By Sylvia Forbes
After the leaves fall and the water turns too cold to swim or water-ski, what’s left for visitors to do at the Lake of the Ozarks? Plenty, as it turns out! Between eagle watching, gallery-hopping, spa pampering, antiquing and golfing (yes, winter golfing), conference planners will find an abundance of wintertime activities to delight their attendees. However, activities are just one of many reasons the area is a hit with meeting planners.
Tim Jacobsen, Executive Director of the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau, gives another reason for the popularity of the area. “With the Lake’s central location in Missouri, we’re accessible to everyone, so people don’t have to drive as far in winter weather,” he says.
“Many of our association groups tell us that regardless of the time of year, their attendance is at its highest when their meeting is held at the Lake of the Ozarks,” agrees Mary Jo Biggs, Director of Sales with the Lake of the Ozarks CVB. She notes that the Lake can also be a good choice, budget-wise. “The meeting planner’s dollar goes very far at the Lake. During the winter season, many of our properties offer discounted rates to entice clients. They also offer special package pricing that may include special amenities designed especially for each group.”
“We have two Web sites that highlight the Lake to meeting planners,” Biggs says. “The first, www.funlakemeetings.com, focuses on the request for proposal process that makes a meeting planner’s job so much easier. Our other Web site, www.funlake.com, showcases the area and includes a calendar of events that highlights upcoming events and festivals. This is a great tool for the meeting planner to communicate with his/her attendees about the things to do while they are at the Lake of the Ozarks. In addition, our properties have the ability to add special rates and packages under our Specials category.”
Dave Griffin, general manager at the Lodge of Four Seasons, gives a couple more reasons why planners choose the Lake for winter conferences. “Meetings are better attended in winter, by holding them at a resort. Attendees can bring their spouse or family, stay an extra day or two, and have some time together. Also, we have free parking – in many of the big cities, parking charges can add up to a significant expense for meeting-goers.”
The Lodge of Four Seasons
“When people walk into our lobby in wintertime, the crackling fire makes a warm and inviting welcome for our guests,” says Griffin. “We also have fireplaces in 18 of our guest rooms. It’s nice to look out at the lake on a cold day, from a cozy room. There are a number of restaurants and lounges throughout the area that have great views of the lake, too.”
At the Lodge of Four Seasons, meeting planners can count on a variety of activities available for conference-goers, without ever having to leave the property.
Special wintertime events include a Holiday Market, a large Thanksgiving buffet, a Mistletoe Brunch on several Saturdays in December, and afternoon teas on selected Sundays. A New Year’s celebration package is also available. Throughout the holiday season choirs, bands and bell-ringers perform at the resort, providing a festive atmosphere.
Planners may also wish to book the Tropic Island, the resort’s 125-passenger cruise boat that is available for group charters during winters. The Lodge’s award-winning Spa Shiki is open year-round and offers individual treatments such as Swedish massage, green tea body wrap and Japanese milk baths, as well as half- and full-day pampering packages.
As an aid to parents, the resort offers an Adventure Club for kids, a children’s area filled with computer games and movies, where kids can spend all day having supervised fun. Also available is in-room babysitting.
“Tan-Tar-A is a self-contained property,” explains Ann Walters, Director of Sales for the resort. “No matter what the weather is like outside, once you arrive, there’s no need to leave.” One of the most popular activities at Tan-Tar-A is the Timber Falls Indoor Water Park, available on weekends and school holidays during winter. The resort also has an indoor pool, a bowling alley, tanning beds and an outdoor miniature golf course.
The resort kicks off its winter season with a Winter Holiday Festival. “After the all-day Thanksgiving buffet,” says Walters, “we have a bonfire and do a singalong, with a DJ playing Christmas carols. We do our tree lighting, and our whole resort lights up. We also shoot off fireworks and parents can have their children’s pictures taken with Santa.”
“For the weekend after Thanksgiving, we’ll hold a scavenger hunt throughout the hotel and play bingo. We offer shuttle service to the Outlet Mall on the five Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, for guests wanting to shop. We also offer tram tours around our property, to look at the lights. On the first two Saturdays in December, we have a cookie decorating activity for kids, along with face painting, Christmas craft-making and pictures with Santa.”
“We do a huge New Year’s Eve Party,” adds Walters. “We set up a casino in our ballroom, and guests use play money to have fun. They can win chances on a trip to Las Vegas. We also offer a Ballroom Package, which includes a room, a buffet, a live band for dancing, party favors, and a champagne toast, for $299 per couple. For families of four, we have a package that includes the room, a pizza party and the water park, for $239.”
The resort also has its own excursion boat, the Ozark Princess, which holds 94 and can be chartered for cruises during winter.
Country Club Hotel & Spa
The Country Club Hotel & Spa specializes in smaller meetings. “We do small meetings on a grand scale,” says Jan Schafer, Sales and Catering Administrative Assistant. Flexible meeting space includes everything from ballrooms to boardrooms, all with wireless Internet. There’s a Thanksgiving buffet, as well as a New Year’s party for guests. Winter activities for guests include an indoor tennis court, an Olympic-sized indoor pool, a luxury spa and fitness center and live jazz four nights a week. Special spa and romance packages are available all year.
Bird’s Eye Views
Eagle Days, held the first weekend in January, offers the opportunity for nature enthusiasts to get an “eagle-eye” view of eagles, through high-powered telescopes set up at Willmore Lodge. Experts answer questions and give a live eagle demonstration. Depending on weather, a cruise boat heads out on the lake to additional viewing sites.
Perhaps the number one activity at the Lake is shopping. Osage Beach Premium Outlets, the largest shopping center in the area with more than 110 brand name outlet stores, offers a variety of sales for holiday shoppers. Candy Wilson, Assistant General Manager, announced that on Thanksgiving, November 22, the Center will open at midnight and stay open until 10 p.m. on Friday, November 23. This Midnight Madness sale is a new event, and the center hopes it will become an annual tradition. The Center will also offer a Magical Holiday Open House on November 17, with participating stores offering refreshments and raffles. Starting Friday, November 23, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and continuing every Friday through December 21, holiday carolers will fill the air at the Center with joyful songs to celebrate the season. Santa will visit on weekends from noon to 2 p.m.
Great shopping can also be found at the Landing on Main Street, built to look like a Victorian shopping village, with a wonderful array of stores providing everything from handmade crafts to home décor. Laurie Terrace Mall and Stone Crest Mall offer two additional great places to shop, as well as the many individual specialty shops and galleries tucked away throughout the lake area.
A Potpourri of Choices
More ideas for winter activities include hiking on the trails at nearby HaHaTonka State Park, touring two caves in the area (Jacob’s Cave and Bridal Cave are open all year), visiting Miner Mike’s Indoor Family Fun Center (open weekends in the winter), exploring the Orion Science Center, golfing at any of 17 outstanding area courses, collecting antiques at any of two dozen area antique shops, or visiting local artist studios on the new Art & Ambiance Trail.
Fun all Year
While summer offers lots of water-related fun, winter at the Lake has its advantages, too. “Winter is my favorite time of year here,” says Schafer. “There’s no traffic, no wait at restaurants to get in, and things aren’t so hectic. This is a beautiful place, and in winter you have a better chance to enjoy it.”
Consider the Lake when planning a winter conference, where people can have a “boatload” of fun without even getting wet! MM&E
(Sylvia Forbes is a contributor from Fayette, Mo.)
Lake of the Ozarks CVB
Country Club Hotel & Spa
Lodge of Four Seasons