Radiant Resorts across the U.S. South

ConventionSouth readers spoke loudly in 2022. More than 3,200 of our readers and Facebook fans voted in our annual resort contest! The February online ballot featured 75 visually stunning Southern resorts in a list our team complied. Voters based their selection on various criteria, including service, amenities, and location. The topic gained enormous attention, reaching more than 67,000 people.

Here, we showcase the top 15 fan favorites from our 2022 Radiant Resorts contest, with six winners making an encore appearance from last year.

The Beach Club Resort & Spa, Gulf Shores, Ala.

“You’re here. Relax.” Those words on a sign greet guests at the entrance to The Beach Club Resort & Spa in Gulf Shores, Ala. The property is a one-stop shop, with enough onsite amenities, activities, and dining and shopping options that there’s little reason to leave. Guests return to The Beach Club year after year. Maybe it’s the uniqueness of some of the resort’s offerings. The spot is known for its tie-dye T-shirt craft activity. There’s candy bingo and belly flop and cannonball contests at the pool. And where else could you join a conga line led by Toby the Turtle, the resort’s mascot? The 86-acre resort turns 25 next year, and following Hurricane Sally in 2020, nearly every area of the resort was renovated, upgraded, or refreshed. The property includes numerous meeting spaces, both indoor and outdoor, and can host as many as 300 people. Group activities include beach campfires, volleyball, photo scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, and longest drive and closest-to-the-pin golf challenges.

Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale, Mo.

Once again, Big Cedar Lodge takes a top spot among the best resorts. Big Cedar is a place to disconnect from the world and connect with nature. This remote haven rests on 4,600 acres of magnificent Ozark scenery along the shores of Table Rock Lake. Between the fresh mountain air and activities, guests sleep soundly in the deliciously comfortable bedding topped each night with an equally delicious cedar-tree-shaped Pepparkakor (Swedish gingerbread) cookie. Big Cedar offers two full-service marinas, five golf courses, a 50,000-square-foot family-friendly activity center, a spa, two wedding chapels, a natural history museum, cave tours, walking trails, swimming pools, and a variety of restaurants. Teambuilding activities include scavenger hunts, Ozarks Olympics, paint-and-pour sessions, and conservation programs. The Grandview Conference Center accommodates 1,000 attendees. Unique meeting spaces include the 62-foot Lady Liberty Yacht and a 150-year-old barn that was disassembled in Pennsylvania and rebuilt on an Ozark bluff. One of the highest vote-earners, a Big Cedar fan writes on the ballot: “The best resort. They do everything better.”

Choctaw Casino & Resort, Durant, Okla.

Choctaw Casino & Resort just upped the ante in the resort industry. The Durant, Okla., location recently added the 21-story Sky Tower with 1,000 new luxury hotel rooms, 3,300 slot machines, 40 table games, a 30-table poker room, six restaurants, 11 bars and lounges, two movie theaters, and the three-acre Aqua waterpark. The expansion puts the southeastern Oklahoma property at the top of its game among the largest casino resorts in the country. That’s on top of other amenities, such as a spa, whisky bar, bowling alley, arcade, country line-dancing club, and more than 100,000 square feet of event space that includes a 20,000-square-foot conference center and the 25,000-square-foot Grand Theater. Among the top vote-earners, readers who selected Choctaw as their favorite noted the atmosphere at the resort is one of its best features. “Everyone there is always friendly,” says one voter. When it’s time to lay your cards on the table, Choctaw Casino & Resort is a good bet.

Colonial Williamsburg Resorts, Williamsburg, Va.

Colonial Williamsburg Resorts, the official Colonial Williamsburg hotels, again commands a top spot among our readers’ favorites. Of the five unique hotel properties operated in association with the nonprofit Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg Inn is the crown jewel. The AAA Five Diamond inn is adjacent to the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, billed as the world’s largest living history museum. John D. Rockefeller Jr. opened Williamsburg Inn in 1937, around the time the area was being restored to its 18th-century era. The Regency Room is considered the ultimate of Williamsburg event venues, representing the height of elegance and sophistication. It is 3,922 square feet including an outdoor terrace overlooking the golf course, with a capacity of 250 people. The impressive East Lounge is 1,654 square feet with a capacity of 170 people. This venue also includes the use of the exceptional Queen’s Terrace and surrounding lawn. A redesign of spaces at the iconic inn will bring back the Regency architecture style to the Terrace Room, Goodwin Room, Restoration Bar, and library. A piece of trivia about this hotel: It was the first in the country to have air conditioning.

Coushatta Casino Resort, Kinder, La.

