Rich history blends with modern venues and attractions
Just 100 miles long and 50 miles wide, Connecticut offers a rich, interesting history that intrigues leisure travelers and meetings attendees alike. It is nicknamed the Constitution State because of historian John Fiske’s claim that the Fundamental Orders of 1638–39 were the first written constitution in history. Adriaen Block, the first European to spy the river heights that became Hartford, did so exactly 400 years ago. And Yale University in New Haven was founded way back in 1701.
At the Mystic River and Seaport, more than 600 large vessels were built between 1784 and 1919, during the golden age of maritime transportation. The locals endured devastating British raids of ships in Essex, Old Saybrook and Stonington during the War of 1812. And the first nuclear submarine was built in Groton and launched in New London in 1954.
To highlight these and other historical elements, Connecticut’s tourism theme is “Still Revolutionary,” a reference not only to various battles with the British, but also to the state’s role in maritime, academic and other advancements across four centuries.
With great meeting space at Native American casinos and Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, there is a mix of old and new, making the state well-suited for small corporate meetings, large association events and everything in between.
Two things help make this city a bustling meetings destination: It is the capital of Connecticut, as well as the “insurance capital of America.” While major insurance firms headquartered here conduct their share of hotel-based training and education meetings, “the association market is quite strong in town as well,” says Jeffrey Musumano, who sells meetings across every city in the state as sales manager for Connecticut Convention and Sports Bureau (CCSB). “We’re getting more citywides than ever. The convention center and [mixed-use complex] Adriaen’s Landing are largely responsible for that.”
The 10-year-old Connecticut Convention Center offers 140,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, a 40,000-square-foot ballroom and 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Its 115-foot-high glass atrium makes for memorable prefunction space, while long outdoor patios facing the Connecticut River allow attendees to take a scenic break between sessions.
Attached to the center is the 409-room Marriott Hartford Downtown Hotel, with 13,500 sq. ft. of meeting space. There are 1,400 other hotel rooms within 1 mile of the center, including the 393-room Hilton Hartford and 350-room Radisson Hartford. The most recent hospitality development in town is a plan to reopen historic Goodwin Hotel, a 120-room property that was once an opulent apartment building where J.P. Morgan frequently stayed. No timetable is set for its reopening, but “the hotel retains a great deal of historic charm, which is important in selling a city,” says H. Scott Phelps, president of CCSB. “It was always a popular choice for meeting planners and attendees interested in boutique-style lodging.”
As attendees leave the convention center, they step right into Adriaen’s Landing, named for Dutch discoverer Adriaen Block. The biggest venue in this entertainment district is Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, which not only serves highly rated cuisine, but also has a music/comedy performance room that seats 500 people. Among the other half-dozen restaurants in this area is Ted’s Montana Grill, owned by media mogul Ted Turner.
For special events, Connecticut Science Center is a very popular venue. Just a few blocks north of the convention center, it has river views throughout the facility, more than 150 exhibits, a 3-D digital theater and a rooftop garden. The entire building or individual galleries can be rented.
Another attractive venue is the castle-like Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the oldest continuously operated public art museum in America (since 1842). The Wadsworth has strong collections of European Baroque art, French and American Impressionist paintings, Hudson River School landscapes, modernist masterpieces and collections of early American furniture and decorative arts. The museum also offers 10,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
One other notable meetings property is The Heritage Resort and Conference Center, set in the scenic New England countryside town of Southbury, one hour from Hartford’s Bradley International Airport (BDL) and 1.6 hours from New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA). The IACC-certified facility has a spa and golf course, and offers outdoor team-building events.
Speaking of airports, in the past two years Bradley has added direct flights from Los Angeles; Houston; Tampa and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Washington D.C., to its roster of more than 300 flights per day.
With the city more or less centered around Yale University, meetings can take advantage of what this historic institution offers. Besides taking a campus tour, groups can hold a special event at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, which is among the oldest and largest natural-history museums in the world. The museum can accommodate 300 for standing receptions and up to 150 guests for seated dinners.
During the summer, groups can coordinate with Yale Conferences and Events to use the university’s lecture halls, have meals in a traditional eating club and stay in a dormitory. Alternatively, groups can use the upscale, 124-room The Study at Yale Hotel for accommodations.
