The warm, subtropical climate, the beachfront property, and the plethora of hotel rooms and golf courses have made Florida a popular business destination for more than a century. The opening of the Palm Beach Inn in 1893, now known as The Breakers, signaled the start of a golf-resort construction boom that continues to this day. The Sunshine State's backbone has always been tourism, but not all of that revenue comes from the family of four vacationing at Walt Disney World. Business travelers, as well, have found many of Florida's resorts to be well-suited for their needs--and not just because of the warm weather. Quite a few savvy resorts have mastered the balance between work and play that so many companies require for an out-of-town meeting. According to the 10 business planners we polled, six plush Florida resorts are among the Top 18 in the nation for business meetings.
BOCA RATON RESORT & CLUB (BOCA RATON): The south Florida city of Boca Raton has long been synonymous with quality and wealth, and this resort typifies the type of impressive appearance a company wants to project. For meetings, the $40 million state-of-the-art Mizner Center, with high-tech presentation capabilities, is as good as it gets. There's also a spa, a marina, a beach club, and two 18-hole golf courses. The palm tree-laden Resort Course was originally built in 1926 and underwent a $6.5 million renovation in 1997. Part of its charm, however, may stem from the fact that Tommy Armour and Sam Snead each served as the golf professional at different times. The Joe Lee-designed Country Club Course is a few miles off campus.
THE BREAKERS (PALM BEACH): One of the most impressive-looking hotels in the world, The Breakers has been wowing visitors ever since the current building made its debut in 1926. The late railroad tycoon Henry Flagler was responsible for the Italian Renaissance-style structure with its Venetian chandeliers and old-money feel. A simple walk through the lobby of this beachfront hotel will leave you with the feeling that you might, just might, run into Jay Gatsby. Although the hotel is old-fashioned in appearance and style, it is completely modern in terms of satisfying a business traveler's needs. A $25 million expansion to its meeting space gives The Breakers flexibility to accommodate any size meeting. The golf course, considered to be the oldest in Florida, recently underwent a massive renovation, led by architect Brian Silva.
HYATT REGENCY GRAND CYPRESS RESORT (ORLANDO): The only downside to Grand Cypress is that the Hyatt is a couple of miles from the golf course clubhouse. But for those who can't endure a short shuttle ride before teeing it up, there are plenty of villas as well as meeting facilities right on the 1,500-acre golf-course property. The resort has 45 holes, including the popular New Course, a Jack Nicklaus-designed homage to The Old Course at St. Andrews. There also is a spa, horseback riding--and Walt Disney World, less than a 10-minute ride from the hotel.
PGA NATIONAL RESORT & SPA (PALM BEACH GARDENS): Any size meeting would be welcome at one of the most well-known resorts in Florida. In addition to five golf courses, eight restaurants, nine pools, and 339 hotel rooms, PGA National also has nearly 34,000 square feet of conference space. The resort's Champion Course played host to the 1983 Ryder Cup as well as to the 1987 PGA Championship.
SAWGRASS MARRIOTT RESORT & BEACH CLUB (PONTE VEDRA BEACH): The biggest problem with holding a business meeting here is that your attendees will have trouble concentrating as they contemplate playing one of the most famous holes in golf, the par-3 17th island hole on the nearby TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. Located on a sliver of land between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, Ponte Vedra Beach is convenient for a business meeting. The Marriott is part of a huge complex that includes 99 holes of golf and more than 46,000 square feet of meeting space. The only drawback is that it's a bit of a ride to get to Sawgrass from the nearest international airport (37 miles).
WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT (LAKE BUENA VISTA): Some business planners might be leery of holding a meeting at Walt Disney World because of its vastness and its reputation as a family vacation destination. However, Disney resorts such as the Grand Floridian have proved to be quality sites for business purposes. The replica of a Victorian-era hotel is close to two of Disney's five 18-hole golf courses as well as the Magic Kingdom, the flagship theme park. "It's a little tough to move big groups around Disney," says Lynne Schueler, meeting planner for Principal Financial Group. "But it's a very functional resort with lots of options."