Unique Venues and Outdoor Event Spaces
Sometimes taking an event to the next level means taking it… OUTSIDE.
As the winter season is just ramping up here in the Mid-Atlantic region, such a suggestion may, at first, get a chilly reception - but warm weather will be here soon. Besides, taking an event outdoors can be just the change of scenery that a planner has been seeking.
There are all kinds of options, too. There are venues with ziplines or a beer garden. There are properties that offer amazing enhancements and experiences to truly wow attendees. There are even attractions that are home to wild animals!
Hold on a second - all of these features actually are available in the SAME Norristown, PA location…
Elmwood Park Zoo
According to the on-site events team, when someone books a group outing or event at Elmwood Park Zoo they have the opportunity to treat their guests to a highly interactive experience at one of the most unique venues in the Greater Philadelphia area.
Elmwood Park Zoo offers so many different and memorable experiences - all in one place! Among these experiences are giraffe feedings, animal meet-and-greets and more. In addition, choosing Elmwood Park Zoo as an event venue also means supporting a non-profit organization responsible for and assisting in the care and preservation of a wide range of animal species.
Of all the enhancements available at the zoo, the most popular option is its animal feedings. Planners have the option to add-on a giraffe, bison or tropical bird feeding to their event package. Elmwood Park Zoo also offers private animal greets with education ambassadors, providing the opportunity to get up-close with some favorite furry and scaly friends for a truly memorable experience.
Another favorite enhancement at the zoo is the “zoo just for you” upgrade. This allows guests to experience the magic and excitement of having the zoo open after hours just for their own special event. All animals remain on exhibit until 8:00 pm - or sunset - whichever comes first.
The spaces available for hosting events on-site include both indoor and outdoor options, and each one offers its own charm.
The most popular event space is the Trail of the Jaguar exhibit. The state-of-the-art Trail of the Jaguar allows guests to be immersed in the southwestern habitat of these majestic big cats. Guests will have a live and up-close experience with the jaguars while enjoying cocktails and savory foods.
Trail of the Jaguar is an indoor/outdoor space that allows guests to move freely between the exhibits. Guests will delight at being surrounded by some of the other various animals that hail from the region, too, such as Montezuma quail, Colorado river toads, and an ocelot. Trail of the Jaguar can accommodate small receptions, cocktail hours and more.
Planners who are looking for a unique outdoor experience might want to consider the Zoo Brew Beer Garden, which is positioned alongside a creek that runs beside the zoo grounds. Highlighted by twinkling lights, a custom menu, overhead interactive games, and special zoo wine and craft beers, this trendy space is sure to be a crowd favorite.
For those planners who prefer a warm and inviting indoor space, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Canopy Gardens Hall features a full stone accent wall along with wood-accented flooring and ceilings, which makes for an elegant, lodge-like feel. Canopy Gardens Hall also has retractable, floor-to-ceiling glass doors along the garden side of the pavilion, giving the option of open access to an adjacent patio and garden area.
Still another unique space is the zoo’s Karibu Hut, which is located right next to the giraffe exhibit. This space is perfect for themed cocktails and light bites. The Calle Mae Pavilion is a covered pavilion that is ideal for picnics, parties, company outings, and field trips. This space is located beside the giraffe and zebra exhibit, too, offering guests a unique viewing experience.
The events team at Elmwood Park Zoo notes that it does offer alternative options in the event of inclement weather for those who choose its outdoor spaces. Depending on the weather conditions, the zoo can provide a tent or simply move the event to an indoor location on-site.
Center City District Parks
It sometimes can take the right event venue and location to excite and motivate people to attend an event.
In addition to fresh air and natural light, outdoor events also offer more freedom than indoor events and a change from the typical event held indoors.
Planners won’t have to worry about things like outdated room décor, or stuffy dark rooms, low ceilings or awkward acoustics when the plan their event outside. The client gets to start with a blank, customizable space and can tailor the event according to his or her specifications, explains Sarah K. Anello, venue sales specialist for Center City District Parks in Philadelphia.
