Meetings Guide: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Located 50 miles from Milwaukee and 80 miles from Chicago, the Lake Geneva area of Wisconsin is best known for its historic mansions, or perhaps for being the location of the first Playboy resort. Or — if you’re a gamer — for being the site of the annual Gary Con, a celebration of Dungeons and Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. But, as I discovered first-hand in October, Lake Geneva is also a great location for corporate events.
For an area whose total population is no more than 20,000 residents, Lake Geneva has a surprising number of resorts, activities and amenities. While the area is referred to as “Lake Geneva,” it actually comprises several towns and several lakes: Delavan Lake, Geneva Lake and the much smaller Como Lake.
This brief guide highlights a few of the properties available for corporate events and team building activities.
The Abbey Resort
Located on the shores of Geneva Lake, which boasts water so clear you can see the bottom more than 100 feet down, The Abbey Resort offers more than 40,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor/outdoor event space.
One standout offering at The Abbey is their Immersion Virtual Entertainment Center. The Center includes a cinema with a 90” screen and a VR room with four gaming stations where guests can try out the latest immersive games and experiences.
For our press group, the hotel hosted a special “farm-to-fork” group dinner that featured Wisconsin Bel Gioioso cheeses, local meats and vegetables as well as family-style entrees from Chef Joshua North. Entertainment was provided by local musicians Triple D. The event was held in the standalone West Shore Pavilion, which is surrounded by lawn area.
Before dinner, we were divided into teams for an appetite-inducing game of disc golf, one of the property’s numerous options for team building activities. Disc golf is really more like frisbee than golf, and is fun even for sports-challenged people like me (although perhaps dangerous to those standing on either side of the errant disc). One warning about any outdoor activities in Wisconsin — don’t forget to pack and faithfully apply mosquito repellant. Trust me on that.
The Abbey contains 334 guest rooms and suites, plus 14 luxury villas. The resort also has a spa, fitness center, boat rentals, indoor and outdoor pools, a wintertime ice rink and more.
Grand Geneva Resort
Hugh Hefner’s inaugural Playboy resort opened in 1968 and closed in 1981. After a ten-year stint under another name, it reopened in 1993 as the Grand Geneva. Memorabilia, including an original Bunny costume, is tastefully showcased throughout the property. Visitors should try to spot the hidden bunny sign in the property map displayed in the hallway!
The property offers 62,000 square feet of meeting space, with four ballrooms and thirty-five breakout spaces — plenty of space for groups of up to 2,000. There are 355 guest rooms and suites in the main building, 29 luxury villas, and an additional 225 at the Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark. And the on-property golf course, Mountain Top ski slopes, and Adventure Center, plus spacious fitness center and spa, offer many opportunities for team building, incentives and personal relaxation. While not actually on a lake, Grand Geneva has its own man-made lake to make up for it.
Dining at The Chop House restaurant on the first night of my visit set a high bar. The local cheese and meat plate would have been enough to make a meal out of, but the lobster mac and cheese was well worth saving room for. I also had my first Wisconsin Old Fashioned cocktail in the bar outside the restaurant (which incidentally can also be transformed for use as a private meeting space). This Midwestern version of the classic is made with brandy rather than whisky, and was a definite pick-me-up after being outside on a chilly day.
Lake Lawn Resort
Lake Lawn is another resort with every amenity groups might need. There is a golf course, boat rental, bike rental, seasonal ice skating, fitness center and spa, all on property. The hotel is located along 2 miles of Delavan Lake, with walking/biking trails for guests who wish to see more of the lakefront’s beauty.
Lake Lawn can host groups of up to 500. The property, which evokes the feeling of a camp or ski lodge, offers 32,000 sq. ft. of meeting space with 22 meeting rooms. Each of its 271 oversized guest rooms has a patio or balcony. Suites and loft rooms are perfect for families who need a little more space.
Lake Lawn also has a rich history. The lake shore was occupied by the Potawatomi tribe more than 1,000 years ago. More recently, the grounds were the location for the Mabie Circus, later purchased by Barnum and Bailey. The bones of Juliet, a circus elephant whose corpse was pushed out onto the ice after death, still lie on the lake bottom — the ones that haven’t already disappointed fishermen hoping they were reeling in a decent catch, that is.
I got to experience another first at Lake Lawn: sampling kringle at a press breakfast. This tasty Danish pastry from Racine apparently has a cult following, and after trying it with several different fillings, I understand why.
The Ridge Hotel's lobby is modern, trendy and open. The lobby bar offers pastries, excellent local coffee, cocktails, and to-go beverages ranging from kombucha to New Glarus Spotted Cow beer. The latter is only available in-state, and I’ve been told that Minnesota and Illinois residents will drive over state lines just to stock up.
The majority of the hotel’s 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space is located down one level from the lobby. The Ridge can accommodate up to 500 attendees in two ballrooms that can be divided into sections, plus a breakout room and a boardroom. An outdoor patio and small pavilion are also available for group rentals. Guests have a birds eye view of Como Lake, which is in easy walking distance.
Stacey Lucas, sales manager for Paloma Resort Properties, commented that the Ridge operates under the belief that “everyone should be able to be connected wherever they are.” I noted a multitude of power outlets in both the meeting spaces and common areas, and WiFi is readily accessible throughout the property.
Tours and Leisure Activities
No meeting is complete without some form of group activity. And when in a lake region, what better way to see the area than by boat? A cruise around Geneva Lake begins at The Riviera, of course. Cruising past magnificent mansions makes one wonder what life was like on the lake 100 years ago. Making the trip aboard the yacht Polaris, built in 1898 for millionaire Otto Young, helps set the mood. These days, Polaris is the oldest boat on the lake.
A U.S. Mail Boat tour takes guests along on an actual mail delivery route, assuming your visit is between mid-June and mid-September. Or, opt for a geocaching competition, solving puzzles that provide clues to the location of hidden treasure.
For those looking for an adrenaline boost, Lake Geneva Canopy Tours offers a fun team building or group activity: zip-lining. Their nine-line tour is a progressive course. Participants start with a short training course, and a short first run. From there, the lines get longer — and higher up. Climbing up ladders bolted onto trees or walking across wobbly skybridges that invoke Indiana Jones movies can be a bit frightening, but the rush from zipping through the trees with a view of Como Lake makes it all worthwhile.
This guide is just a peek into what Lake Geneva has to offer. For more information or assistance with finding the perfect location and activities for your event, you can call upon the experts at VISIT Lake Geneva.