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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Hold the salt

For its annual retreat to the beach, Las Vegas-based Vanguard Integrity Professionals has climbed out of the typical sandbox.
Instead of convening at a seaside beach resort, Vanguard goes inland to find a sandy sanctuary each summer. About 20 of the software firm’s staff, and often some clients, pack their bags and drive to Callville Bay Resort and Marina on Lake Mead 45 minutes east of Las Vegas.
They pile themselves, coolers, suitcases, floats, fishing poles and other necessities onto a couple of luxury rental houseboats, take a lesson in houseboat operation and head for one of the lake’s many coves where they’ll anchor on a beach for several days.

Members of the Austin Healey Club of America have also discovered the pleasures of a beach sans an adjoining sea. The club has held its annual car show at Sugar Lake Lodge, three hours north of the Twin Cities in Grand Rapids, Minn.

The sand without the sea is a fresh idea in beach meetings. Sandy beaches can be found along lakes and streams in such diverse locales as Montana, Michigan, Arizona  and Vermont, often with a conference resort or hotel nearby.

Houseboats moor on one of many beaches.

Courtesy Forever Resorts

These beaches have upsides and downsides. There are no sharks and no storms — at least no hurricanes — but at the same time, there are also no crashing waves or endless stretches of sand like those found along the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Lakeside beaches are often spits of sand, big enough for little more than a bonfire. And the long windows of warm weather, found at many coastal locations, are usually much smaller inland.

Still, freshwater beaches have their place, particularly at a time when planners are booking closer to home and are wary of destinations that seem exotic.

Callville Bay Resort and Marina
Lake Mead, Nev.

A trip to Lake Mead, a pool of blue in the desert 45 minutes from Las Vegas, can combines a cruise with a beach getaway, although in this case guests serve as skipper and cook.

Forever Resorts rents luxury houseboats on Lake Mead and at 12 other marinas in the United States. There’s steady demand from small companies, associations and religious organizations that are in search of peace and quiet along with sand, scenery and seclusion.

“The No. 1 positive to this is that you have focus,” said Penny McCollum, boat rental manager at Callville Bay. “They don’t have their computers, their phones or other distractions.”

What groups do have is the freedom to be captains of their own fate. They choose where to moor their boat along the lake’s 550 miles of shore; they can bring their own food, as Vanguard’s group does, or arrange for catered meals, and they can create their own fun with jet skis, volleyball and and bonfires.

On an September day, when the air temperature was 108, Lake Mead’s waters are a comforting 84. Even cooler are the air-conditioned houseboats, outfitted with modern conveniences, including flat-screen televisions and icemakers that spit out a whopping 22 pounds of ice a day.

“The houseboats are so luxurious that you don’t know you are in one until you walk out and see the water all around,” said Yvonne Shoup, director of administration and human resources for Vanguard.

(800) 255-5561

Sugar Lake Lodge
Grand Rapids, Minn.

Few meeting goers plunge into 1,400-acre Sugar Lake — perhaps because they are so busy with business or maybe because water temperatures are still in the high 60s in midsummer — but they are likely to spend time sitting in one of the 40 Adirondack chairs scattered around the beach, shoreline and on several docks built specifically for sitting and admiring the view.

It’s a view that mesmerizes many, according to owner Fred Bobich.

“You can tell people until you are blue in the face that the lake looks like the Mediterranean, but they aren’t going to believe it until they see it. On a sunny day, you can not only see the different depths of the lake from dark to light, you’ll see an aquamarine color.”

Lakes are plentiful in

Austin Healy club members displayed their cars near the beach at Sugar Lake Lodge in Grand Rapids, Minn.

Courtesy Sugar Lake Lodge

Minnesota, so Sugar Lake doesn’t tout its beach too much. But meeting planners often put the shoreline to work.

A coffee roasters convention held its trade show along the shore, infusing the air with the bright smell of freshly brewed coffee. Toro, the maker of lawn equipment, met at the lodge for years and always displayed its new models by the lake. The Austin Healey owners that convened there displayed their colorful, collectible cars along the lake.

Group dinners are often held within sight of the shore. A favorite is a shore lunch of fresh walleye.

The beach is certainly seasonal for outdoor events, but Bobich will gladly book meetings any time of year. He built the lodge and its 96 guest accommodations, including multibedroom options, and its 8,500 square feet of meeting space with meetings in mind.

(800) 450-4555

Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club
Cordele, Ga.

Lake Blackshear Resort is located in a state park, but rustic it is not.

“‘Wow, I didn’t expect this,’ is probably the single biggest comment we get,” said Bob Johnson, general manager.

 Managed by Coral Hospitality, the resort’s 14 lodge guest rooms, 64 villas and 10 lakeside cabins and 10,000 square feet of meeting space have been built in phases over the last dozen years. The result is a lakeside complex with some surprises.

