The sunset over Siesta Key Beach (pictured) near Sarasota shows off the natural beauty that keeps drawing incentive groups to Florida
With sunshine and beaches, arts and culture, and a growing number of cities with exciting restaurant scenes, it's no wonder Florida remains a center of incentive travel.
On the East Coast, Miami's big news is the amazing revival of the Trump National Doral Miami resort, which wowed attendees at last year's Incenitve Research Foundation (IRF) Annual Invitational event. Gut renovated to the tune of a quarter-billion dollars, the 643-room luxury resort was said to have been "returned to its glory days" by one IRF participant. Along with stunning new ballrooms and event spaces, all four golf courses -- including the famed Blue Monster, home of the PGA Tour's World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship -- were renovated.
Part of another renovation and revitalization of a Miami grand dame, the Nobu Hotel at Eden Roc Miami Beach will debut this year as a 350-room "hotel within a hotel" based on the original at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. A signature restaurant by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa is already open at the Eden Roc.
In the Palm Beaches, the big news is on the hotel front, starting with the long-awaited opening of the 400-room Hilton West Palm Beach in January and the 200-room Hyatt Place Boca Raton this summer, followed by the 158-room Mandarin Oriental, Boca Raton in 2017. New hotel brands are flocking to West Palm Beach, with a Canopy by Hitlon Hotels, AC Hotels by Marriott, and Aloft by Starwood in the works.
Fort Lauderdale is also welcoming a host of hotels, beginning with the new $147 million, 349-room Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, which has a new stop on the Water Taxi route. The 216-room Beachwalk Resort recently opened along the Intracoastal Waterway in Hallandale Beach, along with its 367-room beachfront sister property, HYDE Resort. The Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort will open with 290 expansive studio and suite accommodations and a 4,000-square-foot oceanview spa early this year. Also in the works are 150-room Four Seasons, a 209-room Starwood Tribute Portfolio, and 114-room Element by Westin.
In Central Florida, Orlando biggest new attraction, at least in visual impact, is the 400-foot Orlando eye observation wheel that opened at the new I-Drive 360 entertainment complex last year.
But Universal Orlando Resort will beat its chest in challenge when the theme park's new attraction, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, opens this summer. And 2017 will see the debut of a 53-acre water park, Volcano Bay, as well as a ride based on the "Fast & Furious" movies.
Over at the Walt Disney World Resort, Queen Elsa and friends will unveil a new attraction, Frozen Ever After, at Epcot's Norway Pavilion. And new dining venues will continue to arrive at Disney Springs, the reimagined and expanding replacement for Downtown Disney. SeaWorld Orlando will debut Mako, a 200-foot-tall, shark-themed rollercoaster, this summer.
The Rosen Plaza hotel has opened a major Kosher catering kitchen -- actually three kitchens, including meat, dairy, and parve -- offering supervised, high-quality, fresh cuisine plated and served in the same style as any upscale catered meal, on-site or off.
On the West Coast, new properties are the news in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area. The Mediterranean-themed, 72-room luxury boutique Hotel Zamora became the first new property on St. Pete Beach in 20 years. And this month the 230-room Opal Sands Resort, Clearwater Beach opened with 25,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor event space and Gulf views in all rooms. In Tampa, the 30-room Aloft Tampa Downtown opened in the historic Mercantile Bank building last year, as did the 130-room Le Méridien Tampa in the landmark Federal Courthouse.
Down in Southwest Florida, the old Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort expanded to 810 rooms after a renovation and will reflag as the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort in 2017.
On the white sands of Destin up in the Panhandle's Emerald Coast, The Henderson, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort with 170 rooms, will open this spring next to the 208-acre Henderson Beach nature preserve.