Sail the Christina O

It is arguably the world's most opulent yacht, and now it's available for corporate groups. When Aristotle Onassis purchased the former Christina in 1954, he turned it into a floating palace that hosted some of the world's most famous politicians and movie stars. Recently revamped for more than $50 million, the re-christened Christina O can accommodate 36 passengers in 18 luxurious staterooms, plus the Onassis Suite. Each stateroom has all the comforts of home — and more — including Venetian linens, mirrored walk-in closets, and surround-sound stereo systems with DVD and CD players. The 325-foot-long ship also includes Ari's Bar (where John F. Kennedy first met Sir Winston Churchill in 1957); an elegant fireplace lounge; a swimming pool whose bottom rises above the water to become a dance floor; a spa and fitness center; and the main dining room, library, music lounge, show lounge, and children's playroom. It accommodates parties of up to 100 people inside and 250 outside.

Christina O will sail the Mediterranean in summer and the Caribbean in winter, and is available for private charters. Contact Tauk World Discovery at (800) 465-2825 or go to www.tauck.com for more information.
Regina Baraban

Up and Away

Space tourism may well be the next big thing in adventure travel. Last spring, Dennis Tito became the first private citizen to travel on an orbital flight. He won't be the last. Book now for 2005, when Space Adventures, the space travel company in Arlington, Va., that orchestrated Tito's flight, plans to roll out its first passenger suborbital space flights on “reusable launch vehicles.” Participants will attend a four-day flight preparation and training program to perfect such things as their zero-gravity skills and space flight safety procedures, and then embark on a 30 to 150 minute journey to the weightless regions beyond the pull of earth's gravity.

Space Adventure programs currently available include flights to the edge of space in the world's fastest aircraft, zero-gravity flights, space shuttle launch tours, and educational tours to the world's major space and astronomy facilities. For more information, call (888) 857-7223 or go to www.spaceadventures.com.
Regina Baraban

Raft with the Los Angeles Philharmonic

What makes Bill Dvorak's “Classical Music River Journey” different from the typical rafting adventure is the addition of several members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who serenade participants with the music of Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, and the company founder's distant cousin, Dvorak.

The trips can accommodate up to 25 people and typically take seven or eight days on either the Dolores River in Southwest Colorado or the Green River in eastern Utah. Four or more concerts are scheduled during the program, including a formal concert finale. In addition, there are side excursions to Anasazi ruins, wildlife viewing, and hiking. Itineraries can be customized for groups.

“The concert halls are the acoustically rich stages of the slickrock canyons and caverns located along each river, or an open-air stage nestled among ponderosa pine and Douglas fir,” says a spokesperson for the company. For more information, e-mail dvorakex@amigo.net or go to www.dvorakexpeditions.com.
Regina Baraban

Firewalk

Would you believe that in the past 25 years, more than two million people in Western countries have walked over hot coals of 1,200 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit without burning their feet? So says Twain Harte, Calif.,-based authority Tolly Burkan, who has trained hundreds of instructors and corporate groups in the art and science of firewalking.

The question is: Why risk it? “Firewalking motivates people to take an active role in reaching their life and career goals,” says Marnie Craig, a former meeting planner turned certified firewalking instructor in Hamilton, Mont. “The experience gives them tools to help overcome their fears. It is also tremendous for teambuilding because of the strong bonding that takes place among the participants. They walk away feeling energized, exhilarated, and excited about things they were previously afraid of.”

While people are typically terrified at the start, all of the hundreds who have participated in Craig's workshops have gone through with the firewalk. She says the ideal size group is 25 people in an unpaved outdoor setting, because (unlike concrete) the earth absorbs the heat. Her sessions usually run four to five hours, beginning with discussions on the creative process and transforming fear, and ending with practical instruction on how to walk across the coals. E-mail Craig at walkinginmagic@earthlink.net for more information.

Burkan offers a two-hour seminar for corporate groups called High Tech Fire. He stresses the importance of working with an instructor certified by the Firewalking Institute of Research and Education.

For more information e-mail Burkan at tolly@firewalking.com or go to www.firewalking.com.
Regina Baraban

Rent a Town

For rent: one quaint Bermuda town, complete with Old World charm, historic landmarks, stocks and pillory, friendly taverns, cobblestone lanes, period entertainment, town crier. Large groups welcome.

