SM Events


Making Magic in Hawaii

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When throwing an event, how can you compete with a backdrop of green-topped volcanic mountains, spectacular rocky cliffs, and a majestically blue Pacific Ocean? Well, the best planners don’t — they let the scenery do the talking, and accentuate and build off of the natural beauty of their space to create truly magical experience for attendees.

And that’s exactly what the hotels participating in September’s Destination Hawaii did. They really set a new bar for creative thinking as they highlighted the stunning landscape and rich food and beverage offerings that Maui has to offer. The event, which was hosted by Maui’s Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa from Sep. 17-20, kicked off with a site tour (before which planners were invited to try on and claim their own pair of Maui Jims — a necessity in the sunny clime!), followed by a welcome reception on the rooftop of the ballroom at the Wailea Beach Marriott. The reception was perfectly timed to capture the exquisite Hawaiian sunset, dazzling attendees almost as much as the unique culinary offerings, which included the infamous “Caesar salad on a stick.”

The creativity kept flowing the next day; one example is when attendees were treated to a spectacular salad bar during dinner at the Grand Hyatt Maui. The “horizontal” salad bar featured a long table heaping with different ingredients — including various vegetables, cheeses, and croutons — which were not hemmed in by bowls or platters, but merely organized into colorful piles. Attendees were charmed by the live penguins who reside outdoors, in the middle of the resort, and were again reminded of the spectacular flora and fauna of the Hawaiian landscape.

The next day, the Grand Wailea Resort, adjacent to the Wailea Beach Marriott, hosted a lunch featuring a salad bar with a live “chopper” who would cut the lettuce from the stalk right in front of you. And the final dinner and reception at the Fairmont Kea Lani impressed with a sunset performance of traditional drumming on a lawn overlooking the glittering Pacific, with attendees being encouraged to kick off their shoes and enjoy the feel of grass beneath their feet. During dinner, at their leisure, attendees were also treated to 10-minute, ahhhhh-worthy massages by trained therapists out on the lawn.

All in all, Destination Hawaii 2013 was a magical experience, engaging all the senses and highlighting both the natural beauty of Hawaii and its endless array of fabulous event offerings.

— Agatha Gilmore

A Little Bit of Mayberry In Raleigh

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It might be tough to get film director Ron Howard to mingle with the attendees at your meeting. And it would be downright impossible to get the late Andy Griffith to put in an appearance. (Unless of course you have access to a really good psychic medium.) But if the meeting is in Raleigh, NC, your attendees can at least have a photo taken with them, um, sort of.

In 2003, the cable channel, TV Land, unveiled a life-size statue called “Andy & Opie” depicting Griffith’s most famous character, Sheriff Andy Taylor with his son Opie, who, as we all know, was played by a young Ron Howard. The statue is on display at Pullen Park in Raleigh. It doesn’t have a pedestal, which means groups, like the gang from our recent SMU Southeast (pictured) can gather around and have a group photo taken with the much beloved characters.

There are lots of other things to do at Pullen Park, which is the fifth oldest operating amusement park in the United States and the sixteenth oldest in the world. The two main attractions are the C.P. Huntington miniature train, a one-third size, near-replica of the famous locomotive of the same name and a circa-1900 Dentzel Carousel. 

The train is a replica of the1863 C.P. Huntington, a steam locomotive purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad and named in honor of Collis P. Huntington, President of the Southern Pacific Company. It winds around the entire park in a continuous loop. 

The carousel was installed at the part in 1921 and according to the National Carousel Association Census, is one of 23 remaining historic Dentzel carousels and one of 14 Dentzel menageries still operating in Northern America. The carousel was accepted for the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The Beat Goes On

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The meetings market is an interesting one to cover, as there is a meeting or convention in just about every industry. Gathering people together and meeting face to face is necessary no matter where you live, how old you are, or what career path you are on.


Were the participants of this year’s Successful Meetings University in for some high-energy fun this week as the 2012 Zumba Instructor Convention had taken over the Orange County Convention Center and many surrounding hotels. 


The group’s enthusiasm was contagious and before long many members of the Successful Meetings University were pumping their legs, gyrating their hips, clapping their hands, and dipping and sliding. 


The host hotel for the Zumba Convention was the Peabody Orlando. Gregg Herning, vice president of sales and marketing for Peabody Hotels and Penny Simon, sales manager, wanted to host the Successful Meetings group but learned Zumba had literally taken over the entire 1,641-room hotel and most of its 300,000 square feet of meeting space.

 “I always believe in making lemonade from lemons,” Herning explained during the Zumba-themed reception the Peabody professionals expertly planned. As the Successful Meetings group gathered in the lobby they were greeted by the top international Zumba instructors in the world who were on a makeshift stage doing their thing. Their moves were inspiring and before long the entire group was following along. 


