Orlando No. 1 for 4th of July

by Staff Writer

2 min read July 2019As the 4th of July vacation fast approaches, many Americans are ready to start their engines and hit the highways for the holidays. Right on time, the American Automobile Association (AAA) has released its ranking of the most popular destinations this year, and Orlando tops the list. The city beat out global tourist stalwarts, including Rome and Paris. When it comes to summer vacation, here’s what makes Orlando a standout.

Location, Location, Location

Located in the middle of the state, Orlando is remarkably well-connected. It is linked to North Carolina by I-95, and to Atlanta and Tennessee by I-75. Even visitors from as far off as Dallas can sail down the I-20 and arrive to Orlando in 17 hours. Gas prices are low heading into the US “driving season,” with average prices down on the same time last year.

For those who prefer to leave the car at home, Orlando boasts three international airports. Orlando International alone has over 2,700 domestic flights per week.

Park Life

Once tourists arrive, they have a plethora of destinations to choose from, but the top attractions are its iconic theme parks. Orlando is host to Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Island of Adventure, Sea World, Legoland and many more. The 2018 Theme Index shows that Orlando plays host to seven of the Top 10 theme parks globally, with combined foot traffic of over 83 million people. In an industry expected to be worth $70.83 billion by 2025, this 4th of July is likely to provide a significant cash injection to the city.

Shop ‘Til You Drop

One of the best-loved traditions for visitors to Orlando is the shopping experience. The city has a whole host of shopping opportunities and even Disney aficionados can find a customized experience in Disney Springs. Florida Mall and The Mall at Millenia offer traditional shopping experiences, while Orlando Premium Outlets at Vineland Avenue and International Drive are the places to snap up a bargain. If you’re feeling more folksy, take a stroll down the local boutiques of Winter Park Avenue or go on a culinary tour at the East End Market.

Visitors to counties in Central Florida pay more than $5 billion each year in state and local taxes, accounting for roughly half of all sales tax revenue. This money is then used to build up the region’s entertainment, restaurants and tourist attractions.

Culture Vultures

Even though Orlando is known for its theme parks, there is a lot more to see and do in the city. The Orlando Science Center is a must for science buffs, with its interactive exhibits and planetarium shows. For a more tranquil day, visit the Henry P. Leu Gardens on the picturesque banks of Lake Rowena. If you don’t quite want to tear yourself away from the stores, try the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, where among the exhibits you can find an extensive Tiffany & Co. collection.

Back to Nature

In Orlando, you can take the time to zoom around The Everglades in an airboat, catching glimpses of alligators and other wildlife that live in the swamp. Or, if you actually want to jump in, try the freshwater springs of Blue Spring State Park, just an hour’s drive away from the city center. Here, you can enjoy swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving or jump on a boat tour.

If you don’t want to go so far afield, the Lake Eola park, conveniently situated in downtown Orlando, is a 23-acre playground complete with a sprawling lake, amphitheater, playground and a famous fountain. It’s a place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city while never having to leave the shadow of the skyline. In 2013, the park was expanded to the southeast as part of Project DTO – Mayor Buddy Dyer’s drive for a more liveable downtown area.

“Today our downtown is a vibrant and dynamic center, economic engine and cultural destination with a charm and character all its own,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in his annual State of Downtown address.

Above all, Orlando is a destination for all the family, which is a key reason it comes out on top this 4th of July. 

For more information, visit the websites below:


American Automobile Association (AAA) https://autoclubsouth.aaa.com/

Disney’s Magic Kingdom https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/magic-kingdom/

Florida Mall https://www.simon.com/mall/the-florida-mall

Henry P. Leu Gardens https://www.leugardens.org/

International Drive https://www.internationaldriveorlando.com/

Lake Rowena https://www.orlando.gov/Parks-the-Environment/Directory/Lake-Rowena-Park

Legoland https://www.legoland.com/

Orlando Premium Outlets at Vineland Avenue https://www.premiumoutlets.com/outlet/orlando-vineland

Orlando Science Center https://www.osc.org/

Sea World https://seaworld.com/

The Mall at Millenia https://www.mallatmillenia.com/

Universal Island of Adventure https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/theme-parks/islands-of-adventure

Philadelphia Readies the Fireworks for Iconic July 4 Bash

by Yolanda Rivas

2 min read July 2019 — When it comes to celebrating America’s birthday, few do it like Philadelphia. From spectacular fireworks displays and public concerts to festivals and parades, the City of Brotherly Love has one of the biggest and most popular Fourth of July celebrations in the nation. 


