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After-meeting exploring for faith-based groups

Courtesy Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism

Meeting-goers have been inspired, renewed, informed and maybe even entertained, but now that the meeting is over for the day, the question arises of how to fill some free time. Fortunately, meeting destinations around the country have found hundreds of great ways to keep groups occupied after the business day is done.

Alabama Gulf Coast
For meetings on the Alabama Gulf Coast, Beth Gendler, vice president of sales for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, suggests several after-meeting options.

“Obviously, we’re a beach destination, which typically plays a big part in the experiences of our visitors,” said Gendler. “People are active on the beach all 12 months of the year. It begins to warm up in March. April and May are just beautiful. Summer is our busiest season, and fall is wonderful even into December. Wear your swimsuit eight to nine months of the year.”

Team-building activities like beach Olympics are fun group activities. So are dolphin or nature cruises on the back waters, animal encounters at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo or deep-sea-fishing charters or kayaking on the waterways. There’s also biking or hiking at the area’s state park and refuge.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism meets the needs of the interdenominational ministry Student Life. The organization, based in Birmingham, Ala., brings youth groups from churches nationwide to its annual gatherings. The tourism organization helps by offering safe, fun, age-appropriate activities.

“They’re here four weeks in the summer with four-day camps,” said Gendler. “Kids stay in beach condos. They do their worship services and activities, then have free time, which is often spent on the beach.”


Niagara Falls, New York
Two northeastern meeting locations have loads of interesting, fun activities for off-hours. In Niagara Falls, N.Y., “the conference center is just two blocks from the state park where Niagara Falls itself is located,” said Reanna Darone, sales manager for Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. Want to see the falls close-up? “The Maid of the Mist boat trip is exhilarating and takes you right to Horseshow Falls. The boat sits there for a few minutes and brings you back past American Falls on the way to the dock,” said Darone.

Another thrilling, wet and wild adventure is the Cave of the Winds Tour, which takes visitors into a stormy mist zone. Tourists take an elevator 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge. Geared-up in rain ponchos and specially designed sandals, they follow wooden walkways along the Niagara River to within a few feet of the torrent of water that creates tropical-storm-like conditions. You can’t get closer to the falls.

“It’s really cool,” said Darone. “You’re right underneath Bridal Veil Falls on the hurricane deck. It’s amazing.” There’s also the movie “Niagara: Legends of Adventure” to see and an aquarium to visit.

A trolley follows a route around the state park. “You hop on, and there’s narration with fun facts and history about the falls’ daredevils, those who’ve gone over the falls in barrels and done other feats,” said Darone.

For history buffs, there’s Old Fort Niagara, built by the French in the 1700s and one of the oldest buildings on the Great Lakes.

In nearby Lewiston, N.Y., the National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima draws the faithful. Approach the basilica down the Avenue of the Saints, with more than 100 life-size statues representing saints from every race and walk of life. From the dome’s top, visitors scan the shrine grounds and countryside.


Dan Dickson

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