Wisconsin’s Lakes and Rivers Are Perfect for Events

November 16, 2018

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
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
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
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

Elkhart Lake

Fox Cities CVB

Greater Green Bay CVB

Greater Madison CVB

La Crosse Area CVB

Visit Lake Geneva

Sheboygan Tourism

Visit Milwaukee

Waukesha & Pewaukee Area CVB

Wisconsin Dells VCB


Beyond the Lakes and Rivers: A Look at Wisconsin's Varied Group Dining Experiences and Opportunities

Wisconsin is filled with fun ways for groups to enjoy some of its signature foods and dining experiences.

Door County

Supper clubs, which combine dining with entertainment, are a long-standing tradition in Wisconsin. On Door County Trolley’s Wisconsin Supper Club Tour programs combine sightseeing in trolleys with the chance to enjoy classic supper club cocktails, food and live music along the way.  

Located in Ellison Bay, Savory Spoon Cooking School offers hands-on and demonstration classes, as well as educational sessions. Participants expand their skills in the kitchen and end the class by sitting down to enjoy the final product.


Madison Eats Food Tours features customized culinary tours on foot, bike or bus through local neighborhoods, with stops to sample treats at ethnic eateries, chef-driven restaurants, markets, artisan food shops, pubs, breweries and more.


Milwaukee Food & City Tours provides a wide variety of public and customized food tours through Milwaukee neighborhoods such as the Historic Third Ward as well as outlying areas such as Cedarburg, a small town known for its bakeries and candy shops. A new offering is the Milwaukee Streetcar Food Tour, which uses the new Hop streetcar to explore local landmarks and markets.

Wisconsin Hotel Openings, Upgrades and Renovations


Door County

The Hesly Center is a new event venue on eight acres in Baileys Harbor offering indoor and outdoor spaces for small corporate meetings and training sessions.

The Donald and Carol Kress Pavilion opened earlier this year in Egg Harbor in the Village Library and Community Center. Accommodating up to 250 people for meetings and catered events, the pavilion’s Great Hall features a video wall, teleconferencing facilities and other amenities.

Lake Geneva

The Abbey Resort debuted the West Shore Pavilion, a tented event venue in a wooded setting with chandeliers, cement flooring and glass windows that accommodates up to 600 guests. The resort, which joined the Benchmark Hospitality portfolio earlier this year, also added a virtual entertainment venue available for teambuilding events that features an Immersion Theater and virtual reality PCs.

The Grand Geneva Resort & Spa completed a major renovation of The Forum, its largest function area, making improvements to the 13,770-square-foot space that include new lighting, furnishings, wall coverings and carpeting.


The 106-room Tru by Hilton Madison West opened, offering amenities that include a business center, fitness room and lobby with ping pong and other games.


The Fiserv Forum, a 17,500-seat multipurpose arena that is home to the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, opened in August. The facility offers several private event spaces for up to 500 people.

The Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown opened in the historic Brewery District near the Wisconsin Center convention space and Fiserv Forum. The 150-room hotel offers 1,700 square feet of meeting space and a fitness center.

Wisconsin Dells

Kalahari Resorts & Conventions recently broke ground on a 112,000-square-foot expansion to its convention center set to open in September 2019. The expansion, which will more than double the size of the facility, includes a 52,000-square-foot ballroom, prefunction spaces, lounges and outdoor patios.

Fairfield Inn & Suites Wisconsin Dells opened with 105 guest rooms and amenities that include free breakfast, an indoor pool and fitness center, among others.

Vennebu Hill Wedding Barn & Event Center is a new year-round facility offering banquet space for up to 350 people and a spacious outdoor patio.

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About the author
Maria Lenhart | Senior Editor