Planners Pick: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Orlando

Loews Portofino Bay

It took eight 52-foot trailers, 15 open pods and 36 hours to transform the 15,000-sf Tuscany Ballroom at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando into a super-sized Vera Bradley Designs showroom. The design team covered the show floor and the ceiling with the company’s colorful handbags and accessories. The purpose of the event revolved around product/business education, networking and order writing for U.S.-based Vera Bradley independent retail store owners.

The opening reception is hosted in three waves in both the 7,700-sf Venetian and the 3,000-sf Ligurian ballrooms. Day two educational sessions and order writing take place at the 15 studio pods.

The event occurs each spring and fall, often in Orlando, but rarely at the same hotel. The 750-room Loews Portofino is the exception. The service is an important selling point, as well as the architecture and layout designed around a small bay like its exquisite namesake in Italy.

“The service when we were there in 2010 was stellar and the space flows great,” says Susan Abbate, president of Abbate & Associates, who has planned the show for five years. “The Portofino team was involved from the early stages of the planning process and never said ‘no.’ Their flexibility was paramount to us getting there the first time and then for us to return.”

During the initial visit, Abbate asked if they would pressure wash the patio and remulch the landscaping around it. “I needed it done before our group arrived that evening,” she says. “Those are the types of services we look for.”

Two years ago, weather threatened to disrupt a series of F&B events lining the piazza just outside the ballrooms. Abbate was again concerned about feeding a group that large outdoors, so this year, “I asked the staff to tent the patio the way we wanted,” she says. “To do that they would need to remove the light posts and they did. Little things make a huge difference, so the Portofino is a good fit for a planner with creative needs.”

In 2010, the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer hosted an awareness lunch. Abbate requested an all-pink menu from the chef, who served pasta with pink sauce and salmon with pink peppercorns, along with other specially-prepared dishes. This year the conference didn’t have a formal luncheon, but there was a pink menu of pink cookies and pink lemonade served inside one of the product studios.

And while the retailers agreed that the schedule was a little on the tight side, Abbate says, “The Loews Portofino team ensured that nobody ever felt rushed. They are just extraordinary.”