The Good Life

Aside from lovely guest rooms and fine-dining options, resorts offer some truly jaw-dropping amenities and attractions.

Grand Traditions

Most spas today offer pretty spaces and a nice way to while away an hour or so, but Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea Resort & Spa on Hawaii's island of Maui is a fully transportive experience and a destination unto itself. The 50,000 square foot facility offers guests more than 100 treatment options, many using Hawaiian ingredients.

"It is the only spa I have ever gone to that I would actually consider spending the day at," says Joanna Jeronimo, regional director of sales for ConferenceDirect in Stockton, CA. She adds, "The massages are wonderful, and they have a machine that spins your swimsuit dry enough to put back on in about 15 seconds. This is important when you're going diving next."

Spa Grande is designed to combine Eastern and Western traditions with those that are uniquely Hawaiian. The menu divides treatment options by area of inspiration. The massage menu, for example, includes Western-inspired treatments like a traditional Swedish massage; Eastern-inspired options like the Thai Herbal Bolus, in which Eastern steamed herbs are massaged into the body; and Hawaiian-inspired massages like the Lomi Lomi, in which the spa therapist uses her elbows and forearms to massage.

Before or after treatments, guests enjoy a Japanese Furo bath; cascading waterfall massage; Roman hot tub; cold plunge pool; Swiss jet shower; eucalyptus steam; redwood sauna; or the Terme Hydrotherapy system, a grouping of five aromatic baths. As an added extravagance, spa attendants offer complimentary honey mango loofah body polishes prior to treatments.

Political Lessons

Twenty-six U.S. presidents have stayed at the famed Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV. The 721-room resort, which houses 10 lobbies, a full conference center, and more than 40 meeting rooms, is also home to two venues with political importance: the President's Cottage Museum, which displays artifacts, mementos, and documents from Presidential visits, and the famed bunker.

Between 1959 and 1962, at the request of the U.S. government, a bomb shelter was built on the grounds of The Greenbrier. The facility was built along with the West Virginia Wing of the hotel and for decades the well-heeled partied and held meetings in the wing, never knowing the purpose of its construction. In case of an emergency, The Greenbrier, in its entirety, would have been turned over for government use and served as the home of the legislative branch of Congress.

Fortunately, the bunker was never put to use in the manner intended, and the 112,000-square-foot bunker is now home to five meeting rooms between 670 square feet and 730 square feet. The rooms are named for leaders of the House and Senate and the architect of the Capitol when the project began in 1956: Knowland, Johnson, Rayburn, Stewart, and Martin. Guests are welcome to partake in a 90-minute walking tour of the bunker.

Howl at the Sun

With well-priced complete meeting packages, creative teambuilding options (spy school, "Last of the Mohegans," and Clue Live, just to name a few), and 18 recession-friendly five-dollar gaming tables (13 blackjack, two Spanish 21 tables, one Texas Hold 'em game, a roulette table, and one Big 6 wheel), Mohegan Sun is doing a lot to lure meeting planners and attendees.

And certainly, this Uncasville, CT, casino and resort has plenty to offer business-minded groups, with more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space in the convention center, a 10,000-seat arena that can be transitioned into 30,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 17,500 square-foot terrace space, and the Cabaret Theater.

But another of Mohegan Sun's big draws is the no-cover, no-minimum Wolf Den, a 350-seat concert venue in the Casino of the Earth. Guests enjoy headliners like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or David Cassidy as well as cover bands with their own followings, like the wildly popular 2U, a U2 tribute band. Although small in size, the venue offers space to stand and listen as well.

"It would not be odd, with the right performer, to see 1,500 people standing around listening," says Mitchell Etess, CEO of Mohegan Sun.

A Jewel Box

Railroad tycoon Henry Plant opened the Belleview Biltmore in Clearwater, FL, in 1897, and the property is nearly as spectacular today as it was in its heyday. Stories about the property are many—one of the best is that when Morton Plant took over the resort from his father, Morton's wife, Maisie, wanted a little something for herself. She picked out a strand of pearls from Cartier valued at $1.2 million, but her husband decided against the "gift." Maisie elected to take matters into her own hands and traded the Plants' Fifth Avenue home for the pearls—the property remains the New York home of Cartier to this day. The pearls, however, have gone missing, and some say Maisie lost them at the resort.

Home, over the years, to a bicycle track, post office, its own police force, and a 13,000-square-foot ballroom topped with a Tiffany glass dome that is still intact, the Belleview Biltmore is set to enter its next phase this month. The hotel is closing for a three-year, $100 million restoration courtesy of its new owner, Legg Mason, which purchased the property in June 2007. When finished (in January 2012, in time for the property's 115th anniversary), the hotel will be a meeting planner's dream, with 140,000 square feet of meeting and event space, a Donald Ross-designed golf course, a nearly 19,000 square foot spa with 13 treatment rooms, subterranean parking, and a new East Wing. But it will be that Tiffany Ballroom that will keep this property above the rest—the event space will be completely restored to its original grandeur.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The Bellagio Las Vegas is probably best known for its spectacular water show, but one of its greatest amenities is indoors at the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

Open 24 hours, the expansive gardens are maintained by 140 horticulturalists who change the display seasonally, including lighting, gazebos, bridges, ponds, and water features. The lighting is designed to feature the flowers and plants in the same way that a gallery space highlights artwork.

The gardens are "unbelievable," says Jackie Chutter, president of Williamsburg, VA-based Virginia Escape Ltd. They are "very creative ... I have seen them four times, and each time is most enjoyable."

Patti Shock, professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Harrah College of Hotel Administration, adds, "It is not only the visual beauty, but you are surrounded by the gorgeous floral scent." She notes that the gardens are wonderful for photo opportunities.

Originally published June 1, 2009

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