OCEAN EDGE RESORT, Brewster, Mass. There's no place like Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with its miles of dune-studded beaches and historic seaside towns. Sprawled out on 429 acres that includes 700 feet of beachfront along Cape Cod Bay, a PGA championship golf course, and six swimming pools, Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club is a 335-room property that welcomes groups even in the high summer season. When I visited with a group of journalists and their families in late June, two corporate meetings were taking place there, including an executive retreat for a large insurance company.
With a CMP pricing package and 15,000 square feet of function space that can accommodate up to 400 people, the resort handles all kinds of conferences year-round. It's a great alternative for family-friendly meetings as well. Planners can take advantage of its Ocean EdgeVentures program, a creative offering of activities for kids aged four to 12 that includes “A Bug's Life,” (kids build bug hotels) and “Never-Never Land” (you'd be surprised at the buried treasure to be found on the beach). There's also a popular Hip-Hop Workout for kids. The children in our group loved the peanut butter and jelly bread pudding at the opening reception and evening beachfront bonfire with s'mores (fire-roasted marshmallows squished between graham crackers and chocolate). The Ocean Edge chefs are masterful at group functions: the final night's clambake featured delectable hors d'oeuvres, perfectly cooked lobsters, to-die-for clam chowder, and a very attentive wait staff.
Accommodations include 88 hotel rooms and two corner suites; and 244 one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas with kitchens, dining and living rooms, and washer/dryers, clustered in different areas of the resort. All accommodations have balconies or terraces. Ten meeting rooms in two historic buildings, The Mansion and the Carriage House, range from 322 square feet to nearly 2,000 square feet, and a 5,000-square-foot permanent tent holds up to 750 people theater-style. The golf clubhouse, with more than 4,000 square feet of conference space, underwent a $1 million renovation in 2003, and a new fitness center opened this summer.
— Regina Baraban
MOUNTAIN VIEW GRAND, Whitefield, N.H. Painted its original cheery Colonial yellow, the sprawling Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa sits on a clearing overlooking a magnificent panorama of New Hampshire's White Mountains. First opened in 1865, the resort, a150-mile drive from Boston, was shuttered in 1986. The story of Grand's restoration is as romantic as its long history as a retreat for the rich and famous.
Massachusetts businessman Kevin Craffey fell in love with the rundown property and bought it in 1998. He led a long crusade to find the financing to restore the hotel to its Gothic Revival — style splendor. The resort reopened in 2002. The original 200 rooms were reconfigured into145; the 100-year-old 18-hole golf course was restored, as was the grand ballroom with its one-of-a-kind maple dance floor. Modern amenities were added, including a business center, outdoor pool, fitness center with indoor pool, and the delightful Tower Spa. During a stay at the hotel last fall, I enjoyed the spa's signature Sweet Autumn Scrub. Who knew brown sugar was a great exfoliator? After an apple-butter massage, I drifted down to the hotel's enormous verandah overlooking a gold- and red-leafed White Mountain vista. Baking in the warm October sun, I felt like an apple pie!
The year-round resort boasts a total of 20,000 square feet of function space in a wonderful variety of settings — from the historical Eisenhower Library (boardroom for 16) to the modern Spangler Conference Center (a 6,500-square-foot facility that accommodates up to 350). While I was a guest at the hotel, I overheard a group from a teacher's conference talking excitedly about options for dinner and recreation — the latter of which includes everything from cross-country skiing, sleigh rides, golf, horseback riding, and bocce, depending on the season. I headed out for some mountain biking. And then perhaps a swim? Or maybe a return to the verandah to watch the sun slip down? Yes, of course.
— Regina McGee
WHITE BARN INN, Kennebunkport, Maine Small, top-tier incentive groups that want a dose of regional flavor with white-glove service will enjoy The White Barn Inn. Located in Kennebunkport, Maine (a few miles south of the Portland airport and an 80-minute drive from Logan International in Boston), its main building was a farmhouse constructed in the 1860s. There have been several additions and improvements since it began operating as the White Barn Inn in 1973. Twenty-five guest rooms range from inn accommodations decorated with hand-painted furniture to two-bedroom cottages along the Kennebunk River. The seven junior suites are great digs for high achievers. Each features a sumptuously comfy king-size bed, plasma TV, large sitting area, working fireplace, and a huge marble bathroom with Jacuzzi tub and separate, rain-style shower.
A Relais & Chateaux property, the inn has received a slew of awards, and was named the “Hideaway of the Year” in 2004 by Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report. But it is best known for its gourmet restaurant, recipient of the American Automobile Association's five diamond award every year since 1992. Arguably the best cuisine in Northern New England, its changing menus of regional and French-inspired fare feature imaginative and beautifully presented four-course dinners. Groups of up to 40 can take over a private section of the dining room, and up to 15 can have a wine tasting event in the inn's wine room, which stores more than 7,000 bottles. For more casual gatherings, in-house groups have exclusive use of a riverfront cottage.
For recreation, the inn has a negative-edge swimming pool, and there's lots of sightseeing and scenery in coastal Maine and the town of Kennebunkport. Planners can also charter the inn's private yacht, True Blue, for champagne picnics and cruises along the Atlantic coast from late April through October. And if you're looking to accommodate small groups in a less formal atmosphere, two nearby properties operated by the same owners, Schooner's Inn and Breakwater Inn, have recently renovated guest rooms and fabulous water views. The function space at Schooner's, which accommodates up to 46 people, is a favorite of the Bush family.
— Regina Baraban
GRAND AMERICA, Salt Lake City You may think that Salt Lake City is a tough sell as an incentive destination — until you step into the 775-room Grand America. I wasn't expecting to have my socks knocked off, but they were.
The hotel has fittingly been described as a “European boutique hotel built on American scale.” The lobby, lined with Italian marble and warmed by huge flower-filled urns, opens into a spacious, sun-drenched parlor where a harpsichordist plays during afternoon tea. It's a grand space, but not stuffy. The staff make guests feel like visiting royalty.
From the Vermont granite exterior to the Murano glass chandeliers to the thick European wool carpets, yards of silk wall covering, and a Mediterranean-style formal garden, even to the large metal guest room keys that operate electronic locks, everything evokes the best of European hospitality. Half the guest rooms are (oversized) suites, and there's nothing standard about the 700-square-foot “standard” rooms. All rooms feature marble-and-brass bathrooms and custom French cherry-wood furniture. There's also a spa, indoor/outdoor pools, a huge banquet kitchen designed for culinary events/classes, and some of the finest golf and skiing in the West just a half hour away in Park City.
— Regina McGee