Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: July August 2012
Taking The Family: Travel For Business & Pleasure
By: Michael Bennett
You’ve been on the road for a week. You come home Friday evening exhausted. But that’s not the end of your week. It’s family time. The kids are anxious to share their life experiences of the week gone by – the one that you missed thanks to “the job.” Your significant other wants some romantic time. As you settle in to family life, Sunday evening rolls around and that ugly suitcase is being packed once again for the next out of town adventure.

That’s the life of a road warrior – always striving to balance work and the demands of family. Trying to explain why daddy or mommy has to leave home so often is painful, if not down right heartbreaking. I hated the look on my son’s face when that cab pulled up to whisk me away to the airport.

The solution. Blended travel – combing business and leisure trips with the family has gained momentum in recent years. A survey conducted by the Meredith Corporation in 2010 found that 77 percent took family or a significant other on their last business trip, and 47 percent do it a majority of the time.

Many business-oriented hotels now make accommodations for children. But there’s more to blended travel than a comfortable bed. You must consider things like babysitting services, local attractions like museums, amusement parks and outdoor activities. How easy is it to get around. Below are some family-friendly destinations perfect for the troubled business traveler looking to maximize time with the family.

BIRMINGHAM, AL

This city has that rare combination of wonderful family-friendly activities with outstanding hotel properties, meeting facilities, and infrastructure to support both business and leisure time pursuits. There are 14,000 hotel rooms in the greater Birmingham area, the largest the 757-room Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. Many of the larger properties have their own meeting facilities and some come with kitchen facilities perfect for some in room cooking options.

If you arrive in Birmingham to attend a convention or large group gathering, the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Center can accommodate virtually any kind of event across four separate buildings: Arena, Concert Hall, Theatre and Exhibition Hall and also includes a large central piazza for outdoor events. The Exhibition Hall has over 220,000 sq. ft.. The facility has 60 meeting room – the largest can accommodate 1,950 people.

Getting to Birmingham is actually quite easy with 136 daily flights to 47 airports in 44 different cities throughout the United States. If you are close enough to drive, three major interstate highways merge in Birmingham.

If you’re a family on a tight budget Birmingham is a great destination for blended travel. The city consistently ranks among America’s most affordable destinations for residents and visitors alike. That affordability is one of the reasons Birmingham has a thriving family reunion business. So what is there to do when either parent or a spouse is away at their business meeting? Well there is no need to sit in a hotel room, at least not in Birmingham.



Birmingham is a city with a little something for everyone from dining, shopping, and culture to sports and recreation. Looking for places to include on your itinerary? Try the Birmingham Zoo, Alabama Adventure, Riverchase Galleria, McWane Science Center, the Barber MotorSports Park and the world famous Talladega Motor Speedway. Great food is a way of life in Birmingham, so much so that the Alabama Department of Tourism declared 2012 the “Year of Alabama Food.” Visitors can’t go wrong here whether it’s for a romantic dinner or you have the kids in tow.

Birmingham is known for its vibrant nightlife with live entertainment and live theater throughout the city. Nothing evokes culture and history like Birmingham thanks to its prominent role in the Civil Rights Movement. Rather than run from its painful past, Birmingham has put it on display for all to see through the many museums and monuments in the city.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Sixteenth Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park should definitely be on your itinerary. It’s a chance to learn, and share in a cultural and historical experience that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the United States.

To learn more about Birmingham log on to www.birminghamal.org or call (800) 458-8085. And if you have a specific interest in Civil Rights there is a link on the site to lead you to guided tours and other attractions such as the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, and the Fourth Avenue Business District.

PHILADELPHIA, PA
The birthplace of American democracy with its myriad attractions and things to do is also one of America’s top meeting destinations and business centers. The newly expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC) is the 14th largest in the country. This state-of-the-art high-technology center makes it one of the more adaptable convention centers in the nation. The PCC features 700,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including the largest contiguous meeting space in the northeast.

