Family-Friendly ConventionsApril 1, 2016

Make Everlasting Memories in These Welcoming Destinations By
April 1, 2016

Family-Friendly Conventions

Make Everlasting Memories in These Welcoming Destinations
An urban scavenger hunt was held on DC’s National Mall for AAP families who searched for clues around these attractions. Credit: American Academy of Pediatrics

An urban scavenger hunt was held on DC’s National Mall for AAP families who searched for clues around these attractions. Credit: American Academy of Pediatrics

Atlantic City

“Atlantic City has always been a very popular tourist destination for families of all types. And most recently we are strongly encouraging convention delegates to bring their families along with them and extend their stay by a day or two and to enjoy all of the family activities Atlantic City has to offer,” says Jim Wood, president and CEO for Meet AC.

Supporting Jim Wood’s statements are the new family-friendly hotel projects that have sprouted in recent months at many of Atlantic City’s popular venues. The new 464,000-sf Playground at Caesars (formally The Pier Shops at Caesars), is an entertainment venue with eight live clubs and restaurants, a bowling alley, swimming pool and a lively sports bar. It has turned into an exciting nightlife, retail and dining destination for the spouses, companions and children (yes, even the grandchildren) of convention and association meeting participants.

Built on a 900-foot pier over the Atlantic Ocean, the Playground is physically connected to the hotel and casino, allowing guests to reach the new music outlets featured on T-Street without going outside. Tethered by the Monkey Bar, the central axis of the first floor, a series of five music pubs extend over the ocean. Inspired by the nation’s iconic music streets like Broadway in Nashville and Beale Street in Memphis, T-Street in Atlantic City offers something the other famous streets don’t have — striking views of the Atlantic Ocean from Level 3. High-end retail stores at the Playground include Burberry, Gucci and Tiffany & Co., as well as dining venues such as Buddakan, Phillips Seafood, Continental and more.

Of course, while family members are enjoying themselves inside the property, or on The Boardwalk or ocean beaches outside, Caesars Atlantic City also boasts 28,000 sf of meeting space, including 10 separate meeting rooms, as well as the 17,135-sf Palladium Ballroom, with its expansive prefunction space and an elegant environment for dressy evening events. Meeting planners also can reserve the 1,500-seat Circus Maximus Theater for special events.

This year, the Steel Pier will sport a spectacular new addition — the 200-foot-high observation wheel featuring grand views of the ocean and the fabulous Atlantic City skyline from climate controlled cabins.

The Tropicana has introduced a jaw-dropping free multimedia light and sound show on the property’s re-imagined Boardwalk façade. Daily high energy, ever-changing shows, massive LED screens, strobe lights and continuous digital media displays light up the night in a choreographed multimedia light and sound show that is perfect for families. Spouses and companions will love the four new retail locations located in The Quarter, including the travel outfitter Tumi, the Marshall Russo women’s boutique, the designer watch and jewelry purveyor Time After Time, and athletic wear shop from Step Up.

The Atlantic City Convention Center will welcome more than 45,000 sports fans and memorabilia collectors for the 37th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention (NSCC) in August. A vote by the show’s long-time exhibitors brought the show back to the Atlantic City Convention Center for the first time since 2003.

The facility offers 500,000 sf of space and occupies nearly 31 acres, making it one of the East Coast’s largest convention centers. The NSCC has grown tremendously in the past decade, and they now need at least 325,000 sf to house the annual gathering of collectors, dealers and many other groups interested in collecting trading cards, autographs, vintage game-used equipment and other sports and entertainment related memorabilia. The association is offering six Atlantic City properties — The Sheraton Atlantic City, Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, Caesars Atlantic City Hotel and Casino, The Tropicana Casino & Resort, Harrah’s Atlantic City Hotel & Resort and The Claridge Hotel — as part of its negotiated conference housing for attendees.

In addition to providing enough attendee and exhibitor space, Atlantic City, with its famous Boardwalk and ocean beaches just a short walk from the convention center, is a great place for this summer-time, family-friendly convention. “We are excited the 37th National Sports Collectors Convention is returning to Atlantic City,” says John Broggi, NSCC executive director. “The Northeast is one of the strongest memorabilia and card collector bases in the country, and Atlantic City is the ideal family-oriented destination location, known for their world-class shopping, hotels, Boardwalk entertainment and of course the gaming options. In addition, Atlantic City and the convention center have been extremely helpful in assisting our event planning and promotional efforts. We are excited that both exhibitor and attendee pre-show interest has been extremely strong and look forward to a great 37th National in Atlantic City.”

