This writer had never quite understood Kissimmee. That is, until a recent visit.
A day-long tour of this destination bordering Orlando not only revealed a diverse selection of properties, from boutiques to convention hotels, but also charming venues for special events, from the quaint town of Celebration to the soon-to-open Island Grove Wine Company.
A first stop was the 720-room Omni Resort at Championsgate, an ideal spot for golf lovers, with 36 championship holes. While the resort used to be in a fairly isolated location, the surrounding community is now bustling with new restaurants and shops. A new $750 million Margaritaville Resort is slated for construction nearby, with 187 planned rooms on 300 acres with a lake, beach area, water park and even a planetarium—as well as meeting space. Along with the sprawling Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, with 1,416 rooms and the largest in-hotel exhibit hall in Florida, groups will have three very different property choices for their meetings.
A sweet surprise was the master-planned town of Celebration, with a charming town center surrounding a lake—exuding the feeling of a traditional American small town—with retail shops, restaurants, a town hall and its own post office. The entire Celebration community, which is actually a group of connected neighborhoods, is bikeable, with paved trails throughout and a rambling boardwalk through a conservation area. A refreshing bike ride showcased the efforts its creators made to protect the natural environment, with deer, alligators and numerous varieties of birds thriving in the wooded setting. In downtown Celebration is the 115-room Bohemian Hotel, a member of the Autograph collection. It has the feeling of elegant, Old World Florida, as well as 5,000 sf of indoor meeting space, including two lovely lakeside terraces.
A hidden gem for meeting groups is the Nicholson Center at Florida Hospital, a medical research and training center with its own concierge and catering, a variety of boardroom spaces, a 500-seat conference center and a staff that truly understands how to serve the meetings market.
Ideal for corporate and incentive groups, Salamander’s Reunion Resort offers a variety of suite accommodations in its luxury villas, as well as suites in the 96-suite main hotel, along with a spa and three signature golf courses. The Eleven restaurant on the rooftop of the tower offers sweeping 360-degree views of the golf courses and mansions below.
A highlight of our tour of Kissimmee was a hardhat lunch and wine tasting at the new Island Grove Wine Company. Island Grove specializes in blueberry wines grown on its plantations and the new Kissimmee outpost at Formosa Gardens is being designed especially for events. With a talented young chef and a fresh approach to wine, it is sure to be a hit when it opens later this year. Events of all sizes can be held outdoors among the manicured gardens or in a variety of indoor meeting spaces. The winery’s other mission will be to promote sustainable agriculture and to perform research on Florida agricultural products.