We came — to the R. David Thomas Executive Conference Center at Duke University, Durham, N.C., for a leadership conference. We saw — a beautifully appointed, compact, exquisitely run center that was a perfect fit for serious, round-the-clock learning. We conquered — vast quantities of some of the best food we'd ever eaten in a conference center.
Really, you can't talk about this conference center without mentioning the chow. Buffet table upon buffet table of salads, meats, fish dishes, black-eyed peas, polenta … and the desserts, well, I won't even go there. (Actually, I did, all too many times!) The break tables were laden with enough sugar and caffeine (along with lots of healthy alternatives) to keep us going through marathon sessions that started at 8 a.m. and ran until 10 some nights. Just in case we were still hungry, the center also offers 24-hour access to six guest lounge kitchenettes stocked with snacks, juice and soda, and a freezerful of Ben and Jerry's ice cream bars, which fortunately I didn't discover until my final morning there. The lounges also are equipped with networked, Internet-linked PCs and laser printers, and luxurious space for smaller meetings.
Perhaps anticipating our guilt after all the gluttony, the center, which is managed by Aramark Harrison Lodging, also has a well-appointed fitness center and access to the Duke Fitness Trail and the university's Robert Trent Jones — designed golf course. All I had time for was a quick walk through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and the Duke Chapel, just a quick stroll from the Center, but they were absolutely magnificent.
The center's 25 dedicated meeting and teamrooms can be tailored to meet a group's needs, and offer everything from flip charts to high-tech AV equipment, including computer projection, wireless microphones, and online access. Videoconferencing and satellite downlink communications also are available. What I really liked, though, was that all but two of the meeting spaces had windows placed so that they let in natural light without providing a distraction. The largest of the spaces were the U-shaped, 1,764-square-foot GlaxoWellcome and Kresge classrooms, which can seat up to 64. Smaller spaces range from the 1,156-square-foot University Room to the center's 19 teamrooms, which each seat up to 12.
All of the Thomas Center's 111 guest rooms are less than a minute's walk from the meeting spaces, which is convenient for people like me who tend to have to make a mad dash back to the room to get the badge they left on the desk.