Among the most iconic local celebrations is the six-day Wawa Welcome America festival. With over 50 free multicultural events, the city, chambers of commerce, tourism organizations, local universities and dozens of public and private organizations come together to celebrate the nation’s birthday.

“The Wawa Welcome America festival continues to enhance Philadelphia’s national reputation as a must-visit destination, with show-stopping, diverse and most importantly, entertainment experiences that are open to the public,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a written statement. 

To offer families and guests an enhanced experience, the activities this year will have a new layout design for the July 4th Party on the Parkway and July 4th Concert & Fireworks. “Spending the day with us on the Parkway will be better than ever before; we are really excited to have our guests take advantage of this expanded layout,” explained Welcome America Inc. President and CEO Michael DelBene, in a statement outlining the event. 

Attendees will also have free entrance to 22 local museums, attractions and cultural institutions during the 2019 Wawa Welcome America festival. This year marks the largest number of museums participating in the festival’s 27-year history. 

The activities on the 4th of July will start with the Celebration of Freedom Ceremony at Independence Hall, presented by the City of Philadelphia’s Office of the City Representative and Independence National Historical Park. The event will include a reading of The Declaration of Independence and a performance by the Philly POPS® BIG Band. Mayor Jim Kenney will present the fourth annual Magis Award and convenience-store chain Wawa will announce the recipient of The Wawa Foundation Hero Award. 

After this ceremony, 4,000 marchers, floats, and military personnel will begin the Salute to America Independence Day Parade. From noon to 7 p.m. visitors can enjoy numerous entertainment activities across five blocks at Benjamin Franklin Parkway. 

This year’s concert, produced by Live Nation Philadelphia and Comcast NBCUniversal, will feature performances from GRAMMY® Award-winning singers Meghan Trainor and Jennifer Hudson. 

“The City of Philadelphia is proud to welcome GRAMMY® Award-winning superstars Meghan Trainor and Jennifer Hudson to our great city, as well as shine a spotlight on Philadelphia native Patti LaBelle along with the hundreds of talented entertainers performing leading up to July 4,” said Mayor Kenney.

The Celebration of Freedom Ceremony and Salute to America Independence Day Parade will be broadcasted by NBC10 and Telemundo62 on July 4 at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., respectively. NBC10 will also broadcast the Wawa Welcome America July 4th Concert and Fireworks live from 7-10 p.m.

“This year, we embrace time-honored traditions to celebrate the city’s diverse neighborhoods, thriving creativity, and global appeal. With over 50 free, family-friendly events, we invite everyone to join the fun, and commemorate our nation’s independence,” said DelBene. 

For more information, please visit: 

Wawa Welcome America: https://welcomeamerica.com/ 

Philly POPS®: https://www.phillypops.org/ 

Meghan Trainor: https://www.meghan-trainor.com/ 

Jennifer Hudson: https://jenniferhudsononline.com

Miami Cruise Liners Stay Ahead of Latest Wave

By staff writer

June 2019

Credit: PortMiami

Miami is globally known as the cruise capital of the world, receiving 22 cruise lines and millions of passengers every year. With that much traffic and momentum to maintain, it’s not enough to just catch the latest wave, you have to stay ahead of it.

That is just what top cruise lines in Miami have been doing. Many are busy updating their Miami operations, headquarters, terminals, cruises and more to keep up with the industry’s latest trends. No wonder: With an almost 7 percent increase in the number of global cruise passengers, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), represents over 1.5 million more passengers, 2018 was a record year for the cruise industry.

Among the most high-profile updates unveiled at the world’s biggest cruise hub is Norwegian Cruise Line’s new PortMiami terminal, which will leverage the terminal’s size and include the latest technological innovations to move guests through embarkation and disembarkation faster and more efficiently.

