Divine Intermissions

From puppy-petting to hula practice, these creative meeting breaks will refresh and inspire

"In the past year, we noticed breaks were getting boring,” says Bob Eyton-Jones, an activity organizer at the Fairmont Tremblant in Québec. In an attempt to reduce costs, he says, planners were opting for the bare minimum of coffee pit stops. But such breaks often tired rather than inspired attendees. That’s when Eyton-Jones thought of doing something flyee, French for “off the wall.”
    Now, just as meetings begin to get draggy, planners at the Fairmont Tremblant can arrange for troops of cheerleaders and band members to burst into the conference room and lead attendees outside where a tailgate party awaits, complete with gingham tablecloths and lemonade.
    It might sound unusual, but that’s exactly what Eyton-Jones wants people to think. “With everything going on, life is so complicated,” he says. “You have to have fun and laugh.”
    The Fairmont Tremblant isn’t the only venue offering creative breaks. To distinguish themselves, hotels in all corners of the world have been racing to invent their own kinds of pick-me-ups. Here’s a sampling.

10-minute massage
The Hilton Waikoloa Village is taking a hands-on approach to creative breaks. Craig Pagaduan, director of catering, meetings and conventions, says attendees rave about short massage sessions. 
    Once a meeting is in recess, up to 20 massage therapists arrive at the break area along with a raft of massage chairs, incense, fruit smoothies and nutrition bars. Guests are invited to sit for 10 minutes and choose from a selection of styles, including shiatsu, Thai and the uniquely Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage.
    “Massages give the attendees a quiet moment of relaxation before they have to head back and conduct their business,” says Pagaduan. One caveat: “Sometimes they don’t want to go back to the meeting.”

Fixing flats
One of the Hotel Monaco Denver’s most intriguing breaks actually was invented by a meeting planner having a bad morning at the property. After discovering her car had a flat tire, the planner asked Bruce Mangual, the hotel’s catering and conference services director, to come out to the parking lot and help her. As they were jacking up the car, they had a sudden brainstorm and a new tradition was born.
    About once a month, Mangual arranges a Pit Stop Break, a 20-minute session during which meeting attendees practice changing flat tires and jumping dead batteries on a pair of old Subarus at the hotel.
    “The most common mistake is when people forget to loosen the bolts before jacking up the car,” says Mangual. After the hands-on demonstration, guests reconvene to the conference room to find a car-themed snack bar, complete with tire-shaped cookies and tables decorated with hubcaps and tire tread-stained linens.

Puppy love
To separate itself from the pack, the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver offers a special treat for dog lovers. The hotel’s Pup-sicle Break allows meeting planners to hire the services of Mavis, a two-year-old golden retriever who lives on property.
    Just as the meeting session is winding down, Mavis meanders into the boardroom, towing a wagon filled with sweets. Guests can line up for a buffet of frozen fruit bars, ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, or simply opt to pet the pup. And you can bet she enjoys the attention: The pooch was raised to be a seeing-eye dog, but her trainers deemed her “too playful” for the job.

Vintage California
In the foothills of California wine country, meeting attendees at the Lodge at Sonoma are rolling up their pants legs, stepping into barrels of grapes and stomping away.
    Though this juice won’t be used to make wine organizers say the activity is just about having fun and “crushing some grapes” participants are invigorated by the feel of cold pulp between their toes and the warm California sun overhead.
    The Lodge at Sonoma offers other creative breaks for those who can appreciate good wines. For example, local vintners are on hand to introduce guests to what’s under the cork from many of the area’s small family wineries. The Lodge also organizes a Wine Roulette break, an interactive competition where guests take turns sipping from a half-dozen unlabeled bottles and attempt to identify each one.
    Since some tend to participate with great enthusiasm, “it’s usually done at the end of the meeting,” explains Michael J. Murphy, director of event management at the property.

Do the hula
Leave it to the folks on Oahu to liven up breaks with a distinct Polynesian twist. At the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa at Ko Olina, professional hula dancer Shanna Scalera teaches attendees the ancient art of hip-wriggling. The one-hour sessions, called Hip on Hula, give guests a glimpse into native Hawaiian culture and music.
    An added bonus: Hula dancing is great exercise. Basic movements involve deep squats and other bending motions that get the muscles moving and the blood pumping.

Tee time
When the session breaks, it’s time to tee up at the Sagamore Resort in Bolton Landing, N.Y., where golf aficionados can spend an hourlong meeting break perfecting their swings.
    Golf pro Tom Smack arrives at the conference room to teach attendees about proper grips, pre-shot routines and course management. Then he sets up putting cups and hands out clubs so everyone can practice.
    Smack also leaves time for a popular question-and-answer session in which the discussion often centers around golf clubs. “They like to know about the new equipment because it’s all very expensive, and no one wants to buy what they don’t need,” he says.

Pilates primer
When it’s time to get up and stretch, why not try a round of Pilates? At the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club, aerobics instructor Jennifer Stock leads groups through 10-minute exercises that are designed to be even more rejuvenating than a cup of cappuccino.
    In morning sessions, Stock focuses on stretching and breathing. In the afternoon, she uses low-impact, no-sweat cardio activities that increase the heart rate. The routines act as great icebreakers, since attendees pair up and assist each other with the often unfamiliar exercises.
    “It almost always takes a little getting used to,” Stock notes. “At many meetings, people tend to sit around for long hours with awful posture, and often they become stiff and sore. We think this is an excellent way to bring health into the meeting, so attendees are able to work their bodies as well as their minds.”

Idle thyme
Herb gardens and apple orchards provide lovely backdrops for the wellness breaks at the Carneros Inn, a 27-acre resort in Napa, Calif.
    During free time, attendees can take hourlong garden walks and sample a harvest of apples, olives and vegetables. Or, they can gaze out at the panoramic views of Napa’s Wine Country while a resident horticulturist discusses the botanical history of the area.
    For those who prefer to spend their time indoors, the inn offers meditation breaks during which participants sit on floor cushions and are led through a routine of various mind-energizing exercises. As an alternative, guests can opt for a gentle Yoga workshop or take part in a creative visualization exercise a kind of guided meditation where guests relax, listen to inspiring messages and tune out the pressures of the everyday world.

Spiritual escape
Got an opened-minded bunch of meeting participants? At the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Mexico, a local shaman leads groups through a 20-minute re-energizing session.
    First, the shaman seats the group on mats overlooking the ocean, then he begins to chant, burn incense and sprinkle participants with herbed water. As attendees meditate, they are given instructions on how to achieve a state of calm through special breathing and sitting exercises.
    Once the group is relaxed, the shaman forms a human chain by asking everyone to rest their heads on their neighbors’ stomachs. The practice is thought to enhance relaxation while sharing energy among participants.