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This article by Barbara Fox was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
September 9, 1998. All rights reserved.
Retreats: Outside the Box
Take your team meeting to the big front porch of a
bed and breakfast at the Jersey shore, and, for an afternoon break,
walk on the beach.
Gather around a big stone fireplace in the hills of North Jersey and
— when the lessons of teamwork need to be learned — clamber
onto a ropes course.
Stretch the horizons of your group members by taking them to a tower
room with a 360 degree view of the trees in all their autumn splendor.
Enjoy a catered lunch in the tower, and leave at the end of the day
with an expanded group vision.
Conferences and retreats don’t have to be dull, and they don’t have
to be held in Aspen or Seattle to get people to attend. Within an
hour’s drive of Princeton you can find all sorts of exciting, fun,
and often reasonably priced locations to hold your meeting, whether
it’s a corporate retreat or a planning session for a nonprofit group.
If your goal is to promote thinking "out of the box," then
start with an "out of the ordinary" location.
Once you decide on your objectives and come up with a theme, you can
pick a location that has a lot of things built into it, says Michael
Young, president of Activities Inc. and its new spin-off, Meeting
Dimensions (see story page 47). If you want to do team-building, for
instance, you can arrange to play laser tag at a sports arena.
Meetings can also be held in museums, amphitheaters, planetariums,
parks, mansions, or health clubs, says Young. "The general rule
of thumb is that if it exists, an event can be produced there."
Even at the most rustic place the basics can be provided: cover,
a space that can be darkened for projection, drink, risers (so you
can see the speaker), electricity, restrooms, food and drink, and
Beyond the basics, you and your group can get creative — within
budget limits, of course. So the charitable groups like Affordable
Housing Network schedule their conferences with a religious
that seeks to help the poor — Vincentian Renewal Center on
Road at a cost of $65 per night including meals.
Meanwhile top level executives for Big 10 pharmaceutical and financial
firms flock to pay $425 a night for Laurie House, a private (and
converted farmhouse on the Chauncey Conference compound at Educational
The central New Jersey conference and retreat destinations listed
below do not include the full-service hotels such as Novotel, the
Hyatt, Holiday Inn, Marriott, and the Nassau Inn — everyone knows
you can have a conference at a hotel. Here are some other choices
— unless specified, prices do not include tax and tip.
Quaint hotels and B&Bs in shore locations can
small or medium sized groups in the off season at very reasonable
prices. You can rent an entire inn in Belmar for $700 on a weekend
night (less during the week).
07719, 732-681-3762; fax, 732-280-1914. Rosemary & Tom Volker.
The Victorian-style house has a huge wrap-around porch with a view
of the ocean and cafe tables on the brick patio. In chillier weather,
meet in the living room with its stone fireplace, the dining room,
or the library. Full inn rental is $700 including breakfast or about
$34 per person, including tax, plus about $20 for a catered lunch.
Maximum capacity is 22 people. Of 17 rooms, three have private bath.
and Jack Stewart. 732-449-3553; fax, 732-974-0831. E-mail:
(http://www.bbianj.com/ashling). Open through October. Ten queen bed
rooms rent off season for $124 to $134 with private bath, $99 with
sinks and shared bath, all including full breakfast buffet. Meeting
space is available on a screened-in porch and parlor that could hold
up to 20 people.
Jeri Robertson, innkeeper. Small sales divisions of Merck, First
Chicago, AT&T, Continental frequent the Normandy Inn. Groups of 20
can rent the inn for midweek seminars for $88 each, including a full
breakfast, use of the meeting space, and coffee break with fruit.
Lunch can be catered for $13 or $14, and conferees go out to dinner,
which costs about $20 or $25 in town. "They take an afternoon
break and ride bikes or take beach chairs down to the beach,"
says Robertson. "We have set up an evening boat ride on a big
fishing boat or on the River Belle out of Manasquan for dinner. Our
big front porch can accommodate the meetings."
Spring Lake is just a 45-minute drive from Princeton.
<B>The 1740 House, Lumberville PA 18933,
Robert John Vris, innkeeper. This unpretentious hideaway is right
on the canal and the river, five miles north of New Hope, and it is
frequently used for small corporate retreats. The 24 rooms rent for
$80 on weekdays, $118 on weekends and holidays, including a buffet
breakfast, ice and mixers. The innkeeper offers an assortment of menus
so you can reserve tables at any of the nearby excellent restaurants.
All rooms are air conditioned, have private baths and terraces or
balconies; the river is literally at your feet. Book ahead.
610-294-9100; 610-294-8249. http://www.evermay.com. Built in
1867, this 18th century mansion is now a Victorian country house
very quiet, says Dawn Smigo, manager, because the nearest town is
1 1/2 miles away.
