By R.J. and Linda Miller, courtesy Wisconsin Tourism
Lakes are big in Wisconsin. While Minnesota, its neighbor to the west, has 11,842 named lakes larger than 10 acres, Wisconsin claims 6,044 named lakes plus an entire eastern border edged by Lake Michigan and, at northwestern tip, significant Lake Superior frontage.
Wisconsin makes good use of its lakes and its lakefronts, particularly in terms of meeting venues. In Madison, one of the state’s most popular conference sites, Monona Terrace, sits downhill from the state capitol, on Lake Monona.
In Lake Geneva, near the Wisconsin-Illinois border, tony resorts like the Grand Geneva have long catered to clientele, many from the Chicago area.
On Lake Superior, near the village of Bayfield, a new Native American casino sits beside the largest of the Great Lakes, where it will draw not only gamblers but meeting groups.
Of course, some of the state’s lakes are small and remote. In the Northwoods, the tourist town of Minocqua is almost surrounded by water. A number of its resorts cater to corporate meetings.
Among them is the Pointe Hotel and Suites, where each of the 69 suites or studios overlooks Lake Minocqua.
Groups that meet there will want to have at least one dinner in the Top of the Pointe banquet room, which sits four floors above ground level, affording big views of the lake. The resort has 3,000 square feet of meeting space.
Exclusively for meeting business, Red Crown Lodge was built as a getaway for Standard Oil executives in the 1920s, The lodge has 37 guest rooms, and books only one meeting at a time.
It’s been called the Camp David of Wisconsin, a rustic, yet refined retreat, where colleagues can dine on a deck bordered by a lake, sit side by side in Adirondack chairs along a dock and fish together in Trout Lake, like the U.S. presidents who came there before them.
In Lake Geneva, the Abbey Resort takes pride in its status as the only full-service resort directly on Lake Geneva.
The Abbey positioned its largest meeting space, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, so that floor-to-ceiling windows at one end overlook the marina.
The resort’s small conference center also has outdoor views. Aimed at small meetings, it has five side-by-side breakout rooms, each just under 600 square feet and three larger meeting rooms, just under 900 square feet each.
Several million has been invested in the property in the past five years. Its 334 guest rooms and suites have been refurbished; its 35,000-square-foot Avani Spa reopened three years ago after a $1.5 million makeover.
To help its small meeting groups take better advantage of Lake Geneva, the resort partnered this year with Lake Geneva Cruise Line to offer floating venues for midweek meetings of eight to 50 on the cruise company’s three boats.
An hour north of Milwaukee in Sheboygan, Blue Harbor Resort and Spa makes the best of its location on Lake Michigan.
The 182-suite property was built for conferences, with 16,000 square feet of meeting and function space, but it’s not unusual for families to come along, enticed by a 54,000-square-foot indoor entertainment area dominated by a waterpark. In addition to hotel suites, the resort has 64 two- and four-bedroom condominiums.
Blue Harbor is making a number of improvements between now and March: redecorating its meeting space, renovating its lobby and updating guest rooms with flat-screen televisions and new mattresses.
It will also make even better use of its lakefront by expanding its pool deck and adding a hospitality bar and building a bocce court and a putting green. Already, the resort has boosted its supply of Adirondack chairs, scattered around the beach and other outdoor areas.
A few miles inland from Sheboygan, Elkhart Lake is home to three resorts, Siebkens, Victorian Village and the Osthoff. The AAA Four Diamond Osthoff is the best-known among meeting planners.
After it opened in 1995, the Osthoff established itself as a top resort. Its 245 suites are literally a home away from home with a kitchen, dining and living room and balcony.
There’s a noticeable effort to connect to the outdoors, with patios off a number of the resort’s meeting spaces and restaurants with roomy decks for warm weather. Two ballrooms, one 7,500 square feet, the other 3,600, dominate the meeting space.
There are many ways to enjoy 292-acre Elkhart Lake, whose sandy bottom makes for water that’s a surreal shade of blue.
Kayaks, canoes and sailboats can be rented; a early morning Coffee Cruise on the lake can be an invigorating start to a day of business.