Taking top honors as the best attraction for the sixth time, this lakefront hub has spectacular skyline views and standout, flexible spaces for large exhibitions, ballroom galas, intimate receptions and meetings of every kind. Guests can enjoy 50 acres of gardens, promenades and attractions, including a beer garden, theater performances and a 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel. It has covered parking for 1,740 vehicles and easy access to public transit. A multiyear redevelopment, scheduled for completion in 2015, will make this iconic spot even better with new green spaces, social areas, Chicago-themed food experiences and a lighted water fountain/ice skating rink. (Navy Pier, Chicago, 312.595.7437)

Runners-up // Lincoln Park Zoo; Lollapalooza




Imaginative solutions are Frost’s specialty. Lighting, staging, video, audio and fabric systems balance form with function and the technical with the creative for a stellar vibe that sets events apart. Team members work closely with clients from ideation through execution to understand tastes, styles and budgets. Uncompromised service ensures corporate and social events meet goals while delivering serious wow power. Frost Chicago leads the field in stage, LED and intelligent programmable lighting with content-driven décor, video mapping and projections on an architectural scale. As well, high-end audio and custom video content/scenic décor are made through its in-house metal and wood shop. (Frost Chicago, 312.642.7600)

Runners-up // The AV Department, Inc.; Sound Investment




A recent $2 million renovation adds to Odyssey’s appeal. New interior décor with LED lighting is elegant and fresh, while chic rooftop furniture creates a floating rooftop to enjoy Chicago’s skyline. The celebrity, chef-inspired menu features local ingredients, mixologist-crafted cocktails and expanded wine and microbrew selections. Each of the three decks is available for private rental, and the entire ship accommodates 749 guests year-round. Odyssey usually docks at Navy Pier, but large groups can board and disembark at other sites, too. Options exist for musical entertainment, custom menus, A/V and meeting setup, photo packages, event décor, themed cruises and more. (Odyssey, Chicago, 866.391.8439)

Runners-up // Entertainment Cruises; Wendella Sightseeing Co. Inc.



In 2013, Food For Thought celebrated 30 years in the business. That’s three decades of providing scrumptious food, attentive service and flawless execution. No wonder it’s the exclusive caterer for the Adler Planetarium, and the preferred caterer for other notable venues like The Field Museum, Chicago History Museum and Lincoln Park Zoo. Irresistible flavors and creative presentations also drive its hospitality group, which provides dining service management for conference catering, museum and university cafés and golf course management. Whatever your food service needs, expect a memorable experience. (Food For Thought, Lincolnwood, 847.982.2608)

Runners-up // Amazing Edibles; Jewell Events Catering




No conference venue is fresher than Catalyst Ranch. You almost have to experience its colorful mix of vintage and ethnic furnishings and whimsical artwork firsthand to see how the vibrant space makes such a positive impact on attendees. Catalyst Ranch breaks through the beige room syndrome to fuel creativity: Everyone, they claim, can be more productive if conditions are optimized. Even better, the boutique center has a patented model to guide your gathering to success. Six rooms provide 15,000 square feet of inspiration, accommodating up to 120 for meetings and 200 for strolling receptions. Focus group facilities are also available. (Catalyst Ranch, Chicago, 312.207.1710)

Runners-up // McCormick Place; NIU Naperville Conference Center


CONVENTION + VISITORS BUREAU - Town/Area Less Than 40,000 Population

Convention and Visitors Bureau

An hour west of Chicago, the Greater St. Charles area has been a favorite destination since the late 1880s. Its charming architecture, rich history, Fox River frontage and delightful downtown, featuring landmarks like the Arcada Theatre and Hotel Baker, make for a relaxed atmosphere perfect for creative thinking. Planners say the CVB is an integral part of the experience, helping find the ideal setup from among its 2,400 hotel rooms, four meeting and conference venues, three expo centers and indoor and outdoor sporting venues. Attractions and team-building activities like paddlewheel riverboat cruises, art classes and winter snowshoeing add to the full package. (Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau, St. Charles, 800.777.4373)

Runners-up // Geneva Chamber of Commerce; Lisle Convention & Visitors Bureau


CONVENTION + VISITORS BUREAU - Town/Area More Than 40,000 in Population


Choose Chicago helps planners navigate the city’s expansive offering of venues, services, entertainment, dining and lodging; it also creates new opportunities for the event industry. In 2013, the private nonprofit helped Chicago achieve a record-setting 75 percent hotel occupancy rate that resulted in nearly $106 million in total hotel tax revenue, a near 5 percent gain. To reach its initiative spearheaded by Mayor Rahm Emanuel of attracting 55 million visitors by 2020, it promotes Chicago’s neighborhoods and cultural assets and has launched an international competition to light the city at night. (Choose Chicago, 12.567.8500)