At the NSCC event, children under 12 are free, and family day will be held Sunday, August 7. Tristar Productions has announced the athletes who will be signing in the Tristar Autograph Pavilion, and the Atlantic City Convention Center will be turned into a collector’s paradise for the entire family.

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa

The 21-acre oceanfront Aulani Disney Resort & Spa, located on the coastline of Oahu, Hawaii, opened in 2011 and has been a popular, family-friendly venue for association meetings and conventions ever since. The property features 351 traditional guest rooms as well as 481 two-bedroom-equivalent Disney Vacation Club villas in two towers, along with 50,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space.

Three years ago Aulani finished a major project, which included expanding its water recreation area, adding new dining venues, and the new Halawai Lawn — a 22,000-sf landscaped, outdoor space for entertaining, functions and special events. For association convention events, the property also offers a 21,000-sf conference center.

“Aulani offers groups a unique resort experience by emotionally connecting with attendees through its powerful tribute to the stories and art of the Hawaiian culture,” says Joe Medwetz, sales and services director for Aulani. “Every meeting and event has its own story, and Aulani provides resources for planners to deliver their message in a unique way. Our events team can help planners add distinctive Hawaiian moments to their events, from customized lei presentations to a ‘sand ceremony’ that has attendees sharing deeply meaningful stories. It’s another example of how we blend the special magic of Hawaii and Disney storytelling to help planners vividly communicate important messages and create unforgettable meeting and incentive experiences.”

Naturally, the Disney connection is a big draw for conventions that include families. There are two elaborate slides, a lazy river and a main pool complex. The new Ka Maka Landing features an infinity pool and grotto, as well as a new location for poolside dining, Ulu Café and the Wailana Pool Bar. The Laniwai Spa provides 15 treatment rooms and a full-service fitness center, the 8,200-sf Waikolohe Pool features a body slide, cabanas and three whirlpool spas, and the Waikolohe Stream launches kids and adults down a 321,000-gallon adventure course through the beautiful landscape of Hawaii.

Family-friendly attractions on the island of Oahu include a visit to the Dole Plantation to hop aboard the Pineapple Express Train; the Fiji Temple at the Polynesian Cultural Center; the Waikiki Aquarium and snorkeling at Hanauma Bay; and the free Kuhio Beach Park Hula Show, with Polynesian music and dances. Finally, families can enjoy a shaved ice at Matsumotos in Haleiwa and Waiola Shave Ice near Waikiki.


In July, 2015, Boston hosted the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) annual convention. Of the 9,000 attendees, 5,800 were professional members and 1,395 were spouses, significant others and children of the participants at the convention. Fortunately, Boston is a city that doesn’t lack activities for families, and certainly the destination was one of the reasons the convention was so successful. “Attendees loved Boston,” says Deidre Irwin Ross, MHA, CMP, CAE, former director of convention and meeting planning at the Schaumburg, Illinois-based AVMA. “The families and children went to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, they rode the swan boats in Boston Common, saw Red Sox games, shopped, walked the Freedom Trail and so much more. It’s a city that’s made for families.”

Planning activities for convention families sometimes goes way beyond the usual city attractions, and in Boston, where numerous family-friendly events are scheduled almost every day from spring to fall, planners can find ways to include them into their agenda.

“There is an exclusive talent booker at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion who we used to book the Beach Boys at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, one of the city’s most popular outdoor amphitheaters,” says Ross. “We set it up like a beach boardwalk with games, food, bars and free t-shirts. We handled all the logistics, though we did use a DMC who supplied games and décor. There were lots of opportunities to win meet-and-greets with the Beach Boys before the concert, and one lucky winner won a surfboard signed by the band. There were children of all ages there, and everyone from babies to grandmas and grandpas were up and dancing. It was a big success. There was also a fireworks display going on as people left the pavilion.”

Naturally, at any AVMA convention, participants’ pets are always welcome, and in dog-friendly Boston even the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC) got into the act by agreeing to be the site of a special demonstration. “We had the Purina Agility Team on the Sunday of our conference, and families were invited to come to the exhibit hall to see the shows,” Ross says. “The Purina Agility Team is a group of dogs Purina rescued from shelters and trained in agility, and they did fantastic agility demonstrations. It was the first time we arranged that and we placed it between the escalators in Hall A of the BCEC. It was very popular with our families.”


