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Holiday-themed meetings


Courtesy Great Wolf Lodge

Looking for some holiday inspiration? Our experts weigh in with their ideas for the 2012 season.

Large or small, Great Wolf’s party’s a good fit

When the recession arrived four years ago and clients cut back on holiday parties, the sales team at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Va., came up with a inexpensive option for office holiday celebrations.

The staff created a lunchtime holiday buffet. Any size company could bring a group to the lodge and treat its staff to a traditional meal in the Grand Ballroomfor $25 a person. Setting the room in rounds of 10 allowed companies to share the ballroom and still have an intimate holiday meal with their colleagues.

Response to the Little/Big Holiday Party was so strong that the resort has added more days for the party each year; in 2011 it had a full week of them.

This year, along with those in Williamsburg, Little/Big Holiday Party will be offered at Great Wolf resorts in Grand Mound, Wash.; Concord, N.C.; Traverse City, Mich.; Kansas City, Mo.; Grapevine, Texas; and the Pocono Mountains, Pa.

Buffets are stocked with traditional holiday foods and the chef at each location also offers some specialty items.

The lodges also add their own touches to the event. In Concord, Santa pops in to visit diners; in Williamsburg, diners can watch as on-demand snow falls outside the ballroom windows.

Cutting through Christmas clutter
“Silver” and “streamlined” describe this year’s holiday scene at Charleston Place Hotel, an Orient-Express property on Charleston, S.C.’s bustling Meeting Street.

“For this season, we’re trying to focus on a simple, modern look for Christmas,” said Caroline Cook, special events manager. “It will be streamlined, but still feel formal and comfortable.”

Tables will lose their fussy tablecloths; instead, Cook might use white tables with white leather or clear chairs. “Fabulous” napkins will compliment china, glasses and cutlery. Centerpieces will be simple, perhaps a cluster of shiny silver balls with pine or boxwood.

She’ll add white touches, to remind guests of snow, an element of Christmas missing in the South.

“We don’t see snow, but I still like to suggest it in my look,” Cook said.

Because holiday parties are festive, she’ll suggest longer cocktail hours, with lots of passed hors d’ouevres “coming out in waves.”After a healthy helping of fried mac and cheese with truffled oil and lobster BLT’s, diners will be sated by a two-course plated dinner.

As a closer, Cook likes a dessert that combines chocolate and mint, such as the hotel’s Chocolate Pyramid filled with mint-laced mousse,  accented with a sprig of fresh mint and candy wrapped in silver foil.


‘Tis the season to snuff the stuffy
The Ugly Sweater party might be a little threadbare, but quirky themes that loosen up stuffed shirts are always in style for the holidays, said Annee Gillett, catering director for the Hotel Monaco Alexandria, Jackson 20 and the Morrison House. Here are her party ideas:

• Set up a photo booth stocked with holiday props like Santa beards and hats, scarves and reindeer antlers. Those on a tight budget can use an iPad with an Instagram app to take photos of partygoers.

• A cookie-decorating table not only allows guests to create homemade cookies with icing, sprinkles and other toppings, but gives them a chance to strike up conversations with other cookie designers.

• Scrap Secret Santa gifts and have guests spin of the wheel, a la Wheel of Fortune, to win a prize.