ConventionSouth magazine is the leading resource for meeting planners who book all types of events, conventions, conferences and group travel in the south.
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F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 5 ⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 49 Did you know that Virginia offers one of the South's biggest wine countries? And there's no place better to experience this than the Virginia city of Norfolk. I found this out for myself during a recent tour of the city during the Town Point Virginia Wine Festival held in October. The downtown riverside affair features about 30 Virginia wineries pouring samples of their grapy libations from tables set up under pro- motional tents. The eight-acre Downtown Nor- folk Waterfront Park on the Elizabeth River was bustling and graced with perfect sunny, breezy weather. But you don't have to visit Norfolk in Octo- ber to experience wine. Take your group to a wine tasting event at Norfolk's own Mermaid Winery. This urban winery is located in the charming Ghent neighborhood and focuses on producing small lots of wines using Virginia grapes. Their food menu ranges from classical charcuterie and artisanal cheese platters to sandwiches and entrees. Those who have never been to Norfolk or haven't been in a long time will be surprised at the coastal city's downtown development. Expanding on its vibrant downtown location surrounded on three sides by water, the city features dining options ranging from vegan fare to a rapidly expanding coffeehouse scene, art programs that include an interactive glass blowing studio and highly lauded public art exhibitions, and a forward-thinking transit system. "Norfolk is a unique blend of urban edge combined with 144 miles of shoreline which makes it an ideal place to hold a meeting or convention," said Donna Allen, vice president of sales and marketing for Visit Norfolk. "Whether you are looking for traditional meet- ing spaces or a more unique off site venue, Norfolk has it all! Getting here couldn't be easier, whether it's by air, passenger rail or car, and once you're here getting around is even easier via foot or light rail." Event pros agree as several who were with me on the tour noted their high regards for the city as a meetings destination. "Downtown Norfolk is very walkable, very safe and has a lot of neat things to do," said Tammy Faust, president of Charleston, South Carolina-based Square One Meeting Planning. "My peo- ple like to be within walking distance of area attrac- tions and restaurants and Norfolk is perfect for my groups in that respect." Tanya Doggett, global accounts man- ager for HelmsBriscoe in Laurel, Md., liked the city's convenient compactness as well. "I was pleasantly surprised by how walkable downtown Norfolk is," said Doggett. "The waterfront is right there, the hotel is right there, you have sightseeing right there—so every- thing is close, which is what I really like for my clients." When it comes to the city's lodging offers, our group of travel writers and planners had the opportunity to experience the Norfolk Water- side Marriott while others were at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel. Renee Thomas, global accounts manager for HelmsBriscoe in Columbia, Tenn., was impressed with both hotels, especially noting that the Marriott offered "phenomenal meeting space and a lot of it," and the Sheraton offered an "amazing staff where everyone was very accommodating." Norfolk's friendly rates were another thing that pleased meeting planners, especially Faust, who puts together many meetings and events for government offices and is seeking a low per diem rate. n ‰ The Chrysler Museum of Art and a glassblowing session at the affiliated glass studio. ‰ A Sail About on the Elizabeth River with Sail Nauticus. ‰ A visit to the Battleship Wisconsin, berthed beside Nauticus, a riverfront science and maritime center. The Battleship Wisconsin recently opened up several spaces on and in the huge ship for special events. n My Must-Do List While Meeting In Norfolk Cheers! Norfolk's Wine Is Flavorful & This Coastal City Is Festive Visit Mermaid Winery S I T E V I S I T By T. Wayne Waters Norfolk M e r m a i d W i n e r y