As Louisiana’s largest casino resort, gaming enthusiasts may find themselves somewhat overwhelmed as they traverse the massive gaming floor featuring blackjack, roulettes, craps, mini-baccarat, and live poker and bingo games. This perennial favorite resort has accommodations for everyone. The Grand Hotel offers upscale hospitality for the 21-and-older crowd, while the Seven Clans Hotel offers a more traditional and contemporary stay, and Red Shoes RV Park & Chalets allows travelers to enjoy the comfort of their own personal recreational vehicle or a fully furnished chalet. For those who want to up their game, the casino isn’t the only action at Coushatta. Koasati Pines golf course offers a relaxing experience, as golfers hit the links surrounded by stately pines and huge live oaks. Coushatta is home to one of the best pools in the region, featuring a lazy river, two slides, a splash-pad area for the kids, and a swim-up bar for the adults.

Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa, Palm Coast, Fla.

Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa is located on a stretch of unspoiled sand beach along the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Coast, Fla., minutes from historic St. Augustine. With abundant amenities such as two signature golf courses, a relaxing spa, state-of-the-art fitness center, bike rentals, and a two-story pool complex complete with a lazy river and massive waterslide, it’s no wonder this resort earned a top spot again this year. The resort offers just as much for planners and event attendees, featuring more than 50,000 square feet of impressive indoor and outdoor meeting and event space as well as a wealth of teambuilding activities. In February, the resort completed a significant renovation to its three main restaurants: Delfinos Italian Chophouse, Loggerheads Sports Pub, and Stix Authentic Sushi. And there’s more where that came from: Resort officials are planning to add a pizza and ice cream shop, a boutique, and an arcade.

Hilton Pensacola Beach, Pensacola Beach, Fla.

Hilton Pensacola Beach embraces the mantra “beachfront bliss.” With a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico, the 275-room resort has amenities for everyone, from families to business travelers. The property’s 30,000 square feet of meeting and event space includes a second-floor conference room with a balcony offering mesmerizing views of the Gulf. For those who want to get in the water, the resort has an indoor heated pool area and a beachfront deck with two outdoor pools (one heated) and a hot tub—and there’s always the emerald water of the Gulf just steps away. Rent a cabana and make a day of it. When hunger strikes, you don’t have to go far for a variety of international flavors. The poolside Sal de Mar offers tapas and other Spanish-inspired fare. Bonsai serves up a culinary adventure, fusing Japanese cuisine and innovative American cooking. And H2O Grill features surf and turf made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, Miramar Beach, Fla.

When it comes to the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, one reader’s comment says it all: “Great hotel on the Gulf! Wonderful staff and amenities.” Indeed, the resort is situated along a stretch of northwest Florida coastline considered one of the world’s most beautiful. And every guest room offers a full or partial view of the Gulf of Mexico. Even the meeting spaces offer a view. Plan a morning meeting on the 4,600-square-foot Sunrise Deck and an evening gathering on the 8,000-square-foot Sunset Deck. In between, choose from other indoor and outdoor spaces, including three ballrooms and a 106-seat theater. And there’s always the beach for wide-open convening. Guests can sink a putt at four nearby award-winning championship golf courses or sink their toes into a different kind of sand trap along the white-sand beach. For a taste of luxury, consult the in-house sommelier, try the Hadashi Sushi Bar, or dine at the resort’s AAA Four Diamond steakhouse.

Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, Florence, Ala.

The hometown of record producer Sam Phillips, who discovered Elvis Presley, has got to be a winner. Florence, Ala., also is home to Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, where you can almost hear the music roll off the Tennessee River. The river isn’t the only water at this resort; the property has indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, and a water slide. For a water view, snag a table at 360 Grille, a revolving restaurant atop the Renaissance Tower. Savor Southern fare and live music at Swampers Bar & Grille, decorated with memorabilia of those who contributed to the area’s rich music scene. The Alabama Shoals area is known as The Hit Recording Capital of the World. Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan are among the artists who have recorded there. The resort itself is music to the ears, with nearly 35,000 square feet of meeting space. Teambuilding activities include scavenger hunts, cooking demonstrations, and tastings. A melody of offsite experiences sings out, including tours of area recording studios.

Mission Inn Resort & Club, Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.

A proverbial jack-of-all-trades when it comes to hospitality, Mission Inn Resort & Club can accommodate a range of events, from corporate gatherings to fairytale weddings to high-end weekend golf experiences. Mission Inn’s two championship golf courses are set amid towering pines and magnolia trees across a terrain dotted with orange groves. The challenging courses feature rolling hills and elevation changes as high as 85 feet. The resort’s stunning Spanish Colonial architecture houses accommodations of one-bedroom suites, two-bedroom executive suites, and three-bedroom penthouse suites; other options include deluxe hotel rooms and golf resort villas. Groups are welcomed with more than 30,000 square feet of function space that includes two ballrooms and a clubhouse. The 1,100-acre property provides a picturesque backdrop for outdoor gatherings, with lush palms, a tiled fountain, European patios, verandas, courtyards, plazas, and a lakeside pavilion. A team of accomplished chefs leads award-winning onsite dining options, from candlelight to casual.

