One-of-a-Kind Resort Experiences

Make the most of a resort's location with unique group activities

Plenty of your attendees have done beach Olympics, but how many have built and launched a rocket, raced cars through the desert, golfed on a frozen lake or woven alpaca wool? For truly memorable group activities, look for experiences unique to a property's location or natural surroundings. For inspiration, consider these examples (and see Short Cuts for more).

Dye and weave alpaca wool

Groups that check in to Peru's JW Marriott Cusco, above left, receive a cultural and historical education just by entering the hotel. The 153-room luxury property, two blocks from the main plaza, is built on the grounds of the 16th-century San Agustín Convent. The hotel was constructed around an impressive amount of the pre-Inca walls and architecture that remained, ensuring that guests never really forget where they are. Stunning stone archways and ancient walls are present throughout the resort, and guided tours can be taken around the grounds.

The hotel offers nearly 1,500 square feet of meeting space, including the 872-square-foot Gallery Courtyard, which is the very same open-air courtyard of the original convent. For sit-down banquets for up to 350 people, the Inca theme can be carried through to the menu, with traditional dishes and regional specialties such as quinoa, local vegetables and roast alpaca. Because potatoes are such a staple of the Peruvian diet - more than 3,000 varieties are grown in the country - a menu can be built around them, from appetizers to even cocktails and desserts.

As for the llama-like alpacas, they aren't just an item on the dinner menu. They provide the wool for traditional Inca textiles. For weaving demonstrations and wool-dyeing team-building exercises, the hotel brings in a local artisan. Or, group excursions can be arranged to a nearby district that is home to several weaving cooperatives. For a slightly longer excursion - and more strenuous team building - Machu Picchu is three hours away by train.

JW Marriott Cusco, (011) 51-84-582200; marriott.com/hotels/event-planning/travel/cuzmc-jw-marriott-hotel-cusco

 Make your own wine
The Vines Resort & Spa, tucked in among 1,500 acres of vineyards at the foot of the Andes Mountains in Men­doza, Argentina, offers out-of-the-way luxury for oenophiles. Small groups (the property features 22 one- and two-bedroom villas) can work in the vineyards alongside acclaimed consulting winemaker Santiago Achaval, on hand to share secrets and explain all aspects of the vineal process.

The property's in-house experts know of what they speak: The Vines of Mendoza-produced Recuerdo wines received high marks from Wine Spectator, with 91 points going to the 2011 Gran Corte and 92 points awarded to the 2011 Reserva.

Indoor gatherings, whether wine-related or not, can be accommodated in the resort's private event space. The property also offers a spa, an infinity pool, horseback tours, bike trails, yoga, and private soaking tubs and plunge pools, among other draws.

The particularly oenophilic and well-heeled among the group even have the option to invest in their own private vineyard, a 3- to 10-acre plot to be professionally managed and maintained by the Vines experts. The experience can be as hands-on or -off as owners wish, but they make all the executive decisions - and get their own private-label small-batch wine as a result.

The Vines Resort & Spa, (011) 54-261-461-3900 or (707) 737-0222 in the U.S.; vinesresortandspa.com

Launch a Rocket
The Resort at Glade Springs covers 4,100 acres in Daniels, W.Va., and offers easy access to hiking, skiing, boating and a host of other outdoor activities. Not to mention the opportunity to build and launch a rocket.

The two-hour Rocket Launch activity, one of a variety of outdoor competitions offered by the resort's Teambuilding Academy, has been designed for groups of from eight to 75. It encourages exploration of the resort's grounds by requiring team members to decipher clues, bringing them to various unique locations. A correctly discovered location earns the team a token, each of which may be exchanged for the equipment required to build a high-powered water rocket. Once the tokens have been turned in and the rockets correctly constructed, teams gleefully launch the projectiles 200 feet into the air above Glade Springs.

For those who wish to forgo high-powered projectiles, the Teambuilding Academy also can get groups out and about by way of a GPS course or an adventure race conducted on mountain bikes, among other options, all of which make the most of wild, wonderful West Virginia.

The resort has a conference center, too, for groups of up to 450, while its Inn at Glade Springs offers 48 rooms. Other lodging options on-property include three Manor Houses, which have as many as four bedrooms each; the Chestnut Hill Lodges, which can sleep up to 40; three-bedroom Oak Lane Villas, and a luxury four-bedroom home called Stone Manor.

The Resort at Glade Springs, (866) 562-8054; gladesprings.com

Paella party: A garden site is prepared at Hacienda del Álamo in Málaga, Spain.
Paella party: A garden site is prepared at Hacienda del Álamo in Málaga, Spain.