The president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, Andy Stuart, spoke with Invest: about the importance of the new terminal, which is expected to be completed by fall 2019. “Aside from representing our brand’s commitment to cruising innovation, the terminal represents a big commitment to the city as well, as it assures local officials that we will maintain a large number of ships here well into the future. With each ship able to bring thousands of people into the city on a regular basis, the terminal is projected to contribute to the local economy with increased tourism volume and revenue,” he said.

In addition, last year, Carnival Cruise Line opened a 35,000-square-foot Fleet Operations Center at its Doral headquarters.”This state-of-the-art monitoring and support center is the cruise industry’s largest and most advanced facility of its kind. We have immediate access to the status of our fleet and we can communicate with our ship teams,” Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation, told Invest:.

Some of the trends cruise travelers are looking for include on-board smart tech, wellness and restorative experiences and achievement travel, according to the 2019 Cruise Trends & Industry Outlook report from CLIA.  

“There has been tremendous pressure on the industry to enhance onboard offerings and attractions, such as dining, entertainment and amenities, to compete with land-based destinations that continue to grow and expand their offerings and capabilities,” Stuart said, adding that one major trend is a broader range of destinations, such as the Baltics, Alaska and the Caribbean.

Carnival Corporation has gone so far as to establish an Innovation and Experience Center in Doral. “That’s where we developed our breakthrough OceanMedallion guest experience platform, an innovative system based on a small, wearable device that helps us enhance an already great vacation for our guests,” Donald said. The corporation is also the first to build cruise ships powered by liquefied natural gas. The move was made to address its 2020 sustainability goals.

Updates are also happening onshore at PortMiami, including the new Virgin Voyages’ cruise terminal, which will break ground later this year, MSC Cruises’ two new cruise facilities, Disney Cruise Line’s expansion with two cruise ships and a possible new cruise terminal, which was approved by Miami-Dade County Commissioners in September 2018.  

For more information on our interviewees, please visit their websites:

Norwegian Cruise Line: https://www.ncl.com

Carnival Corporation: http://www.carnivalcorp.com/

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA): https://cruising.org/

Hard Rock Hotel Ready to Play New “Guitar”

By staff writer

June 2019

2 min. read

The sky is truly the limit for Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino’s $1.5 billion expansion, which is epitomized by the new 450-foot guitar-shaped hotel that residents of Broward County have seen rise from the ground over the past two years. The sprawling resort is set to open on Oct. 24, 2019.

The hotel will house three towers: the world’s first guitar-shaped building, with 638 luxury rooms; the Oasis Tower, which will consist of 168 luxury rooms overlooking a new “Bora Bora Experience” pool-lagoon area; and the classic Hard Rock Hotel that is a long-established staple in South Florida. This resort is shaping up to be unique in many aspects, including the size of the over 800 new rooms at 515 square feet, a significant upgrade from the average industry standard of 400 square feet.

The resort’s new amenities rival that of any luxury resort found in places like Las Vegas or Dubai. Guests will have access to the private “Bora Bora Experience” that is reminiscent of the region for which it is named, including private villas, personal butler service and a pool-lagoon landscape. The resort will also offer a new 42,000 square foot space that includes a 3,200 square foot fitness center, salon, barber shop, and countless spa services. The primary staple of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel is its casino, which is also undergoing some major renovations and upgrades with the addition of 200 table games, 3,100 slot machines and a newly constructed 45-table poker room. Finally, the new 6,500-seat Hard Rock Live venue is expected to draw tourists and musical acts alike to the South Florida region. The venue will be kick-started a day after the grand opening with an inaugural concert by Maroon 5.

The massive expansion is already having a positive economic impact on the South Florida region. The resort has been in the process of hiring over 1,200 new employees for full-time, part-time and on-call positions, while the expansion required over 2,000 construction employees. The almost completed guitar-shaped tower is already a landmark on the South Florida skyline and is attracting more attention to the city of Hollywood, where the resort is located.

Long a major economic driver in Broward County, the refurbished Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is ready for its debut and set to play a major role in all of South Florida.