Groups of 5 to 20 can schedule a mid-week conference at $120 per
per night including continental breakfast or about $200 including
three meals — lunch, four-course dinner, and morning and afternoon
breaks. There is a charge of $175 for the meeting room, which could
be the Garden Room with wall-to-wall glass windows.
Stephen R. DuGan, innkeeper. At the colonial inn, dating to 1705,
private rooms are available for day meetings of up to 120, but only
about 10 rooms are available for overnight guests. The view of the
bridge from the Common Room is quite something, and the room has a
fireplace as well. All rooms have private baths, some have a terrace
or river view.
150 Glenwood Drive, Washington Crossing PA 18977. 800-982-7619; fax,
215-493-7592. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rosemary Rein, the owner
(and no relation to U.S. 1’s publisher), drew on her background as
a trainer and human resources consultant to design her retreat
For groups of six or more she offers a commuter package for $49 per
person. That includes continental breakfast, meeting facilities,
and afternoon breaks, and what she calls "lunch in the
Overnight retreats cost $179 per person including private baths, plus
breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea, and a progressive dinner of
Campuses are a cost effective yet pleasant place to
hold a seminar, because they can evoke fond memories of yesteryear.
Most are open for overnight conferences and training sessions only
during the summer but are happy to accumulate extra funds for daytime
meetings throughout the school year. Note that Rutgers does have its
own year-round conference center.
Services. 609-258-6115; fax, 609-258-4656. Cynthia S. Horr, director.
The Woodrow Wilson School is among the favorite spots for outside
groups to use for all-day events during the school year, as are the
traditional rooms of McCosh Hall. Eisenhart Lounge on the top of Fine
Towers has wall to wall windows and overlooks the new stadium. It
has space for 25 at a large oak conference table plus an area for
During the school year, half of the 100 events are sponsored by
groups. In the summer the university opens its doors to about 60
organizations of varying sizes, ranging from Princeton Ballet School’s
summer program to a conference for financial analysts.
"Overnight accommodations in dormitories are available in summer
months, since we have no formal summer school," says Eric Hamblin,
assistant director of CVCS. Rooms range from $18 to $25 depending
on bath arrangements and air conditioning. Meals in student cafeterias
are about $28 per day. A meeting room could cost from $75 to 10 times
that. The Eisenhart Lounge costs from $150 to $400 plus food.
08648. Dave Keenan, director of student center. 609-896-5327. Home
Lane, New Brunswick 08901-8535. Deana Guden, conference and events
coordinator. 732-932-9148 or 732-932-9141; fax, 732-932-6952. E-mail:
email@example.com. Home page:
Meeting rooms are available for up to 100 participants, and there
are 36 guest rooms (for a maximum of 72 people) with private baths.
Rooms are $90 for double occupancy, $70 single occupancy. Triples
are $95, Deluxe rooms, larger with king-size beds, are $99 single,
$110 for two people. Available year-round.
Mary Cranwell, director of special events. E-mail:
Meeting space for up to 1,500 year-round with accommodations only
in the summer. This is the former estate of railroad and steel magnate
and polo fan George J. Gould.
610-758-5306; fax 609-758-3586. Mary Kay Baker, conference services.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Meeting space for up to 500 and summer
for up to 1,110. It is one hour and 15 minutes driving time from
Lunches or dinners can be held in the Tower Room for up to 75 people.
It has a floor-to-ceiling windows with a 360-degree view of the
city of Bethlehem, lit at the holidays with millions of twinkling
white lights. Don’t plan a meeting here if you need audio visuals;
you can’t close any shades.
<B>ETS Chauncey Conference Center, Rosedale Road,
Box 6652, Princeton 08541-6652. 609-921-3600; fax, 609-683-4958.
email@example.com. Home page:
Mary Janelle, acting general manager for Marenzana Conference
This conference center with capacity for 200 guests is available to
the public only for educational and research-related conferences.
Outside for-profit groups generally come from the pharmaceutical or
New York financial market. "The assumption is that there is
knowledge to be learned," says Jan Zak, director of global sales.
The main conference center rooms cost from $285 to $325 including
meals and tips.
"Our closest competition is Merrill Lynch and Forrestal, and both
are three times as big as we are," says Zak. She can book only
about 100 rooms, including a half dozen in Laurie House (formerly
a farm house, then the upscale home of Henry Chauncey, the ETS
When his wife, Laurie, died in 1975, Chauncey donated the house to
the conference center.
Executives use Laurie House when they need guaranteed privacy for
"senior senior" type meetings. "A lot goes on in Laurie
House that you read about in the Wall Street Journal two months
says Zak. With its own chef and helipad and a very high level of
and service, it costs about $425 per person per night inclusive.
it has only six bedrooms, 10 other rooms in the larger center are
dedicated to Laurie House use and have a separate entrance.
100 College Road East, Princeton 08540. Neil Pompan, assistant general
manager. Rich Cimilluca, director of sales and marketing.
