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Posts Tagged ‘event travel’

Grand Bend pier at sunset

Whenever I walk the beaches of Lake Huron my soul rests easy, as my footsteps leave imprints on the watery sand. I consider myself a woods and water woman – in other words, I’m drawn to those two earth elements. Sounds kind of airy, doesn’t it? The truth is, I’m pretty down-to-earth and practical by nature, and I guess that’s the key; anything that brings me back to those two elements, and I’m happy. Oddly enough, I live in the city about 45 minutes drive from the lake, but that’s okay. So long as I can escape when I need to when life and stressors get too much, I’m good with the compromise. I enjoy the close proximity to family who live in and around the city, and of course the amenities so close at hand, off-set by the 45 minute drive to the lakeshore.

My parents lived in Grand Bend, Ontario for almost thirty years, as did my husband and I for ten years. I loved small town living, walking into the grocery store or pharmacy and knowing the people working and shopping there. I revelled in being part of my community by joining the local arts group, and by extension, initiating the first writers’ group, Writing On The Beach, which still runs very well without me, now that I’m living in the city.

What’s fun and interesting is that Grand Bend and area showcases so much of those nature-based vistas that I crave, and there really is something for everyone. In fact, the region is more than a collection of small, rural Ontario towns and farms, or even the world famous sunsets over Lake Huron. It’s about a spirit and sense of belonging that permeates the air, welcoming visitors and residents alike, so I want to share some of that with my readers.

Located just 45 minutes from London, Ontario, 50 minutes from the Sarnia/Port Huron, MI border, and approximately 2 hours from Toronto, Grand Bend is the ideal spot to launch a vacation, host a creative retreat, and now, corporate events and getaways. Long known as a hub of summer activity, with pristine sandy beaches, lush Carolinian forests, The Pinery Provincial Park, bustling shopping venues and eateries to suit every taste and budget, Grand Bend has grown beyond the youth-oriented playground it became known for. Today’s Grand Bend and area has evolved to include up-scale dining establishments, entertainment venues, and “rustic-luxe” accommodations to her sandy shores.

Jeff Pacheco-Sales Manager, Oakwood Resort & Spa

In a bid to understand this exciting new side to an old favourite haunt, I met with Jeff Pacheco, Sales Manager for Grand Bend’s Oakwood Resort. The moment I walked through the wide front doors of the Oakwood, I was reminded of how truly lovely and welcoming it is. Jeff stood waiting for me, a wide smile on his face as he shook my hand. I thought I knew the Oakwood; I’d been there numerous times for brunches, lunches, and casual meals in the pub, but quickly realized there was much I had to learn.

As Jeff eagerly explained, the Oakwood has evolved too. While still maintaining its rustic lodge appeal, it has expanded beyond family vacations and local weddings to include corporate events, incentive rewards, team-building getaways, and retreats (think writing, art, music, health and wellness, etc.). With so much on hand at the resort, guests can stay put and enjoy golf, sun, sand, swimming, and pampering at the fabulous on-site spa, or they can venture 3 minutes down the highway and explore Main Street, the many shops and eateries, and of course, the main beach itself.

What I was surprised to learn is that, unlike my own assumption that the Oakwood was all about golf and pub food, is that they also offer complete experiential packages that tick all the boxes. With direct walking access to a private section of sandy beach, the Oakwood also boasts an indoor pool, plenty of large and more intimate meetings spaces, terraces with spectacular fairway views, and private dining options to suit every need. “We’re extremely dialled into what vacationers, groups, corporate, and event planners are looking for, and enjoy helping them build a getaway or event that’s fully customized,” says Jeff.

When it comes to organizing a corporate, group, or other event, I asked Jeff what advice he has for planners. “Hire a professional!” he laughed. “When working with planners, whether professional or individuals, we make a point to ask the necessary questions about guest numbers, the goal and drivers for the event, any themes or must-haves, meeting spaces, and really listen to their needs. It’s our job to make insightful suggestions, and one way we do that is by working with local experiential hosts, such as local micro-breweries, wineries, live theatre venues, and even jet-ski and parasailing adventure hosts. We work hard to make sure our guest’s time with us is truly memorable. When it comes to working with corporate event and retreat planners, we work with them every step of the way, to ensure no detail is overlooked. If you have an idea you’d like us to incorporate, let us know and we’ll work with you to make it happen. We’re always open to suggestions and new ideas!”

Cabin at Oakwood Resort

While touring the property with Jeff, I have to admit to being duly impressed by the overall scope and size of the property, along with the different types of accommodations they offer. Not only can guests stay in the main lodge, but there are a number of lovely cabins dotted along a path toward the lake that would be ideal for large and small gatherings. How ideal for a creative retreat, whereby groups can gather for meals, yoga, nature walks, mediation, and creative sessions, followed by great food and comfortable accommodations, separate from the main resort.

Of course summer is prime time for Grand Bend and the Oakwood Resort, with the lure of sun, water, sand, and summertime fun, but I wondered about the off-season and winter months.