For more information on Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino visit:



St. Pete Rising

By staff writer

June 2019

Development and transformation are necessary to any region undergoing the population and business growth that Tampa Bay is experiencing. Nowhere is this more evident than what was once the sleepy beach town of St. Petersburg, which Mayor Rick Kriseman describes as, “A city of opportunity, where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play. Our population was once just a retirement community, but that has changed dramatically over the years.”

The development of St. Petersburg is a prime example of the type of change that can happen when various entities work together to create change. In fact, the very essence of the St. Pete that residents have come to know is based on a foundation of collaboration, thanks to efforts by groups like the Tampa Downtown Partnership that laid the groundwork for economic drivers like the St. Pete Innovation District. Invest: Tampa Bay spoke with Alison Barlow, Executive Director of the Innovation District, who expressed just how important collaboration has been to the development of St. Pete. “Forty years ago, St. Pete benefited from some forward-thinking people who laid the groundwork for the Innovation District. They developed the Downtown Partnership and assembled the land that would eventually become the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Others turned to solving childhood illness. They set out to find a research partner, and brought Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital to the area. As all of these people kept attracting these innovative companies and individuals and putting them next to each other, it resulted in some incredible outcomes. We are now living the benefit of all this collaboration and innovation.”

Mayor Kriseman has been perhaps the biggest advocate for the development of St. Pete through collaboration and unity, spearheading multiple initiatives to help reach the untapped potential of the area. One of his largest endeavours started in 2014, just months after taking office: the development of a new pier for the city of St. Petersburg. This $87 million undertaking will include a restaurant, a pavilion, a wet classroom and discovery center. “We like to think of ourselves as an arts and culture hub. Our new pier will include an entirely new pier district when it opens toward the end of next year,” Mayor Kriseman told Invest: Tampa Bay. Major construction on the pier should be completed toward the end of 2019 with the hope of opening to the public in 2020. The ultimate goal for the 3,065-foot pier is to be its own district within St. Pete and to act as a hub of cultural and economic activity for residents and visitors alike.

Transformation and development have become commonplace for residents in the Tampa Bay region, and the change underway in St. Petersburg is a testament to the area’s positive growth. Spearheaded by the construction of the St. Pete Pier, the city is looking to continue its positive trend, both economically and socially, into the future. “Over the last decade as the foundational elements were built, St. Pete evolved into one of the most diverse and vibrant downtown areas in the state of Florida,” noted Commissioner of Pinellas County Ken Welch. “The influx of residents, especially younger residents, has reversed the demographic trend of St. Pete being the place where people come to solely retire.”

To learn more about our interviewees, visit their websites:

Mayor Rick Kriseman: http://www.stpete.org/mayor_s_office/mayor_s_biography.php

Alison Barlow, St. Pete Innovation District: https://stpeteinnovationdistrict.com/the-district/

Commissioner Ken Welch: http://www.pinellascounty.org/commission/KTWelch.htm


Historic Virginia Key is Looking to the Future

By staff writer

April 2019

As its name implies, Historic Virginia Key Beach Park is rich with history. Since it reopened in 2008, however, the park has wasted no time in establishing itself as both an environmental preserve area and a prime site for cultural events.

Virginia Key’s history dates back to the 1920s, when it became a haven for the local African American population due to segregation. It remained a segregated zone in the 1950s and was closed by the city in 1982 due to high maintenance costs. In 1999, however, a group of locals that called themselves the Virginia Key Beach Park Civil Rights Task Force organized in response to developers looking to buy the land. As a result of their efforts to highlight the value of the park’s history, the city established the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust to oversee its future development.

Since it reopened to the public in 2008, Historic Virginia Key Beach Park has become a popular site for everything from summer camps to large music festivals. In a recent conversation with Invest: Miami, Guy Forchion, the park’s executive director, highlighted the park’s value as a community center — particularly for local youth.  

“The YMCA opened a summer camp here focused on marine biology before we even opened up to the public. Two years ago, we added two other summer camps,” Forchion explained. “HistoryMiami Museum brings students and schools through for tours of the park as well, which is truly the future of the park — being able to tell its story to young people and educate them about its history.”