Perdido Beach Resort, Orange Beach, Ala.

Our readers chose Perdido Beach Resort as a fan favorite for the second time in as many years. Located on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, Perdido is among the largest meeting spaces in the state and features five restaurants, multiple bars and lounges, nightly live music, and a state-of-the-art fitness center. The resort offers unique and appetizing teambuilding activities, including a margarita and guacamole challenge and S’mores on the Shore. But it’s the staff that makes Perdido special. The experienced team has been with the property an average of 10-plus years, forming long-term relationships with guests and planners. The staff also is involved in community service and charity fundraisers. One fan writes on the ballot: “The staff treats you like family! This place is gorgeous inside and out.” A recent $26 million renovation of guest rooms, public spaces, and meeting rooms—from sheetrock to amenities—took place after two hurricanes damaged the property. Now, the property sparkles like the turquoise waters that lap the resort’s white-sand beach.

The Plaza Resort & Spa, Daytona Beach, Fla.

The Plaza Resort & Spa radiates history. Billed as the oldest continuously operating hotel in Daytona Beach, the early hotel served as a navigation point for pilots flying down the coast. The property has been a beacon ever since, beckoning travelers to its 600 feet of beachfront. Today’s resort offers 323 guest rooms, onsite restaurants, the luxurious Ocean Waters Spa, and an oceanfront pool. For fun, share a beachside bonfire or try the oversized lawn games, including a chessboard with pieces as tall as a child. The Plaza has 40,000 square feet of event space, highlighted by the 13,000-square-foot Plaza Réal Grand Ballroom—and the resort is within walking distance of the Ocean Center convention facility. The iconic property has begun a $45 million project aimed at transforming the resort into a luxury entertainment complex that includes the hotel. Voters gush over this resort; says one, “Beach views for miles!”

The San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center, Galveston, Texas

Sitting on 32 acres of beachfront beauty on the Gulf of Mexico, The San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center offers unparalleled luxury on popular Galveston Island in Texas. The AAA Four Diamond facility can handle corporate meetings, romantic weekends for two, and family-friendly vacations. The resort is home to the Galveston Island Convention Center, a 140,000-square-foot facility with top-notch audiovisual technology and stunning views of the Gulf. Together with the 700-room hotel, the facility offers a staggering 200,000 square feet of total meeting space. Equally impressive are the 10 restaurants within the resort. The newest, Blake’s Bistro, offers a laid-back atmosphere with a menu full of comfort classics ranging from Tex-Mex to gourmet burgers. Grotto provides a fine-dining experience inspired by classic Italian cooking, and The Steakhouse has an award-winning menu and an extensive wine selection. For pampering on the outside, head to Spa San Luis for a menu of treatments as tempting as the eateries, including the Honey Butter Restoration and Ultimate Banana Foster Body Treatment.

Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Ponte Vedra Beach has some of the best golf courses in the world, including the famed TPC Sawgrass. Guests at the adjacent Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa have access to the same hallowed links played by some of the greatest golfers, including the iconic Players Stadium Course with its legendary 17th hole. That’s a huge draw for fans of this resort, but it’s not the only one. Nestled among 65 oak-lined acres halfway between Jacksonville and historic St. Augustine, this northeast Florida resort is enveloped by Old Florida charm and Atlantic coastline. The property features 90,000 square feet of prime indoor and outdoor meeting and event space. And don’t forget the 24,000-square-foot full-service spa. Still, the impressive resort isn’t resting on its laurels. It’s about to get better this fall with three new restaurants, renovations to 163 of the resort’s family-friendly units, and a refresh of meeting spaces to better incorporate Ponte Vedra Beach’s history and culture.

Stonewall Resort, Roanoke, W.Va.

Boasting the tagline “peaceful seclusion in the heart of nature,” Stonewall Resort rests on 1,900 acres of West Virginia wilderness. The resort’s setting explains, in part, why it’s a fan favorite for the second year in a row. Other reasons include its mix of rustic charm and modern amenities, such as a pool, three restaurants, full-service spa, and a touring boat that cruises 26 miles of lakeshore. The resort’s Lakeside Cottage and Lake House Collection feature multi-room cottages, while the Adirondack-style Lakeside Lodge brings a more modern and contemporary style of hospitality. The family-friendly spot offers patio firepits and s’mores, an Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course, CraigCat mini-boat rentals, and a marina where guests can get food and drinks delivered to their docked boat. The resort also partners with area attraction Stonewall Sporting Clays to offer discounted clay-shooting sessions. Home to West Virginia’s only lakeside conference center, spaces include several meeting rooms and a ballroom that holds 300 attendees. Dynamic teambuilding activities include glow golf, a charity bike-building workshop, and culinary competitions.

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