Among them are two sandy beaches, the larger of which is next to the Cypress Grill, a hopping bar where high season means entertainment from mid-week on: disc jockeys, comedy nights, karaoke and upstart bands on their way from Atlanta to the Gulf Coast.

The Cypress Grill is heavy on the outdoors — all but 50 of its 185 seats are outdoors — and when an acoustic guitarist plays Jimmy Buffet tunes, meeting goers might make believe they are in Key West instead of rural Georgia.

One annual teachers group plans its event around comedy night and karaoke at the grill; other options are barbecues at the beach with movies on the lawn.

(800) 459-1230

Holiday Inn-West Bay

Traverse City, Mich.

Beaches are plentiful along Lake Michigan, and in Traverse City, Mich., there’s even a “Best Beaches” list. Among the bests are Clinch Park, close to downtown and considered Best All-Around Convenient Beach, and Volleyball Beach, dubbed Best Beach for Contemplating the Human Form and site of a 2005 World Cup volleyball tournament.

Best Beach With a Resort isn’t a category, but if it were, the beach at the 179-room Holiday Inn West Bay would likely be the winner.
“A huge factor in people picking this hotel is that it is the only full-service hotel on the water in the Traverse City area,” said Kelly Maruskin, director of sales and marketing.

“What is wonderful about Lake Michigan and West Bay is the color of the water. Guests will say, ‘Oh my god, this looks like Hawaii. I never knew Lake Michigan was so blue.’”

When groups aren’t meeting in the hotel’s 5,000 square feet of meeting space, they might adjourn to the beach for a bonfire or a barbecue. A fishing tournament held there each year concludes with a hot dog roast on the lawn near the shore.

(800) 888-8020

Lodge at Whitefish Lake
Whitefish, Mont.

“Beaches” and “Montana” aren’t often uttered in the same breath, but a sand and rock beach on Whitefish Lake is one of the attractions of the Lodge at Whitefish Lake.

Guests can sit beneath the lodge’s lakeside pavilion and sip on its signature drink, the Hucktini, made with huckleberries. A wooden Wind

The only full-service resort on Montana’s Whitefish Lake, the Lodge at Whitefish Lake has its own small beach and a lakeside pavillion for outdoor events.

Courtesy Lodge at Whitefish Lake

sor Craft motorboat takes groups of 12 or fewer out on the lake to see other beaches and celebrity homes.

“You don’t expect to find paradise on the lakeside,” said Dawn Jackson, director of sales. “We are the only full-service hotel on the entire Whitefish Lake.”

The lake, seven miles long and three miles at its widest, is the area’s source of drinking water, one reason residents are so protective of its health.

The lodge’s 20 lakefront rooms are in demand. By this time next year, there a 36-room lodge east of the existing one will open, adding to the existing 63 guestrooms and 18 condos. The expansion will make the lodge’s accommodations a better match for the 8,000 square feet of meeting space available there.

(406) 863-4010

Hilton Garden Inn Yuma/Pivot Point Conference Center
Yuma, Ariz.

Until Yuma, Ariz., began revitalizing its riverfront a few years ago, the southwest Arizona city didn’t have much to offer meeting planners. Construction of the 150-room Hilton Garden Inn Yuma and adjacent Pivot Point Conference Center on the edge of the Colorado River changed that.

Together, the two venues have 21,000 square feet of meeting space, all but about 2,000 square feet in the conference center. The pair play up their location next to the Colorado River and Gateway Park with its sandy beach, opened two years ago.

If the beac

Dinners can be held at Yuma’s Gateway Park on the Colorado River.

Courtesy Yuma CVB

h at the river doesn’t provide eno

Yuma, Ariz., has added a park and beach on the Colorado River.  It is next to a new hotel and conference center.

Courtesy Yuma CVB

ugh sand in the shoes, groups can make a foray across the nearby California border to Imperial Sand Dunes, a surreal landscape used as a set for Star Wars and other movies.

Ann Walker, public relations director for the Yuma CVB, helped plan a cocktail hour among the dunes for a group of visiting journalists.

“We whipped a table out of the car, set it up and served some desert delights,” she said.

A meeting group could have a similar event and even add rides on a came on loan from an area camel farm.

(928) 376-0100

Lake Morey Resort
Fairlee, Vt.

Beach time typically isn’t on the itinerary at Lake Morey Resort, a family-owned property with a long history in Fairlee, Vt., 78 miles east of Burlington. But somehow, meeting attendees manage to make it to the resort’s small beach on the 600-acre lake.

“Occasionally people who are supposed to be in a meeting room having a break out session, and we’ll see them huddled around on the beach, having their meeting,”said Christine Cecchetti, director of marketing.

The 130-room resort’s 21,000 square feet of meeting space make the lakefront more enticing. “Ninety-five percent of our meeting space has views of the lake and mountains. It is an advantage for some, a disadvantage for others,” she said with a laugh.

Spiral steps lead from the bar down to the beach, providing easy access. “People are out there all the time, often with cocktails in hand,” said Cecchetti.

(800) 423-1211