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With billions in new investment currently under construction or planned, Highway 192 in Kissimmee is going through one of the biggest transformations ever.
One of the most significant projects on the heavily tourist-centered road just south of Walt Disney World is the new Margaritaville Resort.
The new $750 million, 300-acre resort will open in phases. The first, an island-inspired apartment complex with 324 units, is currently leasing. The gated apartment complex features numerous luxury amenities, including shuffleboard, an outdoor community kitchen and a dog park. The majority of the resort complex will be open by late 2018.
One thousand colorful “Margaritaville-inspired” vacation homes take up the majority of the 300 acres, with many of them overlooking a large lagoon system that will link the resort complex. The units, which will be individually owned but centrally managed, will feature furniture from Ethan Allen’s new Margaritaville line, designed exclusively for the resort. Homeowners can select one of four furnishing packages.
Hopping on the resort-wide water taxi system, similar to the one at Universal Orlando, guests can venture from their vacation home to numerous attractions at the resort. Tree-lined walking trails weave throughout the entire resort. A tram system will also circle the resort for those who don’t wish to use the boat taxis.
An 187-room Margaritaville-themed hotel will be centrally located near the entrance of the resort. The $90 million hotel, which stretches along the sandy shoreline of the 45-acre manmade lagoon, is far different than the mid-rise cookie cutter hotels that dot 192. Instead of using a small footprint and going up, this hotel has long corridors stretching out from the central lobby in a similar style, albeit much smaller, to Universal’s recently opened tropical themed hotel Sapphire Falls. The 45-acre lagoon will host paddleboarding and snorkeling.
The Margaritaville Resort hotel will feature a large lobby with tropical plants, large seating areas and custom artwork, including a large blue flip-flop sculpture (luckily no old-school bottle caps will be strewn about). The lighting in the lobby will include upside-down margarita glass chandeliers. According to Margaritaville project developer Jim Bagley, the new hotel will cater to millennials, a younger demographic that many hoteliers are going after, while having a welcoming style that will make all guests slow down and appreciate the Islands-inspired Margaritaville lifestyle. Millennial-friendly features include live entertainment in the lobby and a resort-focused smartphone app.
Other amenities at the hotel include three restaurants and a large retail shop inside the lushly landscaped lobby. Boasting 30,000 square feet of meeting space, the Margaritaville Resort hotel is comparable in size to Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, though the BoardWalk Inn has nearly twice as many guest rooms.
A 3-acre swimming area, similar to one currently under construction in Lake Nona, with over 60,000 square feet of beach, 2,200 beach chairs and a lazy river, will be located behind the hotel.
Roughly 1,000 feet away from the new hotel is a village center with 200,000 square feet of retail space spread among numerous buildings. Various restaurants and venues will feature live music, some seating up to 700 guests. Tenants might include Jimmy Buffett-themed restaurants, such as JWB Prime Steak and Seafood or 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar & Grill, but it’s not likely there’ll be a Margaritaville restaurant, as one is located at Universal’s CityWalk Orlando, not far from the new resort. A movie theater is also planned for the new retail center.
Next to the retail center is one of the most visible and possibly the most important aspect of the new resort, a 12-acre water park. The multimillion-dollar water park will feature four to five towers with numerous slides, such as racing mat slides, large family raft slides and body slides. This is the first major water park along 192 since Water Mania, which sat across the street from Celebration, closed in 2005. With attendance expectations of 700,000 to 1 million annually, the new yet-to-be-named water park would rank as one of the busiest in the nation. Typhoon Lagoon, the second busiest water park in the world and the busiest in North America, had an estimated annual attendance of 2,277,000 last year, according to the 2016 TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index. The slowest Central Florida water park is the SeaWorld Parks-owned Adventure Island in Tampa, which saw 650,000 guests last year, according to TEA/AECOM. The four Orlando-based water parks which were open last year (that’d be Wet N’ Wild and not Volcano Bay) ranked as the four busiest in the nation.
While no operator of the water park has been announced, one possible operator is Texas-based water park operator Schlitterbahn, who saw their project in South Florida fall apart after amusement operator Premier Parks, who operates the Rapids Water Park in nearby West Palm Beach, successfully sued to block the project, stating Fort Lauderdale didn’t properly seek competitive bids before greenlighting the agreement with Schlitterbahn to develop the city-owned property.
Another possible operator is Six Flags, who used to own the now-closed Atlantis Water Park, in Broward County. Six Flags has been aggressive in recent years, expanding the brand with announcements of numerous purchases in the coming years, including the recent purchase of a stand-alone water park in Northern California (while stand-alone, the water park is 18 miles away from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom amusement park).
Currently, the developer and the county are working together to develop a welcoming district that accents the tropical theme of Margaritaville. The developer is also encouraging the county to move forward with its plans for a bus rapid system along 192 similar to the Lymmo system found in downtown Orlando. Other options include a track-based trolley, similar to the one that links downtown Tampa to Ybor City. Both transit systems have proven to be an attractive option for visitors.
Over 1,300 palm trees are being moved to the property, along with thousands of other tropical plants, and 700,000 cubic yards of sand are being used to create beach areas throughout the resort complex. Three hundred timeshare units, a wedding pavilion, a St. Somewhere Spa, a fishing school and a wellness center round out the resort. RFID wristbands or medallions, similar to Disney’s MagicBands or the Ocean Medallions by Carnival Cruise Lines, will be used throughout the resort.
Margaritaville Resort Orlando will be able to host 6,000 guests per night altogether, with an estimated resort-wide draw of 3 to 4 million guests per year. Full buildout of the project should wrap up by 2022.