The park hosted the 2018 House of Creatives Music and Arts Festival last November, which featured regional, national and international music groups, including big names such as Foster the People and MIA. The festival also showcased local cuisine with an array of vendors from various restaurants in the area.

This event came on the heels of the widely publicized announcement that the park would be the site of the famous Ultra Music Festival, which traditionally has been held in downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park.

“The people with the Ultra Music Festival worked with us very actively and responsively from the moment they announced the event would happen here,” said Forchion. “Ultra did a great job working with us to protect the natural environment here as well. They did all they could to protect the area and make the event as ‘green’ as possible.”  

He said the music festival had a minimal impact on the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park venue, though a more comprehensive assessment of the event’s impact on the property would follow.  “With several more days of production breakdown and loadout, we look forward to the opportunity to review the property in its entirety,” he said.

Outside of providing a fantastic venue for music and arts, the park is also crucial to the study of rising sea levels. “There has been an incredible change in our shoreline in just the last eight years,” Forchion explained. “The park is a living experiment in this regard, and the University of Miami has had classes come and spend a week on the beach each year to do research on rising sea levels, as well as on the aquatic ecosystem here.”

The park was also recently awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Sciences grant to digitize its extensive photo archive. And future goals include the establishment of a full-blown museum — a project Forchion and the city have been working on. They’ve already drafted legislation to fund the planning and construction of the museum.

The park generates “a lot of revenue,” Forchion pointed out — a fact that can only help their cause.

To help preserve the park’s legacy and enrich its future, locals can make donations to the park by visiting: https://virginiakeybeachpark.net/donate/

Palm Beach’s Boat Show Boosts Tourism, Growth

By staff writer

April 2019

This weekend, Palm Beach County residents and tourists were treated to the 34th annual Palm Beach International Boat Show, billed as one of the nation’s top 5 boat shows in the country. This year’s show featured more than $1.2 billion worth of yachts and accessories, including hundreds of boats, ranging from 10-foot inflatables to super yachts hundreds of feet long.

“Fifty-one percent of the people who visit Palm Beach County come to West Palm Beach,” West Palm Beach Mayor Geraldine Muoio told Invest: Palm Beach. “And this event’s just another great reason for individuals to check out everything the city has to offer.”

The public was also treated to four days of luxury watercrafts, exhibitions and seminars, as well as the enticing fare of of more than 100 food vendors. And for those with a little extra to spend, a luxurious VIP experience included access to a premium open bar and exclusive access to events throughout the weekend.

Those events included seminars taught by the world-class International Game Fish Association School of Sportfishing and an “AquaZone” sponsored by Nautical Ventures which showcased products ranging from kayaks to a self-propelled, stand-up paddleboards. For younger anglers, there were fishing clinics presented by Hook the Future, providing hands-on fishing instruction to kids of all ages.

Maybe the biggest attraction of the show, though, was once more its beautiful setting in a world-famous, luxurious location. In places such as Palm Beach, where tourism is the major driver of the economy, events such as this one help boost that tourism further, while attracting many others to town, too.

As Palm Beach’s tourism industry grows, events such as the Palm Beach International Boat Show will continue to play a vital role in that growth.

For more information on our interviewee and the event, visit:




PortMiami: Gateway to the Global Economy

By staff writer

March 2019

To say that 2018 was a banner year for PortMiami would be an understatement.

According to the port’s website, 5,592,000 cruise passengers travelled through the port last fiscal year, a 4.7 percent jump from 2017, making it the busiest cruise port in the world.

In conversations with Invest: Miami, Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald highlighted that the port is “breaking its own record” for cruise passengers — a testament to the city’s value as a travel and tourism destination.

Mayor Gimenez has said he expects the port to surpass seven million passengers by 2020, which is further testament to Miami being an excellent city for people to begin their cruise vacation, as well as to the great team of people who work at and provide support to PortMiami,” Donald explained. “Of our nine global cruise line brands, two-thirds of them bring guests to and from Miami as part of their vacation experiences. AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, P&O Cruises (UK), Princess Cruises and Seabourn will all call on PortMiami in the next year.”

