Expanded Ka Maka Landing, a popular Waikolohe Valley water play area at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii

Expanded Ka Maka Landing, a popular Waikolohe Valley water play area at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii

You don’t have to go over the rainbow to find otherworldly adventures. Somewhere in our world, hotel resorts are renovating or building, meetings are occurring and families are gathering to create memories. In America, we’ve begun the holiday crush that begins with Halloween and rushes past New Year’s Eve. Elsewhere, other holidays occupy heart, mind and wallets (as if you expected someone else to pick up the tab?) For many businesses, this is an opportune time to regroup, fill out next year’s RFPs, or scope out destinations for next year’s conferences. For the leisure industry, the next two months are make-it-or-break-it for sales, promotions, or capturing imaginations that live on past packing one’s bag to head back home. With that in mind, here are some destinations, resorts, events, and opportunities that you may want to consider.

Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii, knows that even adults need time to play, so the imaginative folks at Disney have expanded Ka Maka Landing, a popular Waikolohe Valley water play area. There’s an infinity pool with a realistic grotto, a dynamic fun splash zone for smaller kids, and a new dining location for poolside and beachside dining. No worries, meeting plannners, the new Hālāwai Lawn provides a 16,000-sf lushly landscaped environment for outdoor events. The new lawn is part of the resort’s total 36,000 sf of function space, including a 14,000-sf conference center. “With Aulani, we’ve introduced an entirely new Disney experience for incentives and meetings,” said Anne Hamilton, vice president, Resort Sales and Services, Disney Destinations. “In keeping with the rest of the resort, events on the new Hālāwai Lawn will immerse attendees in the resort’s exotic Hawaiian landscapes and spirit of Aloha, paired with the quality and service associated with the Disney Meetings brand.”  Food options expanded with Ulu Café, a quick service restaurant positioned beneath artist Harinani Orme’s towering exterior bas relief of Māui. www.Disneymeetings.com

OK, meeting planners. Here’s one just for you. The Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) wants to reimburse you up to $400 for airfare in their new “Flights for Sites” program. “The island has a great reputation and track record for executing outstanding meetings and events, but we don’t want airfare to be a barrier to new planners who want to make a site visit and see all that we have to offer,” said Gil Langley, president and CEO of the Amelia Island CVB.  “Once they’re on island, planners can easily see why Amelia Island is a great option for their next meeting event.” Amelia Island venues have 131,000 sf of combined meeting and conference facilities. The island’s two largest resorts – Omni Amelia Island Plantation and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island have both finished major renovation projects within the past two years. How To Qualify for the “Flights for Sites” program: mention the program in advance of confirming your site visit. A sales rep from the host property will also confirm your qualifications. Meeting planners must plan to contract a minimum of 150 cumulative guest room nights and at least $7,500 in food and beverage expenses. www.ameliaisland.com/meetings

Got you thinking about Amelia Island, right? Wondering what there is to do? How about the new

Amelia Island Kayak Excursions’ guided tours through local inland waters, the St. Marys River, the Okefenokee Swamp, and the Suwannee River? You can also choose a two-hour paddle through Lofton Creek, featuring aquatic vegetation, birds and other wildlife; or Egan’s Creek on Amelia, which offers some of the best shore bird watching and a view of the Amelia Island Lighthouse. Maybe the Sunset Tour and Kayak & Lunch package appeals. (904) 557-5307; www.ameliaislandkayak.com. Also new: Bike-Scoot-Or-Yak. Rent cruiser-style bikes (along with child and cargo trailers), 49cc motor scooters, sit-on-top kayaks (single, tandem and fishing models), and 10’4’’ and 11’4” Stand Up Paddleboard Rentals (SUPs). They can be delivered directly to your lodging. www.BikeScootOrYak.com; (904) 404-8654. Groups of up to 10 can explore the subtropical vegetation of Fort George Island, one of the most ecological and historic places along the East Coast, with EcoMotion Tours. The one-hour tour covers the Island’s lost tribes, natural habitat and fascinating wildlife from knowledgeable eco-guides. (904) 251-9477; www.ecomotiontours.com

Wedding Planners and Do-It-Yourself-Brides looking for a unique package, check this one out. The Amelia Hotel at the Beach has a new Beach Wedding Package that includes a two-night stay; wedding ceremony on the beach with officiate; beach set up (sand table, starfish, and chalkboard); sand ceremony (one natural and one color sand); flowers for the bride and groom (seasonal and in their color scheme); and champagne and souvenir flutes (in room at arrival). The package starts at $745.60 and can be booked at least 30 days in advance by using code BWED. Contact Kristi Bennett, (904) 206-5600.