They can use the natural and historical landscape as the décor for their event. “In the case of our parks, the physical location of our venues, including accessibility for travelers, nearby attractions and restaurants, and a variety of accommodations are essential,” says Anello. “Having an outdoor venue is wonderful - unless it is cumbersome to get there, it lacks suitable accommodations for guests, or there are no amenities close by. But hosting an event in an outdoor venue in the center of Philadelphia is much more exciting.”
Anello says that all of the Center City District Parks have fountains and water features, which are among the things that make these parks special as event venues. “We have had several lighting companies change the color of the fountains with lights. Photographers love the reflection from the fountain at Dilworth Park when it is off. Depending on the angle of the shot you can see the surrounding skyline in the mirror-like fountain.”
New to Dilworth Park is the first phase of Janet Echelman’s innovative and immersive work of public art that opened in September 2018. Phase I - the green line - is a colorfully lit dry mist fountain that follows the trolley route that runs beneath the park.
While indoor venues are a “safe choice” for the planner (temperature controlled, noise controlled, and easier to secure), Anello says that outdoor venues are the more desirable choice. “They are unique, memorable, exciting, draw higher attendance, and offer more flexibility. I think that if the goal of the planner is to draw attendance, the best choice is an outdoor venue. But, the answer to this question really depends on the planner’s goal.”
Center City District Parks offers three parks that permit events: the largest and most popular is Dilworth Park on the west side of City Hall; John F. Collins Park is a quaint pocket park in the heart of the shopping district; and Sister Cities Park on Logan Square is nestled between Swann Fountain and the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
Dilworth is the host of large tented events as well as awareness campaigns for brands and non-profits. In the summer, it has dancing fountains and a great lawn. In the winter, Anello says the Rothman Ice Rink and Cabin, Wintergarden Maze, and the Deck the Hall Light Show in the park make it perhaps the coolest place in Center City at which to hold a winter party.
Planners can host an event in the Rothman Institute Cabin and purchase group tickets for their guests to skate. Some planners have hired figure skaters to perform on the ice and then skate along with attendees. Planners also can hire instructors to teach skating lessons to anyone in their group who might be interested in learning.
If it is too cold to skate, fire pits offer an outdoor area in which to gather and warm up with a cup of hot cocoa, cider or a glass of mulled wine.
Planners can take advantage of the cold and have a professional ice carver transform a block of ice into a sculpture before their guests’ eyes while they watch through the glass walls of the Rothman Cabin. Colorful lights and topiaries accent the Wintergarden, providing a festive location for a cocktail party, dessert station or a photo op.
John F. Collins is a perfect location for an outdoor ceremony, reception, first look or engagement. Sister Cities Park is a popular family destination and hosts birthday parties year around.
In the event of inclement weather, all of the spaces at the Center City District parks can be tented.
At Peddler’s Village, Ann Lipcsey, assistant director of sales, says that a room with four walls and no windows is boring, and encourages planners to think outside the box and bring their guests to a place that will delight all of their senses.
“In Peddler’s Village, all of our meeting rooms have amazing views of our award-winning gardens,” notes Lipcsey. “There isn’t a person in the world who can sit through an eight-hour meeting without their eyes - and sometimes attention - wandering. Here, you can see something pleasant and beautiful to rejuvenate your mind and spirit! Groups also can take breaks outside to meander the gardens and along our red brick paths. A breath of fresh air is sometimes all that’s needed to get creative juices flowing.”
Peddler’s Village offers three locations for meetings and events. It also boasts four on-site restaurants that provide multi-day meeting guests with a variety of meal options. The attraction is home to a 66-room hotel on-site, too, so once guests arrive, they never have to leave.
In addition to the restaurants, Peddler’s Village features a variety of unique merchants who can complement the overall event experience. A number of these merchants offer team building options, too, which can include a cupcake war, beer or wine tasting event, or a grown-up game night at the Giggleberry Fair indoor entertainment center.
“Each event planner has a vision for what their guests’ experience will be,” explains Lipcsey. “A grand ballroom can be very distracting - and sometimes overwhelming - for a group that might be looking for a cozier, more laid-back experience. The aesthetics of the space are often a major factor and can influence the tone of the meeting.”
If planning for an outdoor event, she says, “you need to make sure that you have a weather contingency plan. We always ensure we have a Plan B in place for our guests. Many people do not make those accommodations and are often sent scrambling when Mother Nature has other plans.”
