There’s another side to Orlando, different from the theme parks and convention district, that incentive planners should consider adding to their itineraries.
Orlando is a thriving urban center with several bustling neighborhoods—The Milk District, Parramore, Ivanhoe Village Main Street, Thornton Park, Audubon Park Garden District, Mills 50® District, Downtown Orlando, Winter Park and Lake Nona. Each has its own character and story to tell, one that’s far from the Orlando attendees have come to know.
“Orlando’s neighborhoods and districts offer everything incentive planners need to create memorable experiences for their attendees,” said Casandra Matej, president and CEO, Visit Orlando. “These eclectic areas are brimming with hotels, award-winning dining and multi-cultural events that groups can infuse into their next agenda.”
Downtown Orlando and its adjacent areas are part of the Main Street America–accredited Orlando Main Streets program, showcasing an unforgettable mix of trendy neighborhoods and vibrant districts bustling with exceptional dining, nightlife, arts
Just east of downtown Orlando, The Milk District, named after its centrally located T.G. Lee dairy plant, serves as a progressive lifestyle, music and cultural hub. Planners can host their groups in the comfortable creative space of the Milkhouse, popular for its tapas-style bites and signature cocktails.
One of the most historic areas in Orlando, the Parramore District preserves and celebrates the more than 140-year-old Parramore neighborhood while bringing awareness to the rich, deeply rooted culture of Orlando’s African American community. Planners will discover multicultural festivals, museums, galleries, restaurants and other locally owned businesses that can be included in their itinerary or for attendees to experience on their own. (Visit Orlando also offers resources to explore Asian American, Hispanic and Latino, and LGBTQ+ history and influence in the Orlando area.)
A stroll through Ivanhoe Village Main Street will reveal Orlando’s indie side. It’s an offbeat, authentic, culturally casual side that weaves together art museums and renegade retro retailers. Novel restaurants and watering holes are fused by the warm lake breezes flowing from downtown’s liquid playground. Here, groups can enjoy the happiest of hours overlooking neon sunsets that tease the distant rush hour traffic.
Thornton Park District is a stylish dining and nightlife area known for brick-lined, canopied streets with a distinctly European feel. Planners can give their incentive event a local touch by dining at favorites such as Soco Restaurant and The Stubborn Mule (for a complete list of Orlando’s MICHELIN Guide restaurants, by neighborhood, see the box below).
The charming Audubon Park Garden District is just 10 minutes from downtown. This bohemian district can add natural beauty and tranquility to the agenda with an event at Harry P. Leu Gardens. The area is also home to East End Market, a trendy community hub featuring locally produced food and merchandise.
For more award-winning dining options, the Mills 50® District features 9 of Orlando’s MICHELIN Guide restaurants. One of Orlando’s oldest neighborhoods, this walkable community is heavily influenced by Asian and Pacific Islander culture and features colorful, large-scale street murals created by professional artists.
Downtown Orlando can serve as the perfect base. Attendees can stay in the lap of luxury at the AAA Four Diamond-rated Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, which features 10, 000 sq. ft. of meeting space. (For a list of Orlando’s other incentive-quality hotels, see box right)
Just down the road from downtown Orlando is Winter Park. Here, planners can create an entire incentive experience steeped in style and culture that extends from the boutique 112-room Alfond Inn down the pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets filled with European-flavored shops, bistros and museums.
The area’s Park Avenue features charming sidewalk cafes, coffee and wine bars, and award-winning cuisine, in addition to theatrical productions, cabarets and orchestra concerts. Winter Park Village offers a powerful collection of high-end retailers, all in a beautiful, inviting, Main Street setting.
Lake Nona is a forward-thinking, neo-urban community infused with technology and innovation. Only 4 miles from Orlando International Airport, the 17-square-mile neighborhood is home to a wide variety of shops, restaurants and activities connected by miles of trails and the latest in autonomous transportation.
The 234-room Lake Nona Wave Hotel has made a name for itself on both the technology and wellness fronts. Located across from the Chopra Mind Body-Zone & Spa, it offers group experiences including ROX Climbing, group cycling, aerial yoga and much more.
Boxi Park at Lake Nona, among the first of its kind on the East Coast, integrates restaurants, an outdoor stage and beach volleyball to create an open-air entertainment destination constructed entirely out of repurposed shipping containers. Planners can buy out the entire 30,000-sq.-ft space for groups of up to 2,500.
Orlando’s neighborhoods are the place to go for creative independent retail and artisan goods.
