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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Behold Lake Charles’ bounty

Courtesy Lake Charles/Southwest La. CVB

Where is Lake Charles, La.?
Lake Charles (population 71,993) is 75 miles west of Lafayette, La., and 57 miles east of Beaumont, Texas, in Louisiana’s southwest corner.

How do I get there?
Continental and American Airlines serve the Lake Charles Regional Airport, with flights from Houston and Dallas. Interstate 10 passes through Lake Charles, connecting it to both coasts.

What types of meetings are best suited to Lake Charles?
Because of two large casino hotels, the small town can handle meetings of up to 1,500 room nights. National, regional and state groups have chosen it as a convention site.

Did you know?

• Lumber built Lake Charles’ early economy and many of its homes. Look for houses constructed of pine and cypress in historic downtown.

• The Outdoor Writers Association of America recently honored the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana CVB for its decade of support.

What’s new?
Construction is scheduled to begin this month on Mojito Pointe, a $14 million casino resort. Scheduled to open in 2013, the property will have two hotels, one a four-star-quality, the other the area’s first five- star-quality hotel. Groves of palm trees strung with hammocks, steel bands and fruity rum drinks will carry the Caribbean theme.

Tell me about some sites to see in Lake Charles.
• The Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu claims to be the largest Mardi Gras costume display in the world. Be dazzled by six rooms of sequins, feathers and beads; climb aboard a parade float to feel the fun of being part of a Mardi Gras krewe.

• See the region’s abundant birdlife along the Creole Nature Trail. Venture a few miles along the 180-mile path, and see many of the 400 species that fly through the region. Keep an eye peeled for abundant alligators.

Tell me about the main meeting sites.
• There are 54 hotels in the area, with more than 5,368 rooms, but the majority are small, limited-service hotels. Almost one-fifth of the hotel rooms in the area are at the 1,000-room L’Auberge Casino Resort. It is also a major meeting center, with 26,000 square feet of meeting space.

• The second-largest property in town, also a casino, is the Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel, with 490 rooms between its hotel tower and inn. The Isle of Capri has two divisible ballrooms, one for up to 300; the other for up to 1,000.

• In addition, the Lake Charles Civic Center offers nine venues, with a total of 62,652 square feet of meeting space, including a coliseum. The 111-suite America’s Best Suites is within two blocks of the center and has a limited number of eco-rooms that use less energy and less disposable goods.

Tell me about some offbeat spots for off-site events.

• The Brick House in downtown has been around nearly as long as the city. The former warehouse is now a 14,000-square-foot center for special events with its own catering arm.

• Built by New Orleans architects Favrot and Livaudais in 1912, the Central School Arts and Humanities Center is in the Charpentier Historic District. Its 2,756 square feet of meeting space includes two conference rooms and a theater.

For a true taste of Lake Charles…

Start with a platter of tapas in a piano lounge, and move on to one of more than 200 wines and a steak dinner at the Ember Grille and Wine Bar, a steakhouse in the L’Auberge Casino Resort.

Travel the Boudin Trail, 29 establishments that include restaurants, grocery stores and delis, all offering boudin, a Cajun sausage, and many other regional specialties. Among the stops is Famous Foods, a spacious family restaurant near Adventure Cove, Homsi’s Deli in the Charpentier Historic District and Gillis Meat Market, with 16 different types of sausage, including regular and smoked boudin. Many of the stops offer daily plate lunch specials. For piles of spicy crawfish, try Steamboat Bill’s on the Lake.

Tell me about some extra-special CVB services.
• Add some swashbuckle to an event by bringing in the Buccaneers, a group of volunteer “pirates” whose aim is to promote the annual Contraband Days. There’s no fee for the pirates’ appearance, although they are likely to help themselves to hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

• A one-hour visit and photo session with Southwest Louisiana’s goodwill ambassador, Gumbeaux Gator, gives everyone a souvenir to take home.