I got a good feeling about Chaminade Conference Center before even setting eyes on the place. After a quick 45-minute drive from the San Jose airport, we turned off the busy streets and started climbing up the drive. I rolled down the window to gawk at eucalyptus trees that looked like something out of Dr. Seuss, and instantly was enveloped by a warm cloud of the spicy, scented air emanating from the grove. As we topped the hill on which the center sits, the low, mission-style buildings blended into the landscape, which was artfully manicured yet still retained the wild and wooly feel of the surrounding Santa Cruz Mountains.
My only concern was whether this place would be too relaxing for the hard work we were there to do. I came to Chaminade for an intense two-day meeting concentrating on no less than envisioning the future of the meetings industry, and already found myself dreaming of long walks on the nature trails and endless hours watching the view of Monterey Bay from the terrace overlooking the bluff. Then there was the newly renovated spa with offerings like "The Serenity Massage" and "Green Tea and Ginger Enzyme Sea Wrap." I’m not a spa person, but it was mighty tempting, as was a good, jet-lag–zapping workout at the well-appointed fitness center. And there were the tennis and volleyball courts, and a heated pool and outdoor Jacuzzi, right outside the door of my room, that lured me with the sounds of people laughing and splashing. A quick game of Marco Polo, anyone?
But no, we were there to work, so I headed over to the main building, where staffers unfailingly opened the doors for us as soon as they spotted us (a very nice touch!). We used three of the center’s 12 meeting spaces: the 1,100-square-foot New Brighton was our headquarters; just across the hall was the 800-square-foot La Selva, which served as a resource room and breakout space; and the 270-square-foot Lighthouse was ours for more intimate small-group discussions. All were flooded with natural light from the large windows, had ergonomic furniture, and included all the technological resources we needed to get down to business. I stuck my head into the other meeting spaces—including the center’s largest, the 2,600-square-foot Santa Cruz room—and was equally impressed by the mix of comfort and purpose they provided. In our spaces, we made more use of the tackable wall surfaces than we did the built-in audiovisual capabilities, but it was good to know we had them when we needed them.
And the food! The continuous breaks were just the beginning. With two on-site restaurants, The Sunset Dining Room and the more casual Linwood's Bar and Grille, think endless buffets whose offerings changed daily—including a fabulous dinner seafood buffet that I will be dreaming of for months. Also offered are equally fabulous plated meals, one of which we enjoyed in the cozy Library dining space. When I went back to my room—one of the 153 guest rooms the center offers—to sleep it all off, I encountered what has to be the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in. It also was great to be able to plug my laptop into the in-room high-speed Internet access, then check my e-mail on the walk-out patio enclosed by enough shrubbery to give me a sense of privacy.
The center also offers all kinds ofactivities, including an on-site high-ropes course operated by Synergy Learning Systems. We didn’t do the chili cookoff, which sounds like great fun, but we did do a variation on the theme by interviewing each other on our ideal desserts, then trying to concoct a reasonable facsimile and serving it to each other. The end results may not have been haute cuisine, but we had lots of fun tossing the ice cream and fresh strawberries around and roasting marshmallows on the grill they brought out especially for us.
But what impressed me most was the staff. Our conference planning manager, Joy Anzinger, made sure our every wish was granted—including the ever-challenging room temperature issue. Since much of what we were working on during our meeting had to do with all the metaphorical hats we wear in our personal and professional lives, the staff even collected hats from the other employees to incorporate into the decorations at the entrance to the room. And, when we decided the afternoon was too beautiful and sunny to work inside, the staff jumped right in and moved all our stuff (and there was a lot of it) from our second-floor room to the patio downstairs. Even the guy making the omelets happily answered my questions about cooking technology while flipping the eggs and taking orders.
I can envision what a perfect spot this would be for teambuilding, because the staff at Chaminade exemplifies what being a real team is all about.—Sue Pelletier