February 2015

Kissimmee, Fla., shines with nature-based outings

by Tyler Davidson

Set at the doorstep of tourism powerhouse Walt Disney World, one could be forgiven for thinking Kissimmee, Fla., was a one-trick mouse, but this Central Florida destination offers groups a wealth of nature-based activity options, a large meetings property in Gaylord Palms, and, yes, unimpeded access to Magic Kingdom, but through its less-congested western entrance.

Ecotourism and nature-based outings have become a prime attraction in Kissimmee. Activities such as bald-eagle viewing, airboat rides and kayaking at the headwaters of the Everglades amongst cypress trees that are hundreds of years old are some of the more-popular options.

“Kissimmee offers everything that Orlando has to offer, but we don’t do the mega-mega meetings like Orlando does, so every meeting that comes here, no matter what size of group, is very special to us,” says D.L. Minich, president and CEO of Experience Kissimmee. “We’re very hands-on, so I guess you have the best of both worlds.”

Minich says that Kissimmee’s orientation to Walt Disney World, at the western entrance, means that visitors don’t have to fight the traffic that can pile up on the Florida Turnpike (I-4).

On the facility side, Kissimmee offers more than a million square feet of space spread across nearly 60 venues. The largest, Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, is a meetings and exhibitions heavyweight, featuring more than 400,000 square feet of space and 100 meeting rooms.

Other popular options include Omni Orlando Resort at Bohemian Hotel Celebration (5,000 square feet of space), Omni ChampionsGate (129,000 square feet), Embassy Suites Orlando-Lake Buena Vista South (40,000 square feet) and Reunion Resort (25,000 square feet).

An additional nice touch in the destination, according to Minich, is Give Kids the World Village, a 70-acre nonprofit resort that provides cost-free fantasy vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses. Groups can arrange for on-site corporate social responsibility-themed teambuilding programs.

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