Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Wilmington’s Family Appeal

Attendees meeting in Wilmington, North Carolina, should plan on two things: bringing their families and staying extra days.

Fronting the Cape Fear River, this dynamic port city sports a two-mile-long riverfront boardwalk, a 230-block National Register Historic District, intriguing museums, near endless shopping, eclectic restaurants and scads of ways to get onto and into the water.

In 2014, USA Today’s readers voted the city its top choice for Best American Waterfront.

“Wilmington has lots to pique the interest of every age group,” said John Sneed, vice president of sales and services for the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Plus we have the No. 1 attraction anywhere: nice beaches.”

There are three, to be exact. Named among National Geographic Traveler’s “Last Best American Beach Towns” in 2014, Wrightsville Beach is known for nature cruises, fishing excursions, surfing and upscale restaurants; Kure Beach and Carolina Beach are more laid-back, with the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, where groups can meet off-site among sea creatures, and fishing piers with rentable gear.

Located downtown on the river, the 107,000-square-foot, maritime-themed Wilmington Convention Center accommodates groups of 20 to 2,300. Its spaces include a 30,000-square-foot exhibit hall where 1,750 can meet for a reception, a 12,000-square-foot grand ballroom and an expansive outdoor event lawn with river breezes that can seat 2,150 theater-style. The on-site caterer, Savor Wilmington, handles the food and beverage for all events, specializing in locally sourced ingredients.

“People just rave about our food service,” said general manager Susan Eaton. “At a recent reception, people ate so much we had to replenish the food. It cost the planner more, but the guests enjoyed the food and beverage so much they didn’t want to go out to dinner.”

A block away, Cape Fear Community College opened its Humanities and Fine Arts Center in October with a 1,500-seat theater that hosts Broadway plays and big-name concerts.

“Wilmington has so much to offer meeting planners,” Sneed said. “We have a scenic, walkable, historic downtown on a river; three outstanding beaches with meeting facilities; and the best sunsets in the world.”

Landmark on the River

With 20,000 square feet of meeting space, the beautifully renovated Hilton Wilmington Riverside has been a downtown symbol of Southern hospitality for 40 years. Ideally situated on the Riverwalk in the city’s historic district, the hotel has 272 guest rooms and suites and a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Within an easy walk are carriage and trolley tours and 200-plus boutiques, art galleries, parks, restaurants, attractions and off-site venues such as the intimate, 600-seat Thalian Hall Center for Performing Arts and the Bellamy Mansion Museum of History. Two ballrooms, one riverside, can accommodate 1,000 guests, and a 2,500-square-foot, open-air terrace promises gorgeous sunsets and water views.

Convention Center District

The largest such facility on the North Carolina coast, the Wilmington Convention Center is at the heart of a major downtown riverside development. Since completion of the Silver LEED-certified building five years ago, the 119-room Courtyard by Marriott Wilmington Downtown/Historic District and a full-service marina have popped up. Adjacent to the convention center, a 92-room Hampton Inn and a nearby performing arts and events “shell” are under construction, and a 186-room Embassy Suites with 6,600 square feet of meeting space breaks ground in January. A Hotel Indigo, with a proposed 35,000 square feet of retail space; an event pier; and a riverfront park are also planned.

Virtual ‘Clue’

Because of its propensity for family fun, Wilmington is a team-building hot spot. Planners can choose surf camp; challenge courses; laser tag; or a new concept, the Escape Room. Attendees are locked in a room with 60 minutes to figure out how to get out using puzzles and clues. A team effort is the key to freedom.

“Everyone in the group brings an individual set of skills,” said Kim Wilt, owner of the business. “One person might be good at critical thinking, while another might be good at math problems. Usually, a team needs aspects of all their skills to get out.”

All Hands on Deck

Two off-site venues and an outdoor outfitter make it easy to take to the water in Wilmington. One of the most highly decorated vessels in World War II, the majestic Battleship North Carolina, now moored across the river from downtown, brings action-packed history to life at on-deck events and below-decks tours, complete with 1940s-themed nostalgia. Up to 600 passengers can board the Henrietta III riverboat to put along the Cape Fear River for corporate events; narrated sightseeing tours; and lunch, murder-mystery and dinner cruises. And Mahanaim Adventures can put groups in kayaks for superb birding and paddling on a North Carolina black-water river.

Coastal Suds

Riding the craft beer renaissance, Wilmington was named one of the country’s “Five Beeriest Beach Towns 2015” by Since 2014, five new breweries have opened here, including Lighthouse Beer and Ale in Wrightsville Beach, which features more than 400 bottled beers and drafts and an outdoor beer garden.

A great way for up to 35 attendees to tap into local beer culture is on the Port City Brew Bus, which stops for tastings at three breweries. One of those breweries, the Front Street Brewery, offers a facility tour and a beer pairing dinner in a private dining room at its full-service restaurant.

For more information go to