• The 2011 Northwest Meetings + Events Readers' Choice Best Of Award Winners

    Northwest Meetings + Events presents its First Annual Best of the Best.
     
    POSTED June 22, 2011
     

If you want to try a great restaurant or see a fabulous show, you can ask friends and acquaintances for their opinions. But when you need a top-notch venue, vendor or activity for your group, you ask certified experts: other planners. Good news-we’ve done the work for you! 

Having tallied thousands of votes from planners throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia and Alaska, we now present the 2011 Readers’ Choice Best Of Award Winners.

Winners run the gamut from small service providers to veritable behemoths of the industry, but they all have one thing in common: Their commitment to service has earned them a place among the best of the best.

A L A S K A

>>Best Attraction
THE WINNER IS: Denali National Park
RUNNERS UP: Alaska Railroad Corporation, Juneau

The iconic profile of Mount McKinley-or Denali, as it is also known-has served as the ambassador of the Alaskan spirit for hundreds of thousands of visitors. "Denali is home to the tallest mountain in North America, which makes it a big draw," says Park Ranger Alex Lindeman. "The wilderness, meanwhile, is attractive to folks in both a scenic sense for the glaciers and remote landscapes, and in an emotional sense." The best way to see much of Denali is to take a bus trip down the park road. Most trips are offered through primary concessioner Doyon/ARAMARK.

>>Best Conference Venue
THE WINNER IS:
Centennial Hall Convention Center
RUNNER UP: Dena’ina Center

It’s a testament to the warm service and reliability of the Centennial Hall Convention Center (CHCC) that it beat out newer, larger venues to win Best Conference Venue in Alaska. The CHCC in downtown Juneau offers 19,000 square feet of meeting space in sevenrooms, the largest of which-the Sheffield Ballroom-is more than 10,000 square feet. A variety of catering options, audio-visual services and telecommunications equipment is available. During breaks, attendees can visit the nearby Juneau-Douglas City Museum, which explores the capital city’s cultural heritage.

>>Best Resort
THE WINNER IS:
Alyeska Resort
RUNNERS UP: Fireweed Lodge, Princess Denali Wilderness Alaska Lodge

The ideal Alaskan resort should be able to let attendees sample everything the state has to offer: great skiing, luxurious accommodations, award-winning meals, fishing, wildlife excursions and guest-centered service. Alyeska Resort delivers all this, plus proximity to a major airport (the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is a mere 45 minutes away). "Alyeska Resort becomes a base camp for signature Alaskan experiences," says Marketing Director Sandy Chio. Guests will find the recently renovated chateau-style hotel a cozy retreat, and full-service meeting planning services are available, creating an efficient and seamless experience.

>>Best Hotel with Meeting & Event Space (less than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS
: Westmark Baranof Hotel
RUNNER UP: Best Western Plus Edgewater

Consistency and reliability are vital to Westmark Baranof’s approach to business. "We are fortunate to have longevity within our staff, with some having been here more than 20 years," says Regional Sales Manager Darrell Brown. The staff understands that repeat group business depends on making the planner look good. "It’s not just the sales and catering departments, but the back-of-house team members-dishwashers, cooks, wait staff, housekeeping-we all work together to create a seamless experience." The art deco-themed hotel offers 195 rooms and suites and more than 5,000 square feet of conference space.

>>Best Hotel with Meeting & Event Space (more than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS:
The Hotel Captain Cook
RUNNER UP: Hilton Anchorage

The Hotel Captain Cook has been one of the most well-known establishments in Anchorage since opening in 1965. Chris Block, director of sales, attributes the hotel’s success to pride among the staff. He recalls one group of planners who were so impressed with the bellman’s professionalism that they had their picture taken with him during a site visit. As for the venue, it’s far from cookie-cutter. "Here, you can look out to Cook Inlet and imagine Captain Cook himself discovering what he called Cook’s River. I might be a little partial, but there is nowhere else in the world that you can do that," says Block.

B R I T I S H   C O L U M B I A

>>Best Attraction
THE WINNER IS:
Whistler Village
RUNNER UP: Vancouver Island, Victoria

The quintessential British Columbian experience can be found at Whistler Village. Guests can experience skiing, hiking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, zip-lining and even try their hand at the biathlon course. Whistler offers more than 150,000 square feet of conference space, among venues such as the five-diamond Four Seasons; the Roundhouse Lodge with 360-degree mountain views; an enormous spa featuring Scandinavian baths; an 11,000-square-foot day lodge that serves as the hub for all the  park’s recreational activities; and Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, a 30,400-square-foot facility with a multi-media theater.

