If you’re based somewhere at the top right of the US map, there’s no end to the options for affordable, upbeat group experiences. We looked into a few that match many of Prevue’s “How cool is that?” teambonding criteria.
BALTIMORE: Sailing Baltimore’s historic Inner Harbor is surrounded by some of the city’s most colorful districts developed around this picturesque body of water, which connects to Maryland’s half of Chesapeake Bay via the Patapsco River.
On the harbor’s south side in Federal Hill, the Downtown Sailing Center began as a nonprofit community program 12 years ago to make sailing accessible and affordable to area residents, which works well for planners on a budget too.
“Sailing lends itself quite naturally to teambuilding because you can’t really sail a boat effectively on your own,” says Shannon Darlington, director of adult programs. “We offer two main programs. We do one on a 45-ft sailboat that can accommodate groups of 20, and then a second on several smaller J/22s and 23-ft Sonars. For those we can go up to 100.”
On the larger sailboat, participants are divided into three groups and then rotated through the three onboard duties of sail trim, steering and navigation. The Center’s crews help the group learn the basic functions and navigate an outbound stretch, but then the participants have to bring her home on their own—and that’s when things get interesting.
The smaller boats are employed for regatta-style events with a race course set up for groups divided into four members apiece. An instructor takes the group out for a rundown of the basics for about an hour and then they it’s off to the races.
“People love to get competitive with each other, sometimes a company will have the sales team racing accounting, or sometimes they’ll mix departments up. There’s a lot of yelling and joking going on,” says Darlington.
After an exhilarating day of sailing, nothing hits the spot like an authentic Maryland crab feast. “What I tell people is we have a way of being cultural, classy and sophisticated in a fun and casual atmosphere—and our culinary scene is up-and-coming,” says Cynthia Leary, associate director of sales for the DMC, GEP Baltimore. For the full paper-covered table experience, head to Obrycki’s in Fells Point or Bo Brooks in Canton. Wear jeans because it’s a deliciously messy affair.
FREEPORT: Kayaking Outdoorsy types have been drawn to Maine since the nascent 1900s, when a bootmaker named Leon Bean opened a little storefront in Freeport called L.L.Bean.
Today, the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools are a spectacular way for planners to create outdoor group events that celebrate Maine’s natural beauty in its most honest form. Set between woodlands, open fields and the cobalt Casco Bay, the flagship store has several facilities for outdoor sports including kayaking, archery, clay shooting and fly-fishing. Beyond their standard offerings, the school can also customize GPS courses and orienteering programs.
“We have a beautiful facility right on the bay close to headquarters for kayaking,” says Stephanie Keister, marketing and promotions coordinator. “We do half-day tours from 9-1 in the afternoon, or sunset tours, which are great after you’ve been in meetings all day.”
The bay provides the postcard vision of Maine complete with rustic lobster boats, rocky uninhabited islands, and local wildlife and birds, like bald eagles and osprey. “We’ll stop for a sunset sparkling cider toast on one of the little islands on the bay. It’s all very quaint,” says Keister.
She says clay shooting at L.L.Bean has become incredibly popular for both corporate groups and bachelorette parties.
“There’s an old farmhouse that’s just over a hundred years old with a big wide open grassy field next to it and we have a 5-stand setup on the field,” Keister adds. A safety instructor works with each stand, providing basic instruction and safety tips. When ready, the instructor releases the clays using a remote control and the participant shoots them. For those who remember Nintendo’s Duck Hunt, you get the idea.
After a healthy dose of fresh air, what does Keister recommend you do? “Head to a place like the Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster for vats of fried, heart-clogging wonderful goodies like scallops, clams, and calamari, all caught daily right here. It’s a wonderful Maine experience.”
SPRINGFIELD: Basketball In the birthplace of basketball, the Basketball Hall of Fame sits on the shores of the Connecticut River in Springfield, Mass. Inside the bulbous complex, there are a host of teambuilding activities and unique meeting spaces.
“You can measure your jump shot and your wing span, and there’s a court so you can shoot and play games,” says Alicia Szenda, group sales manager for Greater Springfield CVB. Groups can also host award events on Center Court or cocktail receptions in the lobby exhibit displaying players’ hands and feet.
Depending on size, groups are divided up into teams and given jerseys to participate in museum-wide, half-day Sports Challenge Events, including shoot-out-style corporate challenges on the Center Court, B-ball trivia and scavenger hunts.
“We have one event where teams start out thinking they’re supposed to be playing against each other,” says Jonathan Golding, managing director of the event management company, OIC Group. “Then there’s a moment when they realize that they’re not actually meant to be working against each other. The shift from competition to cooperation is really neat to see. It’s amazing to see them go from the small team to the big team.”
THE POCONOS: Paintball Ninety minutes from New York and Philadelphia, reconnect with nature and shoot your coworkers in the Pocono Mountains.
“The Poconos have always been about getting back to nature, and we’re getting more requests for adventure teambuilding like white-water rafting trips,” says Maureen McHugh, president/COO of Destination Pocono. “White-water rafting is all about communication, you have someone steering the raft, others looking out for large rapids, and you’re talking the whole time—but you’re also laughing the whole time!”
Paintball is another fast growing sport and some of largest facilities are located in the Poconos, including Skirmish Paintball. With more than 50 fields, Skirmish creates virtual worlds using large-scale props for scenario-based games, like Tippmann City featuring 27 replica buildings. Skirmish can host up to 1,500 people for a day with 40 to 50 players on a field.
“It’s an awesome sport, you’re out in nature, you’re trying to be stealthy, and you’re in camouflage fatigues. It’s fun even before you get on the field,” says McHugh.