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Touring the Latest and Greatest Meetings Offerings in Madison, Wisconsin Dells and Milwaukee

Views from the Baird Center, Milwaukee

I may have been born in Chicago, but part of me was raised in Wisconsin.

As our nearest neighbor up north, the Badger State has been my family’s No. 1 vacation spot for half a century. Not one of the past 50 summers has gone by without a road trip from Kenosha all the way up to Phelps, a small town northeast of Eagle River and just a few miles away from the border along Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

In short, I am a cheesehead at heart, and I like to think I know America’s Dairyland like it’s my second home.

But a recent press trip with Travel Wisconsin—cleverly called the MICE & Cheese Group Fam—showed me I still have so much more to learn about the state, especially during a time in which it seems to never stop developing, from massive convention center expansions to resort renovations and more. 

The group hit three cities in three days—Madison, Wisconsin Dells and Milwaukee—to see what was new and experience some of the state’s top meetings and events offerings. Here’s a breakdown of how we spent our time in Wisconsin.  

The Edgewater Hotel, Madison
The Edgewater Hotel, Madison. Credit: Travel Wisconsin


After an easy drive from Chicago to Madison, I arrived at The Edgewater Hotel, aptly named for its waterfront location on the shore of Lake Mendota in downtown Madison. The property is the only hotel with a AAA Four-Diamond rating in Madison or Dane County and recently ranked as the No. 6 hotel in the Midwest in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers Choice Awards. 

Since opening in 1948, The Edgewater has hosted celebrity guests including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and the Dalai Lama. (Some of these iconic moments are on display along the walls outside the hotel’s dining outlets, including The Cafe and Augie’s Tavern!)

Moxy Madison Downtown
Moxy Madison Downtown

The recently renovated property features 202 guest rooms with windows overlooking downtown Madison, Capitol Square, the University of Wisconsin or Lake Mendota.

The hotel also boasts over 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 6,150-square-foot Grand Ballroom and the Sky Bar, perched atop the hotel’s Wisconsin Building and overlooking its Grand Plaza, which was built in 2013 and transforms into an ice-skating rink during the winter months.

Following our tour of The Edgewater, the group made its way to the brand-new Moxy Madison Downtown, a boutique hotel located within walking distance of The Sylvee, a popular live music venue in town, as well as local shopping, dining and nightlife

The 151-room hotel is uniquely themed with design features throughout related to music, like a wall of iridescent CDs behind the check-in counter, storage lockers painted to look like cassette tapes and framed vinyl albums on every floor that creatively tell you what floor you’re on. (Jennifer Lopez’s On the 6 let us know we were on the sixth floor.)

Moxy Madison Downtown also offers five themed suites, including a Victorian Suite, Mastermind Suite and Pop Star Suite that all feature open seating areas for hosting smaller group gatherings. The hotel has nearly 1,350 square feet of event space across two event rooms. 

Ballroom at Monona Terrace, Madison
Ballroom at Monona Terrace, Madison. Credit: Travel Wisconsin

A quick walk from Moxy Madison Downtown to Capitol Square led us to the farm-to-table restaurant Graze, opened in 2010 by James Beard Award-winning chef Tory Miller. (He and his restaurant were featured recently in Top Chef: Wisconsin!)

Then, it was time for a cheese tasting at Fromagination, located just across the square from Graze. Owner and Creative Director Ken Monteleone opened his cheese shop in 2007 to showcase Wisconsin cheese, the Badger State’s cheese-making heritage and its growing artisan food movement.

A “proper visit” to Fromagination, according to its website, “should not only leave guests with a good taste in their mouths, but also with an appreciation for healthy, delicious Midwestern foods and the people who produce them.” Thanks to Monteleone’s passion and storytelling skills, our cheese-tasting ticked all the boxes.

Following happy hour and quick bites at Lucille, a tri-level cocktail, craft beer and dining venue located at the gateway of Madison’s historic culinary and entertainment center, we made our way to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center for a Top Chef: Wisconsin viewing event—the perfect way to end a delicious day in Wisconsin’s capital city.

[Related: 6 Unique Event Venues in Madison, Wisconsin]

Wisconsin Dells

On our way to Milwaukee the following day, we stopped for a few hours in Wisconsin Dells to check out some of the latest developments and meetings offerings in the “Waterpark Capital of the World.” It’s another Wisconsin destination I like to think I’m familiar with, but familiarity is hard to come by in a city that’s constantly growing.

Sundara Inn & Spa
Sundara Inn & Spa

From a major expansion and renovation projects at Kalahari Resorts & Conventions and a new “treehouse” hotel concept to the construction of The Rise of Icarus, America’s tallest waterslide, at Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park Resort, developments in Wisconsin Dells make the destination anything but repetitive. Soon, there will be even more for groups to explore. (Read all about what's to come in our latest Wisconsin Dells destination feature!)

Of course, we checked out the waterslides. (In the “Waterpark Capital of the World,” it’s almost a sin not to.) But we also experienced some of the many other opportunities and offerings for groups visiting Wisconsin Dells.

Lunch at Wild Rock Clubhouse gave us a sampling of some of the most-loved F&B offerings from Wilderness Resort, including a creamy lobster bisque and a crispy fried chicken sandwich. The 600-acre resort property is home to the 56,000-square-foot Glacier Canyon Conference Center at Glacier Canyon Lodge, more than 1,100 lodging options, eight waterparks, an award-winning spa, an 18-hole championship golf course and more. 