>>Best Conference Venue
THE WINNER IS:
Vancouver Convention Centre
RUNNERS UP: Whistler Conference Centre, Hilton Vancouver Metrotown

As a hosting venue for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, the 466,500-square-foot Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC) has demonstrated the ability to facilitate pressure-laden events. "The legacy from the Games…gives conference organizers a lot of confidence about Vancouver," says Communications Manager Jinny Wu. The VCC recently became the only convention center worldwide to attain the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation, thanks, in part, to its six-acre living roof and the restored marine habitat built into its foundation. "The Vancouver Convention Centre embodies sustainability," says Nancy J. Zavada, CMP, principal of Meet Green. "It makes it very easy to produce a green meeting with minimal effort."

>>Best Hotel with Meeting & Event Space (less than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS:
Fairmont Vancouver Airport
RUNNERS UP: Hilton Vancouver Metrotown, Delta Burnaby Hotel and Conference Centre

Planners choose the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, a AAA/CAA four-diamond hotel, for its convenience (it’s located in the Vancouver International Airport), high standards, 8,800 square feet of meeting space and amenities such as hypoallergenic rooms. But what keeps them coming back is the all-in attitude of the staff, like the time the pastry chef whipped up a last-minute birthday cake for an attendee, or when everyone from the group sales department to General Manager Craig Reaume assisted in room set-up when a prior event ran late.

>>Best Hotel with Meeting & Event Space (more than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS:
The Fairmont Waterfront Hotel
RUNNERS UP: Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel, Pan Pacific Vancouver

The recently renovated Fairmont Waterfront Hotel occupies a prime location on the waterfront in downtown Vancouver. But, "the primary reason planners choose us is our people and service," says General Manager Ian Pullan. "We have a strong team that demonstrates great pride and care in everything they do." In addition to an expansive 24,000 square feet of meeting space, the Fairmont Waterfront offers exceptional food and beverage service, including using honey produced by an apiary in the on-site 2,100-square-foot herb garden.

>>Best Resort
THE WINNER IS:
The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort Hotel
RUNNERS UP: Sonora Resort, Four Seasons Whistler

With several well-appointed choices in Whistler, what earned the Fairmont Chateau "Best Resort" may well be that it offers the most meeting space, including the largest space on one level, in the area. The largest ballroom can host more than 1,000 people and an outdoor roof terrace can accommodate 300. The 550-room, ski-in, skiout resort, located at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, also features its own golf course and an exclusive floor for VIP guests with private lobby, concierge, check-in and check-out.

I D A H O

>>Best Attraction
THE WINNER IS:
Sun Valley Resort
RUNNERS UP: The Coeur d’Alene, Silverwood Theme Park

The family friendly Sun Valley Resort is a self-contained alpine village, meaning it’s packed full of recreational opportunities and lodging, and cars are not necessary-perfect for large groups. In addition to skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and golf, a walking village (where everything can be charged to the room) offers a myriad of dining and shopping options. "We’ve got everything, with the exception of crowds, lines and noise," says Shannon Besoyan, resort representative.

>>Best Conference Venue
THE WINNER IS:
The Coeur d’Alene
RUNNER UP: Sun Valley Resort, Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort

Although The Coeur D’Alene’s position on one of the most beautiful lakes in the country sets it apart from other venues, "The secret that keeps conferences coming back is our employees," says Director of Sales and Marketing J.J. Jaeger. Need proof? Ask Jaeger about the incentive program the resort hosted featuring arrivals by stretch limo, a welcome reception with made-to-order panini sandwiches and homemade ice cream, performances by Native American dancers and hands-on culinary classes. Meeting spaces top 32,000 square feet and include a ballroom with dedicated catering kitchen, a golf course pavilion with dramatic views of the floating green, or a chartered boat from the Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruise Fleet.

>>Best Hotel with Meeting & Event Space (less than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS:
Sun Valley Resort
RUNNERS UP: Selkirk Lodge at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, The Grove Hotel

From cozy cottages to three-bedroom condominiums, options abound at Sun Valley Resort. Since 1936, the 148- room Sun Valley Lodge has welcomed visitors with elegant amenities and old world charm. Guests return year after year for the countless activities and service with a smile. "I enjoy Sun Valley for its year-round activities," says guest Adrienne Kar. "The staff at the resort has always been super friendly and  accommodating, and that’s what will keep me coming back to the resort." The lodge also features sumptuous dining, a salon and bowling alley.