Zumba, I am told, was started by Alberto Perez, better known as Beto, who was an aerobics teacher in Colombia.  As he was getting ready for a class he was teaching he realized he didn’t have his aerobics CD with him. Instead, he put on merengue and salsa music and Zumba was born. Today, there are said to be 12 million people taking classes every week in approximately 125 countries. Add to that list a few newbies from Successful Meetings University!

- Andrea Doyle

Orlando Does Meetings Well

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It doesn’t seem that long ago when Orlando was all about Mickey, Minnie, and Shamu for me. My daughters were youngsters and our Orlando vacations are memories I will forever cherish. Today, my oldest daughter Megan is preparing for her freshman year of college and my younger daughter, Ashley is going to be a high school freshman.




I got to experience a different side of Orlando for a few days during Successful Meeting University and came away with a whole new perspective. This is a destination that does meetings and does them well.




The statistics are staggering. There are 116,000 guest rooms in the city and 2.1 million square feet of space at the Orange County Convention Center alone. Our group stayed at the impressive Rosen Centre Hotel that has 1,334 guestrooms and more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space and is connected to the convention by a skywalk.




Our opening reception was sponsored by the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin and it wowed the group. There wasn’t a steam dish filled with the traditional banquet grub to be found but instead unique creations that featured molecular gastronomy. Think spheres of chicken noodle soup and compressed watermelon. 




Laurent Branlard, executive pastry chef at the Swan and Dolphin for the past ten years, was on hand putting the finishing touches on a sugar sculpture that he spent 12 hours creating. (See picture below.) I’ve learned first hand that Orlando is sweet for children and adults alike and is also a serious meeting destination!

Shifts Really Do Happen

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When Jim Feldman introduced himself to our Successful Meetings University (SMU) Caribbean & Islands group as the author of Shift Happens!, ( we all chuckled a bit at the allusion to another common phrase, minus the letter “f.” 




Keynote speaker Jim Feldman, © Deanna Ting 2012


In his keynote speech, Jim encouraged the audience—a group of 17 meeting planners and 29 suppliers—to change their perspectives in order to maximize their ROI. 


“To survive, we must innovate. You have to be willing to change,” he stressed. Shifts, or changes, if you will, are going to happen, and the only way to succeed is to learn to embrace them, he said.


We certainly saw that at work firsthand during our very own SMU. When rain threatened to dampen the elaborate outdoor dinner that the Wyndham Rio Mar had planned for our group, the hotel’s quick-thinking team managed to successfully embrace that shift, despite a few obstacles. It could have been a planner and hotel’s worst nightmare, but the staff managed to work around it, successfully.  




A glimpse, through the windows, of where we were supposed to dine at the Wyndham Rio Mar, had it not been for the tropical rainstorm, © Deanna Ting 2012


The hotel quickly rearranged one of their ballrooms, which was configured into multiple meeting rooms, and moved all of the food stations — including an entire roasted pig, lechon asado, a Puerto Rican specialty — and decorations indoors. The night ended with a festive, heart-pumping display of traditional Puerto Rican dancing and music that had nearly everyone up on their feet.


This being my very first SMU event, I was impressed. That night was a simple reminder to us all that, rain or shine, perseverance and quick thinking go a long way. 


SMU also reminded me just what a small world it really is. During the event, I met Dean White, chairman emeritus, summit and pre- and post-tour organizer for the World Flower Council. On the last night, after speaking with Dean, I found out that he used to be a regular at my grandfather’s restaurant, Mar’s Garden, in, of all places, Wichita, KS, back in the 1950s and 60s. I never got to meet my grandfather — he died before I was born — but getting to know him just a tiny bit through Dean’s memories was truly special. 




Meeting Dean White (left) and learning about my grandfather through him was a personal highlight of SMU Caribbean for me, © Deanna Ting 2012


— Deanna Ting

Denver Has Pedal Power

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It may be the clean mountain air and towering peaks or the physically fit people who seem to gravitate toward the city, but Denver is definitely a destination where you want to get outside. 

That’s exactly what many of the 41 planners and suppliers who were in town for Successful Meetings University Colorado did although they weren’t hiking or strolling, or exactly biking. They were pedal hopping. 

What is a pedal hopper you may ask? It’s a bicycle built for 16, that’s what. The cycle cruises at an average speed of five to eight miles an hour and creates quite a stir.

Not only did Colorado DMC Destination Services Corporation arrange for the pedal hoppers but the company planned a scavenger hunt as well. Each group pedaled from place to place in downtown Denver collecting points along the way. Photos had to be taken along the route and e-mailed to Destination Services Corporations’ Facebook page. 