 Prepare Prize Paella

Spain's Costa del Sol is dotted with popular resort cities such as Marbella and Málaga, each replete with resort accommodations. In the traditional, typically Spanish beach town of San Pedro de Alcántara, just off the main coastal road and about six miles west of Marbella, lies the Alabardero Beach Club. The restaurant and event venue, which offers both indoor and outdoor spaces for groups alongside the beach, is well known for its rice specialties. As no rice dish says Southern Spain quite like paella, it is only right that here groups of as many as 200 can participate in an intense competition to prepare the finest such dish - with the winner crowned by the beach club's head chef himself.

After a group is divided into small teams, each contestant dons a chef's cap and apron. Then the education begins, but not without the aid of traditional Spanish libations and appetizers. The chef explains the process of paella preparation and discusses the ingredients from which contestants may choose, before turning over the task to the team members. Rice masters remain on hand to offer advice throughout the competition.

While only one team leaves with the proud distinction of having best wowed the head chef, every member of the group exits with a full belly and a diploma in paella.

For those who aren't able to travel to the beach club proper, Alabardero provides catering services. The property's chefs also will bring the competition to sister venues like La Meridiana del Alabardero in Marbella or Hacienda del Álamo in Málaga.

Taberna del Alabardero Beach Club, (011) 34-952-780-552; grupolezama.es/portal/alabardero-beach-club/home

Kicking up some sand: Groups at Esperanza, An Auberge Resort, can race across the desert near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Kicking up some sand: Groups at Esperanza, An Auberge Resort, can race across the desert near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

 Get your heart pumping

For groups that need more action - a lot more - than lounging by the pool and sipping fruity concoctions, the Peak Performance package has been created at Esperanza, An Auberge Resort. The Cabo San Lucas luxury property, which offers 57 suites and 60 one- to four-bedroom villas, offers a slew of activities that make the most of the natural beauty of Mexico's Baja peninsula - from beach to desert and back.

The health-conscious Peak Performance theme kicks off with the resort's Beach Bootcamp class, an hourlong morning workout in the sand that includes a variety of equipment and plyometric (aka jump training) and cardiovascular exercises. Difficulty levels can be tailored to address specific needs of the group.

That's just for starters, though, because the package also includes TRX classes, the Suspension Training program that originated from Navy SEALs training techniques. TRX Suspension Trainers are those portable, stretchy gizmos that leverage an individual's body weight to improve strength, balance and flexibility. And, some would say, they're slightly more fun to use under a breezy palapa overlooking the Sea of Cortéz.

The excess of endorphins brought on by the above should have the group primed for the action of a team-building day in the Baja desert, racing professional open-wheel desert race cars. Expert guides promise a safe (but fast) journey through back roads, past villages and, of course, across open stretches of desert.

Because the group will have fully earned the right to kick back, a private tequila tasting and sampling of cigars is included for one night to help participants fully process the thrills and sights that they experienced earlier. Beyond the Peak Performance package, the resort also offers a spa, cooking classes at its on-site restaurant and a range of fitness classes.

Esperanza, An Auberge Resort, (011) 52-624-1456400 or (855) 331-2226 in the U.S.; esperanza.aubergeresorts.com

Cold play: Twilight snow-tubing at the Woodloch Pines Resort
Cold play: Twilight snow-tubing at the Woodloch Pines Resort

 Golf on ice

To serve as a reminder that not all resorts are about fun in the sun - and that many are geographically positioned where there are actual seasons - we turn to the cold-weather appeal of ice golf. Woodloch Pines Resort, a 160-room property in the Pocono Mountains of Hawley, Pa., offers such opportunities for those groups that elect to embrace the winter, rather than flee from it.

Obviously, when it comes to setting up an ice golf competition, the colder the better. When its lake freezes, Woodloch can customize a tournament to meet the needs of the group - often as part of a larger Woodloch Winter Olympics competition, designed to reinforce communication and group problem solving. Events such as target golf, which involves hitting a bull's-eye in the middle of the ice, or Slick Shot, for which team members don ice skates, are just two of the possibilities. One might even consider an "executive course" for a small group willing to traipse across the ice for a short round.

The resort has created more than 100 Woodloch Winter Olympic events for groups over the years, including the tried-and-true classics of Monster Mogul (extreme snow-tubing), Wheel of Woodloch (a snow-tubing, Frisbee-throwing and word-assembling relay race) and Golf Ball Rebound (aka knock hockey on a frozen lake, played with a golf ball).

Woodloch's extensive list of teambuilding activities isn't relegated to frozen weather, of course, and includes year-round possibilities that make the most of the lake and mountain setting at the Pennsylvania resort.

Woodloch Pines Resort, (800) 453-8263; woodlochmeetings.com