>>Best Resort
THE WINNER IS:
The Coeur d’Alene
RUNNERS UP: Sun Valley Resort, Schweitzer Mountain Resort

The Coeur d’Alene is situated on tranquil Coeur d’Alene Lake, surrounded by picturesque mountains, so it’s easy to forget a major airport is only 40 minutes away and that the resort is within walking distance of downtown. Known for its unique floating green on the lake, it reliably earns top awards from golf critics and magazines each year. Don’t miss a visit to five-star Beverly’s restaurant, the wine cellar with more than 28,000 bottles and an afternoon in one of the 21 spa treatment rooms featuring views of the lake.

O R E G O N

>>Best Attraction
THE WINNER IS:
Mount Hood Meadows Ski Resort
RUNNERS UP: Columbia River Gorge, Crater Lake

Winning "best attraction" against natural wonders like the deepest lake in the United States is an accomplishment that nearly speaks for itself. With 2,150 square feet of skiable acreage, 85 runs (the longest of which is three miles) and annual snowfall of 430 inches, Mount Hood Meadows is a skier’s paradise. After an exhilarating day on the slopes, dine guilt-free at one of several restaurants, where the primary food vendor is Food Alliance Certified, using all-natural, local, sustainable food whenever possible.

>>Best Audio-Visual/Visual Presentation Provider
THE WINNER IS:
GreenLight Creative
RUNNERS UP: Peter Corvallis Productions, Swank Audio Visuals, Presentation Services

When asked for the reasons for his company’s success, Owner Dwayne Thomas says passion is the answer. That passion is easy to see in Thomas’ history (he has been doing lighting production for 25 years), goals (lighting "in a memorable and sumptuous fashion") and business values: "Here are things we always do: See the world through our customer’s eyes. Treat the customer with the utmost respect, put them at ease and never talk down," Thomas says. "On rare occasions where something goes wrong, we take ownership of the problem until the client is satisfied…Our clients come to us with a challenge, and we simply solve it."

>>Best Boats/Cruises/Charters
THE WINNER IS:
Portland Spirit
RUNNER UP: Lindblad Expeditions

Family owned Portland Spirit’s charters have been unique venue options since the company’s inception 17 years ago, and planners will appreciate the help of two seasoned organizers who walk clients through the process of hosting an on-the-water event. Events Director Kristen Baxter says the staff are truly excited to help clients celebrate at their events, even if that includes standing in the rain along the route from a hotel to the dock to ensure guests don’t get lost, which Portland Spirit staff recently did. Cruise routes include the Columbia River or the Willamette River.

>>Best Catering Company
THE WINNER IS:
Vibrant Table Catering & Events
RUNNERS UP: Crave Catering, Bon Appetit Management Company

"I have been at many events where Vibrant Table has been the caterer," says Sue Corning, owner of Purple Iris Weddings & Events. "The food is always fantastic, and the staff has always been knowledgeable and very helpful…if Vibrant Table is a vendor, it will be a good event." Executive Chef J. Steven Brockman and his kitchen staff at Vibrant Table are versed in cuisine and cooking styles from around the globe, and organic, seasonal and local produce and meats are used whenever possible.

>>Best Conference Venue
THE WINNER IS:
Oregon Convention Center
RUNNER UP: FivePine Lodge & Conference Center

Customer service is a top priority for the Oregon Convention Center (OCC), and its placement on this list is testament to that. "We are a very easy place to do business," says Director of Sales and Marketing Matt Pizzuti. "We rarely make mistakes, but when we do, we work to make it right-right away." As the largest convention center in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the OCC is also the greenest: it is LEED Silver-certified and purchases green power offsets. The center’s two grand ballrooms, 50 meeting rooms, 255,000 square feet of exhibit space and experienced staff can handle up to 10,000 guests.

Green Event Venue
THE WINNER IS:
Portland DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
RUNNERS UP: Oregon Convention Center, Ecotrust (Pearl location)

"I am increasingly aware of the impact the meetings and events industry has on the environment, and the Portland DoubleTree’s commitment to sustainability is readily apparent," says Jill Taub Drury, CEO of Drury Design Dynamics. "But what sets them apart is the excellent service they provide their guests. Every employee is both friendly and helpful, from the welcome at check-in to the ‘have a safe trip’ on check out." The Portland DoubleTree was the first Green Seal Certified hotel in Oregon and offers a 62-space covered bicycle lot and a biodiesel-powered shuttle, and it serves local and sustainable meals at two on-site restaurants.