Located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, there are over 11,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the PCC, many directly across the street. Need to expand your wardrobe? You’ll want to do that right here in Philadelphia as clothes and shoes can be purchased tax-free. Tax-free shopping has proven such a draw that many conventioneers plan their work and leisure time schedules around a visit to the many name brand stores and local boutiques.



Some of the top shopping areas are: Franklin Mills Mall, Macy’s Center City, King of Prussia Mall, Philadelphia Premium Outlets, Reading Terminal Market and Khmer Art Gallery. Jewelers’ Row on Sansom Street between 7th and 8th streets is the nation’s first, and second-largest diamond district.

Looking for things to do with the kids while your spouse is away from the hotel on business? Philadelphia’s six must see attractions are The Franklin Institute, Adventure Aquarium, Phila Trolley Works Tour & The Big Bus Company, Philadelphia Zoo, The National Constitution Center or Academy of Natural Sciences and the Eastern State Penitentiary or Please Touch Museum. For a distinctly African-American experience try the African American Museum of Philadelphia or combine a visit to the museum with a Black History Tour.

And of course no trip to Philly would be complete without a historical journey through the city starting with Independence Hall and a stop by the Liberty Bell. The best way to take in these attractions is by purchasing a Philadelphia CityPass. You’ll save 47 percent and skip most ticket lines. The passes are good for nine days giving you ample time to take it all in without wearing yourself out.
Philadelphia is also well known for its numerous festivals and events celebrating everything from Independence Day to food, gospel, the arts, music, and yes ice cream.

There has been a 30 percent increase in the number of restaurants in or around City Center since 2005 featuring a little something for every palate. If you have a craving for Soul Food try Ms. Tootsie’s on South Street. Be forewarned, this place is extremely popular for tourists and locals alike. And talk about sports, the most rabid sports fans in America come from Philadelphia and they are more than happy to share that experience with all visitors. Take a sports tour and visiting the Eagles locker room, hit a home run at the Phillies indoor batting cage, shoot hoops at the Sixers home court or hit a puck on the Flyer’s rink.

To learn more about the City of Brotherly Love go to www.philadelphiausa.travel or call (215) 636-3300.

TOURISM WINDSOR ESSEX PELEE ISLAND, CANADA

If your business travels takes you to Detroit or Southern Canada you would be doing yourself a terrible injustice if you didn’t take the family and visit Windsor, Essex and Pelee Island. The Windsor, Essex, Pelee Island region is within a days travel of over half of the population of the United States and Canada. Windsor/Essex is located just across the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit and getting here takes just a few minutes by car.

If you’re a little further away, Air Canada, Delta and WestJet have service to Windsor International Airport. And for a little more of a scenic ride try taking an Amtrak train from the U.S. Windsor/Essex has great shopping, arts and entertainment, gaming & nightlife, festivals and an outstanding sports tourism and wineries/agri-business product.



But any visit to the region must include touring the numerous Underground Railroad landmarks. Canadians also celebrate Black History Month and are proud of their role in providing sanctuary for escaped slaves.

A few sites you’ll want to visit include: Buxton National Site and Historic Museum, Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, John Freeman Walls Historic Site, National Black Historic Museum, Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site and Sandwich First Baptist Church – the oldest active Black Church in Canada.

If your travels take you to Windsor in August go to the Emancipation Celebration self-titled as “The Greatest Freedom Show on Earth.” This is a multi-cultural extravaganza that invites people of all ethnicities to commemorate The Emancipation Act of 1833 that made Canada the final stop on the Underground Railroad to freedom. This event includes an Emancipation Gospel Festival, Walk-A-Thon and a Children’s Village. Their website is http://www.emancipationday.ca/home.php.

