In keeping with its history, this Maine town knows how to reel in meeting planners.
An original fisherman’s village, the town of Kennebunkport, situated on the southwestern coast of Maine about 25 miles south of Portland and 90 miles north of Boston, is a beloved spot thanks to its majestic beaches, vibrant village life and historic charm.
The late President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush certainly thought so, enjoying a summer home on Walker’s Point for decades. Tours of the home, which is still owned by the Bushes, aren’t offered, but visitors can view the estate from a scenic park overlook.
Town historian Joyce Butler explains that the name Kennebunk means “long cut bank” and is likely a reference to Great Hill at the mouth of the Mousam River, an important landmark to Native Americans traveling along the coast in their ocean-going canoes.
Today, convenient to Boston, Connecticut and New York City, Kennebunkport is an idyllic setting for smaller meetings and retreats. “We have a traditional New England town, yet have sophisticated businesses with high-tech options,” says Laura Dolce, executive director for the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport-Arundel Chamber of Commerce.
“The opportunity for side trips or team bonding experiences are endless, with lobster trapping, high-speed rigid inflatable boat (RIB) rides, beachfront lobster fests and clambakes, brewery tours, whiskey tastings and more.” Another factor that makes Kennebunkport appealing as a meetings destination is that unlike other beach towns, it’s very much a year-round community.
Where to Stay and Meet
While there aren’t any mammoth-sized hotels here, cozy bed and breakfasts, historic inns and charming resorts and smaller hotels give meeting planners plenty of lodging options.
Perched at the top of Kennebunkport’s Dock Square, Kennebunkport Inn is a renovated tea merchant’s mansion that includes 33 rooms with elegant furnishings and sophisticated décor. Its views overlooking the Kennebunk River are breathtaking. The second-floor Thompson Meeting Room can accommodate up to 24 attendees for board meetings and brainstorming sessions.
Just a skip away from sandy beaches and bustling shops, Yachtsman Hotel & Marina Club is one of the newer places to stay in Kennebunkport. Each of the 30 bungalows features its own patio on the water’s edge, and the property can host meetings for several dozen.
The stately 136-year-old waterfront Nonantum Resort roosts along a bend in the Kennebunk River where lobster boats are moored between trips out to sea. The 109-room property has 6,000 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom that can host 200 guests.
Software and data company V12, headquartered in Matawan, New Jersey, held a gathering here last May. “Our senior leadership team met at The Nonantum for a two-day offsite,” says Anne Kurzenberger, V12’s chief people person. “The location was so beautiful, but the real delight was the staff. They went out of their way to ensure our event was a success. And you couldn’t ask for a lovelier place.”
Spread over 60 acres of birch groves and balsam fir, the 56-room Hidden Pond was designed for privacy and luxury. Amenities include two outdoor swimming pools, a three-room treetop spa and organic dining at the award-winning Earth at Hidden Pond restaurant. The 1,200-square-foot Event Barn at Hidden Pond accommodates 80 guests. Team-building activities include stand up paddle boarding, guided nature walks, mixology classes and nightly campfires with s’mores
The Lodge on the Cove offers 30 guest rooms and a lovely, secluded location that encourages creative thinking for company retreats. Its Coveside Meeting Room can accommodate up to 40 guests, while an expansive patio overlooks the Kennebunk River. Amenities include complimentary beach cruiser bikes, and downtown Kennebunkport is just a few minutes away for an easy ride.
What to Do After the Meeting
When the meetings are over, attendees at most properties can walk over to Dock Square. Considered the heart of Kennebunkport, Dock Square is full of shops, galleries, restaurants, cafés and coffeehouses. It’s this buzz and energy that draws people here. Many of the houses in the area were built back in the 1800s and while they have been renovated, most still have the original structure, providing an old coastal charm.
Seashore Trolley Museum, the first and largest electric railway museum in the world, is a must stop. Visitors can take a ride on a heritage railroad in a vintage trolley from the 1900s and explore three carhouses filled with restored trolleys and other transit artifacts. The renowned collection includes vehicles from almost every major city in the U.S. that had a streetcar system, as well as from cities across the globe. The museum also can host indoor events for up to 75 guests and outdoor gatherings for up to 250.
Outdoor activities abound in Maine, of course. There are countless ways to get out on the water, including sailing charters, lobster boat tours and kayak rentals. Plus, the hiking trails here are awe-inspiring, and golfers will find several courses to play, including Cape Arundel Golf Club. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 18-hole, par 69 course has been played by four U.S. presidents and sports greats that include Babe Ruth.
After a busy day, people can drop into the Kennebunkport Brewing Co., known as the birthplace of Shipyard Ale, for their house special brew, or stop at Maine Mead Works for unique HoneyMaker mead drinks. Maine Mead Works can host corporate events, up to 50 people indoors for a cocktail reception and more with additional seating on a tented outdoor patio. Meeting in Maine has never been more intoxicating!