When it comes to conference destinations, family appeal always sells. People are more likely to attend if they can bring their families along for some fun before, during or after the event. Here are several meeting destinations in America’s Heartland that not only have attractions popular with families but also offer full-service conference hotels and venues popular with meeting planners.
Sandusky, Ohio, is the biggest city on Lake Erie and is best known as the jumping-off point to visit the islands on Lake Erie. Groups hosting a meeting in Sandusky can take a ferry from downtown to Kelleys Island or Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island for a group outing or off-site event. Kelleys Island has the Glacial Grooves State Memorial, Kelleys Island State Park and other nature and wildlife preserves to explore. Put-In-Bay features miniature golf, a lighthouse, natural caves and a butterfly house for the kids, and breweries and wineries for the adults.
No visit to Sandusky is complete without taking a ride on one of the record-setting roller coasters at Cedar Point amusement park or enjoying a thrill ride at Cedar Point Shores water park. Cedar Point has three lodging properties — the Hotel Breakers, the Xpress Hotel and Lighthouse Point — as well as a lakefront community of cottages, cabins and recreational vehicle sites. The Watering Hole in Marblehead is an outdoor water park with a drive-through safari zoo, bumper boats and go-karts.
The Cheers Trail offers more adult entertainment, taking visitors on a tasting tour of local breweries, wineries and distilleries, many with meeting and event spaces and on-site cuisine.
The top meeting location in Sandusky is Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, with 900 rooms, a 250,000-square-foot convention center, water parks, an arcade, restaurants and shops. The resort also offers a ropes course and other team-building activities for meeting groups.
Great Wolf Lodge is a smaller meeting venue with a Northwoods theme that is geared toward families with younger children. It has a water park, an arcade and fun kids’ activities.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Known as the water park capital of the world, Wisconsin Dells is a premier family-friendly destination. Meeting planners trying to attract attendees can do so by hosting events at some of the largest resorts in the area. Kalahari Resorts and Conventions is the largest, with 760 lodge rooms and a 212,000-square-foot convention center. It also is home to Wisconsin’s largest indoor water park. The Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort has 55,000 square feet of meeting space at Glacier Canyon Lodge, as well as 1,151 lodge rooms, four indoor and four outdoor water parks, a golf course, three arcades, a spa, restaurants and an indoor theme park.
Groups will enjoy duck boat tours of the beautiful and iconic Wisconsin Dells landscape, as well as taking hair-raising jet boat rides down the river or touring a local lavender farm by wagon. The International Crane Foundation is the only place where visitors can see all 15 species of the world’s cranes. And Circus World, the home of Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, has the largest collection of antique circus wagons in the country, as well as musical entertainment and circus acts. The Dells has six championship golf courses and Wizard Quest, an interactive gaming experience that takes groups on quests through 30 different labyrinths.
The area has 500,000 square feet of customizable meeting space and more than 8,000 hotel rooms.
The Missouri River separates Omaha, Nebraska, from Council Bluffs, Iowa, offering opportunities for boating, hiking, biking and bird-watching. The pedestrian bridge that links the two cities is a must-visit, and Omaha is in the midst of a $300 million Riverfront Revitalization Project that will link three parks — the Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland American Park and Lewis and Clark Landing — while adding a host of new amenities, including a performance pavilion, a state-of-the-art playground, interactive water features and a sculpture garden. The Kiewit Luminarium, a riverfront science center, is set to open at Lewis and Clark Landing in 2023.
A visit to Omaha would not be complete without a visit to Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, one of the top-ranked zoos in the country, or a narrated cruise on the River City Star riverboat.
The CHI Health Center is the largest convention venue in the city, with 346,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and an 18,300-seat arena. The center is attached to the 600-room AAA Four-Diamond Hilton Omaha with 15 meeting rooms. The full-service, 333-room Omaha Marriott Downtown is across the street and offers an additional 17,500 square feet of meeting space.
Unique venues include the zoo and the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, and meeting planners can add on brewery and history tours or the Million Dollar Tour that takes visitors to all the places important to billionaire Warren Buffett, who calls Omaha home.
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
The top attraction in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, is the 54,000-acre man-made lake that lent its name to the entire area. It has 1,150 miles of shoreline dotted with resorts, marinas and quaint Midwestern towns. Swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking and boat rentals are a big attraction for families, and the lake offers some of the best fishing in the country. Lake of the Ozarks is also home to the largest state park in Missouri, HaHaTonka State Park, with 75 miles of hiking and biking trails and the ruins of a burnt-out castle to explore.
There are 14 championship golf courses, indoor and outdoor water parks and four caves to tour. Among the most unusual is Bridal Cave, which groups can explore on walking tours or boat tours. There is great shopping and plenty of places to listen to live music. The Ozark Amphitheatre can hold 10,000 people and brings in big-name acts like Kane Brown and ZZ Top.
The Ozark International Raceway, a 3.8-mile speedway, will open in May, and the Malted Monkey, with its zip lines and ropes courses, offers children of all ages the chance to defy gravity. In 2021, Lake of the Ozarks celebrated the 90th anniversary of the building of Bagnell Dam on the Osage River. Groups can learn more about the history of the area before the building of the dam at the historic Willmore Lodge.
The area has six conference hotels. The Margaritaville Lake Resort is the largest with 670 rooms and 100,000 square feet of meeting space. In total, the area has 4,500 guest rooms.