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by By Michael C. Lowe | March 01, 2011
Opryland Cascade Lobby
Gaylord Redux: The storied Nashville resort is reborn

In Nashville, the 2,881-room Gaylord Opryland reopened in November 2010 after historic flood waters shut the place down last May. The resort underwent a massive $270 million cleanup and refurbishment that included a renovation of 700 rooms and a revamping of its 600,000-plus square feet of meeting and event space.

Because Opryland's meetings and conventions business accounts for roughly 80 percent of its revenue, catering to planners is a priority, says Michael O'Connor, CMP, vice president of conference management at the resort.

"During the renovation, we invested a lot of resources to enhance the meeting experience, from creating a grand sense of arrival to the check-in process and the revamped restaurant offerings," says O'Connor.

The Opryland now has five new food and beverage options on hand:
• Ravello serves Southern Italian fare in a business casual environment. Menu options range from grilled lobster with a blood orange butter sauce to hearth-fired meatballs.

• Serving Mexican cuisine to be paired with margaritas and house-infused tequilas, Solario features casual dining with an outdoor patio option under the Opryland's Garden Conservatory atrium. The restaurant's famous guacamole de aguacatre appetizer is prepared tableside using a traditional molcajete, the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle.

• Adjacent to the resort's man-made waterfall, the Falls bar and lounge also offers a tapas-style menu, desserts and coffee drinks.

• The Conservatory Bar serves premium wines on tap in addition to cocktails and an extensive beer list.

• Cocoa Bean Coffee, the resort's new coffeehouse near the Cascades lobby, offers baked goods, sandwiches and café-style beverages.

For entertainment, attendees will find myriad options within the property, including the 20,000-square-foot Relache spa and the Las Vegas-style Fuse nightclub that serves up cocktails and tapas around its chic lounge, while partygoers hit the dance floor.

Off-property, other Gaylord attractions include the 18-hole Gaylord Springs Golf Links, the Grand Ole Opry music hall, and the 66,000-square-foot Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville that features a dance floor and stage, along with rentable space for private events for up to 5,000 people. Be sure to sample the saloon's famous fried pickles. 

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The four resorts showcased here are all new, U.S.-based and state-of-the-art from stem to stern, including guest accommodations, meeting space, dining and recreation options.

Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, at Ko OlinaOahu, Hawaii
resorts.disney.go.com/Aulani
Opening: August 2011
Guest rooms: 358 (plus 481 villas)
Meeting space: 50,000 square feet

In August, Disney's first resort not attached to a neighboring theme park will open on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Aulani will feature 358 guest rooms and 481 two-bedroom villas across its 21 oceanfront acres. As part of the Ko Olina resort area, Aulani is adjacent to an 18-hole golf course designed by Ted Robinson (available to guests for a greens fee), the 43-acre Ko Olina marina and more than 1.5 miles of beach, all accessible via a one-mile walk, public bus or short taxi ride.

Unlike Disney's other resorts, Aulani's design and overall atmosphere come from the established traditions of an indigenous culture (albeit with a dash of  Disney panache). "When you step onto a Disney property, you're stepping inside of a story, as if it were a movie, a play or a poem," explains Joe Rohde, senior vice president and creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. "The difference this time is that it's not our story. It's a Hawaiian story."

Indeed, Aulani prides itself on the way it incorporates Hawaiian culture, tradition and history into the guest experience. "We know that this is a resort, not a school, but for those inclined to learn about the real Hawaiian culture, they can talk to our expert staff, go on an guided excursion or just walk around the property," says Rohde.

A massive collection of Hawaiian art is displayed around the resort, with native designs also incorporated into carpets and even light fixtures. Interactive games based on Hawaiian folk tales are scattered around the property, and depictions of Hawaiian legends are subtly embedded within the landscaping, public spaces and guest rooms.

Even the presence of well-known Disney characters are employed to redirect the focus back to Hawaii, notes Rohde. Here, Mickey and Goofy are not so much attractions as they are fellow tourists, clad in T-shirts and lugging baggage while wandering the property and sightseeing.

Included in the property's circa 50,000 square feet of meeting space are a 4,640-square-foot ballroom, a 2,875-square-foot junior ballroom that can be divided into four meeting rooms, and 3,520 square feet of prefunction space. To take advantage of Oahu's climate, Aulani features nearly 35,000 square feet of outdoor event space, including three lawns with ocean views and a courtyard adjacent to indoor meeting space.

For R & R, the resort offers some unique water features, including the Waikolohe Lazy River, which lets guests float in tubes along a winding adventure course; the Rainbow Reef, a saltwater lagoon for snorkeling among Hawaii's richly varied marine life; and the Conservation Pool, a reservation-only attraction where guests can pet and interact with stingrays and other sea creatures. All proceeds from the latter support local research and conservation efforts around the Hawaiian Islands through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Also on-site are two sizeable swimming pools and four whirlpool spas.

Aulani's 18,000-square-foot spa features 15 treatment rooms, offering traditional Hawaiian therapies using native herbs and other ingredients, and a fitness center.
 
For dining, the resort's Makahiki and ‘ama‘ama restaurants offer Hawaiian-inspired fare, seasonal, sustainable ingredients and line-caught seafood. The ‘Olelo Room features tropical drinks, fruit-infused sangrias and Hawaiian beer flights.

Jw Marriott San AntonioJW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa
San Antonio
jwsanantonio.com
Opened: January 2010
Guest rooms: 1,002
Meeting space: 265,000 square feet

Set on 600 acres of rolling hills, lush meadows and bubbling streams, the 1,002-room JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa opened in January 2010, just 20 minutes from San Antonio International Airport and downtown San Antonio.

Here it's all about the great outdoors, given a rugged landscape and a humid subtropical climate that rarely goes below 60 F. Groups large or small can enjoy a 100-acre bird sanctuary on-site, several miles of hiking trails, guided excursions through the countryside, GPS-driven team-building activities and a rugged five-mile mountain-bike ride.

The resort's River Bluff Water Experience encompasses everything from a leisurely inner-tube ride along a lazy river to a 275-foot plunge down one of two Acequia Tube Slides.

Golfers can enjoy two 18-hole courses designed by Pete Dye and Greg Norman, with views of a 750-acre nature preserve next door. Practice facilities include a driving range and a short-game area where PGA professionals can help groups and individuals with their swing.

After some time under the sun or on the trail, guests can find a moment of respite at the 26,000-square-foot Lantana Spa, featuring 26 treatment rooms
The resort has 265,000 square feet of meeting and event space that includes a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, a 40,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 21,000-square-foot ballroom and 20,000 square feet across 19 breakout rooms.
Among several outdoor event spaces are a 23,000-square-foot lawn adjacent to the conference rooms and, at the heart of the resort, a 30,000-square-foot lawn that has waterfall and golf-course views.

The JW Marriott's epicurean offerings include two main restaurants: Cibolo Moon features casual fare like chicken fried steak sliders and bison meatloaf with Brazos Valley macaroni and cheese, while the Rivertop Grill offers regional flavors in items such as fish tacos on freshly made tortillas or frito pie with Texas chili and salsa fresca. Other options include the sports-bar fare of High Velocity and the fresh organic flavors of the Crooked Branch lobby bar.

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