• Kristin Zeller

Executive Retreats

When organizing an executive retreat, planners are looking for fresh ideas to combine a high-level meeting with unique team building activities and, of course, the perfect opportunities to unwind at the end of the day.

For some groups, planners will want to consider options that are out of the ordinary; thankfully, there are a wealth of regional destinations that are perfectly suited when it comes to accommodating these upscale meetings.

At Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center in Blue Bell, PA, the beautiful backdrop of this historic property provides the perfect setting for an executive retreat. With a special combination of historical ambiance and modern-day technology, it is a great fit for a conference that seeks an upscale feel.

Senior business manager for Normandy Farm, Karen Mandel, offers more information about events at this 18th century landmark. “We do things a little different at the farm… Retreats, conferences and meetings at Normandy Farm are unlike any other off-site gathering of the minds. Our rich history invites you and your team to travel back in time and experience the history of what was once America’s largest dairy farm. Unlike major urban centers that are congested and can run up a hefty parking tab, you can breathe in the fresh air on our 40-acres of open space along with 370 complimentary parking spots.”

Normandy Farm has 141 hotel rooms and suites with various in-room amenities, as well as 28 elegant hotel suites renovated within its four historic gatehouses. Guests also can dine at the farmer’s daughter restaurant, which serves as the culinary cornerstone of the property. Unique and innovative menu items, sourced locally, make for an unforgettable dining experience.

When it is time to get down to business, Normandy Farm has many daily and complete meeting packages from which to choose. Accommodating from five up to 500 people, there are standard technology packages, the inclusion of breakout rooms and business center use, AM and PM break options, continuous refreshments and more available.

With over 23,000-square feet of IACC-certified meeting space, Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center also features comfortable lounges, service areas and all the audio and visual equipment necessary for a great meeting.

“To ensure your next conference isn’t all work and no play, Normandy Farm also boasts various team building activities, a farm-to-table restaurant, bar and lounge, art gallery, indoor swimming pool, fitness center, and access to a championship golf course,” explains Mandel.

She further adds that there are local wine tours just a few miles away, horseback riding at farms within 30 minutes of the hotel, a Murder Mystery Dinner, guided wine dinners with a sommelier and more. Team building packages crafted by Normandy Farm include: a culinary option under the tutelage of the hotel’s gastronomic experts; Sweet Success, where guests can bake and decorate cupcakes; wacky golf with the help of on-site golf professionals; or even a customizable game show option to challenge a group’s problem-solving skills.

To really set an event at Normandy Farm apart and make it upscale and memorable, Karen Mandel offers a few suggestions on ways to truly distinguish it from the “usual” retreat formula.

“Bring our award-winning culinary team out to mingle and demonstrate food prep methods and also to lead team building: Chef Abu leads culinary team building or Chef Sam leads bakery and pastry team building,” she explains. “Or, we can tell the Normandy Farm ‘story’ steeped in rich American history and its transformation to modern day. We also can offer seasonal menu changes to keep our food and beverage offerings fresh - we have a lot of repeat customers and we strive to keep their experiences fresh, as well.”

Normandy Farm stays trend-forward with the comfort and design of the hotel, restaurant, banquets and golf course. “Every guest is acknowledged, and their needs are catered to at every touch point,” Mandel notes.

At Woodloch Resort in Hawley, PA in the Pocono Mountains, marketing and public relations manager, Erica Bloch, discusses the The Lodge at Woodloch, the resort’s AAA Four-Diamond property, which meets the expectations of the most high-end clientele.

“An upscale meeting experience can be found at The Lodge at Woodloch,” says Bloch. “An intimate boutique hotel featuring 58 guest rooms, dining space, meeting rooms, and spa facilities - all conveniently located under one roof. Our destination spa is the perfect setting to conduct business while you relax and rejuvenate. The Lodge's locally sourced farm-to-table meals offer a unique fine dining experience.”

In catering to an executive retreat, Bloch has many suggestions on how a group can create a special and memorable event at The Lodge at Woodloch. “Our spacious and cozy Fireside Meeting Room can be set with traditional tables and chairs for meetings or kept like a casual living room that’s set up with couches and plush comfortable chairs. The Lodge at Woodloch offers convenient complete meeting packages for which, per person, the rate includes: overnight accommodations, three meals daily, meeting rooms, meeting breaks, valet parking, AV, Internet, plus access to amenities and activities.”

Activities and amenities at The Lodge at Woodloch feature everything from fitness classes to very unique experiences, such as forest bathing and primitive fire making, Bloch explains, adding that “intimate, chef-led cooking demonstrations also are very popular.”

