Multimillions of dollars and nearly two years later, the Orlando World Center Marriott has undergone the hotel version of “Extreme Makeover.” Gone are the lagoons that surrounded the massive pool, a restaurant, décor and architectural structures that have defined the 2,000-room resort for the past 26 years. Instead are renovated guest rooms, lobby, and 450,000 sf of convention meeting space with natural light and breezy pastels, fresh restaurant concepts, and an outdoor activities area purposely designed to enhance corporate functions and appeal to families who accompany attendees.
Renovations began in February 2012 with the redo of 120 suites in 10 varieties. Since then, renovations have included new carpet, lighting and technology for the 14 meeting rooms aligning the hallway leading to the convention center, as well as the North Tower’s 500 guest rooms and the 13,000 sf of dedicated meeting space.
“The North Tower gives a hotel within a hotel feel,” says Gary Dybul, director of sales/marketing. For large groups, it’s just additional meeting space. “But a group of 150 feels as if they are getting our full focus while having dedicated meeting space and benefitting from the 10 restaurants, spa and pool area.”
Our group enjoyed the diversity of the completely restructured Falls Pool Oasis, which debuted July 4th weekend. The former lagoon surrounding the pool is now an event lawn, which can seat 450 or hold 700 for reception. Our lawn luncheon included watermelon gazpacho, lettuce wraps, juicy sliders, and an array of colorful truffles and cakes prepared under the watchful supervision of Executive Chef Greg Picard. Then we splashed in the redesigned pool or raced to the top of three water slides. I willed myself not to look as I plunged down the 90’ speed slide, but never ventured onto the two 200’ tubed slides. Off to one side of the pool, the newly-created Falls Pool Bar & Grill has soft-seating for 180 and two fire pits. There’s entertainment Thursday to Sunday evenings, but Dybul says “Entertainment options and an expansive menu has made the pool bar a popular venue for corporate receptions.” The entire pool deck accommodate up to 3,000.
“The renovation allowed us to build a destination at the pool for pre-and-post stays,” says Dybul, adding that many groups build in family activity. “Our customers have said that Orlando meetings attain the highest attendance of any other city.”
During the course of an afternoon in the upscale Hawk’s Landing Steakhouse & Grille, our group learned how to make bourbon bacon cocktails during a mixology class and we divided into teams to prepare our gourmet lunch. Under our chef’s supervision, we beat eggs with a frenzy, added some simple ingredients, and made the best Hollandaise I’ve tasted. Both the mixology and cooking sessions are group options.
We learned the basics of chipping, putting and driving from two instructors and from Bill Madonna, for whom the Golf Academy is named. Few of our group had ever golfed, but the instruction was so clear and we had so much fun, that all of us were amazed at how quickly the hour-and-a-half lesson flew by.
We breakfasted at Solaris, a 471-seat lobby-side restaurant also open for lunch. Like all the resort’s menus, the food is locally sustainable. One morning I opted for some strong brew and a yogurt parfait at Starbucks. Between the redo of the suites and the pool, the lobby-side Starbucks was converted from a small counter service venue to more neighborhood style with comfy seating and tables.
“Our Starbucks does a high volume business,” says Dybul. “We added a variety of seating and provide complimentary WiFi in there and now people bring in their laptops or hang out between meetings.”
Cattycorner from Starbucks is the urban Italian restaurant, Siro, which opened in January. The rustic but contemporary venue dishes up a tapas menu with international flair. Dybul says trends are ever-changing.
“Siro is a fresh and current concept for us, but we’re also keeping pace with technology.”
Orlando World Center Marriott is a pilot test property for the Marriott’s new worldwide program called Red Coat Direct. When a meeting planner books the group, all their meeting and function space is loaded into the Marriott’s system. Then the planner downloads that link to a personal smart phone or computer.
“The beauty of Red Coat Direct is that the planner is in complete control of the meeting from anywhere in our complex. Room temperature can be changed, coffee can be ordered, or an unscheduled break built in last minute… all without having to first contact an event manager,” says Dybul. The resort is one of the first to get the system, which will be rolled out by the end of 2013.
“The response has been fantastic. Technology has been explosive in meetings. We’ve tripled our bandwidth and increased hot spot points in our meeting space. Planners are looking for that consistent technology, wireless service and high bandwidth. It’s not the sexiest thing we’ve done, but it’s one of the most critical for planners.”