While Newport embodies tradition, it’s also a place of innovation. Along with its Gilded-Age mansions and Colonial-era landmarks, groups will find a vibrant culinary scene driven by an influx of talented young chefs, an array of behind-the- scenes experiences in everything from aquafarming to cutting-edge sailing technology, and plenty of ways to put a creative spin on classic New England events.
Among the ways that Newport keeps current is by continually upgrading and adding new features to its hotel inventory, said Tim Walsh, vice president of sales for Discover Newport.
Earlier this year the former Hyatt Regency Newport, one of the city’s four major meetings properties, was acquired by investors who also own Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, a popular resort in the Hamptons area of Long Island. Renamed Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina, the property underwent an $18 million renovation that included new restaurants and helicopter and yacht service between the two resorts.
“It was already a great hotel but the new owners are making it even more upscale,” Walsh said. “Their Montauk property is very well known in the metro New York market, so this should provide us with some good opportunities to expand business from that region.”
Major renovations have also been completed at the three other major meetings hotels in the city: the Newport Marriott, Newport Harbor and the Hotel Viking. While the four downtown meetings properties can jointly host groups of 500 or more, Walsh said small meetings are Newport’s “bread and butter.”
“We also have a nice range of smaller boutique properties, some of them overlooking the water, where groups can take over the entire hotel,” he said. “We recently had a group take over two small properties with a shuttle running between them.”
Newport also shines when it comes to the scope of off-site venues and activities it offers. Its newest option is the Newport Car Museum, which opened in June and displays a collection of Corvettes and other iconic automobiles from the 1950s to the present. Its Thunderbird Ballroom, adjacent to an exhibit of tail-fin classics, accommodates up to 500 people for a reception, while the Hellcat, Viper, Cobra and Mag Wheel rooms are suited for small gatherings.
Among Newport’s most historic and versatile venues, the Tennis Hall of Fame recently expanded with new features that include interactive exhibits in the history galleries and the Canfield House, a Victorian-era venue for catered functions.
“The Tennis Hall of Fame offers so many different event experiences for groups, including the chance to play tennis on the historic grass courts,” said Cheryl Twiss, director of sales for Newport Hospitality, a local DMC. “It’s a wonderful legacy of the Gilded Age.”
Newport’s historic mansions also continue to offer new options for visitors. Small groups can now arrange to tour Belcourt, an opulent estate built in 1891 and inspired by Versailles, that is undergoing a meticulous restoration. Another new offering is Beneath the Breakers, which explores the basement, underground tunnel and other areas of The Breakers, the Vanderbilt “summer cottage” considered to be the grandest of the Newport mansions. The tour gives visitors a look at what was once cutting-edge household technology and how it would change domestic life.
“The new Breakers tour is a fascinating peek into a time when America was just becoming industrialized—when things like elevators, heating and cooling systems and electricity were still very new,” Twiss said. “The Breakers pioneered some of the latest innovations of its day.”
Three of the Newport mansions, The Elms, Rosecliff and Marble House, are available for private events, including elegant dinners and receptions.
“Each has a different layout, so choosing one depends on the size of the group and how formal they want to be,” Twiss said. “For example, Rosecliff has the biggest ballroom, so it’s great for larger groups. It was where The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford was filmed in the 1970s, so it’s a natural for Gatsby-era theme parties. Marble House is especially good for summer events because you can dine on the terrace.”