The Cock ‘n Bull Restaurant at Peddler’s Village features an entire floor dedicated to hosting meetings and banquets. This recently renovated space can be subdivided to accommodate a main meeting area, a lunch space, and breakout rooms. There are many unique ways to set up the space, so it works great for a group with multi-room needs. Cock ‘n Bull can accommodate groups as small as two or as large as 100 attendees.
“Earl’s New American is our newest venue,” notes Lipcsey. “Like the Cock ‘n Bull, Earl’s also has meeting and banquet space on its second floor. The room can be divided into a meeting and lunch room for groups of 20 people or fewer. When a group is a bit larger, we use the entire room for the meeting and then bring the group downstairs to a private area for lunch.”
The Golden Plough Inn also has a small conference room that is well suited to groups of two up to eight people. Conveniently located next to the Buttonwood Grill, guests in this conference room can have meals and refreshments from the restaurant brought in at any time.
“All of our venues have built-in screens and a plethora of audio-visual equipment available for convenience,” observes Lipcsey. “The outdoor space is great for those who want to take a quick break or a walk. During nicer weather, you can often see some of our groups doing early-morning yoga on our main green.”
As noted earlier, merchants of Peddler’s Village can offer some unique and fun experiences to group guests. For example: Free Will Brewing Company offers a beer tasting; Chaddsford Winery, a wine pairing; Casa Casale presents cooking classes and a paint-and-sip activity; Cock ‘n Bull features a private murder mystery option that can include a team building component; Earl’s New American has wine-and-whiskey dinner options; while The Lucky Cupcake/Sweet Occasions offers multiple team building options that include a “cupcake war.”
There is literally something for everyone.
Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark
“Planners love to have events outdoors,” explains Michelle Wescott, the director of sales for Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark. “It is a totally different experience to have an outdoor function, especially for those who are located in cities and who don’t get out into the open spaces much.”
Among its indoor offerings, Camelback Resort recently unveiled two new restaurants: Kartrite’s Summit House, which is the highest restaurant in the Pocono Mountains (at an elevation of 2,133-feet) and offers great food with an epic view; as well as Berrelli’s Family Style Italian, which features traditional and contemporary fare. What’s more, both of these restaurants feature great outdoor space, too.
“Unique experiences are very popular,” says Wescott. “Planners are always looking for ideas and events that are new and exciting. For example, we are able to transition our wave pool ‘beach’ into a tropical party, or host a dinner at the highest elevation in the Poconos.”
Prepared for whatever may come, Camelback always has a weather back up plan in place for its outdoor functions.
Speaking of the outdoors, Camelback boasts 38 trails, 16 lifts, 100 percent snowmaking, the largest snow tubing park in the U.S. with an out-of-this-world “Galactic” light experience, Camelback Mountain Adventures (featuring the only mountain coaster in Pennsylvania and North America’s longest twin 4,000-foot Zip-Flyers), Camelbeach Waterpark (the largest waterpark in Pennsylvania), and the Camelback Lodge and Aquatopia Indoor Waterpark.
Housed under a 1.5-acre Texlon® transparent roof that allows for natural sunlight year-round, Aquatopia is always 84-degrees inside. It features seven swimming pools, 13 waterslides, and a multitude of thrilling water attractions, like America’s longest uphill water coaster, a surfing simulator, wave pool, adult swim-up bar and more.
For those in search of outdoor excitement, Camelback Resort, which is located just 90 minutes from New York City, is introducing some new adventures this winter, from 15-acres of new beginner trails to its new restaurants to a new terrain park.
The new terrain park, CBK Park on the Pharaoh and Bactrain trails, is situated under the resort’s Stevenson Lift. This new “show park” offers a range of features for riders of all abilities.
Scarab is a freshly cut trail that enables access from the West to the East side of the mountain and connects skiers and riders from one quad to the other.
Each of these unique venues offers a range of indoor and outdoor accommodations that are perfect for all four seasons. Taking a group outside adds a different dimension to the event experience and provides attendees with a fresh new take on their meeting or team building excursion.
Whether indoors or out, planners today are constantly in search of new and exciting experiences for their attendees, and venues such as these provide ample opportunity to set out on new adventures that will stimulate the mind as well as the senses.