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Opportunities Galore in Orlando

From fine dining and fresh event spaces to memorable group activities, Central Florida boasts fun venues and attractions for every group

By Andrea Stehle

The Neon Night Glow paddle experience with Epic Paddle Adventures
CREDIT Epic Paddle Adventures

If Orlando is the destination, you won’t fall short when planning your event with this roundup. Southeast Meetings + Events curated some ideas that will surprise and delight you and your colleagues. Although perhaps best known for Walt Disney World, this city has a seemingly endless supply of intriguing and invigorating things to do and places to stay.

Many Orlando hotels allow guests to experience accommodations, attractions, and dining in one complex. Discover these unique venues that provide culturally diverse flavors and expansive event space for visitors, all within arm’s reach of world- renowned theme parks.

Dine on the balcony of Sear + Sear Woodfire Grill CREDIT Jeff Heron

Just minutes from Walt Disney World Resort theme parks and Disney Springs, the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa is home to seven on-site restaurants and lounges, including a rooftop bar, illume; a restaurant, Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill; and a food hall concept, UnReserved Food Bazaar. Each venue has its own atmosphere, flavors, design elements, and locally inspired menus. Named a “Recommended Restaurant” in the 2022 Florida Michelin Guide, Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill serves prime cuts of dry-aged steak and fresh seafood. “We strive to be a market trendsetter when it comes to creativity and service excellence in every one of our restaurants,” says Daniel Schmidt, director of food and beverage. “Our goal is to not only exceed every guest’s expectations but [to also] leave them with a craving to come back for more.”

Elevate your tastebuds by taking a trip up to the resort’s ninth floor to dine on contemporary Japanese-inspired cuisine at illume. The restaurant also features an incredible vantage point of the Walt Disney World fireworks displays that dazzle visitors nightly.

For European-style ambience, head to Universal Orlando Resort to stay at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. With cobblestone streets and Italian cypress trees, the hotel’s setting will make you feel like you’ve gone overseas. Inspired by the romance and charm of the Italian Riviera, this 750-room hotel is a re-creation of the famed seaside village of Portofino, Italy. The hotel’s eat- ery, Mama Della’s Ristorante, provides guests with tasty bites and live opera performances. “As our signature restaurant at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Mama Della’s Ristorante delivers a unique experience for our guests, where they have the opportunity to enjoy Italian dishes like Melanzana Alla Parmigiano and tiramisu in an immersive setting that makes them feel as though they’re in Mama’s own dining room,” says David McKeever, director of food and beverage. “It’s the perfect place for a memorable evening.” Book The Harbor Room for up to 30 people, Papa’s Room for up to 28, The Family Room for a semiprivate event of up to 40, or The Wine Room for up to 24.

Fettuccine Alfredo at Mama Della’s Ristorante CREDIT Universal Orlando Resort

As a landmark of luxury and service, Rosen Shingle Creek—also a Universal Orlando Resort hotel—boasts 15 on-site dining experiences and 524,000 square feet of event space, with its largest ballroom at an impressive 95,000 square feet.

In addition to 99 meeting rooms, the hotel has 136,000 square feet of outdoor event space with sweeping vistas. Inside, the Spanish Revival architecture and decor extend into its 1,500 guest rooms and suites, which all have an eagle-eye view of the champion- ship 18-hole Shingle Creek Golf Course and the lush landscape. “Rosen Shingle Creek has the unique ability to cater to groups of any size, from a large-scale convention to a more intimate event,” says Katie Bellas, director of sales and marketing. “Our award-winning culinary team specializes in personalized menus to fit the needs of any group.”

The outdoor event space at Rosen Shingle Creek hotel CREDIT Rosen Shingle Creek

For a more contemporary approach, seek The Boheme at Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, a recently renovated dining experience in the heart of downtown. Its Bösendorfer Lounge features an eclectic gathering space serving craft cocktails, New World wines, and shareable plates. For a more intimate setting, host a private event in the Bohemian Wine Room for up to 14 guests.

Located near Orlando International Airport is Bacán at the Lake Nona Wave Hotel, a Michelin-recommended restaurant influenced by Latin America. Guests dine inside or retreat to the restaurant’s serene outdoor terrace overlooking a lushly landscaped green space—both inside and outside are available for private parties. Additional event space at the hotel includes a 3,000-square-foot ballroom, three smaller meeting rooms rang- ing in capacity from 46 to 70, and three sculpture gardens with capacities up to 280.