Just down the road from Wilderness Resort is Sundara Inn & Spa, an adults-only spa resort nestled in a 26-acre fragrant pine forest that appeared on the list of “Top 10 Resort Hotels in the Midwest” for Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards 2021-2023. The resort is open to both day and overnight guests and offers more than 90 spa services and a variety of included amenities, such as culinary and daily wellness activities. 

Sundara Inn & Spa is an ideal location for corporate retreats and small meetings for up to 105 and also offers customized teambuilding and onsite activities.

[Related: The Latest New Developments for Groups Meeting in Wisconsin Dells]

Fiserv Forum and The Trade Hotel, Milwaukee
Fiserv Forum and The Trade Hotel, Milwaukee. Credit: Travel Wisconsin


Upon arrival in city No. 3, we checked in at The Trade, Autograph Collection, a new 207-room hotel paying homage to Milwaukee’s “pioneering past” and hardworking history.

The official hotel of the Deer District sits directly across the street from Fiserv Forum, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, and offers more than 9,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space for groups of up to 400. (If you ever stay at The Trade, you should ask the hotel’s team why the showerheads in all the fourth-floor guest rooms are so high.)

Ristorante Bartolotta dal 1993, Wauwatosa. Credit: The Bartolotta Restaurants, Travel Wisconsin
Ristorante Bartolotta dal 1993, Wauwatosa. Credit: The Bartolotta Restaurants, Travel Wisconsin

Our first night in the Milwaukee area was spent in nearby Wauwatosa, where we dined at the intimate Ristorante Bartolotta dal 1993, the flagship restaurant in The Bartolotta Restaurants portfolio that’s acclaimed for its handmade pasta and authentic Italian cuisine.

The menu at Ristorante Bartolotta dal 1993 changes consistently to highlight seasonal ingredients and flavors from destinations all across Italy. Each new menu at the restaurant showcases dishes from only one Italian city at a time. (Our menu at the time was inspired by Trieste, which is where my family is from!)

Every Milwaukee morning should start with a coffee and some breakfast from Colectivo, a locally founded company that roasts its coffee beans in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood and has multiple cafe locations throughout the city. (My favorite is Colectivo Lakefront, housed in the historic Milwaukee River Flushing Station.) 

[Related: 3 Unique Teambuilding Activities in Milwaukee for Your Next Event]

I downed my vanilla cream cold brew on the way to the Harley-Davidson Museum, one of Milwaukee’s top tourist attractions and featuring two floors of exhibits showcasing an unrivaled collection of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, memorabilia and history. The 20-acre campus is also home to a variety of indoor and outdoor event spaces that can accommodate campus-wide gatherings of up to 10,000.

The Harley-Davidson Museum, Milwaukee
The Harley-Davidson Museum, Milwaukee. Credit: Travel Wisconsin

The Harley-Davidson Museum’s brand-new 8,200-square-foot Garage can accommodate up to 547 guests (420 seated) and has massive see-through garage doors that open to an event lawn and patio space. The Rumble room offers 5,651 square feet of space for up to 440 guests (300 seated) with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking downtown Milwaukee and the Menomonee River. 

For lunch, we perused nearly 20 locally based vendors at 3rd St. Market Hall, an open-market-style food hall taking over the space that once housed Milwaukee’s former Grand Avenue Mall. Vendors include Rod-n-Makk, specializing in all things cheesy; Smokin’ Jack’s BBQ; Dawg City hotdogs; and Mr. Dye’s Pies. 

The hall is available for private events, corporate functions and other gatherings. Venues include the Starlight Room, a bright and airy street-level lounge with space for up to 150; 2nd Street Corridor, an expansive space with room for up to 500; and Venue 3, the hall’s first premier event space with a capacity of 240 seated or 300 standing.

The historic AAA Four-Diamond Pfister Hotel welcomed us for a tour of its recently renovated event spaces, which were completed early last fall. The property’s Imperial Ballroom, Grand Ballroom and Hall of Presidents have all been redesigned. The hotel is currently in the second phase of its renovation project, which will reimagine the guest rooms in the hotel’s historic tower and is scheduled for completion this summer. 

Ballroom at the Baird Center, Milwaukee
Ballroom at the Baird Center, Milwaukee

Before our final dinner in Milwaukee at DanDan—a Chinese restaurant co-owned by chef Dan Jacobs, one of the 15 “cheftestants” on Top Chef: Wisconsin, and chef Dan Van Rite—we toured the recently completed Baird Center expansion, a $456 million project that brought the center’s exposition hall to 300,000 contiguous square feet, added 24 new meeting rooms and featured a stunning fourth-floor ballroom with space for a maximum of 2,000 for a seated dinner. 

When you walk into the new ballroom, it’s practically impossible not to look up at the wooden beams and lights rippling across the ceiling, mirroring the waving waters of nearby Lake Michigan. Art throughout the space reflects important pieces of Milwaukee and Wisconsin culture, and the view from the new rooftop terrace makes it easy to see why Milwaukee is nicknamed the “City of Steeples.”

The Baird Center expansion was undoubtedly a passion project for the city of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and every little detail made my cheesehead-heart happy. 


Destination Madison

Travel Wisconsin

Visit Milwaukee

Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau

Read more meetings and events news in Wisconsin.

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About the author
Taylor Smith | Content Developer, Destinations and Features

Taylor Smith joined Stamats in May 2022 as a content developer, destinations and features for Meetings Today. Smith has experience covering everything from travel to breaking news and graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor’s degree in news and magazine journalism. Previously, she’s written for St. Louis Magazine and worked as an editorial assistant and apprentice for Aubree Nichols, who has been published in premier publications such as The New York TimesELLE and The Los Angeles Times.