Barry Dively, assistant general manager and director of sales and marketing for the 341-room Hilton Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, says the short distance of Harrisburg to the Hershey attractions is “very attractive to event attendees when spouses, or significant others, join the guests. From door-to-door, our hotel in downtown Harrisburg is only 15–20 minutes to Hershey’s many family-friendly attractions. The attendee can be with their colleagues at a meeting or conference while their loved ones are enjoying the attractions not far away.”

The downtown Hilton Harrisburg, with more than 38,000 sf of flexible function space, can accommodate banquet seating for 950 people, and up to 1,200 for a reception. The property offers 21 meeting rooms.

One of the big family events taking place in Hershey will commence in January 2017, when the city hosts about 5,000 participants and visitors for the U.S. Figure Skating Eastern Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships. The Giant Center, as well as the Hersheypark Arena, will welcome 150 teams and about 2,400 athletes and their families from all over the East Coast.

“These athletes and families love traveling to Hershey,” says Leslie Graham, director of synchronized skating at the U.S. Figure Skating headquarters in Colorado Springs. Graham, a former skater and coach, works with the events department and competitions committee to select figure skating clubs to host the Synchronized Sectional Championships and U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships. “I work with athletes and coaches from our basic skills synchronized skating teams through our international synchronized teams. In addition, I coordinate all of the travel and logistics for our synchronized skating teams that are part of Team USA,” says Graham.

“It is a special experience for the athletes and their families to stay at the Hershey Lodge and make chocolate at Hershey’s Chocolate World,” says Graham. “Having last held this event in 2014, the teams are looking forward to a great competition, and the athletes know that the experiences their families will have visiting Hershey attractions during the weekend will really enhance the competition.”

Hershey Story Museum has announced a new chocolate experience called “Tastings” that features samples of warm drinking chocolates made from cacao beans grown in one specific region of the globe.

Another great attraction for families in the region is the National Civil War Museum, which kicked off its 2016 season with a new exhibit that illustrates the moral challenges faced by thousands of men and women on both sides of the American Civil War.


“For all of my 26 years in this community, meeting professionals who have come to Orlando tell me that attendance increases because many of their attendees want to bring the family before or after the event, and there’s a host of reasons why,” says George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “We have nonstop service from more than 100 domestic and international cities, and because we have such a large volume of leisure travelers, airfares are among the lowest of the 50 largest United States airports. The choices in lodging, from budget to five-star properties, also make Orlando attractive, and we have seven of the top theme parks in the world here, as well as many other family-friendly attractions, dining and entertainment options.

Like many other family-friendly convention destinations that do not just offer ballrooms and meetings-centric hotels, Orlando is part of a larger metropolitan area that can offer both top-notch conference and incentive properties, but offsite venues that are enticing to association meeting planners. “We’re seeing a trend where attendees don’t want to just fly in and out for a meeting, they want to experience the destination,” Aguel says. “And there’s no better place to create memories with the family than in Orlando.”

Two properties in Orlando that cater to family-friendly association and convention events is the 400-room Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek, with 25,000 sf of meeting space, and the 1,639-room Hyatt Regency Orlando, the largest Hyatt convention hotel in the world, located directly across from and connected to the Orange County Convention Center, and boasting 100,000 sf of space.

The 9th Annual 1p36 Deletion, Support & Awareness Conference was held at the Wyndham last July. The conference is for families who have children affected by 1p36 Deletion Syndrome, a genetic condition in which a small amount of genetic material is missing (deleted) at the tip of the short arm of chromosome 1.

1p36 Deletion Syndrome (also known as Monosomy 1p36) causes birth defects, minor changes in physical appearance and intellectual disabilities of varying degrees. About 300 attendees including 90 families spent three or more days in Orlando. “During the conference the families spent most of the time at Wyndham Bonnet Creek,” says Tracee Campbell, a family member and Orlando resident who attended the conference and helped plan the event. “It was really great for the families spending time together at the hotel during the conference and then staying in the area for a few days post-conference seeing all the nearby attractions that Orlando has to offer. The CVB helped me prepare 96 gift bags for the group, including brochures and discount coupons for many of the local attractions. As an Orlando resident I knew that these kids and their parents would be given a warm welcome wherever they went in the area.” The Bonnet Creek property will complete a major expansion that will increase the available meeting space by 7,000 sf by May.

