Almost anywhere in Wisconsin, sparkling lakes and rivers replete with recreational opportunities and shoreline venues are close at hand. As such, the state abounds with water-related experiences for groups to enjoy, including many tied into Wisconsin’s unique history and culture.
Group Water Activities Highlight Milwaukee Meetings
“Milwaukee is at the intersection of three rivers and Lake Michigan, so water activities play a huge role for meetings here,” said Lindsey McKee, communications manager for Visit Milwaukee. “We have about 1,400 acres of beachfront access, including Lake Shore State Park and Bradford Beach. You can rent all kinds of boats, go kayaking, take part in numerous waterfront festivals in the summer or do a volleyball tournament—it’s endless.”
Among Milwaukee companies offering boat charters and customized lake and river excursions is Edelweiss Cruises and Boat Tours, which has a fleet of vessels that include multilevel yachts with banquet space for up to 149 passengers and European-style canal boats that are low enough to navigate under bridges along the Milwaukee River.
Many of the cruises combine lake and river experiences, providing up-close views of the Historic Third Ward, Milwaukee Art Museum, Allen-Bradley Clock Tower and other points of interest along the way.
“A lot of groups also enjoy the Denis Sullivan tall ship, which is the world’s only re-creation of a Great Lakes schooner,” McKee said. “It’s available for private tours and charters.”
Discovery World Science and Technology Museum, Milwaukee
The Denis Sullivan, which accommodates up to 50 passengers on two-hour sailings on Lake Michigan, is part of the Discovery World Science and Technology Museum. The museum has several event spaces with stunning views of the lake and downtown Milwaukee. These include The Pavilion, a new 9,000-square-foot facility with floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor patios, and the Pilot House, a 360-degree circular ballroom.
Adjacent to Discovery World, the Milwaukee Art Museum offers the Quadracci Pavilion, which accommodates up to 1,000 people in a space overlooking Lake Michigan, Wisconsin Pier, Veterans Park and downtown. Another great viewing spot is Baumgartner Terrace, a spacious brick patio adjoining the pavilion.
Madison's Convention Center Borders Lake Manona
With five lakes in the vicinity, Wisconsin’s capital also offers numerous water-related options for groups. Among venues with a view is the city’s major meetings facility, the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, located on the shores of Lake Monona.
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the stunning 250,000-square-foot center offers spectacular water views through its high-arched windows and also features a 68,000-square-foot rooftop garden.
For exploring Lake Monona, Betty Lou Cruises accommodates up to 86 guests on chartered motor yachts with indoor and outdoor areas. The cruises offer views of lakefront estates, scenic shoreline, Monona Terrace, the University of Wisconsin campus, the State Capitol and other landmarks.
For more active experiences, Brittingham Boats offers a variety of rental options, including kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and canoes. The activities can be followed by a catered reception at the company’s outdoor event space, which accommodates up to 750 guests.
Take a Boat Tour and Beyond in Lake Geneva
The history and genteel beauty of Lake Geneva, where many wealthy Chicago families built palatial homes along its shoreline during the 19th and early 20th centuries, is brought to life during excursions on the quaint vessels operated by Lake Geneva Cruises. Groups can charter the yacht Polaris, which was built in 1898 by one of the lake’s original millionaire residents, or the Steam Yacht Louise, a double-decker charmer built in 1902.
The largest option is the 149-passenger Grand Belle, designed after turn-of-the-century steamers, with brass furnishings and pine decks.
The company’s customized tours around the lake include the Geneva Geo Challenge, a geocaching activity that combines GPS technology with puzzles that teams must solve at various docking points. Another option is a cruise to Black Point Estate, the only 19th century mansion on the lake open for private tours.
Lake Geneva Cruises
Waukesha Pewaukee Meetings Highlight the Outdoors
Groups meeting in the southeastern Wisconsin towns of Waukesha and Pewaukee, which are represented by the Waukesha Pewaukee CVB, will find numerous ways to enjoy Pewaukee Lake, a popular spot for fishing, waterskiing, kayaking, sailing and other watersports. Beachside Boat & Bait features a fleet of luxury pontoon boats seating up to 14 passengers and equipped with lounge seating, coolers, swim ladders and other amenities. Drivers are available upon request. The company also offers kayaks and fishing boat charters.
Green Bay/Door County Meetings Overlook Bodies of Water
In Green Bay, a recent expansion of the KI Convention Center not only doubled its meeting and event space to 80,000 square feet but gave the facility new outdoor event space and more expansive views of the Fox River.
“We wanted to take advantage of our beautiful riverfront, so the center features a lot of glass overlooking the river as well as downtown Green Bay,” said Beth Ulatowski, director of sales for the Greater Green Bay CVB. “People really have a sense of where they are, and we are getting so much positive feedback on this. You can step outside and get a breath of fresh air.”
To the north, Door County combines spectacular water views of Green Bay and Lake Michigan with insight into the nautical history of the region. Located on the busy waterfront of Sturgeon Bay, the Door County Maritime Museum presents the stories of the ship captains, fishermen, lighthouse keepers and other maritime pioneers.
Docked outside is the John Purves, a meticulously restored 1919 tugboat with a history of rescuing much larger vessels that ran aground in the tricky waters of the Great Lakes.
Event space at the maritime museum includes the Reddin Bridge Room, which overlooks Sturgeon Bay and is available for seminars, board meetings and catered receptions for up to 55 guests.
Door County Trolley’s Wisconsin Supper Club Tour
More nautical lore is revealed during excursions provided by Sister Bay Scenic Boat Tours, which offers a 149-passenger tour boat heading out of Sister Bay to explore locales such as the 145-year-old Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, Death’s Door, Peninsula State Park and the many islands and bluffs surrounding Door County.
Along the way there are stories of historic shipwrecks and early explorers. The company offers private charters as well as scheduled sunset cruises with live music onboard.
Groups Can Explore Fox Cities' Fox River
For groups meeting in the Fox Cities region, the Fox River is the setting for several venues and activities. In Appleton, the riverfront Paper Discovery Center celebrated the area’s historic importance as a center for printing and paper making. Available for events, the center is located in a former paper plant that was also once an early hydroelectric powerhouse. Fox River Tours offers charters and scheduled tours in vintage vessels that explore historic locks and cruise past palatial homes and scenic shoreline.
Wisconsin CVB Contact Information
Door County Visitor Bureau
Fox Cities CVB
Greater Green Bay CVB
Greater Madison CVB
La Crosse Area CVB
Visit Lake Geneva
Waukesha & Pewaukee Area CVB
Wisconsin Dells VCB