Not every hotel has the space to bring in nine truckloads of sand to build a 16,000-sf manmade island setting. But for the opening night event of Sunbelt Rentals Inc.’s 3.5-day national sales meeting at Caribe Royale All-Suites Hotel & Convention Center in Orlando, Kathy Gorton requested just that.
Gorton, the company’s event and travel manager, chose Orlando for the January event because of its warm climate, which is why she wanted the first night’s event to be set outside. The 1,338-suite hotel didn’t have an outdoor area big enough to accommodate the 1,300 attendees, so she opted to build one. By combining the hotel’s sundeck that surrounds the pool with a portion of the adjacent parking lot, Gorton and the hotel staff created an island setting with help from eSquared Solutions, a design company Sunbelt hired to help with set-up.
“Our people thought it was part of the terrain,” says Gorton. “They had no idea we had brought in the sand until the next day when we were sweeping it up.”
Tiki torches, additional palm trees and ambient sunset-colored lighting were also brought in to create a Polynesian feel, complete with hula dancers and flamethrowers. Guests were greeted with leis and served fresh-roasted pork, grilled vegetable skewers and Caribbean-glazed grouper.
The event had three separate areas. One had a live band and Polynesian entertainment. The other featured a Hummer vehicle that was used as a DJ booth. And the quieter central space allowed for people to meet and mingle.
“It was almost like three different parties in one,” says Gorton. “The space was kind of T-shaped, which was conducive to having three sets of entertainment. We wanted the party to have movement for networking purposes.”
The hotel supplied brightly colored linens and pool chairs, which made it more affordable. Gorton believes the property was a perfect fit because it accommodated the 24 pieces of equipment the company brought to showcase at the event. The convention center—including a 40,000-sf ballroom, another 26,000-sf ballroom, 54 breakout rooms—and a parking lot were large enough to provide the required space.
On Saturday evening, Gorton was able to get creative again during an offsite event at Universal Studios Florida, where Sunbelt booked a portion of the park featuring the New York streets area. At the entrance, a 50-foot image of the company logo was displayed, which Gorton says really impressed all of the attendees.
Not only did guests get to ride the Shrek and Mummy rides, they also experienced the New York setting with a fun 1920s theme, which incorporated a way to regulate the amount of liquor everyone drank. Beer and wine were available the entire time, but liquor was only available at the speakeasy that allowed guests inside via a secret password: “Sunbelt.”
Every so often, actors dressed as police “raided” the party to motivate people to move around the park, avoiding the possibility of anyone drinking too much for too long.
After the party, transportation was provided until midnight for attendees to go to Universal CityWalk and spend time at the area’s restaurants, including Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.
“Everybody said it was one of the best events we ever did,” says Gorton. “They were awestruck at Universal and couldn’t believe we brought in the sand for the first night’s event. Everybody kept saying we outdid ourselves.”