You should seriously consider staying in the Windsor/Essex area for a few days. They have all the name brand hotels from the luxury to economy from motels to Bed and Breakfast properties. For meetings and large gatherings Caesars Windsor is a 758-room hotel property with 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Off-site venues include the Ambassador Golf Club, Canadian Club Brand Center and Colio Estate Wines.

Pelee Island is the largest of a group of seven islands that are southern most point in Canada situated in Lake Erie at the Canada/U.S. border between Sandusky, Ohio and Windsor/Essex, Canada. To get here try one of the ferries that offers vehicle and transportation services between mid-March and mid-December from both Canadian and U.S. ports. A small airport also services the island. Pelee Island offers a range of accommodations from Bed & Breakfast to cottages and campgrounds. It’s a great place for a romantic getaway.

The island has wineries, a kite museum, beaches, biking, a great lighthouse, bird sanctuaries, fishing charters and so much more. This is the place to go if you want some peace and quiet. Please beware that some establishments and activities on the island are seasonal so check ahead. To learn more about the Windsor/Essex/Pelee Island region go to www.visitwindsoressex.com or call 800-265-3633.

TIMBER TOPS LUXURY CABIN RENTALS, TN

Located 40 miles south east of Knoxville, TN just outside Smoky Mountains National Park is Sevierville and Timber Top Luxury Cabin Rentals. The Smokey Mountains is one of the top vacation spots in the country due to its seclusion and its sheer natural beauty. Mountains and high ridges on all sides make this the perfect getaway, if you are looking for a little peace and quiet. And for you newlyweds it’s the second most popular resort in America and a great place for intimate retreats.



With Timber Top you’ll have a choice of over 300 luxury log cabins with top of the line amenities such as hot tubs, Jacuzzis, saunas, spas private indoor heated pools, pool tables/game rooms, Internet facilities, and an extensive range of entertainment facilities, such as home theater systems, plasma TV’s, PlayStation, electronic dartboards and media rooms.

Timber Top offers cabin rentals in a variety of resort locations throughout the Smoky Mountain area from Starr Crest to Hidden Spring Resort.Cabins are from one to 15 bedrooms and can sleep up to 30 people. There are several types of cabins to choose from. This list includes: honeymoon, secluded, semi-secluded, spectacular view, in-cabin pool and cabins with outdoor pools.  Many of the cabins are pet friendly so you don’t have to leave what many people believe to be the most important member of the family at home.

In nearby Gatlinburg, the Gatlinburg Convention Center has over 148,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and exhibit space. The fully-staff kitchen can provide exceptional food, flowers, wine and spirits for as many as 3,000 people. The area boasts many outdoor activities including: great skiing, biking riding, horseback riding and rafting.

To learn more about Timber Tops Luxury Cabin Rentals call (877) 549-6775 or log on to www.yourcabin.com.

PENSACOLA, FL
Located in the northwest corner of the Florida panhandle, this vacation hotspot is one of America’s best-kept secrets, that is until you read this article. From Perdido Key to Pensacola Beach, this are has some of the best beaches in the world and that’s just a fact. There are great hotel properties from resort style to economy, many literally steps away from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Pensacola offers a wealth of meeting venues from facilities in beachfront resorts to the National Aviation Museum. The museum is 10,000 sq. ft. and can accommodate 1,000. The Pensacola Civic Center can hold 10,000 people.



As you might imagine there are festivals and water activities galore around Pensacola. And don’t forget your golf clubs. To learn more about this Florida vacation hotspot log on to www.visitpensacola.com or call (800) 874-1234. There is no better spot to blend work and pleasure than Pensacola.

TORONTO

Toronto might arguably be the trendiest city in North America. This city has everything.  It’s a top meetings destination for international groups, associations and tradeshows. The city is within 90-minutes of 60 percent of the U.S. population; with 8,000 restaurants and 38,000 hotel rooms and more on the way.