>>Best Rental Service Provider
THE WINNER IS:
Peter Corvallis Productions
RUNNERS UP: The Party Place, Barclay Event Rentals

Peter Corvallis Productions was established in 1959 and has  worked shoulder-to-shoulder with clients ever since, says Creative Director (and Peter’s daughter) Maria Corvallis. "We are more than a rental company, we help our clients find creative solutions," says Corvallis. The family run company offers the largest event rental inventory in the Northwest, housed in an 80,000-square-foot warehouse. "But [our inventory] is just the basic differentiator. We’ve acquired a level of experience that makes us very valuable to our clients. We know the venues, the locations, the weather requirements...we have literally been there and done that."

>>Best Resort
THE WINNER IS:
Mount Hood Meadows Ski Resort
RUNNERS UP: The Allison Inn & Spa, Sunriver Resort

Dave Tragethon, executive director of sales for Mount Hood Meadows Ski Resort, believes in the power of the mountain: "Maybe it’s the oxygen-enriched air from the millions of pine trees, or the altitude, but food tastes better, and toasting the day’s accomplishments with friends has lasting meaning." On-hill clinics are facilitated by certified professional ski instructors, and slope options range from scarysteep to beginner hills. Not yet sold on Mount Hood Meadows? Browse the dozens of "guestimonials" on their website, featuring praise for everyone from the concierge to the ski lift operator.

>>Best Hotel with Meeting & Event Space (less than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS:
Embassy Suites Downtown Portland
RUNNERS UP: Skamania Lodge, The Nines

Edward Tritcak, director of sales for the Embassy Suites Downtown Portland, credits the hotel’s boutique-like atmosphere for its large volume of repeat business. "We have 276 two-room suites and that size allows us to really focus on service," Tritcak says. "We only host one or two groups at a time, not eight to 10 like larger hotels." The hotel, which reliably receives top results in guest satisfaction surveys, features an indoor pool (one of only three in downtown Portland), complimentary manager’s receptions and cooked-to-order breakfast for all guests, conveniently included in the price.

>>Best Hotel with Meeting & Event Space (more than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS:
Portland DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
RUNNER UP: Sunriver Resort

The newly renovated Portland DoubleTree is the largest hotel within walking distance to the Oregon Convention Center, Rose Garden Arena and Portland Memorial Coliseum. Beyond the 477 guest rooms, attached parking garage and 38,000 square feet of meeting space, planners can depend on dedicated service: Recently, the hotel hosted a group which provides support for returning troops. The convention services manager made sure every staff member wore yellow ribbons. "The client felt we really listened and were an active participant in the success of the event," says Dani Boss, director of marketing.

W A S H I N G T O N

>>Best Attraction
THE WINNER IS:
Space Needle
RUNNERS UP: Pike Place Market, Mount Rainier

Lindsey Huber, group sales manager, called the Space Needle "a virtual ‘test drive’ of Seattle in the sky." The SkyCity restaurant serves world-class cuisine as it revolves just beneath the observation deck. "Anytime I travel to Seattle, I eat at the Space Needle," says Janet Kearney, director of sales and marketing for the Red Lion Hotel Portland. "The panoramic view is wonderful. In addition, the food is outstanding, as is the service." A private banquet room with 360-degree views of Puget Sound, Mount Rainier and the Cascades is also available.

>>Best Audio-Visual/Visual Presentation Provider
THE WINNER IS:
Blue Danube Productions
RUNNERS UP: AV Factory, Triamp Group

Blue Danube Productions was founded only four years ago, but has already established itself as a powerhouse. The company has handled events for AT&T, Microsoft Corp., and even a candidacy announcement for attorney general. Principal Niki McKay says "an event with Blue Danube is designed to exceed our client’s expectation." That certainly was the case when McKay was able to personally secure a DJ and sound equipment within 30 minutes for a junior high dance aboard a chartered boat last year when the originally booked DJ cancelled at the last minute.

>>Best Boats/Cruises/Charters
THE WINNER IS:
Argosy Cruises
RUNNERS UP: Waterways Cruises and Events, Destiny Harbor Tours

With a capacity for 600 people reception-style (and more than 450 seated), family owned Argosy’s nine luxurious vessels sail from Pier 56 in Seattle and offer a refreshing change from your typical event hall. Private chartered cruises offer the most flexibility-sail when and where you want, with full access to the ship’s spacious decks. Dining, sightseeing and themed cruises are available, and Argosy’s friendly staff (who once retrieved an overboard champagne cork for a sentimental couple who wanted to keep a bottle from their wedding) works with groups of all sizes, budgets and timelines.

