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Doing a Different Holiday Party



— September 15, 2018

Doing a Different Holiday Party

By Lisa James
  • Going off-site can up this annual ritual's fun quotient.

The words “office holiday party” can conjure up awful images of people milling around the break room with little plastic cups of discount wine and paper plates full of cheese squares, a single string of lights blinking away while “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” pours out of the speakers.

Don’t let this happen to you.

The best way to throw a memorable party is to move it out of the office. “This year we are seeing increased interest in off-site parties in both numbers and scale of the events,” says Fleet Hamilton, operations director for the event planning firm Relevé Unlimited in Solvang, California. “Guests want a great experience in a location that is fresh and interesting to them. Re-purposed, renovated spaces in formerly depressed areas are really hot.” If you’re looking to avoid the same old, same old at this year’s party, consider the following venue options. (Make sure you understand exactly what the venue will and will not provide, and get a full cost accounting, before signing off on any paperwork.)


One way to break free from the average office party is to break free from gravity. Indoor skydiving lets you and your coworkers undergo the thrill of freefall without having to strap on a chute and jump from a plane. As iFLY (, which operates in 16 states, explains on their website, “It’s just you, a smooth cushion of air and a sense of freedom you’ve never known.”

At iFLY, you’ll be given some basic body positioning and hand signal training before being outfitted with a helmet, flight suit, and goggles. Then it’s into the wind tunnel—and takeoff. No one has to be a peak physical specimen to qualify. But there are some basic medical restrictions: Weight less than 300 pounds, no prior shoulder problems, and current neck, back or heart concerns with a doctor’s say-so. And everyone will have to sign a waiver. You might even find a new hobby. iFLY calls body flight “one of the most exciting sports in the world.”


Talk about the ultimate place to chill. In an ice bar, everything—the seating, the glasses, the bar—is made of frozen water. “We can create almost everything in ice, such as company logos,” says Noel Bowman, president/ partner at M5 Management, which runs minus 5° bars in Las Vegas and Florida ( After a half-hour in the deep freeze, he says, “We whisk you into the warm part.”
According to Bowman, there are only two other permanent ice bars, both in Florida. However, temporary establishments pop up in colder parts of the country, so keep an eye on your local bar scene.


If you and your buds love beer, you might as well go to the source—your local brewery. A lot of company party hosts have come to that conclusion. “It offers something a little more fun, casual and perhaps educational for the guests; we offer tours as part of our event packages,” says Stephanie Aksland, event planner at Chicago’s Revolution Brewing ( And it’s not just holiday parties; Aksland is seeing “many more business meetings, product pitches and happy hour–type events.” As in all off-site parties, it’s important to get the details right. “I’m really big on communication and organization,” says Aksland. “The more detailed we are, the more successful the event will be.”


Sometimes, there’s nothing like hitting a couple of hotspots when you want to have a good time. If you want to get the party started on the way there—and make sure everyone stays safe all night long—there’s nothing like hiring a specially equipped party bus or limo. A fully-loaded vehicle is more than simple transportation. You get colorful lighting and booming beats along with bars and flat screens; some have amenities such as laser shows, karaoke machines, and video game systems. Limos, including customized Hummers and Escalades, are generally sit-down affairs. Buses are bigger, allowing riders to stand and move around more easily.


Back in the day, Gramps and Granny would put on their matching bowling shirts, pack up their custom-drilled balls and throw a few frames with the local beer league. Things have come a long way: At today’s lanes, bowling is an all-night-party kind of sport. Most, like the nationally franchised Bowlmor (, offer food and drink packages along with activities such as arcade games and blacklight bowling, with glowing balls and pins. Don’t forget the fun of the competition. As Bowlmor says on its website, “There’s no better way to get in the holiday spirit than by bowling a strike while your boss chucks a gutterball.”


Is your group more “The Big Bang Theory” than “Survivor”? If so, you might want to contact a local science museum to see if they host outside events. Museums do provide a certain coolness factor. “There is an air of exclusivity to attending an event at a space that comes with its own curated exhibitions and one-of-a-kind collections. It’s not something you experience every day,” says John Arcidiacono, president and CEO at The Health Museum in Houston ( In addition, a museum party may allow for entertainment that goes beyond simply hiring a band. As Arcidiacono says of his facility, guests can “engage in hands-on activities like dissections and experiments in our one-of-a-kind cellular biology lab.”


If you and your office mates like living by your wits, escaping to an escape room can provide team-building fun. The idea is straightforward: Your group is locked in a room, which you escape by solving the puzzles it contains. The execution is anything but: According to the blog Room Escape Artist, most of these rooms “have an escape rate between 15% and 40%.” (Don’t worry, they’ll let you back out if you don’t succeed.) Some rooms are deceptively simple, others incorporate a heavy dose of tech, including virtual reality. Solving a room together is “a great way to boost employee morale at the end of the year,” says Melanie McLean of Mastermind Escape Games (master, which operates six locations in four states. “Instead of standing around eating and drinking, you can be doing something interactive as a group that everyone will remember in all the right ways!” There are dozens of escape rooms across the country. Go to room and click on the “Find a Room” tab.

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