There aren't a lot of places that feature both oceans and mountains. Mountain Meetings set out to find a cosmopolitan city that offers both urban and outdoor moments and a new small-boat cruising option along western Alaska and Canada.
Looking for a bucket-list destination and experiences worthy of a retreat or incentive trip? After a break of more than two decades, Windstar Cruises has returned to Alaska in 2018 with new itineraries that range from 11 to 14 days spent along western Alaska and Canada’s beautiful inside passage from May through September. The vessel is a power yacht named Star Legend that holds up to 212 passengers and also is available for chartering shorter itineraries, such as a one-way trip from Vancouver to Juneau or vice versa.
Due to its small size, the Star Legend can move through protected areas like Misty Fjords National Monument, Kenai Fjords National Park and Tracy Arm Fjord, making it possible to board zodiacs and kayaks with the Signature Expeditions team of geologists, marine biologists, botanists and other experts who are onboard for the duration of the trip to provide insight, education and commentary. Imagine having a bird’seye view of glaciers calving ice in dazzling shades of blue and seeing bears, eagles, whales, seals, otters and more up close.
Speakers and dancers from Native American tribes come on board in various port towns to provide an insider’s look at the rich heritage of the area. On several routes, there also is the opportunity to visit Metlakatla (the only U.S. settlement of indigenous Tsimshian people) and see a traditional longhouse where Native American dancers of all ages perform and sing in full regalia.
Meeting and event planners can charter the entire ship or incorporate a small group into a regularly scheduled voyage to enjoy the ease of having everything planned from flights, transfers, excursions, meals and on-board activities. Complimentary meeting spaces (Compass Rose, Lounge, and AmphorA restaurant), refreshment breaks and audio-visual equipment are included.
For charters, the ship can be completely branded for the client from logos on cocktail napkins and a flag that flies to custom programming like cooking demonstrations with a Star Legend chef and the hosting organization’s CEO, says Amy Conover, director of charter and incentive sales. Windstar works with incentive groups that are as small as 10 cabins or up to one-third of the ship for nonchartered trips.
“It’s not about being fancy schmancy, but the whole uniqueness of the experience,” she emphasizes. “Younger, top producers in their 40s want outdoor adventures and not to just sit around. Even our older clientele demographic is healthy and active and likes being immersed in a destination.”
Planners also can partner with Windstar to create customized itineraries that include shore excursions and work directly with attractions, restaurants and outfitters along the route. Hiking atop the massive Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, fishing for halibut and salmon, capturing photos of humpback and orca whales, exploring Sitka’s rich Russian heritage and wandering Petroglyph Beach in Wrangell are just a few examples of the many shore excursions available.
Attendees also have plenty of time to immerse themselves in destinations along the way, like Ketchikan and Haines in Alaska and Prince Rupert in British Columbia, and still come back together for meetings, learning and dinner. Plus, it’s possible to schedule some fairly full days of productivity while at sea, with a bit of pampering in the on-board spa and salon mixed in. The Star Legend’s 106 suites all have a spacious living area for relaxing during free time and keeping up with work as needed.
Dining takes place in the elegant AmphorA and the window-filled Veranda/Candles that has a patio. Windstar is the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, so dishes by James Beard chefs are on the AmphorA menu, which changes daily. A good place for networking, wildlife watching and playing games is the classy-yetcomfortable Yacht Club, featuring a large outdoor deck and bar nearby.
Windstar Cruises has a total of six small ships that cruise to 79 nations worldwide and is part of Xanterra Parks & Resorts.
Situated between the Coast Mountains and Pacific Ocean, Vancouver is the start or end point for many cruise ships and an on-therise meeting destination. The bustling city is hosting a record 33 citywide conventions bringing more than 100,000 out-of-town attendees in 2018, up from 28 citywides and 63,000 attendees last year.
The increase is being driven in part by an influx of nature and sustainability-themed conferences. “Not only has Vancouver demonstrated that we have the experience, the world-leading venues and infrastructure to execute these large, complex and highprofile events, our city has a diverse business environment and spectacular natural setting, which provide a compelling backdrop to any event,” says Ty Speer, president and CEO of Tourism Vancouver.
The Vancouver Convention Centre has an enviable location overlooking the downtown waterfront and is the world’s first double LEED Platinum-certified convention center. Two connected structures have a combined total of 466,500 feet of meeting and event space, with the West Building featuring a unique living roof and seawater heating and cooling system. The nearest hotels with a meetings focus are the Fairmont Pacific Rim, Fairmont Waterfront, Pan Pacific Vancouver, Pinnacle Vancouver Harbourfront, Marriott Vancouver Pinnacle and Coast Coal Harbour Hotel by APA.
