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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Florida Oceanfront

Whether it’s the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay or the intercoastal waterway, Florida’s shores are home to many seaside cities. These coastal destinations offer meeting groups plenty of ways to enjoy the water: on boats, kayaks and jet skis  or on land with ocean views and beachfront sand.

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale is a casual yet vibrant up-and-coming city with an “exciting dining scene, exciting craft brew scene and exciting arts scene,” said Ed Simon, executive vice president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We are as cosmopolitan as we need to be; we’re as laid-back as you’d want to be.”

An expansion of the 600,000-square-foot Broward County Convention Center is set to begin in February 2020. It will expand the exhibit hall and add a wing of ballrooms and breakouts, including a 65,000-square-foot ballroom overlooking the water. When complete, the center will have five ballrooms, 350,000 contiguous square feet of exhibit space and over 60 breakout rooms. Plans are also in the works for a new 800-guest-room headquarters hotel at the center.

“That will be a game changer,” Simon said. “That, coupled with the expanded meeting space, will open up a whole new world of opportunities for us.”

The Dalmar, a 209-room Tribute Portfolio hotel, opened this spring with over 11,000 square feet of event space. The Seminole Hard Rock and Casino is nearing completion on its $1.5 billion expansion that includes three new hotel towers, one of which is a 35-story, guitar-shaped tower.

Planners can arrange parties on the beach, in the Everglades or on a private island and host receptions at the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum or the NSU Art Museum in downtown.

St. Petersburg/Clearwater

Despite being just a stone’s skip over the water from Tampa, St. Petersburg and its sister city of Clearwater are “kind of a hidden gem, which is crazy considering you use the Tampa airport to fly here,” said Suzanne Hackman, vice president, business development, for Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

Downtown St. Pete is a cultural and art mecca, she said. A string of waterfront parks line the shore, which is also dotted with museums: the Salvador Dali Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the St. Petersburg Museum of History. A few blocks inland, visitors will find the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art and the Morean Arts Center with its permanent Dale Chihuly collection. Groups can book events at most museums, using dedicated space or mingling among the exhibits, and can take art tours by foot and by boat.

St. Pete’s largest meeting property is TradeWinds Island Resorts, which offers 71,000 square feet of flexible meeting space along with outdoor decks, patios and lawns. The Innisbrook Golf Resort has over 400 guest rooms, 65,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and four golf courses. The Vinoy Renaissance provides over 60,000 square feet of event space in 22 rooms.

St. Pete’s newest property is the 343-room Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, which offers 22,000 square feet of meeting space. Another property, the Hilton Clearwater Beach, completed a multimillion-dollar renovation in December that included its 40,000 square feet of event space.

St. Augustine

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States, and whether groups gather in its historic heart or at a luxury seaside resort, “the beauty, the history, the outdoors and the great golf are why meetings come here,” said Barbara Golden, communications manager for St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.

The Sawgrass Marriott resort is the city’s largest venue, with 61,000 square feet of meeting space. Marriott’s World Golf Village Renaissance resort offers 45,000 square feet of event space next to the World Golf Hall of Fame, one of the city’s signature off-site venues. There, groups can use 35,000 square feet of museum space, choose from 13 event venue locations and enjoy two putting greens and a golf simulator.

Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is a luxury resort that specializes in higher-end meetings in its 25,000 square feet of indoor event space. The resort just announced a $40 million historic preservation and modernization plan that will start with an $8 million restoration of its historic 18-hole Ocean Course. Plans also include building a new Ocean House with 41 rooms and suites, slated to open in summer 2020.

The Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Augustine Beach Oceanfront Resort’s 25,000 square feet of meeting space includes two oceanfront lawns and a 5,200-square-foot ballroom with ocean views.

In the historic district, groups can gather at the Lightner Museum or Treasury on the Plaza, a converted 1920s bank.

Daytona Beach

Say “Daytona,” and people immediately think “beach” or “500.” Racing has put the Atlantic-side Florida city, home to the Daytona International Speedway and the Daytona 500, on the international stage, and its 23 miles of beach have made it a well-known vacation destination. But Daytona is — and offers — much more for meeting planners.

“Many planners tell us their meetings experience record attendance and attribute this to the fact that attendees are bringing their families for pre- and post-meeting vacation stays,” said Linda McMahon, director of group sales for the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Ocean Center sits just 400 feet from the water and has 205,000 square feet of meeting space, including 164,000 square feet of exhibit space, 36 breakout rooms and a 9,600-seat arena. Just steps from the complex, the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort is the area’s largest hotel, with 744 rooms and 60,000 square feet of meeting space.

The speedway is still fresh from a $400 million renovation that included five expanded entrances and new seating for 101,500 spectators. It now features 75 luxury suites and meeting spaces with trackside views.

The Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach opened in May 2018 with 200 guest rooms. The Shores Resort and Spa and the Daytona Beach Resort and Conference Center, both with meeting space, have also recently been renovated.

Emerald Coast

With its sparkling emerald water and white sugar sand beaches, it’s not difficult to see why Florida’s Emerald Coast is a popular destination for business and pleasure.

The coastal stretch, which includes Destin, Fort Walton and Okaloosa Island, also delivers fishing charters — Destin is known as the “world’s luckiest fishing village” — sightseeing tours on glass-bottom or pirate-themed boats, and dolphin tours on Sea-Doos.

The Emerald Coast Convention Center’s 31,000 square feet of event space includes a dozen rooms that range from boardrooms to the 21,000-square-foot ballroom and exhibit hall; the 30,000-square-foot Bayview Plaza overlooks the Choctawhatchee Bay. The center was recently refreshed with fresh interior paint — with the exterior soon to follow — and new flooring, chairs and artwork.

Groups can stay across the street and on the beach at the Holiday Inn Resort Hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Destin-Fort Walton Beach hotel or the Hilton Garden Inn, which has 5,000 square feet of meeting space for up to 400 people.

Down the street but still within walking distance is the Island resort, formerly the Ramada Plaza, with 335 guest rooms, 14,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and a swim-through grotto bar.

In Destin, the Henderson Beach Resort is a 170-room luxury hotel with 10,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and 30,000 square feet of outdoor group options, including beachfront lawns and pool decks.