The Hyatt Regency, with its sprawling infrastructure (32 stories, 315,000 sf of flexible function space; 105 breakout rooms) is a city within a city, but still manages to provide personal services to convention participants and their families. “The Hyatt Regency Orlando is located directly across the street from the Orange County Convention Center, so our property is ideal for families to tag along because we offer resort-style amenities and have beautiful grounds to explore while another family member is attending a meeting,” says Katie Satava, a Hyatt Regency Orlando marketing coordinator. “From seven onsite restaurants, three pools, a full-service spa, 24-hour fitness center to everything else in between, the property is more than able to cater to families who came with a convention or association participant.”

Mollie S. Wallace, CMP, CMM, of Texas-based Planning Professionals Ltd, agrees. “As a planner, the Hyatt Orlando is a dream property. Not only is it located in a safe, accessible location on International Drive, but it also offers close proximity to Sea World, Universal, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” says Wallace. “There is a large selection of wonderful restaurants and bars to choose from as well as shopping, golf and just about anything a family could want or need. Most of these establishments are walkable from the Hyatt or by the I Trolley, which the children and adults alike enjoy to the fullest. The Hyatt’s main pool is especially a favorite with its great waterslide, the waterfalls and all-around Caribbean flair, makes for the perfect family getaway. The poolside restaurant is fully staffed, which allows food orders anywhere within the main pool area. This hotel services both the business traveler and family alike and makes for a great meeting location or family holiday.”

New family-friendly hotel developments in Orlando include The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort’s multiphase, multiyear $125 million redesign project that will transform all 2,265 guest rooms in both the Swan and Dolphin buildings with a brand new look. The hotel’s meeting and convention space will also be equipped with the latest advancements in high-density Wi-Fi technology.

This summer, Universal Orlando Resort and Loews Hotels & Resorts will open the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, the fifth onsite hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, offering 1,000 rooms built around a lagoon and towering waterfall. A new Loews Meetings Complex, with 247,000 sf of contiguous meeting space will also open between Loews Royal Pacific Resort and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort.

This year, Walt Disney World Resort will complete a multiyear transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs. Featuring an eclectic and contemporary mix from Disney and other brands, the new expansion will double the number of shops, restaurants and other venues for families to explore to more than 150 establishments.

This summer, the Universal Orlando Resort will open an attraction at Universal’s Islands of Adventure called “Skull Island: Reign of Kong,” which will honor King Kong. Guests will board large vehicles and explore ancient temple structures while encountering hostile natives and fending off unspeakable terrors. And SeaWorld Orlando will open Mako, a 200-foot-tall coaster. It will be Orlando’s tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster, reaching speeds of 73 mph as it races along 4,760 feet of steel track, and will be the centerpiece of the newly themed two-acre plaza.

Washington DC

This past October, more than 15,000 pediatricians and their families, exhibitors and other health care professionals descended upon Washington, DC, for the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition in part because of the city’s incredible opportunities for families and children. The attendees stayed in more than 30 hotels located throughout the city, and utilized much of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The Marriott Marquis and Renaissance Washington DC hotels also were used for sessions and events, but it was city’s allure for families that was the real attraction.

“The family-friendly attractions can be found throughout the city starting with the 19 free museums and attractions that make up the Smithsonian. These include the Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum and the Natural History Museum to name a few,” says Jared Cohen, CMP, manager of convention and meeting services at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. “The AAP National Conference took advantage of these museums being located on the National Mall to host an urban scavenger hunt where families discovered and uncovered clues both inside and outside these attractions.

“The National Mall also provides a treasure of history from its numerous monuments and memorials. The AAP provided several tours including a Monuments by Moonlight evening tour that allowed attendees to hop on and off shuttles at the various monuments which seem to come alive at night, and we offered a choice of two theater performances at the world-famous Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that included ‘Beautiful, the Carole King Musical,’ and ‘Shear Madness,’ ” says Cohen.

The AAP meeting planners take the extra step to make sure that their efforts to plan for a family-friendly convention are not in vain. “Our meeting is unique in that we encourage our doctors and attendees to bring their children and families, and we plan many programs and events particularly for them,” says Cohen. “So when the AAP is sourcing a city to host its National Conference, it must offer a variety of family-friendly attractions, and Washington, DC, excels at doing that.”

For assistance with setting up some of the events the AAP worked with Destination DC. “This group designed their meeting around attending families,” says Kate Gibbs, media relations manager at Destination DC. “AAP hosted a family reception that Friday night and donated the efforts of a toy drive to a local charity afterward. Children were welcome in sessions and on the scavenger hunt. They also had a children’s art gallery with the theme of the conference in the grand lobby. The children of attendees made a cartoon-style ‘National Mall’ featuring the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument in the 150 level of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center with benches to make it look like a park.” AC&F

Back To Top