For church youth group travel and events, planners need destinations that meet a very specific set of criteria.
The destination needs to be affordable so families can fit it into their budgets; it needs to be accessible to youth groups that are busing or driving in; it needs to be safe enough that parents are willing to send their kids there. But, above all, it needs to offer enough fun to attract tweens and teens.
These destinations are consistent favorites for faith-based youth conferences because they appeal to parents, pastors, planners and, most important, kids.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Dells is known as “the water park capital of the world,” but with the Wisconsin River and plenty of lakes, the city has its fair share of water activities besides wave pools and water slides. The Dells’ man-made and Mother Nature-provided attractions, combined with its wholesome feel, make it a perennial favorite for youth groups.
“Young people love Wisconsin Dells,” said Tifani Jones, director of sales for the Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau. “They’re excited to come to a youth retreat [here], and the organization can leverage that to increase attendance.”
Four water park resorts are major players in the meetings market: Wilderness Resort, Kalahari Resorts and Conventions, Chula Vista Resort and Great Wolf Lodge. All four have indoor water parks here, making the Dells a year-round destination.
Wilderness Resort features three properties with nearly 1,200 lodging units and the 56,000-square-foot Glacier Canyon Conference Center. The 750-room Kalahari resort has 100,000 square feet of flexible convention space, and Chula Vista Resort has 641 sleeping rooms and 200,000 square feet of event space, including the Wisconsin Dells Sports Center. Great Wolf Lodge has more than 400 guest suites and 5,000 square feet of flexible meeting space.
As a major tourist destination, the Dells features a huge number of activities: The Dells Lumberjack Show or duck boat tours, the classic Tommy Bartlett Show and the new Knuckleheads Trampoline Park are just a few.
Many times, youth group leaders will “ask for that educational component,” Jones said. Groups can pair a visit to the historic studio of H.H. Bennett, the photographer whose nature photos helped make the Dells a popular vacation spot in the late 1800s, with a cruise on Dells Boat Tours, which stops at the famous Stand Rock and other-worldly Witches Gulch. The International Crane Foundation draws visitors from around the globe as the only place to see all 15 of the world’s crane species.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs, Colorado, is home base to the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Focus on the Family, so it’s no surprise the city has a reputation as a safe, wholesome community. But its proximity to Denver and abundant opportunities to experience the Great Outdoors also help make it a draw for faith-based youth groups.
Although the Broadmoor World Arena is one of Colorado Springs’ largest venues, with 7,343 fixed seats and 19,500 square feet of floor space, it may be a bit much for some youth conferences in terms of both budget and space. But the Broadmoor World Arena Youth and Community Assistance Fund helps nonprofit and other qualifying organizations rent space at the arena, the adjoining ice hall and the 2,000-seat Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts auditorium in downtown.
Downtown is also popular for youth conferences because it’s “very walkable, and there’s a lot to do,” said Chelsy Offutt, director of communications for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a nice central place.”
In downtown, the partners who transformed the Mining Exchange building into a hotel are renovating all 292 rooms and the 27,500 square feet of event space at The Antlers. A few miles south, Hotel Elegante Conference and Event Center, with 500 guest rooms and 48,500 square feet of function space, is both easy on the budget and close to attractions, Offutt said. Cheyenne Mountain Resort has 316 guest rooms and 40,000 square feet for events, and the 309-room Colorado Springs Marriott offers 24,000 square feet of meeting space.
A new Great Wolf Lodge is slated to open in December with 311 suites and a 65,000-square-foot indoor water park that will be “the first indoor water park in the state of Colorado,” Offutt said. The hotel will also have a 20,000-square-foot conference center.
Glen Eyrie Castle, the former estate of Colorado Springs’ founder, sits one mile north of the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center and is now owned by the Navigators, a Christian ministry. Groups can tour, meet and stay at the castle, which also has an on-site challenge course.