This conference center hotel with two restaurants and complete
facilities on 25 wooded acres was formerly known as Scanticon. It
has 33 conference rooms with 35,000 square feet on one level; they
range from 200 to nearly 5,000 square feet, including two board rooms,
22 breakout rooms, and nine conference rooms. The largest room can
seat 250 people. All are soundproof and have up-to-date AV equipment.
The 290 guest rooms (including 10 suites) have closed circuit TV and
large sliding windows overlooking the woods. Also here: a 61-foot
swimming pool, a whirlpool and sauna solarium, game room, exercise
room, tennis and sand volleyball courts, a Parcourse fitness cluster,
and jogging trails.
For groups ranging from two to 250 people, the meeting package rate
ranges from $310 to $325 per person including all meals and snacks,
although rates can be cheaper at certain times.
Plainsboro 08536. A.J. Panaia, general manager, John Murphy, director
of operations. 609-282-1000; fax, 609-282-2126.
This conference and training center connected to the corporate
on Scudders Mill Road is open to outside organizations and can take
groups of up to 400. It is run by Harrison Conference Services based
in Glen Cove, New York, which manages seven other centers including
those at Duke, Wellesley, and Vero Beach.
The published rate is $339 per person per night, inclusive, or $399
for a suite in the Executive Center. Depending on the month or week,
a groups might get a more preferential rate. Facilities include 34
meeting rooms, a 316-seat auditorium with a key-pad response system
for mini-polls, 343 guest rooms with closed circuit TV capabilities,
phone labs, an Olympic-sized lap pool, a 1.2 mile jogging trail,
courts, billiards lounge, a half court for racquetball and basketball,
and a lake-view dining room. A more private Executive Center for
of up to 50 has a separate entry, a private dining room, and a
Slightly more than half of the groups are from Merrill Lynch, and
the rest are from Fortune 500 companies, accounting firms, and law
<B>Forsgate Country Club, Forsgate Drive,
08831. Tom Grant, general manager. 732-521-0070; fax, 732-521-0687.
Daytime conference center and private country club with two 18-hole
golf courses and two full-service public restaurants. A day meeting
package for at least 25 people costs $35 per person including snacks.
For $50 you get a "roll-in" lunch.
Center Drive, Jamesburg 08831-1564. JoAnn D. Bartoletti, executive
director. 609-860-1200; fax, 609-860-2999. E-mail:
Home page: http://www.njpsa.org.
This daytime conference center for up to 130 people can accommodate
overnights by arrangement with a nearby hotel. Corporate rentals range
from $250 (at a 10-person table or in a computer training room) to
$500 for 22 to 24 people. Nonprofit fees are slashed to less than
half that. Food service is about $5 per person for snacks and $11
for lunch plus a waitress fee of $75. It is a state-approved vendor.
Alexander Road. 609-275-4035; fax, 609-275-4058. Steve Krebs, director
of conferences and facilities. The center can handle up to 300 guests
with room rentals ranging from $150 to $600 per day without food
from $100 to $600 if a meal is served.
Center at 637 South Clinton, Trenton 08650. 609-278-7401;
Ann Applebaum Merlino, director of administration.
As a community service NJHMFA allows nonprofits to use the atrium
gallery in its Roebling Center building, designed by Michael Farewell
of Ford Farewell Mills & Gatsch. Light floods in the four-story atrium
windows by day, and at night with the lights shining outside, it is
bright and airy. Trade groups and government agencies have staged
conferences here. A kitchen adjoins the board room and atrium, and
up to 150 people can have a sit-down meal. From 300 to 400 people
can be seated classroom style or, for a reception, traffic can flow
through two rooms. One caveat; the walls of glass and the slate floor
can be detrimental to acoustics, but that is being worked on. NJHMFA
can provide the tables and chairs but charges a fee for after hours
<B>Lambertville House, 32 Bridge Street, Box 349,
Lambertville, 609-397-0200; fax, 609-397-0511,
Traci Ambrose, conference coordinator.
Newly restored, this former stagecoach stop can handle groups of 25
people overnight. Midweek corporate rates range from $149 to $199
per luxury room, some with jetted tubs, fireplace, and/or balcony.
Meal costs would be $35 for lunch and snacks plus $33 or $39 for
A conference room for 24 people might run $400.
Avenue, Newtown, PA. 215-860-8313. 215-860-8084.
. John Mueller, director sales of marketing. Built by a brickyard
owner in 1764, this house did indeed entertain George Washington.
It fronts a busy street but a glass-walled conference room overlooks
a lovely garden. All 14 rooms can be booked for a conference, all
with private bath, telephone, and television, for from $70 to $110
including breakfast, plus $20 for lunch.
