There’s something universally appealing about being near the water: the rippling surface, the lapping waves, the fresh breezes. Holding a meeting on or near the water delights attendees, whether it’s on the expansive shores of a Great Lake or closely surrounded by cypress, pine and palmetto trees on a Louisiana bayou.
These destinations deliver waterfront convention centers, hotels and restaurants and on-the-water boat tours, sunset cruises and even nighttime paddles in clear LED-lighted kayaks.
Madison, Wisconsin, is known as the City of Four Lakes. The state capital sits on a strip of land between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota; add in Lake Waubesa and Lake Kegonsa to the south, and you have a community that is surrounded and shaped by water.
Monona Terrace, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed convention center, sits on the shoreline of Lake Monona, and the venue’s architecture maximizes its views. The 7,000-square-foot Grand Terrace is often used for registrations and receptions, “and that’s really the showstopper because that area frames the lake,” said John Leinen, vice president of sales for Destination Madison. Several other spaces showcase the water, but the crown jewel is the 68,000-square-foot rooftop plaza with a panoramic vista of the lake, downtown skyline and State Capitol dome.
The skywalk-attached Hilton offers 240 guest rooms and “magnificent views of Lake Monona,” Leinen said. “Most of our hotels have some view of the lake,” he said. The historic 202-room Edgewater Hotel fronts Lake Mendota with 14,500 square feet of indoor meeting space and another 30,000 outside.
The Best Western Premier Park Hotel was recently renovated, and the Concourse Hotel provides water views and 27,000 square feet of meeting space.
Betty Lou Cruises dishes up food and storytelling on cruises for up to 50 people, and outfitters like Madison Boats can provide paddleboards and kayaks for groups. Planners can also organize 5K races along the lakefront, and one Madison meeting group even held historical rowboat races.
DeGray Lake Resort State Park
Not many places allow you to meet on your own private island, but planners can do just that at DeGray Lake Resort State Park in Bismarck, Arkansas. The state-owned and -operated resort sits on an island in Lake DeGray and connects to shore by causeway.
When planners meet at the park, “Ninety-eight percent of it is all about location,” said lodge manager Michael Sindelar. “It’s all about scenic beauty.”
The lake is surrounded by rolling hills and lush pine and hardwood forests, with no house to be seen. The 96-room lodge has a full-service restaurant, also with lake views, that can accommodate groups of up to 120 with buffets, a full menu, catering and bar service. The conference center’s largest space can hold events for as many as 300 people or be split into three smaller rooms; three other meeting rooms can accommodate 40 to 50 people each. The park’s day-use outdoor pavilions work well for barbecues, and an event lawn behind the lodge faces the lake. About a mile from the lodge, an outdoor amphitheater with bench seating can be used for private events.
Park rangers and naturalists offer a variety of programming for groups, including team-building activities, and groups can also go horseback riding, kayaking or paddleboarding, or take a ranger-led sightseeing barge tour of the lake. Planners can arrange a tournament at the 18-hole golf course, where the clubhouse’s rock-paver patio is another popular option for receptions.
Nevada means desert, heat, casinos. But waterfront destinations? Yep, those too. The Las Vegas suburb of Henderson is home to Lake Las Vegas, an oasis in the desert.
“It’s one of those things where I don’t think a lot of people realize it’s out there,” said Derek Armstrong, director of economic development and tourism for Visit Henderson NV.
Locals know, however, and the resort lake is where they go for wine walks; jazz concerts; nighttime paddles in clear, LED-lighted kayaks; and other water-related refreshment.
On the lake’s edge, the Hilton Lake Las Vegas and Westin Lake Las Vegas resorts each have over 100,000 square feet of meeting space.
The 493-room Westin this summer unveiled its multimillion-dollar resortwide renovation that included guest rooms, restaurants and meeting space. The hotel has 21 acres of lakefront property with a private beach, two pools and two Jack Nicklaus golf courses.
The Hilton also sits at the water’s edge, and though it doesn’t have a beach, its pool offers private cabanas and a bar and grill. Next to the pool, a 4,800-square-foot lakefront pavilion can seat 200 for banquets, and the formal Florentine Gardens also provide glimpses of the water.
Lake Las Vegas Water Sports offers kayaks, paddleboards and pedal boats, and adventure-seekers can even try flyboarding. The company also operates a yacht that can be chartered for pleasure cruises and private events, and in May, the outfitter opened an aqua park that’s essentially an inflatable, floating obstacle course.
Lake Erie Shores and Islands, Ohio
“We try to get every single group that comes to the destination to the water, on the water or in the water because it is so gorgeous,” said Amanda Smith Rasnick, director of group accounts for Lake Erie Shores and Islands, which represents Erie and Ottawa counties along Lake Erie’s southern shore along with Kelleys Island and the Bass Islands.
The parent company of Cedar Point amusement park bought the 235-acre Sawmill Creek Resort in Huron this summer and plans to renovate it over the next two years. The property includes 28 acres of Lake Erie waterfront with a marina and a half-mile beach — where groups can have a bonfire pig roast — along with pools, three restaurants, 50,000 square feet of meeting space and an 18-hole lakeside golf course.
Cedar Point’s Hotel Breakers is a classic beachfront resort with 669 guest rooms and suites, many that feature waterfront views and balconies.
Groups can take daytime island-hopping cruises, sunset bay cruises or dinner cruises aboard the Goodtime I or charter the boat “to create their own event on board,” Rasnick said.
Planners have a slew of other waterfront options for meetings, including the Catawba Island Club, Camp Perry, Kelleys Island Venture Resort, BayShore Resort on Put-in-Bay, Lakeside Chautauqua and South Beach Resort Hotel and Cottages.
St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana
Since the 1800s, New Orleans residents have flocked to St. Tammany Parish, which drapes around the north shore of Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain, to experience the fresh air and the piney words, said Christina Cooper, vice president of communications, marketing and public relations for St. Tammany Parish Tourist and Convention Commission/Louisiana Northshore.
Though not on the waterfront, the Southern Hotel in Covington originally opened in 1907 to welcome those retreat seekers and was restored in 2016. Today, the 47-room hotel has a ballroom that can seat 140 for banquets, an outdoor courtyard and several other smaller event spaces.
In Slidell, the Harbor Center is the 45,000-square-foot convention center that sits on a series of canals leading to the lake. A two-minute drive from the center is Middendorf’s, a destination restaurant that works well for groups, and the Blind Tiger is a marina-front restaurant that’s available for private events with a waterfront deck, a pavilion for receptions and a sand beach for volleyball.
Also in Slidell, Palmettos on the Bayou restaurant fronts Bayou Bonfouca and can host private events for up to 500.
In Mandeville, the Lakehouse restaurant overlooks Lake Pontchartrain and is available for 250-person private events, and the Pontchartrain Yacht Club has indoor meeting space, a wraparound porch with water views and an event lawn where a group recently held a luau.
Cajun Encounters in Slidell offers group swamp tours and recently opened a pavilion that can seat up to 200 people for a post-tour crawfish boil and Cajun dancing.