Charlotte? Try Lake Norman, N.C.
North Carolina’s largest man-made lake is at the center of life in Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville, three towns 15 to 20 minutes north of Charlotte off Interstate 77.
Lake Norman does more than provide power, water and flood control. The lake draws boaters, fishermen and others who appreciate what North Carolinians call their “inland sea” and its 520 miles of shoreline.
The towns that edge the lake don’t consider themselves extensions of Charlotte.
Davidson is home to Davidson College, a small liberal arts school with a big reputation. Its downtown abuts campus, so business thrives. Among Main Street favorites are an old-fashioned soda shop, in business since the 1950s, and a coffeehouse that has hosted more than 1,100 musical performances in the last 10 years.
Cornelius is a former mill town now known as home to Michael Waltrip Racing. The town’s newest feature is Havana Banquet and Ballroom at the Palace, a multiplex movie theater-turned-banquet hall. A 5,000-square-foot lobby has become a grand ballroom; theaters can be used for seminars and speeches. Four limited-service hotels are nearby.
Hunterstown, the closest of the three to Charlotte, has had big growth because of the 10-mile commute it affords. Money magazine ranked it the 76th Best Place To Live in America in 2005 and one of the top 20 places to retire in North Carolina. Its population has rocketed from 3,000 in 1990 to 40,000 today.
None of the Lake Norman area’s 18 hotels is large; most are limited-service with fewer than 2,000 square feet of meeting space.
To give an event local flavor, meeting planners can book the shop floor at Michael Waltrip Racing and have dinner for up to 500 among the racecars. The shop and museum are the only places to get a complete behind-the-scenes tour of a NASCAR race team.
Most groups will find it hard to ignore Lake Norman’s call, so an evening on a yacht might be in order. Four are available for floating parties of up to 150 guests.
Orlando ? Try Seminole County
Seminole County might best be described as Orlando’s “wild side.” Fifteen minutes northeast of downtown Orlando near Interstate 4, it is peppered by lakes and rivers, including 2,000 fresh-water lakes; the Wekiva River, one of two National Wild and Scenic Rivers in Florida; and the historic St. John’s River.
All that water means lots of wildlife — the county’s Lake Jesup is said to have the highest population of alligators of any lake in North America. Vessels of all description await, from kayaks and canoes to airboats and fishing charters.
Of its eight communities, Altamonte Springs and Lake Mary are the largest.
There are 44 hotels in the county, and compared with hotel rooms in Orlando, those in Seminole cost about 30 percent less.
The area’s largest meeting hotel is the 311-guest-room Hilton Orlando Altamonte Springs, with nearly 20,000 square feet of meeting space. Other conference hotels include the 253-room Westin Lake Mary Orlando North, the 304-room Orlando Marriott Lake Mary, and the 263-room Magnuson Grand Hotel in Altamonte Springs.
In keeping with Seminole’s wild-side reputation, the Central Florida Zoo is home to elephants, Amur leopards, crocodiles, cobras, sloths, porcupines and hundreds of other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. It also has one of the county’s largest meeting spaces in its Wayne N. Densch Discovery Center.
Battleships become party boats
Port cities throughout the South are home to historic ships that make good venues for military reunions and events. Ships that roll out the red carpet include the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile Bay; the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial in Baton Rouge, La.; and the Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington and the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier in Charleston, S.C.
With behind-the-scenes tours, question-and-answer sessions and other customized programs, the USS Yorktown is more than a beautiful setting on Charleston Harbor.
“We do our best to accommodate all special requests,” said Ashley Cassel, group sales coordinator for the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, home to the USS Yorktown. “We can help groups facilitate a memorial service and provide them with speakers from our new speakers bureau. It features our staff professionals and military veteran volunteers speaking on subjects like personal combat accounts, an overview of Patriots Point and military history.”
The typical half-day reunion includes a tour of the ship as well as lunch or dinner on its fantail for up to 150, or in its 40,000-square-foot Hangar Bay, where up to 1,500 people can socialize beneath war planes used from World War II to Desert Storm.
Other Yorktown venues include the flight deck, which can accommodate up to 2,000, the 2,500-square-foot, refurbished Congressional Medal of Honor Museum, the 220-seat theater and the wardroom, for meetings of up to 70 people.
“Corporations usually choose us for events because they want to do something memorable that they know will impact their employees,” said Christina Jordan, owner, Corporate Events and Catered Affairs on the Yorktown, the ship’s caterer.