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Coastal Maine: Up north and down east

Maine is full of beautiful surprises: the Atlantic coastline with its jagged shores, dense forests, rolling mountains, snow activities and delicious seafood cuisine. Since it’s north of the more populous parts of the Atlantic coast, it takes a special trip through New England to visit Maine’s wonderful cities and towns.

Millions of people, including meeting attendees, make that scenic trip every year.

Bangor is Maine’s third-largest city, after Portland and Lewiston. It’s the service, retail and cultural center for much of Maine and Atlantic Canada, across the international border.

Bangor, located along the Penobscot River, exemplifies the spirit of Maine and its active, outdoor lifestyle.

“It’s a cool mixture of nature, history and architecture,” said Jessica Donahue, director of marketing and promotions for the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The people are so friendly. You’re in a city [population 33,000], but it still has a small-town feel.”

Bar Harbor, 50 miles to the southeast along the coast, is a resort paradise in that rugged land. On the doorstep of Acadia National Park and with the Atlantic Ocean at its feet, Bar Harbor provides nature lovers with all they could hope for.

Bangor and Bar Harbor are two meeting options planners would be smart to examine closely.


Bangor’s Best Conference Center

One of the most important things to happen in Bangor in recent years was the opening of the $65 million Cross Insurance Center on the outskirts of downtown.

“It has exhibit space [and] hosts conventions, meetings, concerts, sporting events, everything under the sun. It’s our brand-new featured facility in the area,” said Donahue.

The arena can seat 5,800. The University of Maine’s men’s and women’s basketball teams play home games there. There’s retractable seating in the first few rows of the bowl to accommodate up to 185 10-by-10-foot trade-show booths. The arena is also attached to a 27,000-square-foot banquet and conference center.

The main ballroom seats up to 950 for sit-down events. Depending on how the room is structured — the walls are expandable — there are up to 18 smaller, more intimate room combinations for meetings and conferences. There’s plenty of prefunction space for registrations and receptions.

“The Cross Center replaces the old Bangor Auditorium that opened in 1955 and the Bangor Civic Center, which was really just a small conference and meeting center added on in 1978,” said Mike Dyer, general manager of the Cross Center. “It’s certainly updated and upgraded to meet 21st-century expectations.”

The Cross Center has a full-service kitchen for serving coffee at break time or a full banquet meal. Wi-Fi is available throughout the complex.

Dyer is proud of the roomy, all-weather loading and staging areas.

“You can drive three tractor trailer trucks right onto the arena floor for unloading. There’s also a three-bay loading dock, so you can handle a total of six big trucks at a time,” he said.

With additional floor seating, the arena holds 8,500 for concerts. The marquee has carried such names as the Band Perry; Mannheim Steamroller; country music stars Justin Moore, Randy Houser and Josh Thompson; and performances of “Mama Mia” and “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” There have also been appearances by the Harlem Globetrotters and Monster Trucks. Adjacent to the complex is Bass Park, a large outdoor event area ideal for break time and various other programming.


Hospitality and Attraction Developments

Construction is scheduled for a 140-room Residence Inn hotel by the arena. Bangor also has an international airport, the most direct air-route between the East Coast and Europe.

Directly across from the Cross Center is the Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway. Visitors play table games, everything from blackjack and roulette to three-card poker and Texas hold’em. They enjoy action in the live poker room or play slots. The hotel has 148 rooms and four suites. There’s also live harness racing May through November. The casino has banquet facilities and group programs.

That’s just the beginning of things to do in Bangor. Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion is down the street from Cross Center in the 58-acre Waterfront Park along the river. It’s an amphitheater erected every summer for live shows.

“It’s a huge outdoor venue. We’ve had everyone from Celtic Women to Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum to Bare Naked Ladies, every type of music genre,” said Donahue. “The concert organizer is open to creating group packages if you’re here for a conference.”

Other entertainment choices in Bangor include the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, the Penobscot Theatre Company and, each August, the American Folk Festival, a three-day burst of music and dance.


Meeting ‘Down East’

Another choice for a meeting site is located “down east,” as locals call it, or along the coast of Maine. “Bar Harbor is first and foremost a resort and tourism destination,” said Jennifer Wright, events and development associate for the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “But we’re growing in the way of meetings, conferences and conventions. It’s an exciting time for us.”

Wright said many meeting venues are set up to handle everything in one place, with the spaces and the tools to serve anywhere from a handful of attendees to hundreds.

The Harborside Hotel, Club, Marina and its companion sites, the Bar Harbor Club and the Bar Harbor Regency, are located downtown and have exceptional views of the ocean. Together, the Club and the Regency provide more than 4,000 square feet of meeting space and can handle groups of up to 500 people. There are four banquet areas, three breakout rooms and two master suites. If a group wants to be outside in good weather, there’s room on the grounds for that, too.

Team building is encouraged during meetings and conferences, and Bar Harbor provides everything from organized hikes in Acadia National Park to whale-watching excursions. Or group members can try kayaking, fishing or cycling together.

“In Bar Harbor, you’re essentially booking the entire community. There are many outdoor activities,” said Wright. “One of the country’s oldest golf courses is right downtown, and there’s a plethora of restaurants for all different tastes.”

Add to that a free shuttle bus system that whisks people from a meeting or hotel room to any number of stops in town or in the National Park.


Atlantic Oceanside Hotel

Another meeting option in Bar Harbor is the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Conference Center, located just outside town. It features eight meeting rooms and 11,000 square feet of meeting space. Its event center has a 7,800-square-foot ballroom that can seat 350 for a banquet, seven meeting rooms and three classroom-style breakout rooms, each with 70 seats. There’s also a large boardroom.

“Atlantic Oceanside has a long tradition of hosting meetings and providing hospitality. It can handle more different types of budgets than the Harborside,” said Wright.

The Event Center is also an exhibition hall, with room for up to 50 10-by-10-foot booths. There’s 20,000 square feet of outdoor space that can be utilized. For an executive retreat, consider the Willows Bed and Breakfast, a mansion located on the grounds of Atlantic Oceanside. It has small rooms for various gatherings and suites for more intimate socializing.

Wright reminds planners that no matter where their group meets or stays in Bar Harbor, attendees will never be more than a mile from Acadia National Park.

“The business community is very intertwined, almost symbiotically, with our natural surroundings,” she said. “Some hotels are nestled on the hills or in the woods just outside the park and give you beautiful views of the bay. It’s such an experience, anywhere you go.”


Spotlight on Bangor and Bar Harbor, Maine

  • Location: Bangor – Southeast Maine; Bar Harbor – Southeast Maine on Atlantic coast

  • Access: Interstate 95, Bangor International Airport

  • Major meeting spaces: Bangor – Cross Insurance Center. Bar Harbor – Harborside Hotel, Club, Marina, Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Conference Center

  • Hotel Rooms: Bangor – 2,400; Bar Harbor – 1,500

  • Offsite Venues: Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway, Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion; Bar Harbor – Acadia National Park

  • Contact CVB at 800-91-MOOSE


  • Contact Chamber of Commerce at 800-345-4617


Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.