If you’re searching for a space outside of a hotel to host an event, look no further. These new, modern facilities provide planners with everything they need to put on a creative, well-sought-after gathering.

The Steinmetz Hall in the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts opened its doors in January 2022. Offering over 7,000 square feet of space for up to 850 guests, this high- tech theater has four tiers and reception-style accommodations—600 for banquet or 1,700 theater-style. Additional amenities include dressing rooms, audiovisual support, and in-house catering featuring a master sommelier and other culinary artists. “Steinmetz Hall is a flexible space—making it ideal for any event,” says Jenna Rogers, director of events and catering. “When we flatten the floor (22 rows of foldable theater seats), Steinmetz Hall becomes one of the largest event spaces in downtown Orlando. Coupled with its cherrywood interior and dramatic ceiling, it never ceases to leave guests in awe.”

A gem to the city of Winter Park (30 minutes north of Orlando), the Winter Park Library & Events Center completed a $41 million renovation in 2021. The versatile venue features five gathering spaces for a total of 13,456 square feet of indoor space and 9,500 square feet of outdoor space, as well as high-tech projection screens, audiovisual equipment, serene views, and high-end furnishings. One of the many rental spaces at the center includes the 4,700-square-foot Grand Ballroom that features soaring ceilings, a circular staircase leading to the Rooftop Terrace, and an events staff to assist. Or rent the picturesque Tiedtke Amphitheater for live music, a cocktail reception, or tented soiree.

Catch a breath of fresh air and experience the best of Florida wildlife. From paddleboarding and gator watching to exploring the diverse ecosystem, you’re sure to find an activity that suits your interests.

Just 1 mile from downtown Orlando is Epic Paddle Adventures on Lake Ivanhoe. This kayak and paddleboard experience— in alligator-free waters—is a great way to bond with your group while admiring the Orlando skyline amid natural surroundings. The paddleboard or kayak of your choice includes safety equipment such as LED lights, whistles, and life vests. Sunset paddleboarding is available.

The Manatee Paddle Adventure at Silver Springs with Epic Paddle Adventures CREDIT Epic Paddle Adventures

From animal encounters to events such as Brews Around the Zoo, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens will wow groups. If it’s a private event you’re looking to book, consider the zoo’s Wayne M. Densch Discovery Center, a versatile event space featuring an outdoor courtyard, covered porch, and a 3,400-square-foot banquet hall. Or, guests can be immersed in natural surroundings at the Rainforest Pavilion, which is a private, covered facility with seating for up to 200, a kitchenette, restrooms, and plenty of space for activities. It is available from February to October.

Dubbed “The Alligator Capital of the World,” Gatorland Wildlife Preserve and Theme Park is the place to see alligators and crocodiles of all sizes, from babies— also known as grunts—to the 14-foot monsters that call Gatorland’s Breeding Marsh home. The wildlife preserve has the largest collection of rare white leucistic alligators and offers a free-flight aviary, petting zoo, animal shows, the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line, and the new Stompin’ Gator Off- Road Adventure. The 700 square feet of meeting space can be used for corporate events, company picnics, or team outings. A variety of options can be customized to include catering, park admission, zip lining, and behind-the-scenes tours. From a casual barbecue to an elegant outdoor gathering, the experienced team at Gatorland will help “create an event with bite.”

If you’re seeking a gator experience on the water, head one hour south of Orlando for unforgettable tours and events in the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

Its 17-passenger airboat rides allow visi- tors to explore the Everglades Headwa- ters and look for snakes, turtles, bald eagles, birds, and American alligators. Tours will drive through the headwaters to explore the natural habitats of these beautiful animals and give guests an adventure through lands that are untouched by humankind. Private rides are available in 30- and 60-minute increments, and sunset and night tours are available upon request.

After the tour, gather under a canopy of majestic oak trees or reserve one of several on-site venues like the charming country restaurant, one of the covered pavilions, or the lakeside tiki bar. You can also opt to book the entire historic 32-acre park. The site is also home to a butterfly garden, fossil and gem mine, park, and barbecue restaurant.