Aside from tourism and cruises, however, much of the port’s economic impact can be attributed to its vital function as a cargo hub.

When Invest: Miami sat down with Juan Kurlya, PortMiami’s director and CEO, he noted that investing in infrastructure improvement for cargo transport is critical for maintaining the port’s reputation as one of the fastest-growing and most active ports in the country.

“Growth is expected to continue as the world’s leading ocean carriers take advantage of PortMiami’s recent capital infrastructure investments, including channel deepening, new Post-Panamax gantry cranes, on-dock intermodal rail and direct interstate access via the new tunnel,” said Kurlya. “Without our infrastructure upgrades, we wouldn’t be experiencing the growth in containerized cargo vessels we’re seeing today.”

It is safe to say that these strategic investments and improvements are paying off. In fiscal year 2018, the port handled a staggering 1.084 million TEUs of cargo, with each TEU representing a standard 20-foot container.

Despite its record-setting numbers, however, PortMiami has no plans to slow its growth any time soon. Long-term goals include establishing a route to Miami from Western Africa. Furthermore, the port will welcome a new Virgin Voyages cruise terminal in 2020. Norwegian Cruise Lines and MSC cruises have also announced plans to open terminals in the fall of 2019 and 2022, respectively.

To learn more about the port and our interviewees, visit:




Experience Aventura Mall

By staff writer

March 2019

With over 300 stores ranging from luxury retail to mass market, an onsite resort and golf course, seemingly limitless dining options and museum-quality art, it should come as no surprise that the Aventura Mall ranked number two on Travel + Leisure’s list of “America’s Most Visited Shopping Malls.”

The mall is the largest in Florida, and with a whopping 28 million annual visitors, it is a testament to the value of experiential retail and how it can be utilized to draw in customers and capital.

As the e-commerce industry continues to rise nationally, malls such as Aventura highlight the value behind experiential retail — i.e., offering customers a multifaceted and immersive retail setting that allows them to do much more than simply shop.

“The stores that need to be experiential tend to cater to the higher-end demographic. Cocowalk and the Aventura Mall’s expansions are examples of this,” explained Hue Chen, president of Saglo Development, in a recent conversation with Invest: Miami. “Retailers need to continue to add to their offerings in ways that make their businesses unique to their customers. It’s important to be memorable.”

What sets the Aventura Mall apart from other large, experiential malls is its emphasis on sophistication and cultural enrichment.

“The Collection,” a collection of sculptures and art installations found throughout the mall, showcases work from world-renowned international and local artists such as Robert Indiana, Claire Fontaine and Brian Butler. The Collection is so expansive that visitors can sign up for guided tours of the mall to learn more about the art featured.

In addition to art, visitors to the mall can take advantage of its many events scheduled throughout the year, ranging from fashion shows, to launch events for major clothing brands such as Lacoste, to food festivals.

As if the mall wasn’t already well equipped to attract tourists, there is also a luxury hotel — the JW Marriott Turnberry Resort and Spa — onsite that offers a golf course and free transportation for visitors to and from the site.

When Invest: Miami spoke with Jackie Soffer, CEO and chairman of Turnberry Associates and principal owner of the Aventura Mall, she highlighted the mall as one of the reasons Aventura itself has become a “well-known shopping destination” that continues to draw in vacationers.

“Weve grown the mall, which is now easily one of the top malls in the country and has over the years changed for the better in terms of its sophistication and quality of tenants,” Soffer told Invest:. “We are continuing to expand Aventura with plans for new hotels and an office building.”

The mall expanded in 2017 and opened a new three-level wing that features retail outlets such as Zara and Topshop Topman, as well as modern architecture by Carlos Zapata. This speaks volumes for the innovative and forward-thinking nature of the Aventura Mall and its leaders, as that same year 7,000 malls closed their doors nationwide. There’s no question the nature of American retail is changing, but the Aventura Mall is staying well ahead of the game!

To learn more about the mall and its offerings, as well as our interviewees, visit the following websites:

Aventura Mall: https://aventuramall.com/
Turnberry Associates: https://www.turnberry.com/
Saglo Development: http://www.saglo.com/