Trivia questions included: How many days of sun does Denver have each year? (300) What is the oldest hotel in Denver and what year was it opened? (The Oxford in 1891) What is used to plate the dome on the Capital Building? (24 karat gold to commemorate the Colorado Gold Rush)
Challenges included scoring over 300 points in a game of Skee Ball, a task that this Jersey girl excelled at. 

Beer is booming in Denver and the city is packed with brewpubs serving ice-cold ales, stouts, and lagers. Two stops on the hunt featured the city’s great beer.

The team I was on won (Yesssss!) but everyone who took part in this unique activity were winners as everyone got to know each other on a whole other level and isn’t that what building team camaraderie is all about?

- Andrea Doyle

The Business of Business at SMU International

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What struck me about the reception sponsored by the Mexico Tourism Board following the first day of Successful Meetings University International was the attitude of the crowd: it was as normal an event as I’ve been to in years. 

Held in a private room at Rosa Mexicana, a large and trendy restaurant near Union Square Park in New York, everyone was enjoying the margaritas (on the rocks or frozen pomegranate), guacamole (in a lavastone bowl that appeared capable of holding two to three gallons), and buffet (so crowded I didn’t even bother). People were chatting happily with old friends and new acquaintances and contacts, alternating between networking and just being with friends after a long day of work. 

I’m not saying, “Oh, people were positive, and saying that the bad times appear to be behind us.” That is, of course, just another way of focusing on those issues. But even that didn’t seem to be part of the conversations I was involved in. It’s more that perception issues weren’t really a topic of discussion, as far as I could tell. Which is another step forward.

- Leo Jakobson

A New Perspective on Daytona Beach

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The last time I was in Daytona Beach was for Spring Break in the early 1990s, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived there for Successful Meetings University Florida.

I mean, I knew from reporting and from talking to planners over the years that my two-decade-old Spring Break memories weren’t reality anymore, but it wasn’t until I walked into my room at the Shores Resort & Spa, our four-star host property, that I really believed it. My room was spacious, airy, and well-appointed. I had a large balcony overlooking the beach and an incredibly comfortable bed (that more than one attendee remarked on!). I suddenly realized I really was in a luxury resort destination. The land of dimies and MTV beach parties started fading from memory, helped along by the incredible beach, ocean, and river views from the rooftop meeting rooms. And a Mai Tai (or two) around the pool that afternoon was the kicker.


One of the things Daytona Beach is justly famous for is its huge, deep beach and beautiful green waters. Even shared with the occasional car (driving/tailgating on the beach is allowed) there is more than enough room for receptions or other events on the beach, and the swimmers are occasionally joined by dolphins—as I noted jealously from the roof, during one day’s hosted buyer appointments. 


Still, I got my up-close dolphin moment during the eco-tour I took on a sun-shaded flat-bottom boat with Ponce Inlet Watersports, where our group spotted four dolphins, a manatee, and all sorts of herons and egrets while other attendees lolled around in the sun on a catamaran or flew high up on a parasail. Having wanted to see a manatee for years, choosing the eco-tour was not difficult, and I can now safely report that the ponderous sea cows are not, in fact, majestic, but satisfying to watch nonetheless.


The other thing Daytona Beach is famous for is Daytona Speedway, home of the biggest, richest, and most famous of NASCAR races, the Daytona 500. About which I care absolutely nothing.

So I felt our lunch tour of the Speedway would be a curiosity at best, although professionally I can recognize that both NASCAR and Daytona Speedway are huge draws for an enormous and fanatic portion of the U.S. population—the Daytona 500 sells out its more 110,000 seats each year!


Again, I found something unexpected. The museum space with winning cars on display, race videos, and driver shrines is well designed for groups, and they put out an excellent spread. Ours lunch was centered around an enormous pile of crab and lobster claws and crawdads. But the tour itself is what really surprised me. Even on a tram pulled by a pickup, driving around the 2.5-mile oval with its steeply banked turns really brings home what it means to be in a car that can do it in less than a minute by itself and under three in heavy traffic. 

And standing in one of the most popular spots for groups—the winners’ circle—I caught a bit of the excitement. I may not watch NASCAR, but it’s impossible to be an American and not to have seen clips of the cars roaring around tracks at 200-plus miles an hour, or know the names of the giants of the sport, like Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, and the legendary Dale Earnhardt, who won at Daytona Speedway, and, in 2001, died there. 


So yes, that is me, standing on the winners podium with a goofy grin, like any other NASCAR fan in a hallowed place. 

- Leo Jakobson

Grand Cypress Golf Resort Sparkles During Diamond Invitational

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 Now that's "cigartainment!"

As we entered the gates to the Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort in Orlando for the 2011 Diamond Invitational Golf Tournament sponsored by Successful Meetings magazine and I gazed at the sprawling 45 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature designed golf I wondered how a non-golfer like me would fill her time. It’s not that I don’t like golf -- I have never had the time or opportunity to give it a whirl. 