St. George's, Bermuda's historic first capital, is under consideration for World Heritage Site status. Groups can use the town as a real-life “set” for any number of traditionally Bermudian activities, like pub crawls or candlelight tours of narrow lanes escorted by the town crier. Various 17th and 18th century landmarks such as St. Peter's Church, Tucker House, and the Town Hall are available for private parties. And what more fitting setting for a Bermudian cocktail party than the Deliverance, a replica of a ship built by the survivors of a 1609 wreck?

For more information, contact the Bermuda Department of Tourism at (800) 223-6106, ext. 213, or go to www.bermudatourism.com.
Megan Rowe

Get Real

Now you can experience the drama of the Survivor television series firsthand.

The Official Survivor Tour from the Adventure Company Australia, based in Cairns, is set in the same towns where the series was taped. Billed as an “adventure tour,” the eight-day program includes guided camping, biking, canoeing, and hiking in Australia's Queensland territory. On the seventh day, participants conduct a tribal council and select the individual most likely to survive.

Los Angeles-based Reality Incentives offers an eight-day stay on an island in northwest Fiji for up to 24 participants. Split into two teams, group members are equipped with a survivor pack that includes bedding, some food, utensils, and other essentials for managing a week on a tropical island. Guided by locals, participants try their hand at rappelling, a ropes course, navigation using a compass, exploring underwater caves, and survival techniques. The natives teach the group about Fijian culture, including how to catch fish and locate edible plants.

“What we see when they come out of the week is a group that is molded more strongly together and that becomes more united when they get back to the work environment,” says Max Kruse, vice president of sales for Reality Incentives.
Megan Rowe

Commune With the David

No work of art reflects the splendor of Florence, Italy, more vividly than Michelangelo's David. The enormous statue resides in the city's Galleria dell'Accademia: It's the crown jewel at the end of a long entrance hallway lined with four other Michelangelo sculptures. “The David is what everyone goes to look at, but they usually have to wait hours in line,” says Barry Wolpa, vice president, field promotions and communications, GE Financial Assurance in San Rafael, Calif. When he brought his annual Leading Producers incentive program to Florence, Wolpa could think of nothing more special than treating the 236 attendees to a private cocktail reception at the foot of Michelangelo's masterpiece.

Enter Giuseppe Lepri, president of Florence-based destination management company Newtours, a member of Global Events Partners. In order to take over the space for a corporate group, Lepri needed permission from both the Italian government and the museum's director. He set up an event which “people will talk about forever,” says Wolpa. Qualifiers and their guests sipped champagne and nibbled on elegant hors d'eouvres in the long entrance hall, then were welcomed to David's rotunda by a duo of harpists. After ample time to explore the rest of the museum, they sat down at the foot of the statue for a 20-minute lecture on Michelangelo by a local university professor.

“Everyone was awestruck by the experience of having a private party with the David,” says Wolpa.

For more information, e-mail Newtours' Lepri at www.newtours.it.
Regina Baraban

Live Like Royalty

Anyone can check into a hotel, but only a privileged few can indulge in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. So says Gregory Lee Patrick of Tours of Enchantment, a Houston-based international incentive house.

Patrick has a roster of roughly 750 private chateaus, castles, and mansions throughout the world not available for public rental. He staffs them with waiters who place satin pillows under ladies' feet when they dine, and famous restaurant chefs who cook gourmet cuisine. A one-to-one staff-to-client ratio ensures that a customer's every whim will be met.

“Imagine that as your attendees are sipping cocktails around the pool, they watch the 2000 Olympics aquatic ballet perform,” says Patrick. “And that's a minor event.”

If your qualifiers live in a major metropolitan city, the program can start 10 days prior to the trip, with 24-hour personal concierge service for everything from expert packing to taking the dog to the kennel.

Some estates can accommodate up to 60 people; large groups can take over multiple homes in a given setting.

For more information, you can call (800) 949-3732, e-mail dreamteam@2Benchanted.com, or go to www.toursofenchantment.com.
Regina Baraban

Ride the Blue Train

Any interest in a once-in-a-lifetime incentive experience? If so, South Africa's Blue Train may be just the ticket. After an overnight stay in one of Cape Town's luxury hotels, groups transfer to Cape Town Central Train Station and enter the Blue Train's special VIP lounge.

Once aboard, each passenger is directed to one of 32 deluxe suites or six luxury suites. As the train pulls out of the station, the butler comes by to explain the suite's amenities, including television, telephone, air conditioner, and (in the luxury suites) CD and video players. All suites come with private baths with gold-plated fixtures.