“We have so much to offer people looking to get away from the city and really revel in nature’s wonderland during every season,” Jeff enthused. “In fact, cozying up by a roaring fire in our pub, visiting our local micro-breweries and wineries for a beverage and cheese tasting event, snowshoeing and hiking through our incredible Carolinian forests both here and at the Pinery Provincial Park, or snowmobiling the many trails that criss-cross the area, are just a few of the exceptional lures of our off-season and winter getaways.”

Talking to Jeff reminded me that Grand Bend and the Oakwood Resort really does offer some wonderful, unique opportunities not found elsewhere. After all, the on-the-beach location means visitors can walk to the shore or enjoy a meal overlooking the lake, fabulous sunsets, and sunrises, for those who love an early start to the day, accompanied by incredible views of the lake any time of year. Combine that with close (30 – 60 minutes) proximity to other day-trip worthy visits to nearby towns, such as Bayfield and Goderich, each of which offers completely different experiences and views, and you can see what I mean.

One of the biggest challenges areas such as Grand Bend face is that people tend to assume it’s a summer retreat, and forget that many local establishments, hotels, golf and country clubs, are open year round.

Winter in The Pinery

As Jeff says, “This area is so perfect for guests who love the Fall, Winter, and Spring seasons, with close, easy access to places like the Pinery Provincial Park, which is just 10 minutes down the highway, where visitors can take in the stunning Fall colours from September to November on a hike through the incredibly diverse Carolinian forest, or the brilliant greens of Spring, numerous picturesque farms, or experience the pristine beauty of our winter wonderland. The truth is, it’s the perfect place to get away to and reconnect with nature, and escape the pressures of city life and work.

When considering The Oakwood, it’s important to remember that we’re a full-service resort, with all the on-site amenities and area attractions right on our doorstep. In fact, more and more guests are just as excited about our off and shoulder-season stays, since prices are definitely lower, and there’s so much to do and explore.”

As we walked back toward the front lobby, I asked Jeff what’s next for the Oakwood.

We’re constantly looking to up our game in so many areas, but one we’re really excited about is expanding even further into corporate events. By offering customized packages that include really fun team-building components, such as our version of The Great Race, or scavenger hunts, to live entertainment, state-of-the-art technical and Wifi options, cozy or grand meeting spaces, and welcoming outdoor venues. We’re excited about the opportunity to work with companies, planners, and groups who want to experience all we and Grand Bend have to offer, without having to travel by air to distant places. In fact, industry research states that more companies are seeking meeting and event locations closer to home for a variety of very good reasons, including budgets, time considerations, and ease of travel. A fun new expansion is our increasing reach into the US market. After all, the US dollar goes quite a way here, and we offer a uniquely Canadian experience just a short 60 minute drive over the border, making us an exciting and attractive venue!

Driving away, I turned my car toward Main Street and the beach. An ice cream cone was calling my name, and I couldn’t wait to indulge my sweet tooth while meandering along the boardwalk and people-watching on that hot August day. I’m glad I was able to connect with Jeff and learn a lot more about a place I thought I already knew. Just goes to remind me that we all become complacent about what sits right in our own backyard, and by reaching out to Jeff at the Oakwood, I re-discovered an exciting vacation and event destination for the future.

For more information:

Jeff Pacheco: 519-238-7357
Oakwood website: https://oakwoodresort.ca/

Oakwood Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OakwoodResort
Oakwood Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/oakwoodresort_/
Oakwood Twitter page: https://twitter.com/OakwoodResort
Grand Bend Tourism: http://www.grandbendtourism.com/

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One way to feed the travel addiction on a limited budget is to house/pet sit. It’s a great way to see more of the world, meet wonderful people and their amazing pets, and live like a local—all for a very reasonable travel cost. As retirees, it’s been a terrific way for my husband and I to travel to places we wouldn’t likely have gone to otherwise, and are so glad we did. One such trip was a house-sitting assignment in Atlantic Beach, Florida in February/March 2016. Having never visited that region before, we had no idea what to expect. Of course I did my usual online research about the area, and pinpointed a few places I knew we’d want to visit, but that’s as far as I went research-wise.

In the past I’ve always headed to either Orlando or the Gulf Coast of Florida. I’d never set foot in northeast Florida, so I was excited to learn more about this area, it’s people, and what it has to offer travelers working with a limited budget. I have to tell you, I was blown away! The house we were caring for was a rambling one floor ranch that was quite comfortable. We were house/pet sitting for a lovely lady with two senior dogs that needed caring for while she was away on a cruise. With the house being just two blocks from Atlantic Beach, it was an ideal opportunity to get to know the Atlantic side of Florida.

What I hadn’t expected was for the area to be so lush and full of tropical flora and fauna. Although northeast Florida definitely experiences cooler winters than its more southern siblings, it’s extremely green and inviting, with plenty of palm trees, palmettos, and flowering plants everywhere. The beaches are some of the widest and longest I’ve ever experienced, which was thrilling to discover. Because we were there from February 24th to March 15th, we certainly got a taste of the cooler and wetter temperatures (ranging from around 9C to about 21C, or 48F to around 70F), but having left Southwestern Ontario, Canada’s unusual winter to early spring cold to cool temperatures, we were happy to trade our heavy winter outwear for much lighter jackets and running shoes.