New Haven’s full-service meetings hotel is Omni New Haven, with 306 guest rooms and 19 meeting rooms, plus a 9,200-square-foot ballroom. This AAA Four Diamond, New England-style hotel is two blocks from Yale and overlooks the historic New Haven Green. For offsite events, Shubert Theater is a 1,600-seat Broadway-style theater that hosts professional productions throughout the year. It can be rented by groups for a private event or performance.
Aside from a wealth of history, New Haven has a great food culture, Musumano says. Some of the best pizza in the country (one menu item is topped with mashed potato and bacon!) are found here. Pizza and other cuisines are offered during a walking tour hosted by Taste of New Haven. Samplings include everything from ahi tuna sliders, shepherd’s pie and sweet potato fries to unique local fare such fas Jake’s Diggity Dogs and Orangeside’s square donuts. Just a 15-minute drive from New Haven is Stony Creek Brewery, a unique reception space for 500 people with indoor and outdoor space.
“Stamford is a hidden jewel for meetings, because of its proximity to New York City and the renaissance it is undergoing right now,” Musumano says. Decades ago, this waterfront town was called The City That Works, for its industrial prowess. But today, “it’s a very smart, vibrant town with lots of young professionals who work there or in New York,” Musamano says. “When I bring planners to Stamford, they are shocked that they can see the Manhattan skyline from the top of the hotels—and the rooms cost half as much as they do in Manhattan.”
As a result, more groups are meeting in this town and then taking a 45-minute trip on the Metro-North commuter rail into New York City’s Grand Central Station for a night in the big city. (Local tip: On a late-evening return trip to Stamford, a chartered bus normally encounters no traffic.) Another nearby attraction is the tony hamlet of Greenwich, home to a slew of millionaires as well as shops and restaurants that cater to them.
The top meetings hotels in this city include the 508-room Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa; 484-room Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center; 379-room Sheraton Stamford Hotel; and 355-room Crowne Plaza Stamford. New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport are less than one hour away.
Connecticut is often grouped along with New York and New Jersey as the Tri-State area. The Constitution State is the smallest and least populated of the three, and can easily get overlooked by planners. Those who have scheduled meetings there have found it to be well-suited to gatherings of all sizes.
Southeastern Connecticut Casino Resorts
Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun have helped to put Connecticut on the national radar for meetings in recent years. These two casino resorts reside within the scenic southeastern Connecticut woodlands on Native American land, 70 minutes from Bradley International Airport (BDL) and one hour from Providence’s T.F. Green Airport (PVD). Boston is a 1.6-hour drive and New York City is a 2.3-hour drive.
At Foxwoods (pictured), there’s more than 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a column-free 50,000-square-foot ballroom. The resort makes its seven restaurants available at different times of the day for unique breakout sessions. Foxwoods also offers several outdoor patios and lawns located just steps from the formal meeting areas.
Two Broadway-style theaters, seven bars/nightclubs, a huge golf clubhouse and Mashantucket Pequot Museum give planners options for daytime or happy-hour presentations that attendees will remember.
The 2,200 guest rooms at Foxwoods are split between four hotels: Grand Pequot Tower and Fox Tower are AAA Four Diamond high-rise properties; Great Cedar Hotel is a seven-story AAA Three Diamond property; and Two Trees Inn is a brief shuttle ride from the others, but offers a restaurant, bar and indoor pool.
Six miles west of Foxwoods lies Mohegan Sun, offering 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 38,000-square-foot ballroom that divides into 10 breakouts, as well as the 400-seat Cabaret Theater. Gary Baker, director of convention sales and service, notes that 400 new guest rooms will open in October in the new Earth Tower, while the existing 1,175 Sky Tower rooms will be renovated in phases through 2018. Meeting space will have new air walls and a new sound system by September.
Jeffrey Musumano of the Connecticut Convention and Sports Bureau recently conducted a tour of Mohegan Sun with several travel agents. “They are just wowed by the possibilities there,” he says. With a 10,000-seat arena that hosts 125 sporting and concert events per year, 16 restaurants and bars and a spa, it’s clear why travel agents and meeting planners find Mohegan Sun appealing.
Mystic & Old Saybrook
There are two ways for planners to view these quaint towns on the shores of Long Island Sound: as an interesting half-day excursion for groups that meet in the casino resorts, or as the host of a small to mid-sized meeting that can then use the casino resorts for evening entertainment.
“As strange as it sounds, the movie Mystic Pizza gave this area its national awareness,” Musumano says. “It’s such a busy place during the summer, but meetings there in the shoulder seasons are just perfect.”