The Audubon Park Garden District is home to the East End Market, featuring handmade goods and artisanal foods. Locals particularly adore the oversized cookies and decadent cakes at Gideon’s Bakehouse.
Ivanhoe Village Main Street, which has long been known by locals as “Antique Row,” has enjoyed a cultural Renaissance in recent years, with new eateries and shops that have transformed it into one of destination’s trendiest areas. However, it’s still the place to go for antiques and vintage merchandise at 1618 Something Different and Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven.
The Thornton Park District is a stylish area known for brick-lined, canopied streets with a distinctly European feel. Although it’s mostly known for memorable dining and nightlife, there are several shopping highlights. The biggest is the Orlando Farmers Market, held every Sunday in Lake Eola Park. Other top choices include clothing at Lauren Nicole, Regalia and Thornton Park Central, plus the chance for groups to make their own candles at Artifact Candle Foundry.
The Mills 50® District is the place to score exotic Asian merchandise at Dong A Imports or cool threads that support a great cause at Out of the Closet Thrift Store. And that’s just a few of the unique shops found in this area, which has a phenomenal selection of authentic Asian eateries and more MICHELIN Guide restaurants than any other area in the city.
Shopping in The Milk District can be found along Robinson Street and Bumby Avenue, including Etoile Boutique. Nearby, Colonial Plaza is a walkable, open-air center with a mix of national and local retailers, plus some tasty restaurants.
Winter Park is known for some of the region’s most refined shopping. Situated in the heart of Park Avenue, Shops on Park is a great place to start. Boasting more than 20,000 sq. ft. of retail space, this elegant, indoor center is anchored by world-famous brands such as J. McLaughlin, Lilly Pulitzer, lululemon athletica and more, plus homegrown clothiers like Tuni Trendy + Chic and John Craig Clothier.
You can buy a lot more than clothes in Winter Park, too. Shop a world-class food store at The Ancient Olive Gourmet. Discover melt-in-your-mouth confections at Peterbrooke Chocolatier. Find timeless treasures at Goldsmith Jewelers and Be On Park Fine Jewelry.
Planners can arm incentive winners with gift cards and send them on their way for an afternoon of fun. Or for groups with a sense of adventure, set a time limit by which they must grab their goods!
For an off-the-beaten path incentive experience, planners can consider these three high-end properties situated in Orlando’s neighborhoods:
The Alfond InnA boutique hotel located in the heart of Winter Park, the Alfond Inn at Rollins College is undergoing a major renovation that will renovate 112 existing rooms and suites and add an additional 71 luxury guestrooms and suites and a lobby cafe. The expansion, continuing through summer 2023, will also include a new meeting room and boardroom, providing an additional 2,400 square feet to the existing meeting and functions rooms. Currently, the property features 10,000 sq. ft. of divisible meeting space and lavish gardens with an additional 10,000 sq. ft. for al fresco events.
The Grand Bohemian OrlandoThis upscale 247-room hotel just completed a comprehensive renovation in 2023, including the Altira Rooftop Pool Lounge, where guests can savor seasonally influenced dishes and specialty cocktails; reimagined spaces like the property’s signature restaurant, The Boheme; the Bösendorfer Lounge; and guest rooms. The hotel has more than 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Lake Nona Wave HotelThe centerpiece of Lake Nona, this hotel offers a luxury lifestyle experience powered by innovative technology, yet grounded in the wellbeing of its guests. It is deal for small- to medium-sized groups, with 234 guest rooms and more than 12,000 sq. ft. of tech-infused event space.
Audobon Park Garden DistrictKadenceDomu
Ivanhoe Village Main DistrictThe Pinery
Lake NonaBACÁN in the Lake Nona Wave Hotel
Milk DistrictJujuOtto’s High DiveSe7en BitesBlack Rooster Taqueria
Mills 50The Strand Food & DrinkEDOBOYKaya
HawkersKayaShin JungSticky RiceTori ToriZ Asian
Winter ParkSoseki Modern OmakaseAVA MediterraneanDoshiThe Ravenous PigSwine & SonsPratoKai Asian Street Fare
Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World443 rooms67,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
JW Marriott Orland Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa516 rooms and 81 suites50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes582 rooms47,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes998 Rooms144,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek1,009 guest rooms90,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
Waldorf Astoria Orlando502 rooms60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
Evermore Resort OrlandoStays begin February 20241,500 rooms spread among an array of stay experiences7,000 sq. ft. of meeting space
Conrad Orlando (on the Evermore complex grounds)Opens December 2023433 rooms40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space