Last summer, I visited The Woodlands on a site visit to consider it as the destination for a client’s 50th anniversary conference. This was going to be a gathering of 300 corporate executives who expect luxurious accommodations, a variety of dining and shopping options, ease of transportation, and flexible meeting space. On that initial trip, I discovered it was true what I’d heard—The Woodlands is a beautiful oasis on the water, surrounded by the woods. This spring, we held the conference here, and it turned out beautifully. Here’s how it happened.
I arrived at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center a day early for our pre-con meeting where we reviewed logistics such as lighting, sound, breakout space and catering needs. Already I was feeling relaxed, as I could tell the hotel staff and Visit The Woodlands team were well prepared. They took a lot of the responsibility off of my plate.
Our group was greeted with customized signs and signature welcome bags to make them feel right at home. We held the opening night reception in the hotel’s pre-function area where floor-to-ceiling glass created an open and exciting ambiance. We enjoyed drinks and appetizers before entering the ballroom for a dinner of roasted tenderloin, rock shrimp hash, duck fat potatoes, parsnip chips and caramelized Brussels sprouts. We had a few guests who didn’t note their special dietary needs upon registration, but the wait staff accommodated them seamlessly. The hotel decorator had followed my instructions to a T—the room was gorgeous.
Thanks to the on-site audiovisual technician, the video presentation was a big hit and set the tone for the entire conference. After dinner, our group took advantage of the great weather, and continued networking outside around the fire pit on the hotel’s patio, which overlooks The Waterway. Some even decided to walk along the water to Waterway Square and the many restaurants and bars that surround it. I slept easy that night knowing our group had everything they needed within a short walk—live music, a variety of restaurants and shops.
The Starbucks in The Woodlands Waterway Marriott provided the fuel our group needed the next morning. The schedule alternated between general sessions and breakout classes and the Marriott’s staff already had our rooms set when I came down from my hotel room. We even had videoconferencing in two of the general sessions—no problems.
For dinner that evening, we walked to TRIS, where Chef Austin Simmons gladdened our group with specialties including Texas exotic venison and Patagonian Toothfish for us in our private dining room. Its creative menu and atmosphere seemed to amplify the team cohesion that had already been taking place.
The next day was filled with more breakout sessions and some free time for the attendees, of which they took full advantage. Many—myself included—headed to the nearby Riva Row Boat House where we rented kayaks and paddleboards for some relaxation on The Waterway. Their new swan boats were a big hit with our group and made for great photos for this 50th anniversary celebration.
As I paddled the tranquil water, I sighed a big breath of relief. This conference was executed perfectly and was a lot less work than I was used to after 15 years of event planning. The water provided a convenient respite—a dose of sunshine and fresh air—for the attendees to gain a renewed energy before returning to their meetings.
There are many attractions along The Waterway, including Town Green Park, a four-acre green space where many annual events in The Woodlands are held (among them, The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival). Some attendees’ families had joined them, and they were playing in the children’s literary labyrinth in the park, wandering through the assembly of life-size Aesop’s Fables characters. We were also able to see many of The Woodlands art benches, beckoning us to come sit a while.
The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Event Center is next to Town Green Park so we were able to preview the impressive outdoor amphitheater before our event there that evening. The Pavilion is ranked fourth in the world by Pollstar magazine based on the number of tickets sold in 2018. Top musicians including Dave Matthews Band, Miranda Lambert, Ozzy Osbourne and Imagine Dragons play here.
Attendees who wanted to explore beyond The Waterway were able to take The Woodlands Waterway Trolley to nearby attractions such as The Woodlands Mall, Market Street (an outdoor luxury shopping and dining destination), and Hughes Landing, which features Restaurant Row on Lake Woodlands.
Their new swan boats were a big hit with our group and made for great photos for this 50th anniversary celebration.
After my relaxing afternoon on the water, I returned with the others to the Marriott to see the start of the next round of breakout sessions. Once they were going, I headed across the street to prepare for our final evening event.
I first considered the Woodforest Bank Club at The Pavilion for this cocktail hour because it’s within walking distance from our hotel. Then I learned it has a great view of the amphitheater, offers full-service dining, and has a mix of indoor and outdoor seating. Their staff had everything set up for me when I arrived, so there was hardly anything for me to do in advance. It was great—I just scoped things out, decided on lighting and background music and chatted with the friendly people who were taking care of things. When my group arrived, all I had to do was pass out the programs and mingle. It made my job incredibly easy!
The next morning, we said our reluctant goodbyes before heading in separate directions. Many shared rides to George Bush Intercontinental Airport, just 25 minutes away.
I felt more relaxed after this conference than others I’d planned. I can’t wait to arrange another meeting in The Woodlands. I really just wish I’d discovered this place sooner.