If you’re too far from an ocean for your group to enjoy a delightful beach experience, think again. Plenty of fresh air and powdery sand is just waiting to fill your shoes, and an unforgettable water cruise might be closer than you think.
Quaint, lakefront communities offer small-town hospitality, history galore and an abundance of wine. Enjoying it all adjacent to great water views for as far as the eye can see is simply an added bonus.
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Lewis and Clark were the first to discover the wonders of the Ozark Mountains, and 75 years ago the decision was made to build a dam and create even a more spectacular destination. Today, groups can choose from 40 restaurants and dozens of resorts and hotels that offer views of the man-made marvel.
After a scenic tour on an excursion yacht, a visit to one of the area’s show caves is a must. Bridal Cave, Joseph Cave and Ozark Caverns not only offer bridges and hand-rails that make it easy to enjoy underground, mysterious passages, there are stories galore and comfortable temperatures year round.
The Historic Bagnell Dam Strip, a mile of classic Americana diners and souvenir shops, four wineries and 14 golf courses along the Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail are also part of group tour agendas.
Want a scenic stroll? Visit The Lake of the Ozark State Park or Ha Ha Tonka State Park, where ruins of an early 20th-century castle offers memorable Kodak moments. For evening entertainment, enjoy gospel, country and patriotic music at the Main Street Music Hall, shop at the largest brand outlet mall in Missouri or visit a few of the area’s 50 antique stores.
Before you arrive, check the map that details the Art and Ambiance Trail, 95 miles of country roads that host museums, eateries, artists and galleries.
Traverse City, Michigan
It’s all about the scenery in Traverse Bay, according to Mike Norton, media relations director for the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Our area was shaped by a glacier 10,000 years ago, and the landscape really is the star. We have rolling hills, clear lakes and Caribbean-like beaches,” said Norton.
Bank groups can take in all that beauty at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where 65 miles of beaches along Lake Michigan are all part of the National Park system. “On the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, motorcoaches wind around a ridge 450 feet above the lake. There are many places to stay along this route,” said Norton.
On the scenic Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas, bank groups can sip their favorite wines in breath-taking areas. “Our wineries are very receptive to group tours,” said Norton.
Lighthouse tours are on the agenda in this area famous for those beacons that have saved the lives of Great Lake mariners for centuries. The self-proclaimed Cherry Tree Capital of the World also attracts spring travelers hoping to see the best of blossoms on literally millions of trees and the best of colors in the fall.
After checking out this sandy paradise, bank groups cruise on a 19th-century tall ship replica, shop in the lakeside downtown area and try their luck at two casinos.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
A cruise on the Foxy Lady is the best introduction to Green Bay, according to Brenda Krainik, director of marketing for the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Captain Mitch takes you through downtown on the Fox River and into the Bay of Green Bay on Lake Michigan. He gives such great commentary on this harbor town and our sister city, De Pere,” she said.
The area boasts some favorites for any itinerary: the Green Bay Botanical Garden blooms through three seasons and offers 250,000 lights and displays during the holidays; Heritage Hill State Historical Park features 27 historical buildings and a farm where costumed guides fill guests in on the area’s history; and the Oneida Casino, attached to a Radisson Hotel, has step-on guides who take groups to other tribe properties, including a buffalo farm and museum.
“This is rare for a Native American tribe to be so open. If requested, they will even do a pow wow in full native dress,” said Krainik.
Don’t forget this city hosts perhaps the most celebrated professional sports team. Any sports fan will surely become a Packers cheesehead while in Green Bay and want to take advantage of a tour of famed Lambeau Field that are offered throughout the year.
Krainik added that nearby Algoma, a community on the western shore of Lake Michigan, is one of the best destinations for a bank group. This adorable town offers a historic district, lighthouse, winery caves, art galleries and a beach with a boardwalk.
With majestic hillsides that offer views of Lake Superior, Duluth has been nick-named “the little San Francisco of the north.”
“Bank groups will want to stay in Canal Park, our old warehouse district facing the lake that boasts dozens of boutiques and restaurants,” said Mary Nelson, director of packaged travel at Visit Duluth, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.
Steps from Canal Park lodging, groups stop at the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center to make reservations for a harbor lunch or dinner cruise. The Lake Walk, a four-mile stretch meant for strolling and a carriage ride, hosts rose gardens, sculptures and a vantage point for your stone-skipping champs.
“The Lake Walk also hosts William Irvin, an ore boat that gives tours, the Great Lakes Aquarium that features entertaining freshwater fish and an OMNIMAX Theater,” said Nelson.
Four museums are all under one roof at the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center, including a railroad museum that features full-size trains. “Groups love a trek on the North Shore Scenic Railroad that offers scenic trips to the Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls State Park,” said Nelson.
For more history, tour the Glensheen Mansion, an early 1900s family home where a guided tour showcases rooms of original furnishings.
Ithaca, New York
Groups will discover an abundance of culture in Ithaca, home to Cornell University, which is located on Lake Cayuga, the largest of New York’s Finger Lakes.
“While we are small, we are an incredibly diverse, funky and liberal town,” said Bruce Stoff, communications director for the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But Ithaca’s major claims to fame are the 150 gorges and waterfalls within 10 miles of town. “At 215 feet, Taughannock Falls is the largest falls in the Northeast — three stories taller than Niagara,” said Stoff. “One of our prettiest gorges and falls is just steps away from the downtown Commons, our downtown pedestrian mall.
Four state parks are scenic options for a boxed lunch, but Stoff claimed groups won’t want to miss the exceptional food in Ithaca. “Your members may remember the Moosewood Cookbook, a best seller for years that sort of introduced the fresh, organic and locally grown theme that is so popular today. Well, it all started here at the Moosewood Restaurant, an eatery that is still around to enjoy,” he said.
Before enjoying a concert at the State Theatre, a renovated, vaudeville movie palace in downtown Ithaca, there will be no shortage of venues to enjoy a glass of wine. One of the top five wine producers in the country, the Finger Lakes region is home to some 120 wineries.
South Bass Island, Ohio
Bank groups choose to put the motorcoach on a ferry or simply leave the bus behind because in this Lake Erie resort town, trams are the main source of transportation.
“You’re going to want to take the tram tour. Visitors learn the history of the island, and the tram stops at the best attractions,” said Jill Bauer, public relations coordinator for Lake Erie Shores and Islands, a regional promotional organization.
Those attractions encompass a variety of interests. For history lovers, the Doller House offers a glimpse of life on the island in the 1800s. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, the nation’s third-largest memorial structure at 352 feet, commemorates the War of 1812 and the Battle of Lake Erie.
“Interpretation from park rangers and a film at the visitor’s center introduce guests to the importance of this battle,” said Bauer.
Cave lovers can enjoy a glass of vino at Heinmeman’s Winery and Crystal Cave, one of the country’s largest caves, where stories from Prohibition days give the venue an unexpected twist. At Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center, a tour includes a butterfly house, an antique car museum and gem stone mining.
“There are many antique cars on the island, and every Sunday afternoon there is an antique car parade. There are restaurants, pubs and nightlife — Put-in-Bay offers a Mardi Gras kind of atmosphere,” said Bauer.
Groups may want to enjoy one of the many annual events, like the Wine Festival, Oktoberfest and Salute to the Troops, all while enjoying accommodations that range from a full-scale resort to a bed-and-breakfast.