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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Not so slow in Lower Delaware

Courtesy Kent County/Greater Dover CVB

Delaware, the second-smallest state in the country, goes by many monikers. The first of the 13 original states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, it earned the name the First State. Thomas Jefferson reportedly called Delaware the Diamond State because he viewed its location as a jewel on the Eastern Seaboard. It is also known as the nation’s Corporate Capital, due to its business-friendly climate and Chancery Court, where cases involving well-known corporations are heard.

These days, Delaware is locally known as the Small Wonder, a nickname that could apply to its appeal as a meeting place.

Take its location. Delaware’s largest city, Wilmington, is about 20 miles from Philadelphia and 125 miles by train from New York City. Delaware’s resort area is a destination for Washington residents, who gladly travel just over 100 miles to reach Rehoboth Beach.

Liberally laced with Colonial history and peppered with parks, beaches and rolling estates, Delaware is not all work and no play. And for a small state, its landscape is remarkably varied. You only need look at its three counties — New Castle, Kent and Sussex — stacked like cake layers, to appreciate its diversity.

Not so slow in Lower Delaware

The area south of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal is jokingly called “Slower Delaware” for its laid-back attitude. There’s a hint of Southern drawl in the residents’ voices, farms pepper the landscape, and there’s an Amish population in the county’s western half.

Courtesy Kent County/Greater Dover CVB

Nevertheless, Dover, the state capital, is a hub of activity. Downtown, legislative buildings kissed with Colonial charm cluster around the Green, the historic central square. Beyond downtown, Dover Air Force Base and Dover Downs, home to Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, Dover Downs horseracing and Dover Downs International Speedway, famous for NASCAR racing on the Monster Mile, add excitement.

Many of Kent County’s 2,900 hotel rooms are priced at a lower rate than in New Castle County and coastal Sussex County. “Tier-one and tier-two cities can’t match it,” said George Fiorile, vice president and general manager of hotel operations for Dover Downs Hotel and Casino.
On a Tuesday night in December, a deluxe king room at the hotel had an average daily rate of $99 before group discounts.

National groups have recently shown an interest in the AAA Four Diamond Dover Downs, which has hosted the National Speakers Conference for speakers of the house. “They [national planners] are taking a look at a third-tier city like Dover, and that’s encouraging to see,” Fiorile said.
 Most meeting business is regional, however, due to Dover’s location between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Two years ago, when it expanded from 232 to 500 guest rooms, Dover Downs Hotel became the largest hotel in Delaware. Also, its 35,000 square feet of meeting space is the most of any hotel in the state.

Groups that require trade-show or banquet space opt for the 18,000-square-foot, column-free Rollins Center. With 22-foot-high ceilings, the space can be divided into three soundproof sections. “The flexibility is very attractive to meeting planners,” Fiorile said.

The hotel and casino books national acts, some of which are free to guests. For example, meeting groups get a free daytime show that features Rat Pack and Elvis impersonators in the new Fire and Ice Nightclub. The lounge can also be used for receptions.

Three hospitality suites overlook the horse track; another racing-related option are seats for top salespeople or company leaders in the pace car that leads horses around the track. For four-wheel horsepower, groups of up to 50 can drive a stock car on the Monster Mile.

Five minutes from Dover Downs, the 151-room Sheraton Dover Hotel’s event space ranges from a 12-person boardroom to a 1,200-person ballroom. “It’s all on one floor with ample space for exhibitors and vendors,” said Victor Schimp, the general manager. He said the hotel does a lot of state government business.

The 95-room Hilton Garden Inn, which opened in December 2008, is ideal for smaller meetings. Its 1,800 square feet of meeting and event space is often used for training programs. Another new property is the 135-room Holiday Inn Dover, a revamping of a former Howard Johnson hotel. It has 3,000 square feet of meeting space.

   Courtesy Kent County/Greater Dover CVB

As an acronym, Kent County’s attractions are known as Charms: “Culture, history, arts, racing, museums and slots — the word really does capture everything we have here to do in Kent County,” said Kimberly Bailey-Thomas, director of sales for meetings and conventions for the Kent County and Greater Dover Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The First State Heritage Park, a “borderless” state park established in 2004, links historic and cultural sites in Dover. The park’s visitors center offers walking tours.

No visit to Dover is complete without spotting a colossal Air Force jet swooping across the skyline. Off-site excursions can include a visit to the Air Mobility Command Museum on Dover Air Force Base, where old planes go to preen. “They have a C-5 out there you can actually walk in,” Bailey-Thomas said. Guided tours are available, but groups of 10 or more must have reservations.

The Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village also makes for a novel off-site event. Loockerman Landing Village depicts a rural village in the 1890s complete with a store, a farmhouse, a schoolhouse and a church. Picnic areas offer views of the lake and pond.

As Dover is less than 40 minutes from the coast, many elect to make day trips to the beaches, where they can shop the outlets to their heart’s content and never pay sales tax.

Kent County/Greater Dover CVB
(800) 233-5368