Steps away, The San Luis Resort, Spa, and Conference Center has 23,540 sf of meeting space and is wrapping up upgrades to all guest rooms. The port's historic landmarks--such as the 19th-century Ashton Villa home, the Grand Opera House of 1894, and the Tall Ship Elissa--remain favorites for receptions, but nearby Schlitterbahn water park, which sports retractable roof sections to handle all types of weather (plus a 1,100-sf hot tub) can also supply some fun. Another option is the Moody Gardens theme park and its adjacent hotel, which is like an all-in-one venue for planners. Besides the exotic park attractions encased in giant glass pyramids, the hotel offers a convention center with 82,000 sf of space and a 60,000-sf exhibition hall.
Post meeting, cruise to the Aransas Wildlife Preserve, home in winter to several hundred migratory whooping cranes, and, for local flavor, to the town's four-day hummingbird festival in September. Dolphin watching, kayaking, dinner cruises, shopping for unusual keepsakes, even a line dancing lesson can also be booked.
In Corpus Christi, the American Bank Center Convention Center is part of a larger complex with an auditorium and arena, with an adjoining auditorium that seats over 2,500. Space can also be booked at the architecturally striking Solomon P. Ortiz Int'l Center, which holds flexible meeting areas for up to 2,000 attendees. Apart from enjoying a plethora of water sports, attendees can tee off on Corpus Christi's 11 golf courses, take in a baseball game of the AA category Corpus Christi Hooks in the new world-class Whataburger Field, and visit the Art Museum of South Texas or the Aquarium (event space for 1,000), a refuge for injured dolphins that cannot survive in the wild. Attendees can sign up for the interactive "Trainer for a Day" program.
Small Town Charm On 34-mile-long South Padre Island, there's lively nightlife, new dining outlets for every budget, and three shopping malls, as well as shops and boutiques. For meetings, the South Padre Island Convention Center, perched on the bay side, features 45,000 sf of conference and exhibit space, half of it column free, plus a 300-seat auditorium. Activities include kiteboarding, windsurfing, dolphin-watching cruises, and bird-watching along the Laguna Madre Trail, which is next to the convention center and crosses 1,500 feet of wetlands. As a bonus for fisherfolk, all the restaurants along South Padre Island's tourist strip will grill, blacken, fry, or bake their catch of the day.
Speaking of fishing, Port Aransas on Mustang Island, often referred to as "Port A," is a sports fisherman's Shangri-La. Hotels and condos provide meeting space for groups up to 80. Once the meeting is over, attendees can take advantage of power walking on the beach, surfing, parasailing, horseback riding, riding a bicycle built for two, or donning a wet suit to dive or snorkel out at the oil rig. For calming the spirit, there's hatha yoga at a fitness center, or--a favorite--shelling on the beach. After dark, music livens up the port scene and ranges from rock to rap to country and western to the Texas Top 40.
Port Aransas is a short ferry ride from Rockport-Fulton, a picturesque resort with a surprising number of meeting venues. The largest, Paws and Taws, is sized for 350 attendees; the octagonal-shaped Saltwater Pavilion has a capacity for 250 inside, plus a 2,000-sf outdoor area, and the Beachfront Pavilion holds 200 people, tops. Rockport's galleries and museums also double as reception venues. A few are the Texas Maritime Museum, the Gallery of Rockport, and the Rockport Center for the Arts. Attendees can also tour the Fulton Mansion built in the 1870s or take in a reception on the mansion grounds.
GROUPS SHOULD CONSIDER these recommendations from the Successful Meetings Home Team experts. Top choices include the 226-room Hotel Galvez and the 428-room Moody Gardens.
Contributors to this section include Home Team members Lisa Meller and Val Johnston. Contact them at [email protected]