"But most of the conferences we do are during the day," says
Mueller. The daytime charge of $20 per person covers breaks and lunch,
and the room rent ranges from $100 to $250. As with most places, a
sufficient food and beverage bill is reason to waive the room tab.
Programs with a spiritual tinge — the holistic
programs and creativity-tapping sessions — have been used by those
in the creative industries, but now they are spreading even to the
finance community, says Sandra Kimbrough of the Kimbrough Company,
a public relations, marketing, and special events firm with offices
in New York and Ewing. "Now they are getting to the hard core,
to the stockbrokers."
She sees corporations starting to provide information to their
about how to balance life and work, unleash creative power, help with
time management, improve concentration through meditation, increase
mental acuity, develop positive conflict resolution skills, manage
stress, and improve decision making ability. "It’s all to balance
the wellness of individuals to improve mind body fitness within the
new corporate culture, still while looking to increase corporate
and the bottom line," she suggests.
Your group doesn’t have to talk religion when you book space at a
religious center, but you may need to specify some sort of topic
to inner growth. A caveat: be sure that no one in your group is going
to object to religious symbols. These camps and centers range from
the very liberal (at Kirkridge, Daniel Berrigan is a frequent guest
speaker) to the opposite (Twin Pines Camp in Stroudsburg, run by
the Evangelical Congregational Church, requires groups to subscribe
to a conservative Christian credo).
Need we add that the religious centers are among the least expensive?
Plainsboro 08536. Charles P. Strollo CM, director. 609-520-9626; fax,
609-520-0593. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The tree-shaded grounds are a quiet haven from the everyday bustle,
yet this former boys’ school — St. Joseph’s Seminary — is just
two minutes off Route 1. In 1988 the 90-year old building was
to accommodate individuals and groups from all faiths. Princeton
Library’s board held a retreat here.
Now Father Strollo is trying to book group with a stronger emphasis
on the Vincentian mission for "faith sharing, healing, and
for all who come, especially the poor, clergy, vowed religious, the
Vincentian family and all those who expend their energies in the
of the least among us," he says.
Facilities include the renewal center chapel, a meeting lounge for
smaller groups, a 65-person dining hall, 14 bedrooms with private
bath and shower and individual room controls (double and triple
and use of the basketball/tennis/racquet ball court or indoor gym.
Plus, of course, the grounds that are an oasis of quiet and
Day groups pay $10 per person plus meal costs. Rooms are $40, $65
with three meals, $105 for two days with five meals.
07740. 732-222-2731, extension 40; fax, 732-870-8892. Father John
Murray C.S.s.R., rector.
The Redemptorist Fathers and Brothers run this retreat center that
has nine acres right on the ocean in Long Branch. Any group, religious
or not, can book space here midweek, and a group of Rutgers University
is the latest to reserve space. The cost is about $80 per person per
day including overnight stay, three meals, and use of meeting
Swartswood, Sussex County, 973-383-5978; 973-383-4428. Declan
executive director. At this camp, 15 minutes from Blairstown, a group
of 20 people would pay about $49 per person for carpeted rooms with
four people sharing a bath. Hiking trails range from "a pleasant
stroll to a breathtaker" on site, and there are three state parks
within a 15-minute drive. Though 85 percent of the traffic here comes
from Methodist churches, it does have retreats from such corporations
as M&M Mars and some nonprofits.
Center, located near Stroudsburg, off Route 611. 215-732-1842.
Carolyn Jeffrie. This Poconos-based camp costs $35 to $37 per night
including meals and bunk bed accommodations.
18013-6028, 610-588-1793. fax 610-588-8510. Janet Lewis, registrar.
Cynthia Crowner, director.
Enjoy extraordinary views on Kittatinny Ridge near Delaware Water
Gap with healthy food for $75 per person overnight with three meals
including linens. Facilities for group of 16 to 100 include a lodge
with a stone fireplace, a house with an octagonal meeting room, and
an 1815 farmhouse with wide plank floors and a stone hearth. "Pray
and picket" is the motto here, where the approved list of causes
includes peacemaking, gay community rights, and victims of sexual
Mill Road, Wallingford PA. 610-566-4507 or 800-742-3150. Heather
This Quaker refuge and resource for peace education can take corporate
groups of up to 35 people. It is popular for board meetings and
and "community-building" retreats. Costs are $63 to $65 per
person in a rental group for bed and breakfast, plus $6.75 for lunch
and $9.75 for dinner. Day groups pay $95 to $120 for meeting space
(including basic visual aids) plus meals.
The Quaker ideals show: Everyone who attends an event at Pendle Hill
during the summer, even for the day, must do a chore. You will see
people in business suits washing dishes. "The way we justify this
is that we couldn’t accommodate the people without extra hands.
who lives here has a weekly chore and a daily chore, and the others
need the spiritual exercise of work," says Snediker-Morcheck.
"Some do object very strenuously."
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