>>Best Catering Company
THE WINNER IS:
Lisa Dupar Catering
RUNNERS UP: Foodz Catering, Salty’s on Alki

It’s a given that one of the top caterers in the Northwest serves spectacular cuisine. What sets Lisa Dupar Catering apart is outstanding attention to detail. "After 28 years of catering, we also have developed triple-check systems that we religiously stick to," says Owner Lisa Dupar. If something does happen, "we have back-up plans to our back-up plan. We could have written the Worst Case Scenario book series!" As for service, she says, "we have a joke that if it’s legal, we’ll try our best to make it happen." Servers have valeted cars, lifted a wheelchair-bound pastor down a rocky path to perform a service and accommodated 12 different diet restrictions in one dinner.

>>Best Conference Venue
THE WINNER IS:
Bell Harbor International Conference Center
RUNNERS UP: Washington State Convention Center, Lynnwood Convention Center

"Creating satisfied customers is not what we want to do," says Shelley Tomberg, vice president of sales for Bell Harbor. "We want to create ‘screaming evangelists’… fans and customers for life." The conference center can count Bill Gates in that group. When Microsoft hosted a conference at Bell Harbor during Seafair weekend, an unidentified backpack forced the evacuation of the entire venue. Bell Harbor’s team gained permission to relocate the conference to an aircraft carrier docked alongside their building at Pier 66 as a temporary venue. In less than an hour, the entire 250-person conference was moved, and Gates delivered his address onboard with an American flag backdrop. Bell Harbor offers 100,000 square feet of space and complimentary high-speed Internet access with bandwidth for hundreds of heavy users.

>>Best Green Event Venue
THE WINNER IS:
Washington State Convention Center
RUNNERS UP: Hyatt at Olive 8, Bell Harbor International Conference Center

The waste from an event at the 415,000-square-foot Washington State Convention Center (WSCC), the largest full-service event facility in Washington, is substantial-but so is the work that has been put into creating one of the greenest facilities in the United States. In addition to investments like $975,000 for efficient lighting, the sustainability program focuses on the multiple-award-winning catering department, which serves grain-fed beef, free-range chicken and eggs and wine from instate vineyards. All food scraps are composted, packaging for boxed lunches is biodegradable and cups and cutlery are made of bamboo.

>>Best Hotel with Meeting & Event Space (less than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS:
Tulalip Resort Casino
RUNNERS UP: The Maxwell Hotel, Hotel Murano

"We made a decision before we even booked one group that we were going to offer additional value that you just couldn’t find anywhere else, especially in brand name properties," says Tulalip Director of Sales Troy Longwith. The property offers state-of-the-art, ceiling-mounted projectors in meeting rooms, Wi-Fi and valet parking-all complimentary. That value is combined with a prime location, 30,000 square feet of meeting space (including the largest ballroom north of Seattle), 370 huge guest rooms and award-winning restaurants.

>>Best Hotel with Meeting & Event Space (more than 400 guest rooms)
THE WINNER IS:
Sheraton Seattle
RUNNERS UP: Hyatt Regency Bellevue, The Westin Seattle

"I’ve worked at many hotels in my 22-year career, and what’s unique about the Sheraton Seattle is the number of associates who have spent their entire career right here," says Director of Sales Carrianne Smith. "Three of the six members of our convention services team have been here for 25 years." The hotel, which recently underwent a $130-million-dollar expansion, gives every meeting planner they work with an anonymous survey, and Smith says she is most proud of responses like this: "We conduct events around the country and have never seen the quality of staff that can execute our event like the staff at the Sheraton Seattle. This team treats us like family and that genuine dedication shows through."

>>Best Rental Service Provider
THE WINNER IS:
PJ Hummel & Company
RUNNERS UP: Pedersen’s Rentals, Grand Event Rentals

"PJ Hummel & Company is a unique hybrid with both designer and production capabilities," says Larissa Crawford, director of business development. "We are not a prop house, but a design service." Hummel’s collection of décor and rentals comprises a vast inventory of one-of-a-kind pieces filling a 15,000-square-foot warehouse. The company doesn’t scrimp on service, either: Recently, the team staged a grand opening where the timeline was unexpectedly moved up an hour. With the elevators not working, the staff carried more than 4,000 pounds of décor and hardware up three flights of stairs to ensure the original start time was met.

>>Best Resort
THE WINNER IS:
Tulalip Resort Casino
RUNNERS UP: Alderbrook Resort & Spa, The Resort at Port Ludlow

"The Tulalip Resort is one of the best kept secrets in the United States," says Shirley LaFollette, president of Interior Design International. "I hear from people who have stayed in fivestar hotels, and say Tulalip is the best." Design may have much to do with that assessment-both physical design, which features an incredible collection of Coast Salish art created by Tulalip tribal artists-and operational design, as key aspects of the hotel’s operation were already in place when the casino opened in 2003, eliminating the ‘growing pains’ many new large resorts face.