Groups can spend a few hours enjoying a unique local experience by exploring the whaling and shipbuilding history of the region at the Mystic Seaport complex, and the marine-life education and live entertainment at Mystic Aquarium. The 285-room Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa (20,297 sq. ft. of meeting space) and the 183-room Mystic Hilton (6,400 sq. ft., pictured) are near both attractions.
Along the rocky coastline to the west of Mystic is the village of Old Saybrook, where the 81-room Saybrook Point Inn & Spa boasts panoramic waterfront views for events taking place in its 9,230 sq. ft. of meeting space. The most recent development there is Three Stories guesthouse, a refurbished Italianite-style venue that can accommodate 16 people in a private setting for small retreats.
Connecticut Convention and Sports Bureau
Connecticut Convention Center
Hartford Has It
New Haven Tourism
Major Meeting Venues
Connecticut Convention Center
Overlooks Connecticut River; just steps from Adriaen’s Landing Entertainment District; opened in 2005 as the largest meeting facility in the state; 140,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space; 25,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space; divisible 40,000-square-foot ballroom.
Hartford Marriott Downtown
Adjacent to convention center; 401 guest rooms and eight suites; indoor pool and fitness center on top floor overlooks city and river; 13,500 sq. ft. of meeting space.
One of the nation’s leading resident theaters; can be rented by groups; main theater can hold 489; groups can also use upper and lower lobby, both of which can hold up to 100 standing.
Heritage Resort and Conference Center
IACC-certified facility set in rural location in Southbury; one-hour drive from Hartford; 163 guest rooms; spa; golf; 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Connected to XL Center, which hosts concerts and sporting events; eight-minute walk to convention center; 393 guest rooms; 15,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Mark Twain House & Museum
Home of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain) from 1874 to 1891; 25-room property that caters to private events; features ornate designs crafted by Louis C. Tiffany.
Located in the historic landmark G. Fox Building, erected in 1847 in downtown Hartford; 18,086 sq. ft. of elegantly designed meeting space; mezzanine; ballroom; atrium.
Radisson Hotel Hartford
Short walk to Connecticut Science Center; near Bushnell Theater, Mark Twain’s House and Cabela’s destination store; 350 guest rooms; 8,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
One of Connecticut’s premier facilities for the performing arts; six separate stages can be used for group events; Seaverns Room accommodates 200, Belding Stage holds 908 and Mortensen Hall provides space for 2,800.
Mystic & Old Saybrook
Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa
Near historic Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium; 25 minutes to casino resorts; 285 guest rooms; 20,297 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Saybrook Point Inn & Spa
Waterfront inn; 81 guest rooms plus eight-bedroom Three Stories guest house for private retreats; 9,230 sq. ft. of meeting space.
New Haven Hotel
Walking distance to Shubert Theater, New Haven Green and Yale University and its museums; 118 recently refurbished guest rooms; two meeting rooms can fit up to 50 attendees.
Omni New Haven Hotel
Short walk to Yale University and its museums, New Haven Green and Shubert Theater; 306 guest rooms; 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 9,200-square-foot ballroom.
Located in the heart of downtown New Haven; surrounded by restaurants, boutiques and Yale University; 1,600-seat Broadway-style theater can be rented for private group events.
Southeastern Connecticut Casino Resorts
Four-hotel complex; 2,200 guest rooms; Mashantucket Pequot Museum is unique reception venue; golf clubhouse and any of 14 restaurants and bars can be rented; 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
1,175-room Sky Tower will be complemented by 400-room Earth Tower by October 2016; 16 bars and restaurants; 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space; 10,000-seat arena hosts sporting events and concerts.
Stamford & Norwalk
Chelsea Piers Connecticut
80,000 sq. ft. of indoor space offers aquatic center, tennis, squash and basketball courts; large field and track; groups can rent the space.
IACC-approved venue near Maritime Aquarium and IMAX Theater; 60-minute train ride to New York; 120 guest rooms, 21,200 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center
Short walk to rail station for New York trains; 484 guest rooms; 43,000 sq. ft. of meeting space plus 7,000 square-foot outdoor pavilion.
Sheraton Stamford Hotel
Located one mile from Palace Theater and two miles from Half Full Brewery, for special events; 379 guest rooms; 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa
Located across street from renovated Stamford Town Center Mall; 508 guest rooms (all renovated in 2011); 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.