Permission to come aboard,” was my first thought as I walked into the newly renovated, sleek and spacious Virginia Beach Convention Center, with its tall steel tower resembling a ship’s command center, the large glass windows extending 90 feet high and the beautiful teak-like wood throughout. Cocktails anyone! The outside upper deck of the tower, with its weathered wood flooring overlooking the ocean only a few blocks away is perfect for a 50-person reception.
At the helm is Courtney Dyer, who steered this ship through LEED Gold certification (existing building)—the first in the nation.
“I am so proud of all the time and dedication toward a sustainable future that our green team is committed to,” says Dyer. The animated video wall spanning the 360-ft wide pre-function space can save hundreds of trees that would normally be cut down to produce signage and printed material. They even saved money and material by leaving out those annoying columns in the 150,000-sf exhibit space! And how many convention centers let you pick some herbs from the garden out back to make your salad dressing for lunch?
Now that I had my sea legs, I was ready to hop on board the Ruddee Explorer pontoon boat to take us to the Virginia Beach Aquarium. Of course we had to make a detour prior to boarding. The very gracious Virginia Beach CVB, whose always entertaining director of sales/marketing, Al Hutchinson, arranged for us to stop by for hors d’oeuvres and naturally brewed drinks at the fine local establishment of Rockafella’s.
Once refreshed, the short trip to the aquarium through one of the most vital parts of the local ecosystem, the Owl’s Creek Salt Marsh Estuary, was smooth sailing. If you bring your snorkeling gear, you can help clean the 50,000-gallon aquarium with the largest collection of Chesapeake Bay fish in the world. Or, a small group can actually participate in a harbor seal behavioral training session.
Chef Robbie Delaney did some catching outside the aquarium and served a fusion of luscious sustainable dishes from the nearby Bay, the local bountiful gardens and the nearby dairy farms to come up with a meal to make your taste buds tingle. Highly recommend the jumbo lump Chesapeake Bay crab meat sauteed with Smithfield Ham and May peas over a jalapeno cornbread served with green and white asparagus.
The only thing better was the most incredible heirloom tomatoes (seriously, I’ve never tasted anything like them) served with blackened shrimp over baby romaine and crumbled bleu cheese and buttermilk dressing. It was a veritable Taste of the Bay sustainable feast, with wine from the regional vineyards.
The warmest, most sincere welcome I’ve ever had upon entering a hotel happened at the 290-room Hilton Oceanfront Resort Hotel situated on the beautiful sands of Virginia Beach. Gigi Atkins has been working for hotel owner Bruce Thompson for over 20 years. When I commented to her that she was the most friendly hotel greeter I’d ever encountered, she said, “No, Danielle, I am a Journey Ambassador. My job is to make your journey to our friendly city and beautiful hotel as pleasant as possible.” Talk to Gigi, a jewel of this sea city.