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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Dive Deep with Aquariums

Meeting in a hotel conference room may offer views of a city skyline if you’re lucky, but meeting at an aquarium offers views of passing sharks, sea turtles and scuba divers. When planners take their events to an aquarium, guests can teeter over shark-infested waters or put their hand in a shark tank, touch the tentacles of a giant Pacific octopus or help a beluga whale create a masterpiece canvas.

Newport Aquarium

Newport, Kentucky

Hosting a meeting at the Newport Aquarium in northern Kentucky “is like having a totally private aquarium for you and your guests,” said general sales manager Pam Frech. Although the aquarium has meeting rooms and function spaces available during the day, many groups opt to rent the entire facility after it closes to the public.

Attendees can explore exhibits, hold sea creatures at the touch pools, interact with sharks in the Shark Central tank or walk across the new shark bridge, a narrow plank with mesh sides just inches above shark-infested waters.

The 6,000-square-foot Riverside Room overlooks the Ohio River and the Cincinnati skyline and can host banquets for 220 people or receptions for up to 350, and the room’s attached walkout patio is often used for company picnics. The Shark Ray Bay room holds up to 120 guests for dinner, and the room’s 16-by-20-foot window gives attendees a view of both sharks and personalized dive shows in the shark tank.

The aquarium arranges animal encounters with alligators, snakes and turtles, but planners’ No. 1 request is for penguin encounters, which include photos with the birds. Backstage tours take groups behind the scenes to learn how the aquarium feeds animals and makes its own salt water; scavenger hunts and mascot meet-and-greets are also available.

The aquarium also offers Ride the Ducks tours. Two 35-passenger amphibious vehicles take groups on a dry-land tour of Newport before splashing into the Ohio River for a river tour.

Tennessee Aquarium

Chattanooga, Tennessee

From loading passengers onto a high-speed catamaran to tour the Tennessee River to watching a personalized dive show, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is “a unique experience,” said partnership and sales representative Shelby Wade.

The aquarium has two buildings: River Journey and Ocean Journey. Although the aquarium can and does host daytime events, the vast majority happen after hours, when groups can take over an entire building, set up tables among the galleries and let guests explore exhibits. River Journey can seat about 300 people in the same area or 450 when splitting up the group. The building’s outdoor pavilion can host events for up to 700 people.

Ocean Journey can accommodate more than 200 people for a reception, and the Imax theater can seat 385. The Great Hall, which is the Imax theater lobby, is the aquarium’s largest indoor space; groups can also book the River Gorge Explorer, the aquarium’s 70-passenger boat.

Planners can arrange animal encounters with a variety of creatures, from snakes to possums to birds and flying squirrels. The aquarium will also put together customized scavenger hunts or personalized dive shows. In Ocean Journey, divers can mike up and talk with guests on the other side of the glass. In River Journey, divers can’t speak to the group, but they can wear company T-shirts or bring in other personalized touches.