What do roller coasters, riverboats and famed movie sets have in common? They’re all great for off-site events, and they can all be found in Iowa. Whether they’re designed to reward attendees for a job well done or promote teambuilding, these exclusively Iowa venues embody the state’s spirit and delight its visitors.
Cinnamon Ridge Farms/Hansen’s Dairy
Farm life is essential to Iowa’s economy, and thousands of farms populate its bucolic landscapes. As well as being agricultural operations, some farms have focuses that make them attractions.
Cinnamon Ridge Farms, just north of Iowa’s Quad Cities, is a family owned and operated robotic dairy farm, which means cows enter milking stalls voluntarily and set their own schedules. This new way of dairy farming piques everyone’s interest. The farm welcomes visitors to see how the process works, how the cows are cared for and how the dairy products are made.
“They do tours all day long and welcome small groups or groups as large as 100,” said Joan Kranovich, vice president of business growth for Visit Quad Cities.
Groups can settle in for farm-to-table dinners, with fare made with ingredients from Cinnamon Ridge. A farm store sells meats and cheeses produced there.
Kangaroos are unexpected mascots at Hansen’s Dairy, a dairy farm and creamery near Cedar Falls and Waterloo. Visitors can pet kangaroos and cows on guided tours, bottle-feed calves, watch the farm’s daily operations, make butter and sample the creamery’s products, including homemade ice cream. Lunch can be catered by nearby Randall’s Stop ‘N Shop in Hudson. For a meeting before or after a tour, the Tour Center, a monolithic dome on the farm, has a full kitchen, dishes and a smart TV, and it can comfortably seat 64 and accommodate up to 90.
A trip to the farm is “a good way to showcase something that’s very Iowa,” said Jordan Hansen of Hansen’s Dairy. “It’s a good representation of what Iowa is all about.”
Arnold’s Park Amusement Park/Lost Island Theme and Waterparks
Amusement parks infuse meetings with adrenaline and frivolous fun, and Iowa has several options for an afternoon of excitement.
In western Iowa, Arnold’s Park Amusement Park has long been a prominent attraction, with amusement rides and event venues that effortlessly blend work with play.
“It’s a 130-year-old amusement park on the shores of West Lake Okoboji, and it’s got the oldest wooden roller coaster west of the Mississippi,” said Rebecca Peters, director of tourism at Vacation Okoboji.
Planners can organize an afternoon of team building or plain old fun at the park, and there are plenty of park venues for meetings, such as the Majestic Pavilion, a 5,000-square-foot historic building with antique fixtures and hardwood floors. It can seat 300 for banquets. Another venue, the 9,000-square-foot Roof Garden Ballroom, can handle crowds of up to 500.
In Waterloo, the new $110 million Lost Island Themepark and Waterpark is packed with thrilling rides and fun games. Ranked among the top 5 theme parks in the country, it offers group discounts and rents its pavilion for private events with catered meals. Groups can also rent the entire park for three-hour events after it closes at 7.
“It’s unique to Iowa and it’s absolutely a beautiful space,” said Lindsay Pieters, marketing director at Experience Waterloo. “It would be great for a leisure activity to do with your team.”
Field of Dreams
Surrounded by the cornfields of Dyersville, the Field of Dreams Movie Site will appeal to sports and cinema enthusiasts right off the bat. The inspirational, baseball-themed 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta and James Earl Jones was filmed there in the expansive cornfields of the Iowan countryside. The site, about a 35-minute drive west from Dubuque, has both the baseball field and Kinsella home from the movie. Tours can be arranged, including 30-minute guided tours of the home. A sightseeing excursion to the movie site is a rewarding recreational activity to tack onto a meeting itinerary, and there are also rentals for meetings, events and team building at this Iowa-exclusive gem.
“The Field of Dreams is known internationally, and when groups have the opportunity to meet and enjoy the space, they get to know what it was like to film the movie there,” said Julie Kronlage, vice president of sales at Travel Dubuque. “It’s the most famous baseball field in the world.”
A renovated barn from the 1870s is one of the event spaces available; it can comfortably seat 150. The Kinsella Home can also be booked from March through December. Ghost players from the movie can do a meet-and-greet with groups.
For team building or a staff game, the field can be rented Sundays–Wednesdays from 8–9 a.m. or 6–10 p.m. from April through October. Just like at a baseball park, refreshments are sold at the site’s concession stand, but meals can also be arranged through J&D Catering.
Celebration River Cruises
The Mississippi River makes a marvelous backdrop for meetings in the Quad Cities, and one of the best ways to experience the mighty river is with Celebration River Cruises aboard the Celebration Belle. Four decks high, this 750-passenger riverboat is the largest on the upper Mississippi. Each of its two enclosed dining decks, which seat 250, have their own stage and dance floor; two observation decks have spacious seating. There’s also a gift shop on board.
“When you’re holding a meeting in the Iowa area, this gives people a great evening event to add to their itinerary. It also gives them the opportunity to cruise on the majestic Mississippi,” said Susan Yarolem, director of sales and marketing at Celebration River Cruises. “It’s the highlight of their meetings.”
Many meeting groups opt to take one of the company’s regularly scheduled cruises, like the narrated lunch cruise, afternoon sightseeing cruise or a dinner cruise. Dinner cruises are a popular evening outing, with a choice of three gourmet entrees, including the company’s much-loved prime rib. Dinner is followed by live music and dancing. Celebration River Cruises also offers themed cruises, holiday cruises and all-day cruises.
The cruise company is flexible when it comes to designing cruises for meeting groups. Planners can rent the entire boat for an event or simply board early for a speaking event or meeting before the cruise begins. Cruises typically are offered Tuesday–Saturday, but custom cruises on Sundays and Mondays are a possibility.
Wells Fargo Arena/Principal Park
Sports and their combination of friendly competition, electric atmosphere and old-fashioned fun bring people together. Two sports venues in Des Moines can add a refreshing bit of recreation to a conference itinerary.
Principal Park, home to the minor-league Iowa Cubs, is downtown, at the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers. The 11,500-seat ballpark was renovated in 2006 and has several suites and a restaurant. While it doesn’t do a lot of events, meeting attendees frequently come to watch a game together.
“It’s used more for doing a reception tied in with the game,” said Trina Flack, vice president of sales at Catch Des Moines.
If it isn’t baseball season or if attendees prefer a different sport, the Wells Fargo Arena is home to the city’s minor-league basketball team, the Iowa Wolves, and its hockey team, the Iowa Wilds. The 16,980-seat arena is part of downtown’s Iowa Events Center, so it’s attached to a convention center with meeting rooms and exhibit space and the 330-room Hilton Des Moines Downtown convention hotel. The arena is also within walking distance of other hotels, restaurants and venues.