Two of the city’s newest properties for groups, JW Marriott Parq Vancouver and the DOUGLAS (an Autograph Collection hotel), opened last October next to BC Place Stadium and just a block from the Seawall Promenade, a miles-long paved recreation path along the water. The hotels were built to LEED Gold-certified standards and are connected by a conference floor that features 60,000 square feet of meeting and event space (including the largest hotel ballroom in Vancouver at 15,600 square feet) and a 36,000-square-foot rooftop park that features a spacious veranda for events. Together, the two hotels have 466 guest rooms and 51 suites and can host overnight groups of up to 450.
The property’s eight restaurants and lounges were curated by two-time James Beard nominated restaurateur Elizabeth Blau, including the sophisticated-yet-casual Honey Salt that focuses on British Columbia and farm-to-table fare just off the JW Marriott’s lobby and The Victor, highlighting specialty steaks and Pacific Northwest seafood from its sixth-story location adjacent to the rooftop park. D/6 Bar & Lounge at the DOUGLAS also has a patio next to the green space and a hidden room behind a bookcase that can be reserved. A casino situated between the two hotels and Spa by JW provide a wealth of options for free time.
New to the lodging scene in 2018 is the 202-room EXchange Hotel Vancouver that opened this summer on the first 11 floors of the 31-story EXchange Tower in the financial district downtown and has already won the 2017 American Architecture Prize for Heritage Architecture (LEED Platinum). SeaSide Hotel, a boutique hotel with 71 oceanfront rooms and suites, is expected to open by the end of the year in North Vancouver’s Shipyard development.
In addition to a wide variety of lodging options, Vancouver delivers a huge menu of sightseeing and outdoor activities when meetings aren’t in session, such as a casual bike ride or horse-drawn carriage tour through iconic Stanley Park. Utilize False Creek Ferries and The Aquabus for a fun way to get between places like Olympic Village, Yaletown, the Maritime Museum, the Museum of Vancouver and bustling Granville Island. Regular buses and the SeaBus to North Vancouver also makes it easy to get around.
For a terrific waterfront restaurant with private dining space, head to Ancora located along the Seawall Promenade and just a few blocks from the Aquatic Centre ferry stop. All tables inside and on the patio have views of False Creek and Granville Island, and the menu is a divine combination of Japanese and Peruvian flavors. Groups of 10-120 can be hosted, with the Ancora Glacier sure to impress as a starter before entrees like halibut, sablefish, pork belly and scallops, beef tenderloin and duck. Another nice option for groups with waterfront views is Miku, with large windows and a balcony overlooking Burrard Inlet.
An early dinner can be followed by a walking tour with Forbidden Vancouver. The Forbidden Tour weaves between Cathedral Square, Victory Square, Chinatown and Gastown to highlight the city’s longtime structures and hidden history regarding opium, booze, mobsters and more.
Grouse Mountain Resort, located only 20 minutes from downtown, is an outdoor paradise with skiing, snowboarding, skating and snowshoeing in the winter and hiking and biking trails, lumberjack shows, disc golf, Skyride Surf Adventures and more in the summer. Year-round, groups can experience zip lining, Eye of the Wind at the top of a wind turbine, and fine dining at The Observatory.
The United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology (USCAP) held its annual meeting March 17-23 at the Vancouver Convention Centre with approximately 4,700 in attendance. Several hotels in close proximity to the venue were booked, along with restaurants within easy walking distance like The Botanist and Nightingale for VIP dinners. Robin Costello, director of conferences and events for USCAP, also has high praises for the meals and breaks prepared by the Vancouver Convention Centre’s scratch kitchen. “For a convention center, the food is really good, which is unique.”
Two hundred guests were invited to a private reception on a three-level ship provided by Pacific Yacht Charters. Due to the convention center’s waterfront location, participants could board the yacht on-site and enjoy an evening complete with passed hors d’oeuvres, a dessert buffet, full bar, cordials and music. Another conference event that capitalized on Vancouver’s natural assets was a presidents’ reception for 250 at the Pan Pacific Hotel in a banquet room overlooking the water.
Small groups also enjoyed attractions like FlyOver Canada and Granville Island on their own, and some attendees traveled by seaplane to Victoria. Special rates were negotiated for attendees who wanted to take a post-trip excursion to Whistler, a world-class ski resort located only 90 minutes away
>> More than 515,000 people visit Vancouver each year for conferences and events.
>> The Vancouver Convention Centre hosts more than 550 events each year.
>> Downtown Vancouver features approximately 13,000 hotel rooms.
>> Around 23 percent of meeting and convention delegates travel to Vancouver from outside of Canada.
Team-Building – Book Sewell Marina’s Sea Quest Scavenger Hunt or organize a shoreline clean-up activity with Vancouver Aquarium, which has indoor and outdoor event space capable of hosting up to 2,000.
Above the Landscape – The Capilano Suspension Bridge’s Cliffwalk is a 700-foot-long, 300-foot-high walkway cantilevered over the side of Capilano River Canyon.
Water Fun – Meander through False Creek or around the tree-lined inlet of Deep Cove on kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. Or board a zodiac for an excursion from Vancouver Harbour to Granite Falls or to the seal colony at Pam Rocks in Howe Sound.