After more than a year of stress and uncertainty, the meetings industry is ready for a reset. Fortunately, Southern resorts provide the perfect setting for revitalization, with spectacular scenery, a warm climate, and abundant amenities.
When we asked our Facebook followers to weigh in and vote for their favorites, responses poured in from near and far. Across the board, people remarked on showstopping views, welcoming staff, and refined comforts. Most of all, though, people described their favorite spots as a “home away from home” to which they returned year after year. From a ballot of 74 properties, here are the top 15 standouts.
Big Cedar Lodge
Eight miles south of Branson, Mo., surrounded by thousands of acres of Ozark Mountains, Big Cedar Lodge is a 4,600-acre lakeside retreat that specializes in nature-based experiences such as fishing, boating, and hiking. Originally developed in the early 1920s as a private country retreat, the resort was purchased by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris in 1987. Today, the lodge features 262 guest rooms across a collection of lodges, cottages and private log cabins outfitted with plush, cabin-style décor. With panoramic views of Table Rock Lake, the Grandview Conference Center can accommodate groups of 10 to 1,000. Group activities include chuckwagon dinners at a rustic campsite and teambuilding adventures ranging from Ozark Olympics to casino nights.
Big Cypress Lodge
This is truly a one-of-a-kind destination: A 535,000-square-foot pyramid in the heart of Memphis that offers a rustic getaway, complete with 100-foot-tall trees and a swamp with live alligators. Like Big Cedar Lodge, Big Cypress was designed by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. According to resort lore, Morris went fishing in the Mississippi with friends in 2005 and, upon seeing the iconic Memphis pyramid, said he’d build a store inside it if they caught a 30-pound catfish. Sure enough, one of his buddies reeled in a hefty catch that sealed the deal. With several spaces that can accommodate up to 150 people each, Big Cypress is ideal for corporate meetings.
Caribe Royale Orlando All-Suite Hotel & Convention Center
Thanks to a $125 million phased expansion, the sweeping 60-acre Caribe Royale boasts completely renovated one-bedroom suites, a new 50,000-square-foot ballroom, and a new lobby that greets guests with a fresh arrival experience. With 220,000 square feet of meeting space, including outdoor gathering areas across pavilions, patios, and poolsides, the Caribe Royale is a popular choice for large-scale conferences as well as smaller events. When the workday is done, guests can take a dip in one of three swimming pools, play a round of tennis, hit the running trails, or venture a mile down the road to Walt Disney World.
Colonial Williamsburg Resorts
At Colonial Williamsburg, visitors step back in time to America’s revolutionary beginnings while also enjoying thoughtfully curated modern amenities. The Historic Area offers an immersive experience into colonial life, complete with costumed townsfolk: Visit blacksmith and carpenter’s shops, sit down for a bite to eat at a tavern, tour original homes, and stroll through verdant herb and vegetable gardens. The resort itself offers six hotel properties, each with its own personality. While they are suited to a range of event types, they particularly excel at teambuilding experiences. There are dozens of teambuilding programs to choose from, including leadership workshops, historic challenges, chef’s tastings, golf outings, and more. Colonial Olympics, anyone?
Coushatta Casino Resort
True to the “go big or go home” vibe of this glittering, neon property, Coushatta Casino Resort was the runaway winner of our Facebook contest, with more than 700 reactions, 460 comments, and 139 shares. A scroll through the comments section reveals a sea of rave reviews on Coushatta’s welcoming staff, gaming floor, COVID-19 precautions, and more. The kid- and pet-friendly resort offers 50,000 square feet of meeting space across facilities that are especially well suited to corporate and social events. When it’s time to play, guests can head to the golf course or tennis courts, float down the lazy river, or swim up to the poolside bar for a sundowner.
Eau Palm Beach
Who says the boardroom and the beach have to be separate? Eau Palm Beach offers colorful Floridian glamour and a picturesque Atlantic Ocean backdrop for workshops, conferences, and corporate retreats, with 30,000 square feet of event space that can accommodate up to 1,000 people. The property’s 309 guest rooms include ocean, pool, and garden views, as well as private balconies. The onsite Eau Spa is the ultimate revitalization experience, featuring 42,000 square feet of indulgence. One of only 48 spas in the world to have earned a five-star rating from the Forbes Travel Guide, the Eau Spa comes complete with free-flowing champagne, luxurious treatments, and a sublime garden oasis.
Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa
Point Clear, Ala.
Set on the shores of Mobile Bay amid ancient moss-draped oaks, The Grand is the epitome of Southern hospitality. From intimate receptions, to conventions, to everything in between, the self-styled “Queen of Southern Resorts” graciously accommodates all kinds of meetings and events. Built in 1847 as a 40-room hotel on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, the earliest guests traveled to the hotel via steamboat. During the Civil War, the hotel was used as a hospital, and during World War II it served as a training ground for Operation Ivory Soap, a classified Allied operation. In honor of the hotel’s military history, a cannon is fired on the grounds every day at 4 p.m. Bay breezes and spectacular waterfront sunsets make outdoor events especially magnificent at this gem of a property.
Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa
Palm Coast, Fla.
Hammock Beach is tucked away on a secluded stretch of Atlantic coastline between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach, Fl., surrounded by pristine estuaries, nature preserves, marinas, and historic sites. With 16,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and more than double that square footage outdoors, Hammock Beach is ideal for groups of up to 475 guests, including social celebrations, corporate gatherings, and incentive rewards. The resort’s aquamarine centerpiece is its 91,000-square-foot Fantasy Pool complex, complete with a lazy river, three-story slide, separate upper and lower pool levels, and zero-entry beach pool, as well as poolside food, beverages, and activities.
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort
Nestled on 1,500 acres between Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is a tropical getaway in its own right. The resort’s recreational offerings include miles of nature trails for jogging and bicycling, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design golf course, a private lake, a half-acre pool with 12 waterfalls and a swim-through cave, and an array of additional family-friendly activities. Ranked #1 on Condé Nast Traveler’s 2019 Reader’s Choice Awards for Orlando Resorts, the property features more than 102,000 square feet of function space, as well as poolside, lakeside and outdoor event locations with lush landscaping.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa
San Antonio, Texas
Located on 300 secluded acres just 20 minutes from downtown San Antonio, the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort has its roots in the Rogers-Wiseman Ranch, a cattle ranch that spanned thousands of acres and operated for more than 100 years before the hotel opened. According to Woodbine Development, the firm at the helm of the resort’s renovation and expansion in 2013, the destination was the first true resort hotel property in the Lone Star State. The hotel’s historic influences and natural landscape are seamlessly interwoven throughout the property, from the meeting and event spaces, to the golf courses, to the tranquil Windflower Spa.
Margaritaville Lake Resort
Lake Conroe is a favorite getaway for Houstonians, with sprawling acres of fresh, piney woods and miles of branching tributaries. Open less than a year and already making a splash in the Texas hotel scene, Margaritaville Lake Resort adds a cheerful new infusion of tropical color to the lake’s southwestern shores. Set on 186 waterfront acres, the resort and conference center is the first Margaritaville property in Texas. The 20-story resort features 303 suites, 32 lakefront cottages with boat slips available, and the island-themed dining and décor that are central to the brand. The property includes an IACC-certified conference center and 72,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor event space.
Paragon Casino Resort & Earl J. Barbry Sr. Convention Center
Located southeast of Alexandria in rural Avoyelles Parish, Paragon Casino Resort was the first land-based casino to open in Louisiana. Owned by the Tunica-Biloxi tribe, it offers gaming, golf, and a variety of family recreation options. The property’s most eye-catching feature is its bayou-like interior atrium, where cypresses reach toward the sky and live alligators lounge below. Guests can relax with a cocktail and watch the alligators swim from the Atrium Bar, which features a signature frosted-ice bar top. The resort includes four ballrooms ranging in size up to 8,000 square feet, the 23,000-square-foot Mári Showroom, and three cinemas.
Perdido Beach Resort
Orange Beach, Ala.
Perdido Beach Resort has its own extra element of revitalization this year: It’s slated to reopen on May 1, after damage from hurricanes Sally and Zeta forced it to close in 2020. The registration hall and lobby have just wrapped up renovations, including all-new tile flooring, revamped décor, and the addition of a Coastal Coffee Co. location. The eye of Hurricane Sally crawled ashore practically on top of the resort last September, pummeling coastal Alabama with ferocious winds and torrential rain. The outer rim of Hurricane Zeta delivered another blow the following month. When the resort reopens, guests will once again enjoy its sugary white beaches, sparkling Gulf views, and the largest convention center on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort
Panama City Beach, Fla.
The Sheraton Panama City is a hidden gem on Florida’s Emerald Coast, perched at the tip of historic St. Andrews Bay just off the Gulf of Mexico. The only AAA Four Diamond hotel in Northwest Florida, the property boasts world-class golf, spa facilities, and recreation offerings. The tranquil bay waters make this location a prime spot for sailing, paddleboarding, and cruising aboard pontoon boats. Off-property excursions include deep-sea fishing, wreck diving, and the nearby St. Andrews State Park, Florida’s most-visited state park. With 60,000 feet of indoor and outdoor event space, its meeting facilities are ideal for corporate groups, associations, and incentive markets.
Situated within a 1,900-acre state park along the shores of a popular recreational lake, the resort offers a variety of accommodations, including a 195-guest room lodge renovated in 2018, cottages, and a lake house collection. The resort features the only lakefront conference center in West Virginia. The IACC-approved facility highlights its unique geography via ample natural light and views of the lake and rolling mountains beyond. The resort takes pride in its extensive catalog of signature teambuilding exercises, including Glow Golf on the 18-hole Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course, a charity Bike Building Workshop, and fun “Fired Up” Culinary competitions.