If there is one thing the South is known for, it’s hospitality. The region greets visitors with open arms, ice-cold sweet tea and sun-dappled verandas perfect for everything from a business rendezvous to a short snooze.
Especially wonderful for meetings, Southern resorts sit ensconced within the land’s most spectacular locales, combining congenial atmosphere with natural beauty, unusual opportunities for postwork play and high-tech conference facilities that will get guests grinning. Whether meeting planners are looking for a place where attendees can find adventure, go golfing, bring the family or simply relax in some of the prettiest places on the planet, the following resorts have got it covered.
Reynolds Lake Oconee
Ranging over two counties, Reynolds Lake Oconee encompasses a 19,000-acre lake, six championship golf courses and a spectacular sporting facility with clay shooting and fishing on a 40-acre pond. The community’s event spaces are just as singular, like the 6,750-square-foot Sandy Creek Barn, a two-centuries-old structure that’s been upgraded to host receptions, dinners and meetings. The Rock House, with a private dock and room for up to 40 within its rustic-style, 900-square-foot interior, is another popular venue at Reynolds.
Groups can choose from a variety of conventional meeting spaces and less-traditional settings as well.
“We consider every space on-property a venue, and that includes our driving ranges at times,” said Christine Plazola, director of catering and event sales for Reynolds Lake Oconee. “You name it and we will create something with it. That’s part of the fun — you never quite know what kind of experience you’re going to have, but it’s always going to be fantastic.”
Along with golf, fishing, boating and clay shooting, Plazola and her team can customize group kayaking, yoga, canoeing, biking and hiking adventures. Or attendees can head to the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee. Thanks to an arrangement with the hotel, the community’s guests are able “to utilize their fitness center for an additional cost, or book spa appointments and have it billed back to their rooms here,” Plazola said.
Adventures on the Gorge
Lansing, West Virginia
Perched on the edge of the New River, one of the world’s oldest tributaries, Adventures on the Gorge specializes in “leading the world outdoors,” said director of sales Robin Hildebrand. “There isn’t a single adventure resort across the nation that offers all that we do, so we’re really in the driver’s seat as far as providing a unique meeting experience. Whitewater rafting is absolutely the best teambuilding method, and we’ve also opened up our aerial ropes course at night, which makes for a great exercise following dinner. Groups have used our paintball and laser tag facilities for teambuilding, as well.”
Speaking of facilities, Adventures on the Gorge provides a number of unique meeting venues centered around the Lookout Post Conference Center. The center can accommodate 200 people or be broken down into five smaller rooms and features an event deck overlooking the New River Gorge. The resort can host parties and dinners there; Hildebrand said she’s also brought in live entertainment in the evenings for groups, adding, “we pride ourselves on customizing small group meetings.”
But the can’t-miss experience for meeting attendees at Adventures on the Gorge remains rafting with the resort’s guides on the New and Gauley rivers, both renowned for their epic whitewater. Depending on the season, stretches of the waterways range from mild Class I to wild Class V rapids, providing a great time for everyone in the group no matter their experience or skill level.
South Seas Island Resort
Captiva Island, Florida
It’s all about surf, sand and sun at the South Seas Island Resort, a pristine paradise in the Gulf of Mexico. During off-hours, groups can relax with paddleboarding, kayaking, biking and more. The resort’s recreation staff can also help plan a variety of teambuilding exercises, from cooking challenges to scavenger hunts, beach Olympics and even an Amazing Race experience.
But there is even more that distinguishes the resort, said Verdell Ekberg, South Sea’s director of sales and marketing.
“South Seas Island Resort is set amongst a 330-acre wildlife preserve on the tip of Captiva Island, a remote yet still easily accessible barrier island off the coast of Fort Myers [Florida],” he said. “Due to its geography, South Seas is surrounded by water on both sides and is home to 250 species of seashells and 230 species of birds. Other wildlife that call South Seas home include dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, lizards, endless species of fish and more.”
With 31,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and 471 guest rooms, South Seas can host groups as small as 10 and as large as 500. Major venues include the 5,000-square-foot Captiva Ballroom, which can be broken down into two smaller ballrooms or several salons, and an 8,000-square-foot event lawn.
Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
The DreamMore Resort and Spa offers something no other can: the welcoming warmth of Dolly Parton’s personality. There are tributes to the music legend throughout the property — a portrait here, a wallful of album covers there — as well as plenty of comfy outdoor spots inspired by “Dolly’s childhood memories of sitting on her parents’ front porch and telling stories,” said Dollywood publicist Jennifer Webb.
Parton’s love of family is reflected in DreamMore’s Camp DW, which offers activities for kids, like bedtime stories and arts and crafts. Adults will find plenty to delight them as well, including indoor and outdoor pools and a full-service spa. The resort also provides guests with complimentary transportation to and from Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country, exclusive park entry and a TimeSaver pass for expedited access to attractions.
DreamMore features conference venues for groups of 10 to 170 people, including two 2,136-square-foot spaces that can be divided into three separate rooms and a 1,465-square-foot space that divides into two separate rooms. They’re lined with terraces and floor-to-ceiling windows boasting, Webb said, “really beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains. It’s a very serene atmosphere.”
Among the other outdoor spaces, she said, is the Covered Barn. “It’s centered around a cozy fire pit and provides a rustic setting.”
Lake Barkley State Resort Park Lodge
Barkley Lodge, set on the banks of the serene lake from which it takes its name, is a dream come true for meeting planners that want to provide their groups with a bucolic retreat. With 120 rooms and four suites, the structure was built using post-and-beam construction, with western cedar and Douglas fir. It contains more than three acres of windows, giving guests sweeping views of the water. But for an even more rustic stay, there are nine cottages and four cabins in the park, as well as a 78-site campground.
“It’s really peaceful here,” said Ashley Johnson, Lake Barkley State Resort Park sales representative. “And it’s great for conferences — we’ve got a little over 9,000 square feet of meeting facilities. Our convention center, which is next to the lodge, can hold up to 900.”
The options for team building around outdoor adventure are almost limitless. They include guided canoeing, hiking, biking, fishing and swimming, trapshooting and playing the park’s 18-hole golf course. The marina also rents everything from jet skis to pontoon boats, “so there isn’t really anything we can’t do for groups,” Johnson said.