The Garden Dinner at The Lodge at Woodloch is another truly unique experience for group attendees.

“This intimate event engages guests, as our talented chef de cuisine prepares a full meal paired with a variety of wine selections,” says Bloch. “Guests dine in the middle of our farm as they take a brief tour and then harvest items that will be used in their meal. We also offer a full team building program with over 80 team building events. We have a wide array of activities and events from the sedate to the extreme. Events can be customized, and all events are facilitated by a dedicated and experienced on-site team.”

Through a unique combination of farm-to-table dining, lavish accommodations, exceptional service and a wide variety of on-site activities to promote one’s overall well-being, meetings at The Lodge at Woodloch are sure to create a truly memorable experience for attendees.

In historic St. Michaels, MD, another truly unique option for an executive retreat is the Inn at Perry Cabin by Belmond. Fran Clinton, communications manager for the Inn - together with Joann Jacobs, the property’s national sales manager - explain. “We are a tiny boutique luxury property with 78 guest rooms. The hotel was built in 1816 and it has a very cool historic vibe, but has been modernized and recently fully renovated.”

When guests check-in to the Inn at Perry Cabin they get the experience and feeling that they are staying in a manor house as opposed to a conference facility, Clinton and Jacobs note, adding that it is a very different kind of experience. “We have beautiful conference space, very unique with lots of natural light and water views. The one room I love is our Miles Room for a board meeting up to 20 people with its decorative fireplace, framed art deco posters, French doors that lead to outdoor Miles River view terraces and stunning water views.”

Located along the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the Inn at Perry Cabin is situated along the banks of the Miles River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Clinton and Jacobs discuss the water-related activities available to guests. “We have a number of luxury yachts, a sailboat, as well as power boats. One of the great features is ‘Skip the Bridge.’ In lieu of fighting traffic on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we offer to pick up guests in Annapolis in a motor yacht and bring them here to avoid summer traffic, giving them a VIP welcome.”

The Inn at Perry Cabin also is home to charters, kayaking and standup paddle boarding, which further serve to highlight this very vibrant waterfront destination. "We have so many activities here, including: a full-service spa; gorgeous outdoor zero-edge swimming pool; three tennis courts; and soon opening will be the Links at Perry Cabin, a new 18-hole Pete Dye designed golf course.”

Jacobs and Clinton go on to add that being able to offer such a high level of golf on the Eastern Shore will serve as a huge draw for the group market.

With these and other options available for virtually endless recreation on-site, Jacobs and Clinton note that since 2014 the property has implemented a full-service resort activities program to assist planners and guests in maximizing their fun at the Inn at Perry Cabin. “When you check-in to our hotel, you’re given a list of activities for next three days. The schedule changes every day, as well as seasonally. There are fitness classes, yoga, tai chi, water aerobics, wine tasting, mixology, sip and paint and more.”

One unique summer program offered at the inn involves bringing in a professional astronomer who sets up a telescope to give guests an amazing view of the stars as well as an accompanying lecture and cocktails, creating a special evening. “There are so many things for people to do. It enhances their stay and makes what we have to offer so authentic to who we are.”

As for dining options, the Inn at Perry Cabin combines food with fun by offering activities such as an Oyster tour, fishing charters and crabbing opportunities. “You actually can bring the catch back and our chef can prepare it for the guests. This area is really rich in nature, so our dining is very fresh, local and seasonal. We also have gardens from which the kitchen staff will pull herbs to utilize in cooking.”

Guests can enjoy the town of St. Michaels, too. “The town is vibrant with lots of shops, restaurants, galleries and musicians,” Clinton and Jacobs explain, adding that St. Michaels also is home to Eastern Shore Brewery, as well as a distillery and a winery. They further note that the fun in St. Michaels is not restricted to the summer months. Rather, it is a year-round destination.

Back in the board room, Clinton and Jacobs note that what the Inn at Perry Cabin does well are high end executive retreats and board meetings. "Being near the DC area we have a lot of political fundraisers. One reason that we are so successful is that we offer a luxury experience, but our groups really feel like they can relax and really be productive - strategizing and brainstorming - all while truly ‘getting away’ from their office, because we do offer such a different environment.”

Meeting at the Inn at Perry Cabin also is conducive to those seeking an environment where they can feel inspired to “think outside of the box.”

“All those unique spaces certainly help when the group wants to meet, but then the activities are great ways to enhance it,” add Clinton and Jacobs, who also note that their professional conference services team will help the planner from start to finish in putting together the meeting without incurring additional fees.

