Going on Faith

AUG-SEP 2016

The Magazine for faith-based travel planners.

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PIGEON FORGE, TENNESSEE Many people have first visited Pigeon Forge with their church youth group, and now their children are returning for religious conference and faith-based youth events. "We've been a very popular family vacation destination for over 30 years," said Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, "so a lot of parents of these children are familiar with this destination." Before the LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge even opened in 2013, the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association booked dates for three events, and "wanted those three sets of dates from 'now until the second coming of Christ' — that was actually how it was written in his first contracts," Downey said. The 232,000-square- foot LeConte Center is popular for religious youth events and can host groups of from 1,500 to 12,000 people. A city ordinance prohibits the center from booking smaller events to avoid pilfering business from local hotels and venues, such as Music Road Resort Hotel, with 20,000 square feet of function space; MainStay Suites, with a 10,000-square-foot conference center; and the Smokey Mountain Convention Center, for up to 1,000 people. Pigeon Forge has more than 80 attractions — SkyWheel, a wax museum, water parks, WonderWorks and Wonders of Flight — and something new opens every year: new hotels, new attractions and new restaurants. Dollywood's 300-room DreamMore Resort opened late last summer, and Dolly Parton's Lumberjack Adventure dinner theater show debuted in May. A 112-room Hilton Garden Inn opened in June, and the 178-room Black Fox Lodge is under construction. A new 137-room Courtyard by Marriott is slated to open this summer near the Pigeon Forge Community Center, which is popular for overnight lock-ins with its basket- ball and volleyball courts, bowling alley and pool. TopJump indoor trampoline park, new this spring, is also a popular spot. www.mypigeonforge.com ORLANDO, FLORIDA Orlando, Florida, is home to "The Most Magical Place on Earth" and is also known as the "Theme Park Capital of the World," but that's only part of the reason the city routinely lands among planners' top destinations for youth group confer- ences. With 100-plus attractions, 5,000 restaurants and more than 118,000 guest rooms, 5,100 of which are directly connected to the Orange County Convention Center, there's something to fit every budget, according to Visit Orlando. The Orange County Convention Center is a massive complex that covers 7 mil- lion square feet; it has more than 2 million feet of exhibition space, 74 meeting rooms and 232 breakout rooms. Universal Orlando opened its fifth hotel in July. The new Loews Sapphire Falls Resort adds 1,000 guest rooms and will have 115,000 square feet of function space, bringing Universal's total meeting and convention space to 300,000 square feet. Other popular options for youth groups are the Rosen Centre Hotel, with 1,334 guest rooms and 150,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 1,417-room Hilton Orlando, with 236,000 square feet of function space that includes 50,000 square feet of event lawns, plazas and gardens. In addition to Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando, youth groups can visit the Holy Land Experience, a 15-acre "living, biblical museum and park that brings the world of the Bible to life." Using actors and exhibits, the park re-creates sites and scenes of the Bible, among them the Great Temple, a Jerusalem street market, Jesus' birthplace and his tomb. At the Wycliffe Discovery Center, groups can take guided tours and sign up for programs to learn about translating the Bible. www.visitorlando.com

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