The largest meeting venues are the Direct Energy Centre with over 1 million sq. ft. of flexible meeting space and depending on configuration can hold up to 15,000 people.  Three other large venues are the International Centre with over 500,000 sq. ft., the Toronto Congress Center with over one million sq. ft. and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with over 600,000 sq. ft. For corporate meetings and special events head to Air Canada Centre, home of hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. This facility can also be converted to a 5,800-seat theatre.



Also try Rogers Centre, home of baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays. This unique baseball stadium with a retractable roof hosts several private field events, galas and dinners. You know that global recession we hear about, well it missed Canada. There is more new construction, especially in the area of hotel properties than anyplace I have visited in recent memory.

The 65-story Trump International Hotel and Tower opened earlier this year. Soon to open (and might be by press time) is a 55-story Four Seasons Hotel. And under construction is the 65-story Shangra La. All three properties along with the other great hotel brands are within walking distance of most of Toronto’s top attractions. Toronto is the cultural, entertainment and financial capital of Canada and welcomes over 16 million tourists a year. This city has everything you would expect to find in any large American city with outstanding restaurants, arts, entertainment and sports – in fact, sports tourism is big business in Toronto.

One of the top attractions is Canada’s Wonderland, with over 200 attractions and 65 thrilling rides including North America’s greatest variety of roller coasters. The park usually opens in May and closes in October.  If you’re really into amusement parks you might also want to visit Centreville Amusement Park Ontario Place and NASCAR SpeedPark.

Outdoor activities are in abundance in Toronto. Take a trip to Riverdale Farm, the only farm remaining in Toronto. For recreational activities try cycling in High Park, The Beaches or Toronto Island – a 10-minute ferry ride from mainland Toronto. During the winter months Nathan Phillips Square turns into an outdoor ice skating rink. You can also ice skate for free at Toronto’s City Hall or HarbourFront Centre. Both sites have onsite skate rentals, music and lots of hot chocolate. One of the best zoos in all of North American is the Toronto Zoo with over 5,000 animals representing some 500 species.

From museums to events such as the Beaches International Jazz Festival, to wineries and Breweries, outstanding restaurants and spas Toronto lacks for nothing. Don’t’ forget your passport. To learn more about this great city go to seetorontonow.com or call (800) 499-2514.

NORFOLK, VA
Located where the Chesapeake meets the Atlantic, this bustling port city is a perfect destination for families, boaters, golfers and outdoor enthusiasts.  There are numerous fishing, boating, swimming, crabbing, harbor cruising, jet skiing and water skiing opportunities. A couple of festivals to include on your itinerary are the Norfolk Jazz Festival in July and the Virginia Children’s Festival in October.



The Attucks Theatre, named after Crispus Attucks the first African-American to lose his life during the Boston Massacre, is the oldest remaining legitimate theatre in the nation. It was completely financed, designed, constructed and operated by African-Americans.  Built in 1919, the theatre is still very much active with live musical performances, plays and dramatic readings. Once known as the “Apollo of the South” this theatre is on the state and national register of historic places.

The Chrysler Museum of Art has over 30,000 pieces of art spanning 5,000 years, including African and African-American artwork.  At the corner of Brambleton Avenue and Church Street is an 83-ft. granite monument honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., and other slain Civil Rights leaders. Another Norfolk site worth a visit is the West Point Monument at Elmwood Cemetery. It’s recognized by many as the South’s only known tribute to African-American veterans of the Civil and Spanish American Wars.

A statute of Sergeant Carney, the first Black solider to be killed during the war, marks the Virginia Civil War Trail site. Norfolk has over 5,400 sleeping rooms and 263,370 sq. ft. of meeting space. A third of those hotel rooms and almost all of the meeting space is located downtown. To learn more about this great blended travel destination go to www.visitnorfolktoday.com or call (800) 368-3097.

