naples Philharmonic and The Baker Museum. It offers a variety of event spaces, including a pavilion that can accommodate 300 for receptions and a garden that can host 750.
Naples features the creme de la creme of shopping and dining along Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South. For urban, boutique lodging, consider booking at The Inn on Fifth, which offers 119 guest rooms and nearly 8,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor space. Across the street, The Inn of Fifth Club Level Suites has earned back-to-back Forbes Four Star ratings, with 32 accommodations well-suited for executives.
Many groups take advantage of the warm Gulf of Mexico for a bevy of activities, including kayaking, standup paddleboarding and fishing. One of the most enjoyable ways to see the sights is by boat. Naples Princess Cruises offers private and semiprivate excursions around Naples Bay, Port Royal canals and the gulf. Dolphin Explorer departs from Marco Island and allows guests to participate in Dolphin research with naturalists.
Getting there: Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) is located in Fort Myers, about 30 minutes north of Naples in Lee County. RSW offers direct international flights to Dusseldorf, Germany; Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, Canada; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Nassau, Bahamas; and Cancun, Mexico. The airport provides nonstop service to 45 destinations on 14 air carriers.
NGALA Wildlife Preserve in Naples hosts special events in a luxurious tented facility. Guests are treated to encounters with exotic wildlife, such as a 3-year-old, 3,000-pound white rhinoceros named Walter. Born in captivity and unable to be released into the wild, the 45 featured animals include camels, leopards and chimpanzees. Special events allow guests to have a direct connection to the world’s natural environment in a safe and dignified manner. Proceeds from events hosted at the 42-acre preserve help support the animals. One of the largest venues in Southwest Florida, NGALA can host up to 1,200. Catering is available.
Meeting Hot Spots
Naples Grande Beach Resort is as much a retreat as it is a key meeting property. It offers 83,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space, including a 14,442-square-foot ballroom. There are 424 guest rooms and suites in the 18-floor main tower and 50 garden villa suites nearby. Its private golf course is 15 minutes away.
The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club has undergone nearly $60 million in renovations the past few years, including a $9 million investment to renovate the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. The resort offers 319 guest rooms and 34,000 sq. ft. meeting space, including the 6,283-square-foot River of Grass Ballroom and scenic Watkins Lawn.
Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa reopened in October following a $40 million renovation. The 310-room, full-service boutique resort overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. Expanded meeting and event space includes a new beachfront 15,000-square-foot event lawn space. The resort features 25,000 sq. ft. of event space, including the recently renovated 5,200-square-foot grand ballroom.