by Lisa A. Grimaldi | July 01, 2015
Why here?
Orlando, fresh off its star role hosting the U.S. Travel Association's IPW 2015, has a wealth of new attractions and properties to add to its group appeal. At the same time, established resorts (including the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel, pictured) are upgrading to keep up the "wow" factor.

Universal News
 Universal Orlando Resort is building a water park, Volcano Bay, set to open in 2017. The new venue will join Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure as the resort's third theme park.

 Next year, Universal will unveil Skull island, Reign of Kong, which will transport guests "deep into a wild and mysterious world of unknown creatures," including, presumably, a certain giant ape.

Top Chef
The 2,009-room Orlando World Center Marriott has launched a host of unique offerings for groups. Among them is a cooking lesson with Bill Marriott's former personal chef, Greg Picard.

Landlubber Dining

The Boathouse, a nautical-themed eatery, recently debuted at The Landing, Disney Springs, in Walt Disney World. Groups of up to 100 people are accommodated for seafood, steaks and much more. (407) 939-2628
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Local Update

 The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel is undergoing a multiphase, multiyear, $125 million redesign, during which the resort will remain open. Included in the renovation are the Swan's 758 guest rooms, slated for completion this year, and the Dolphin's 1,509 guest rooms, to finish in 2017. All public areas and meeting spaces also will be upgraded. The resort has a total of more than 329,000 square feet of meeting space.

 The Orlando Eye, a 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel at the I-Drive 360 entertainment complex, debuted this spring. The ride features enclosed, air-conditioned capsules -- each accommodating 15 guests -- that offer expansive views of Orlando's theme parks and downtown.

 The 1,000-room Loews Royal Pacific Resort Deluxe Hotel is bullish on meetings: The resort is expanding its 85,000 square feet of meeting space by more than 56,000 square feet. A new ballroom and new breakout rooms and prefunction space will open this fall.

 The Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando will debut next summer. The Caribbean-themed property will have 1,000 guest rooms and approximately 131,000 square feet of meeting space. The resort will connect via an air-conditioned covered bridge to the 1,000-room Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando.

 The Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando has completed a revamp of its 650 guest rooms, including the addition of music-related artwork. The hotel has 6,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, with 140,000 square feet of function space nearby at the Hard Rock Cafe and Hard Rock Live venues at Universal CityWalk. For those who like to keep track, the Hard Rock brand now appears on 197 venues in 62 countries, including 151 cafés, 21 hotels and 10 casinos.

 The Element Orlando is scheduled to open in mid-2016. The eco-friendly hotel, less than a mile from Universal Studios Orlando, will feature 151 guest rooms, a 750-square-foot meeting room, a fitness center, free Wi-Fi and complimentary breakfast.

 The SOMM wine bar is opening this month at the I-Drive 360 entertainment complex, featuring a selection of boutique and fine wines, craft beers, artisanal sodas, and a menu of hot and cold dishes.

Over-water bungalows
at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort

 • Disney's Polynesian Village Resort is in the midst of an expansion. When the project finishes, the property will have a total of 360 deluxe studio villas and 20 two-bedroom, over-water bungalows, in addition to its 484 regular guest rooms.

 Downtown Disney is getting a new look and name. The entertainment/retail/dining complex essentially will double in size and be redubbed as Disney Springs. Upon completion in 2016, the expanded complex will feature four interconnected "neighborhoods" -- The Landing, Marketplace, West Side and Town Center.

 AWH Partners has acquired the 1,004-room DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at Sea World. The firms plan to make extensive renovations to the property's guest rooms, meeting space, public areas and resort grounds, and will add approximately 30,000 square feet of meeting and event facilities. AWH Development will oversee the renovations, and Spire Hospitality will manage operations under a franchise agreement with Hilton Worldwide. The hotel currently offers 60.000 square feet of event space.

 Rosen Hotels & Resorts is creating a kosher catering service at the 800-room Rosen Plaza. The new venture, to debut this fall, will include two new certified orthodox kosher kitchens. Kosher meals will be available to individual guests as well groups. The hotel also will provide catering for other groups, banquets and events in the vicinity of the Orange County Convention Center and greater Orlando. The Rosen Plaza has more than 60,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

 The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts opened in Orlando in late 2014. The complex includes the 2,700-seat Walt Disney Theater and the 300-seat Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater.

 A record 62 million visitors headed to Orlando in 2014, according to Visit Orlando, the city's destination marketing organization. Of that number, about 10 million came for meetings or business travel. All the activity resulted in a record-breaking 32 million room nights in 2014, and the collection of more than $200 million in bed taxes.

 SeaWorld Orlando will open a new attraction, Mako, next summer. The ride is touted to be the "tallest, longest, fastest roller  coaster in Orlando." It will travel 4,760 feet of steel track at 73 mph and reach heights of 200 feet. Mako will be the centerpiece of a two-acre shark-themed plaza, where guests will learn about the impact humans are having on sharks and why these animals are critical to the environment.

 Universal Orlando Resort is introducing the NBC Sports Grill & Brew to its dining and entertainment complex this fall. The proprietors say the venue will be "like crossing you favorite sports restaurant with stadium VIP suites," offering an extensive menu ranging from burgers to Crab Scotch Eggs. Patrons will enjoy watching nearly 100 HD TV screens and selecting from about the same number of beer choices, including a house draft.

 The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort debuted last year with 443 guest rooms; a 7,590-square-foot pool; a lazy river and play areas for kids; an additional adults-only pool surrounded by private cabanas; a spa with 18 treatment rooms, and several food and beverage outlets. For groups, the hotel has 37,750 square feet of event space.