MICHIGAN CITY & LA PORTE, IN

Located on the southeast corner of Lake Michigan, between South Bend and Gary, IN., Michigan City and La Porte County is one of the region’s top tourist destinations.  The excitement of Michigan City with the Blue Chip Casino and Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets with 120 stores, blends wonderfully with the classic Midwest hospitality of La Porte just a few minutes south of Michigan City and its historic neighborhoods, farmlands, fruit orchards and lakes. Combined, this makes for a wonderful family destination.



The 65,000-sq. ft. casino has two hotels with 486 rooms, a spa, five restaurants and the 1,300-seat Stardust Event Center, perfect for those group gatherings. The casino also has the Orleans Ballroom, which seats 320 and the Sam’s Town Ballroom, which holds 220 people. The La Porte Civic Auditorium can hold a maximum of 1,620 people depending upon configuration, with multiple meetings rooms and a gym.

The region is full of family-friendly activities with museums such as the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum, the Hesston Steam Museum and the Great Lakes Museum of Military History. Just two miles west of Michigan City is Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore/Mt. Baldy, featuring a 123-ft. sand dune. There’s art, theater, music, festivals, beaches and lots of water activities. Try bike riding through the many parks and trails or charter fishing.

If you are looking for a tranquil place to unwind as opposed to a busy hotel, there are numerous Bed & Breakfast properties and a couple of spas to soothe those aching bones after a day of strenuous fun-filled activity. For spas try Reverie Spa Retreat LLC or the year round couples resort Serenity Springs. For more information on the Michigan City La Porte area go to www.MichiganCityLaPorte.com or call (800) 634-2650.

GREENSBORO, NC
Centrally located in North Carolina’s heartland “Where the Mountains Meet the Coast,” Greensboro is a treasure trove of blended travel and family-friendly activities. The city boasts 135 attractions, 500 restaurants and 86 accommodations to choose from.



The Greensboro Coliseum Complex is one of the best facilities in the country designed for maximum flexibility. This complex holds over 800 events each year. That equals out to two a day. The 167,000-sq. ft. Special Events Center can be partitioned into four halls leaving 60,000 sq. ft. for exhibits and 4,500 seats for general setup for group sessions or entertainment.

Meeting planners could also choose the 23,500-seat Coliseum Arena and the adjacent 2,300-seat War Memorial Auditorium. This complex can also be configured for small intimate gatherings. These large venues have some of the best state-of-the-art technology in the country. Greensboro is also home to Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons/Joseph S. Koury Convention Center. The hotel features 990-rooms and the attached convention center has approximately 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting and convention space.

Greensboro is steeped in African American history. For an educational experience take the family downtown to the historic district of Old Greensborough and the famous F.W. Woolworth Company site, where on February 1, 1960, four North Carolina A & T students staged a sit-in at the segregated lunch counter and refused service. This was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. On the 50th anniversary of the sit-in the International Civil Rights Center and Museum opened. Stop by and take the tour.

Take the kids to the Natural Science Center of Greensboro and the Animal Discovery Zoological Park. Also try the Barn Dinner Theatre and the Greensboro IceHouse. For more Greensboro activities go to www.visitgreensboronc.com or call (800) 344-2282. Blended travel is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the family on a budget. The hotel room costs are covered on the nights the business trip overlaps. If you add extra days, you might qualify for a lower corporate rate.

Attendance at meetings and conventions increase when employees are allowed to bring their families along. Many hotels have responded to this trend by creating kid-friendly programs that incorporate tours, site seeing activities, amusement parks and baby-sitting services. Who among us has not seen the PlayStation and Xbox games in some hotel rooms?

Many corporations and meeting planners are actively seeking on site children’s programs at conventions and tradeshows. Accent on Children’s Arrangements accentoca.com and KiddieCrop kiddiecorp.com provide childcare and babysitting services for groups and individuals attending conference and conventions.

Experts say parents should seek properties with adjoining rooms or suites with two rooms to allow space for those cranky teenagers or a place to nap for the little ones.  For the Road Warriors among us blended travel just might be the answer.
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