Water always seems to draw people. Whether it’s river banks, lake shores or ocean beaches, people want to be as near water as possible. And the same is true for meeting attendees.
“Attendance goes up because of the natural draw of water, the natural draw of the ocean,” said Sally Noona, director of convention sales and marketing for the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s that secret sauce.”
Waterfront destinations help draw attendees to meetings, and these mid-Atlantic cities offer planners plenty of ways to get their groups near, on or in the water.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Although Virginia Beach is well known for being a vacation spot, it doesn’t carry the same cache as a meeting destination — although it should, Noona said.
“We have every vibe for every meeting,” she said. “We have the resort area on the oceanfront. We have a retreat setting on the Chesapeake Bay. We have other hotels that fit the urban setting downtown.”
When it reopens early next year, the 1927 oceanfront Cavalier Hotel will be part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The ongoing $70 million restoration will add a luxury spa and fine dining and “make it truly one of a kind.” Guests will be able to ride in horse-drawn carriages or sip whiskey at the on-site bourbon distillery.
Also on the oceanfront, a new Hyatt House opened in April. The 19-story, 156-room hotel has 2,000 square feet of meeting and function space, as well as an oceanfront patio.
Pleasure House Oysters is a farm that cultivates the famous Lynnhaven oyster. In addition to boat tours, groups of up to 14 people can opt for a Chef’s Table dinner and enjoy a fresh meal on the Lynnhaven River, right in the marsh; they can also spend one-on-one time with oyster farmer Chris Ludford, who will teach them about the history of the Lynnhaven as they sample oysters straight from the water.
“People say it’s a jaw-dropping experience,” Noona said. “It will stay with you.”
In addition to the beloved Virginia Beach boardwalk, there’s a parallel “bikewalk” for cyclists and surreys, and planners can also book the Beach Bounce, a trolley bump-and-run for attendees to enjoy the boardwalk.
Ocean City, Maryland
Ocean City, Maryland, is a classic boardwalk beach town that sits on a barrier island, so it’s surrounded by water, with the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern shore and a bay on the western shore. With so much water everywhere, it’s not difficult to find venues and activities that make the most of it.
The Roland E. Powell Convention Center has the nickname “the sandcastle of convention centers” because water from the Isle of Wight Bay laps the edges of its bay-front promenade. The center’s recent $22 million expansion and renovation project added meeting space and a 1,200-seat performing arts center. The convention center has 25 meetings rooms, including two that offer water views: the 24,000-square-foot Bayfront Ballroom on the second floor and the 14,000-square-foot Dockside Hall beneath it on the first floor.
“We have gorgeous bay views here in the building — particularly at sunset, it’s gorgeous,” said Donna Abbott, tourism director for the Ocean City Department of Tourism and Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The city has a host of venues that front the water, either the bay or the ocean, and most of the larger hotels offer function space, among them the oceanfront Clarion Resort Fontainebleu Hotel, the Carousel Hotel, the Princess Royale, the Dunes Manor, the Holiday Inn, the Hilton and the Grand Hotel.
Seacrets, a bay-front restaurant and nightclub with a tropical vibe and its own beach and pier, is popular for social receptions. Harrison’s Harbor Watch is a two-story restaurant that sits at the southern tip of the island overlooking the inlet; dinners and receptions there are right across from the boardwalk and “have a beautiful view of Ocean City,” Abbott said. Housed in an 1891 building next door, the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum offers tours for groups of up to 60 and welcomes small gatherings and receptions.