Atlantic Beach

We were required to walk the dogs first thing in the morning and around 4pm each day, which left us ample opportunity to get acquainted with the neighbourhood, traverse the expanse of sand on the beach, say hello to others passing by, and chat to some of the neighbours. On all but a few occasions, we walked the dogs on the beach to allow us to really experience the Atlantic ocean, and so I could pick up a few interesting shells along the way. It’s where we also saw our first beached jellyfish, and had to take a picture to show our young grandchildren back home. There were a few days when the fog came in and blanketed the coast, making our walks eerily silent, enveloping us in a grey shroud our eyes could barely penetrate. We loved it!

I’m mostly a fair weather girl though, so I admit I revelled in the days we were able to get out and soak up some sun. The small village of Atlantic Beach is lovely, but there wasn’t much to see or do in the town itself at that time of year. We did discover a unique and inviting pub though. Poe’s Tavern on Atlantic Beach is a welcoming place to stop in for a beer and a burger. With a well-rounded menu offering over fifty beers to choose from, its in-house- ground gourmet burgers and hand-cut fries, well, you simply can’t go wrong. Unfortunately, the day we were there the weather was overcast and rainy, so we were happy to sit inside and soak up the ambience of the cozy pub and admire the dozens of Edgar Allen Poe photographs and quotes posted to the walls. On a trip to the ladies’ room, I was surprised to hear a man’s voice coming from the overhead speakers reciting one of Poe’s works, rather than the usual muzak or radio stations one usually hears. The waitress was friendly and knowledgeable, the atmosphere was ideal for a cool, dreary day, and the food was excellent. Had the weather been sunnier and warmer, we’d definitely have sat outside on the large patio dotted with many tables and umbrellas. If you’re in Atlantic Beach, do stop in and check it out for yourself.

St. Augustine

Many days we explored the region by car, checking out the magnificent homes that line the winding waterways. One day we decided to visit Marineland Dolphin Adventure just south of St. Augustine, where visitors can actually purchase tickets to get right into the water with the dolphins (with handlers, of course) and interact with these incredible animals and learn more about the abundant sea life that lives in the ocean.

Another day we opted to wander the streets of beautiful, historic old St. Augustine. Although the day we visited St. Augustine was again cool and quite windy, I could well imagine how it would be on a warm day or summer evening. With its numerous historic buildings (many of which are now gift shops, which did ruin the effect for me a bit), narrow cobblestone streets, and people walking about in period costumes all contributed to the feeling of history. I loved learning about the long coquina walls (walls constructed of sedimentary rock and shells) by the Spanish settlers, and was entranced by the idea of touching stone walls that had stood for hundreds of years. Out on the water, replica pirate ships bobbed, where tourists can pay to take a tour and “be a pirate for a day”. Much as we’d have liked to take advantage of such a fun adventure, the weather was simply too cool. The smell of briny seas was strong that day, so I could easily imagine pirates and sailors of yore shouting to one another from ship to shore, while the sights of the town and the opportunity to read up on the early days of settlement of this iconic port made the trip from Atlantic Beach well worth the visit.

On other days we took leisurely day trips to explore the many incredible beaches ranging along the coast from Jacksonville Beach up to Little Talbot and Amelia Island, Georgia. In late February to March, most of the beaches we visited were either delightfully deserted, or inhabited by only a few other couples and families. Be prepared to walk though, since many of these beaches are accessible only by long boardwalks or paths leading from parking areas to surf. This of course is meant to protect the beach and wildlife from human interference as much as possible. On a hot day, the trek can be a bit of a challenge for anyone with mobility or breathing difficulties, but if you go, it’s well worth the effort once you get down to your destination.

TPC Sawgrass Golf Club

My husband loves to golf, so any opportunity to swing the clubs is a welcome one for him. For those looking to get in a little golf, there numerous courses to indulge your addiction for every budget. If you’re looking for a luxury golf vacation, executive retreat, or corporate event though, then the TPC Sawgrass is the ideal venue for you. Partnered with the Marriott Golf Resort and Spa in Pont Vedra Beach, it really does offer something for everyone; from fine dining, spa visits, lazy days soaking up the sun by the pool, to idyllic golf conditions at the world headquarters of professional golf.

All in all, we were extremely impressed with all that Florida’s northeast coast has to offer, and would certainly return in a heart beat. The main take-away for us was the fact that anyone can take advantage of the many free and low-cost options to explore, walk, and learn more about a destination, if they choose. Much as I love luxury living and accommodations, that trip will stand out as a truly memorable one, not because of a beautiful hotel, room, or hospitality service, but because we made the effort to get out and explore on our own, investigating the roads, beaches, and towns we’d read about back home, and are now part of our experiential travels we treasure.

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