There is one butler assigned to every four suites, and he is available 24 hours a day for just about anything. While his guests are at dinner, he prepares the suite for a comfortable night's sleep. And what a dinner! Even the most casually clothed gentlemen are eager to don the required jacket and tie for the privilege of dining at Blue Train Business Manager Kishore Seegoolam's tables, where local oysters and game are served on bone china and South Africa's finest wines are poured into cut crystal.

For incentive groups wishing to do business while traveling, the observation car, offering panoramic views of the passing landscape as the train travels along its journey, can be converted into a conference or meeting venue for up to 25 guests. A dedicated on-board conference facilitator is available throughout the journey. It may be hard, however, to concentrate on business at a breakfast meeting while the gold and diamond mines of Kimberly glide by the window. For more information, go to www.bluetrain.co.za.
David Erickson

Get Your Sea Legs

Incentive attendees can have a great time learning to sail — and also come away with skills that will help them excel in the workplace.

The Offshore Sailing School integrates sailing lessons, exercises, and races into incentive programs. To help novice sailors get their sea legs, the school uses specially designed teaching boats that won't capsize or sink and that allow the instructor to take control.

Teams of four or five take turns working the sails or skippering the 26-foot vessels out of one of several ports that include Captiva Island, Fla.; the Florida Keys; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Tortola, the British Virgin Islands; Newport, R.I.; Liberty Landing, N.J.; Chelsea Piers, N.Y.; Stamford, Conn.; and Chicago.

Doris Colgate, who co-owns the school with her husband, Steve, says more corporate groups are opting for an at-sea experience because it is not as physically demanding as some teambuilding activities can be. “Anybody at any age can get on a sailboat.”

For more information, call (800) 454-1700 or go to www.offshore-sailing.com.
Megan Rowe

Take Over the Hotel

The basis for a great incentive travel program is this: Give your qualifiers a fantastic experience to brag about when they get back — and make sure it's an experience that they could never buy off the shelf.

When Dick Gaeta of Premier Incentives of Marlboro, Mass., locked in the 208-room Hotel Europe Killarney in Ireland a year and a half in advance for top producers of Boston-based CGU Insurance, privacy was a key attraction. “Guests don't have to worry about going into areas they shouldn't; they feel like the resort is their home,” he says.

When guests checked in, they had a reception in a chandelier-lighted tent in front of the hotel on Killarney Lake. A fireworks display over the water showed the company logo in a burst of color and light. After the reception, attendees boarded boats in front of the hotel for an evening cruise around the lake. “It would have been difficult to put the company's tent on property and have the docks filled with our boats if there were other guests in the hotel,” says Gaeta.

Some properties are more amenable to takeovers than others. Here is a list of major chain properties that groups can buy out in their entirety. Of course, if you don't see the one you want, it never hurts to ask. National sales office numbers are included, and guest room counts are in parentheses.
Jennifer Juergens

Hilton Hotels Corp.

(800) 321-3232
Hilton Lake Lanier Islands Resort, Georgia (216); Pointe Hilton Resorts, Phoenix (563-suite Squaw Peak, 585-suite Tapatio Cliffs Resort); Hilton Waikoloa Village, Big Island, Hawaii (1,240); Hilton Lake Placid Resort, New York (179)

Hyatt Hotels & Resorts

(800) 543-1818
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa (815); Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress (750); Hyatt Regency Cerromar Beach (506); Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort (493); Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas (496)

Loews Hotels

(212) 521-2000
Loews Coronado Bay Resort, San Diego (440); Loews Le Concorde, Québec City (424); Loews Miami Beach Hotel (800); Loews Philadelphia Hotel (585); Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson (398); Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Orlando (750); Hard Rock Hotel, Orlando (650)

Marriott Hotels, Resorts and Suites

(800) 626-3614
Marriott Orlando World Center Resort & Convention Center (1,503); Lodge at Sonoma — A Renaissance Resort & Spa (180)

Sonesta Hotels & Resorts

(800) 477-4556
Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne (290); Sonesta Beach Resort Bermuda (400); Sonesta Beach Resort & Villas Anguilla (100); Aruba Sonesta Beach Resort (556)

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide

(800) 325-3535
Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort & Casino, Puerto Rico (694); Westin La Cantera Resort, San Antonio (508); Wyndham International Hotels & Resorts (800) 996-4016; The Boulders Resort, Carefree, Ariz. (160 plus 50 villas); Wyndham El Conquistador, Las Croabas, Puerto Rico (918, plus 90 casitas); Carmel Valley Ranch, Carmel, Calif. (144)