The Hilton Orlando

The Hilton Orlando You’d think the opening of the 19-story Hilton Orlando in September was a nationally televised awards show. Media folks jostled for space and guests gawked, as if searching for an elusive celebrity or big politico. To be fair, Hilton scored major marketing points with this location, situated in the heart of Orlando’s business and tourist district, International Drive. As Juan J. Garcia, director of sales/marketing, succinctly and proudly said, “We’re the first Orlando hotel to have a covered open-air, 450-ft walkway directly connected to the North-South building of the Orange County Convention Center.”

Lest you not realize the significance, visualize: 95 degrees, not factoring in central Florida humidity, possibly rainy or sweltering sunny, and you’re schlepping conference materials while scurrying from the Convention Center to any of the nearby hotels, attractions, or restaurants. A 450-ft trot from any of the 175,000 sf of Hilton Orlando’s meeting space seems quite the bonus.

The 1,400-room luxury hotel with its contemporary design, warmed by soft colors and chrome accents, is modern and attractive. But what really distinguishes it is that, “There’s a distinct separation between the 175,000 sf of meeting facilities and our resort amenities,” explains Garcia. “Resort destinations are usually in remote locations, but we offer both right in the center of the action.”

You don’t have to be an active member of the events and meetings industry to appreciate the value here for corporate groups, especially with families. While attendees are working in the three ballrooms, including the 50,000-sf Orlando Ballroom, their families can tube through the hotel’s 892-ft lazy river or careen through a water flume that plops you into one of the two zero-entry pools. As for “me-time,” the 15,000-sf spa with 15 treatment rooms and a voluminous fitness center is touted as the largest in area hotels.

Nearby in “O Town,” Hilton Orlando is easily accessible to theme parks and other attractions within 10 minutes by trolley or cab, world-class shopping within 10 minutes and a plethora of high-end restaurants for groups. Less than a 5-minute walk from the hotel’s front door, the Pointe Orlando dining and entertainment district delivers international cuisine, fine spirits and a party atmosphere.

Newest to the complex is the Funky Monkey Wine Company, a 150-seat eatery owned and operated by the directors of The Tasters Guild Orlando, the largest wine and food appreciation society in America. Try the raspberry-sauced duck with goat cheese mashed potatoes. Maximum capacity is 150 seated or 500 inside and outside for receptions.

Feel the beat salsa-ing out the windows of Cuba Libre, where Latin beauties, delectable drinks and spicy atmosphere enhance the group experience.

“Grab a Cuba Libre and head to the second floor private room, which holds hundreds,” says creative director Stacey Paul Barabe, CSEP, owner of Exhilarate Events. “The group dinner menu is enticing with fresh fish and meat options, and the sugarcane-skewered shrimp are to die for.” She also suggests a Rum Pairing dinner, led by a rum expert that’s fun and educational, but mostly fun. The Havana-themed hot spot can host up to 1,000 revelers.

Other options we like at Pointe Orlando: the fine-dining Maggiano’s offers private rooms; Taverna Opa is a noisy Greek homage to Mama Mia!-style parties; and Capital Grille serves up its famous aged steaks. For casual events, check out Tommy Bahamas Café, or BB King’s Blues Club for fried pickles and soulful jams for groups from 30-1,000.