My shuttlemates were talking about birdies, bogies, pivots, divots, and drivers, all foreign terms to me. But I quickly found out that although this is a revered property for golfers, it also has the needs of non-golfers in mind.  

I grabbed a free bike and pedaled to the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress a few miles away from The Villas. Highlights of this resort include a racquet club with eight clay, four hard, and five lighted tennis courts as well as two open-air racquetball courts, a 21-acre lake with watersports, a half-acre lagoon swimming pool with waterfalls and waterslides, an Audubon Society nature preserve, and a 24-foot high climbing wall. The Hyatt has 815 guest rooms and 65,000 square feet of meeting space.

“The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades,” a song by Timbuk3, played in my head as I checked out the Maui Jim custom-fitting station that was a favorite part of the opening reception for many. The reception, hosted by Visit Orlando, also featured Joe ‘the Cigartainer’ Sweigart. Joe, along with a Cuban cigar roller, made customized cigars for the group. 

When we got back to our villas, waiting for everyone were golf outfits that make a statement, a loud statement. Everyone in the group donned their Loudmouth shorts and skorts the next morning for a group photo. 

The group, of about 100, “got down” during dinner at the House of Blues Orlando, located in Downtown Disney West Side minutes away from the Villas. The resort, a quiet and peaceful place, is just minutes away from the frenzy of Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld theme parks. 

Speakers during the Diamond Invitational included Peter Kessler, known as “The Voice of Golf,” and Lance Barrow, coordinating producer for CBS Sports. They were featured during presentations at the resort’s Mediterranean-style executive meeting center that offers 10,500 square feet of space looking out onto a central courtyard and scenic lake- and golf-side terraces. 

The next morning’s shotgun start had the golfers looking up as a helicopter swooped in and dumped a bucket full of specially marked golf balls. Those who were assigned the balls that landed closest to the hole won prizes. When the helicopter ball drop was over, the golfers moved to the carts and I laced up my sneakers and explored the property.

There sure is a lot to explore -- 1,500 acres to be exact. A secluded, natural environment surrounds the Villas of Grand Cypress. As I walked, I spotted unusual birds, ducks, and even an alligator, and realized that golf courses are great habitats for wildlife. John Muir’s words came to me, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” 

- Andrea Doyle

Worst Scavengers Ever

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There are many things that Denver is known for: fresh air, great beer, beautiful mountain landscapes...but for my money, few cities can beat it for just walking around.  That’s what makes it a perfect choice for organizing a scavenger hunt. That was the optional activity enjoyed by the 36 meeting planners who attended the Successful Meetings University—Colorado, June 1-3.

The hunt was organized by The Arrangers, a local DMC that handled our airport transfers as well. The group was broken up into teams of five and dropped off at the 16th Street Mall, a closed street that stretches about a mile or so through downtown Denver.


For some reason the group I was in only had four members so we named ourselves The Fantastic Four, after the Marvel Comics superheroes. Though we had a decidedly different set of super powers compared to our fictional counter parts. Let’s do the roll call starting on the right: Rachael Watson of Opus Solutions had the uncanny ability to lose her purse, which added to the items we had to hunt for.  Karen Charest of WestEd specialized in lagging behind. Genise Christianson of E Source mastered the skill of not being able to use a calculator to figure out what we should have bought at Walgreens to total $4.46 including tax. As for me, my super power was the most pathetic of all—I let a rival team steal one of the bandanas each group was supposed to guard with their lives. Suffice it to say, when it came to the hunt, this Fantastic Four wasn’t that fantastic—we came in last.

But we did all gain an intimate knowledge of 16th Street and that’s a consolation prize worth having. If there is one street in Denver that every meeting attendee should experience, it’s 16th Street. Here is where the spirit of the city—its past and present, its dreams and ethos—bubbles to the surface. It begins with the pavement itself, granite slabs laid out in a pattern reminiscent of the diamond back rattle snakes that have called the region home for hundreds of years. 

At regular intervals up and down the street you’ll find whimsically decorated, life-size sculptures of cows—an acknowledgement to Denver's boomtown past. Near each cow are fully operational, upright pianos, another homage to the city’s boomtown, honky tonk, frontier roots. But it’s also a nod to Denver’s cultural present. Buskers or passersby routinely sit down to tickle the ivories, giving impromptu concerts that range from Irving Berlin, to Duke Ellington, to Mozart. Also just off 16th Street you’ll find the venerable Paramount Theater, home to cultural activities such as ballets, operas, and musicals. 

Then there are the people themselves. On 16th Street you’ll find a cosmopolitan mix of tourists, alternative club kids, extreme sports enthusiasts, cowboys, the occasional banker, and sometimes, groups of meeting attendees scavenging for the cultural bric-a-brac of the spirit of Denver.

—Vincent Alonzo