by Leo Jakobson | March 23, 2018

As ever, Florida is booming, with new properties and new activities available from Key West to the Panhandle. The Sunshine State has plenty of attractions to draw incentive groups. Here are some of the newer ones. 

The Keys region still bears some scars of Hurricane Irma, but it is rebounding fast, says Jim DeKeyrel, director of sales for the Florida Keys & Key West. "Lodging properties and other tourism facilities in the Keys have made an amazing rebound since last fall. We're seeing demand return."

Islamorada's 214-room Cheeca Lodge Resort & Spa reopens at the end of March with redesigned meeting space. Hawks Cay Resort started opening in phases in mid-March, and will be able to take groups by September. It has 177 rooms and 250 two- and three-bedroom villas. 

Last spring saw the opening of The Perry Hotel Key West at Stock Island Marina, a 100-room property. Targeting a 2019 opening, the $100 million Florida Keys Resort on Marathon will have 98 rooms and 18 villas. Other new arrivals include two Key Largo properties: Dolphin Point Villas, which can host corporate groups of up to 62, just opened, and come April, the 135-room Bungalows Key Largo will open. The 144-room Playa Largo Resort & Spa, an Autograph Collection hotel, opened in fall 2016 as the Upper Keys' first new-build resort in more than two decades. More recent is the 135-room, all-inclusive luxury property, Bungalows Key Largo.

On the West Coast, Naples and Marco Island are almost completely back from Hurricane Irma, with the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa wrapping up a renovation started before Irma. The 810-room JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort is open, but a $320 million renovation and expansion has not quite finished. The AAA Four Diamond Marco Beach Ocean Resort's 93 one- and two-bedroom suites have all been renovated, and the 189-room LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, the 474-room Naples Grande Beach Resort, and the AAA Four Diamond Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club have all completed work. The latter is set on 125 acres, with 319 rooms, 34,000 square feet of event space, and a newly renovated 18-hole championship golf course.

Miami news includes the opening of The Julia, a boutique, 29-room property in South Beach's SoFi neighborhood; and the renovation of the meeting rooms, lobby, and reception area of the Palms Hotel and Spa. And early 2018 will see the addition of the 132-room boutique property, The Celino South Beach, on Ocean Drive. It has a Latin style with tropical highlights and a glass-bottomed rooftop pool.

The other big news is the Brightline train service connecting West Palm Beach (60 minutes) and Fort Lauderdale (another 30 minutes) in spacious, American-made cars featuring big, luxurious seats and wide aisles. Miami is next.

Fort Lauderdale has a long list of new and renovated properties that opened in 2017, or are opening in the next couple of years. These include the recently opened, 290-suite Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort; the 163-room Plunge Beach Hotel in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea; and the 362-suite HYDE Beach Resort.

New properties include a 150-room Four Seasons property; the $23 million, 150-room Tryp by Wyndham Maritime Hotel, opening its doors in the first quarter of 2018; the 136-room Aloft Weston; and a dual branded, 323-room Starwood property, with 12,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom. It will feature a 114-room Element by Westin and a 209-room Starwood Tribute Portfolio property. In 2019, the Aloft Fort Lauderdale will open with 1,500 square feet of meeting space. On the renovation front, the biggest news is the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, which is adding a $1.8 billion, 800-room tower in the shape of a guitar to its 500 existing rooms in 2019. 

In the Palm Beaches, a 200-room Hyatt Place hotel opened in Boca Raton's downtown, near Mizner Park. The next two years will see far more growth, including an Aloft Delray Beach which will bring 121 upscale and cool but casual modern rooms in the SofA district in 2019. The following year will see the debut of the 118-room Boca Raton Mandarin Oriental, also in the city's downtown neighborhood. 

In the Middle

According to Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, 1,000 new rooms came online in the region in 2016, and another 1,000 in 2017. But it is the quality of some of the new properties that is a game changer for the area. While it has had excellent meeting infrastructure for years, the very high end inventory largely wasn't there, according to Mike May, president of Brightspot Incentives & Events, an incentive and event planning firm. "For many years, Clearwater won best beach awards for its powdery white sands, but incentive quality hotels were lacking," May says. "Recent revitalization projects have produced many excellent group hotels including the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach, Sandpearl Resort, the Opal Sands Resort, Clearwater Beach, which opened 2016, and the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, which opened 2017."

Tampa's development news starts with the Tampa International Airport, which is scheduled to finish Phase 1 of its $2.6 billion expansion this year. The new AC by Marriott at MetWest International, in the heart of Tampa's Westshore business district, has 175 rooms.

The Orlando theme parks have had massive new openings, with Walt Disney World's two biggest being the 11-acre Toy Story Land opening on June 30, and last year's unveiling of The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom, inspired by James Cameron's epic film. 

Based on the hit films, Toy Story Land is being designed to make guests feel like they have shrunk to the size of a toy in Andy's backyard. The 12-acre Pandora attraction, designed in collaboration with Cameron, has several major attractions, including: Avatar Flight of Passage, a high-tech adventure that sends riders on a mountain banshee, and the Na'vi River Journey, through a glowing rainforest. 

Universal Orlando's big news remains the opening last year of its third major theme park, the 30-acre Universal's Volcano Bay. The water park features a dozen attractions, including the Krakatau Aqua Coaster at Volcano Bay. This summer, the 600-room Universal's Aventura Hotel, featuring a rooftop bar, will open. It will bring the total number of on-site guest rooms to 6,200. And, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has a new capability: illuminating the exterior of its main attraction with the "The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle."   Questions or comments? Email [email protected]