Our last Amelia Island item is about two unique guest experiences being offered by The Amelia Island Williams House. December 5 from 2 to 4:30 p.m., guests can create a beautiful Christmas card while enjoying a cup of tea and delectable holiday treats. All supplies needed to create the card will be provided. $18. Open to the public. Reservations required. (904) 277-2328. Ever thought about owning a B&B? This February 7-9, the property will host an Aspiring Innkeepers Seminar. The weekend-long seminar includes a full day of instruction, course materials, current industry studies and information, informal consulting, and informative round table discussions. Meals include a social Friday night; breakfast, lunch and social hour on Saturday; and breakfast on Sunday. Registration is $95 for single and $175 for couples. Accommodations are available from $125 per night for single and starting at $150 per night for couples. Contact Helen at Lodging Resources Partners, office@lodgingresources.com; (904) 321-2210.

Private dining experiences in historically-preserved, elegant environments are a specialty of Peyton & Byrne. I’ve seen some of their extraordinary venues, such as the Wallace Collection, in London. For the approaching holiday season, many of their spectacular restaurants throughout London and Brighton have customized experiences and incentive prices. For instance, the aforementioned Wallace Collection Courtyard, dinner bookings for 20 or more are £42.50 inc VAT per guest to include a glass of sparkling on arrival and a three course seasonal dinner per person. The Wallace Collection gallery on Manchester Square is considered to be one of the best collections of fine arts including paintings, porcelain and furnishings in the UK. The Courtyard  combines al fresco dining in a gorgeous setting, dotted with trees and sculptures and flooded with natural light. Contact Malah Vadhai on 020 7451 9999; malah@peytonevents.co.uk. Another property is the Royal Academy Restaurant, a sumptuous space located beneath the permanent galleries and exhibition spaces. It features murals and sculptures from the Academy’s own esteemed collections. Most importantly, this December is one of the only times clients will be able to exclusively hire the restaurant. There are many group dining options available only through Peyton Events. Tom Crocker on 020 7300 5619; tom@peytonevents.co.uk. Gorgeous venues also include The Keeper’s House, Royal Pavilion in Brighton, a contemporary Christmas at the ICA Theatre, and an exclusive hire of Inn the Park. For the Keepers’ House: 020 7300 5881; keepershouse@royalacademy.org.uk. For Royal Pavilion: Tom Crocker on 020 7300 5911; tom@peytonevents.co.uk. For the ICA Theatre: Karolina on 020 7930 8619; Karolina@peytonevents.co.uk. For Inn the Park: Ben Peters on 020 7747 5934; ben@peytonevents.co.uk

The Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) has been awarded Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED®) for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance Gold (EBOM) certification from The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), an arm of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). OCCC’s North – South Building is the largest convention center in the world to achieve LEED EBOM Gold certification. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said, “Considering the extraordinary importance to Orange County’s economy of attracting meetings and conventions from around the world, the commitment to achieving LEED for Existing Buildings Gold certified status for our convention center is a crucial investment in our county’s future.” George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando says, “The demand for green meetings and sustainable convention facilities continues to grow and our convention center is a premier venue for location, size and sustainability.” www.occc.net

Tony Stark flies into Hong Kong Disneyland's coming themed Iron Man attraction.

Tony Stark flies into Hong Kong Disneyland’s coming themed Iron Man attraction.

(October 10, 2013) Tony Stark flies into Hong Kong Disneyland in late 2016 to unveil its newest themed area based on Iron Man. The storyline is that Iron Man has brought his Stark Expo to Tomorrowland at Hong Kong Disneyland. Guests will personally see the progression of Tony’s Iron Man suits and other Stark innovations. Surprise, surprise! You’ll be flying along with Stark on an epic adventure as he battles the forces of evil in the streets and skies of Hong Kong. Iron Man is one of some 7,000-plus characters that are part of the Marvel universe. The Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel Entertainment in 2009. (852) 3550-3369; www.honkongdisneylandmeetings.com

Cruising on a yacht in South Florida is fabulous any time of year. Options just got better with this charter promotion for the 100’ Midnight Sun. This is one sweet deal. Get a $1,500.00 discount for booking a daytime event. New bookings only. For charters of four or more hours. Minimum of 45 guests. Charter must end by 4 pm. www.waterfantaseas.com; (305) 531-1480 or (786) 220-6603

The Palm Beach County Convention Center Hilton Hotel breaks ground December 6. Located on Okeechobee Boulevard, adjacent to the convention center and across the street from West Palm Beach’s Arts and Entertainment District, the 403-room Hilton Hotel is expected to significantly expand larger convention and event business within the county. “The close proximity of the hotel to the convention center, the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, CityPlace, downtown West Palm Beach’s Waterfront Commons and Airport, will give us a compelling selling proposition to secure groups that require a larger room block and significant meeting space,” says Discover Palm Beach County President and CEO Jorge Pesquera. “This hotel project represents a quantum leap for West Palm Beach’s urban core, which is seeing a growth in popularity with the new waterfront park, the upcoming arrival of express rail services, and several other hotel projects currently underway.” To kick-off a season of new bookings at the County Convention Center, Discover Palm Beach County plans to announce a significant incentive plan for convention groups. Located in the heart of the destination’s Entertainment District, the two-level Palm Beach County Convention has a 100,000-sf exhibit hall, a 25,000-sf ballroom, 23,000 sf of flexible breakout space divisible into 23 rooms, and elevated glass atriums for ample pre-function space.

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady

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