A beautiful boutique hotel located in Stone Harbor, NJ, The Reeds at Shelter Haven is a perfect place in which to accommodate an executive retreat.

Marketing manager for The Reeds, Emaleigh Kaithern, details some of the property’s varied offerings and amenities. “The Reeds at Shelter Haven is a year-round luxury boutique hotel and resort located directly on the bay and just steps from the beach at the corner of 96th Street and Third Avenue in Stone Harbor, New Jersey,” says Kaithern. “The Reeds features 58 distinctively designed guestrooms and suites, 9,000-square feet of flexible event and meeting spaces, five dining concepts, and exclusive resort amenities that include: concierge services, seasonal bay activities, and the all-new Salt Spa, which is set to debut in early 2019.”

The Reeds at Shelter Haven has been voted one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “World’s Best Hotels” for two years in a row. According to Kaithern, The Reeds is a great fit for an executive retreat because it offers the most luxurious retreat experience at the Southern New Jersey shore with the perfect blend of work and play.

“The resort features three hospitality suites for small meetings, dinners, presentations and breakouts, in addition to a ballroom for larger conferences - all outfitted with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment,” she explains. “Executive retreats are made easier by our on-site event coordinators and a concierge team that takes care of every detail, from coordinating board meetings and team building activities to making dinner reservations and escorting your team to the beach in a GEM car.”

Kaithern notes that guestroom amenities include: 300 thread count Frette Egyptian cotton sheets; plush bathrobes; Malin + Goetz bath and spa products; a desk-integrated media system; LED flat-screen television; Keurig; complimentary high-speed wireless Internet; plus 24-hour front desk, concierge services, and seasonal beach service.

There are countless options when it comes to recreation, relaxation and team building at The Reeds, as well. “Our team building menu features a variety of activities, including: beer, wine and whiskey tastings; ziplining; beach and bay activities; escape rooms; Paint Night; private yoga classes; and golf outings at Stone Harbor Golf Club using our exclusive private membership,” details Kaithern.

Debuting early 2019, Salt Spa at The Reeds will offer luxurious group treatment experiences that add an element of relaxation to retreats while also helping teams to refresh. There are five dining choices on-site at The Reeds, as well, which include: Buckets Margarita Bar and Cantina; Stone Harbor Pizza Pub; SAX Restaurant and Lounge; Water Star Grille; and a Wafflewich.

Still more options for relaxing after a long day of meetings include The Reeds Roof Garden, the opportunity to take a dip in the on-site swimming pool, or a soak in one of the property’s two hot tubs.

Kaithern adds that the overall resort experience is what makes The Reeds such a unique and sought-after retreat destination for executives, as it boasts a perfect balance of both business and pleasure. “Our guests love that once they valet their car they don’t have to drive again until they’re ready to leave town - should they so desire. Everything you need is within reach at The Reeds.”

Also in New Jersey, the Laurie House at Chauncey Hotel and Conference Center in Princeton provides an ideal setting steeped in a rich history that is available for executive retreats.

The earliest official record of the land surrounding the property dates back to 1769, which records the sale of a tract of land to Abel Huff by his father, John. John Huff inherited the property from his father Derrick Huff, a pioneer settler in the area. He went on to erect a home here - the foundation of which serves today as the basement of the guesthouse.

Over the next century, the property was bought and sold through different landowners, eventually being transformed into a farm in 1866, which it remained for over half a century. Its massive barn today serves as the conference center’s largest meeting room.

Eventually the property was brought to the attention of Henry Chauncey, then president of ETS, who bought the land to serve as the president’s residence and also as the center of ETS entertaining for its staff and visitors.

In 1970, Chauncey retired and the home was converted into the Laurie House at the Chauncey Conference Center. This venue, in its various forms, has accommodated the needs of families, communities and businesses alike and has been a part of New Jersey’s cultural heritage for over 200 years.

Today, the Laurie House offers complete privacy along with the charm of an exclusive country house. Seven luxurious guest rooms, plus an elegant living room, library and dining room, create the atmosphere of an intimate bed and breakfast. It also includes a meeting space that accommodates 14 guests in a U-shape or 20 guests with round tables. The house was renovated in January of 2016.

These are but a sampling of the outstanding options available for executive retreats in the Mid-Atlantic region. Planners will find that properties such as these can provide the perfect mix of meeting space, hospitality, recreation, service and amenities for creating a function that will satisfy even the most discerning clientele.

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