Runners-up // Lake County Convention & Visitors Bureau; Meet Chicago Northwest




For 25 years, this accredited, full-service agency has delivered exciting Chicago experiences, with competitive rates for Fortune 500 and up-and-coming clients. Last year, it produced 150 programs, ranging from 10-person dinners to weeklong events. Staff members hold more DMCP certifications than any Midwest DMC group. Their high level of professionalism and creativity, along with extensive vendor partnerships, ensure every event from product launches to sporting events, tours to team-building activities, exceed expectations. This is the agency’s fourth Best of Illinois honor. (Chicago Travel Consultants, 773.880.5878)

Runners-up // Meetings & Incentives; Total Event Resources




This trio breaks the music mold with a classical take on modern pop, rock and indie melodies. Twin sisters Joy Matteson and Priscilla Dean play violin and cello, respectively, and ensemble leader Benjie Hughes alternates between the guitar and piano. Together they perform songs by Coldplay, Adele, Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons and more. For additional dynamics and energy, percussionist Scott Liebenow joins the group. Original arrangements are created by Hughes, the owner of Backthird Entertainment, which operates a recording studio and offers DJ services, live jazz and another pop string ensemble. (Twin Strings, Aurora, 630.264.2366)

Runners-up // Just For Fun Productions; Productions USA, Inc.




Prepare to be dazzled: The creations of Kehoe Designs are unabashed, original and multisensory. The team thrives on design challenges and pushing limits while crafting high-style events that are personalized and one-of-a-kind experiences. Inspiration for floral, art, fabrication, furniture, graphics, plantscapes, lighting, video mapping and interactive displays comes from every corner. The result is presentations that are unexpected and edgy, modern and minimalist and even full-on fairy tale. No matter the request, they always hit the mark for clients big and small. The fullservice firm delivers exceptional customer service from creative strategy to on-site support. (Kehoe Designs, Chicago, 312.421.0030)

Runners-up // HMR Designs; Ivan Carlson & Associates



Hosting more than 140 golf outings each season, this club-just 40 minutes from Chicago-is a favorite of both nonprofit and corporate groups. The championship course was crafted by renowned designers Pete and P.B. Dye; it was their first collaborative effort and is considered one of their finest. The clubhouse’s Ambassador Grand Ballroom seats 275 for dinner and has cathedral ceilings, crystal chandeliers and windows overlooking the idyllic grounds. The elegant Terrace Room with a balcony accommodates 50 guests, while the Fairway Room seats 85. Outdoor tented spaces are also available. (Ruffled Feathers Golf Club, Lemont, 630.257.1000)

Runners-up // Crane’s Landing Golf Club; Harborside International Golf Center




The city’s oldest cultural institution, this museum tells the story of Chicago’s colorful past while offering spectacular views of Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast skyline. Inside the stately 1932 building is the elegant Chicago Room, a space with gorgeous, Georgian-style architecture that adjoins the Sanger P. Robinson Gallery and features advanced A/V, backlit cases of famous-maker stained glass, and access to the Uihlein Plaza. Other options include the Rubloff Auditorium and adjacent Wrigley Gallery, the North & Clark Café and the Mandel and Guild Conference Rooms. Everyone, from small groups to full buyouts of 800 guests, can also enjoy museum exhibitions. (Chicago History Museum, 312.642.4600)

Runners-up // Cuneo Mansion and Gardens; Museum of Science and Industry



Since its opening in 2013, The Langham, Chicago has become the city’s go-to luxury spot, and the only hotel in a landmark skyscraper designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The contemporary property has 316 rooms, state-of-the-art technology, professional and online event support and 15,000 square feet of event space accommodating up to 312 guests. Amenities include a wellappointed ballroom, eight meeting rooms, private screening room, four boardrooms, spa, full-service restaurant and lounge and a sophisticated second floor lounge serving traditional afternoon tea. The cherry on top: sweeping views of the city, including the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. (The Langham, Chicago, 312.923.9988)

Runners-up // Eaglewood Resort and Spa; Lincolnshire Marriott Resort




Exhibitor-friendly space-and lots of it-is just one reason planners continue to return. With 148,000 square feet of flexible convention and meeting space, the property offers advanced audio-visual, an awardwinning culinary team, private dining at Sam & Harry’s steakhouse, 500 luxury guest rooms and a 28,000-square-foot ballroom (or up to 30 break-out rooms). Free parking and shuttles to Woodfield Mall, as well as easy access to Chicago O’Hare International Airport and downtown Chicago seal the deal. (Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel, 47.303.4100)

Runners-up // Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park; Hyatt Regency Chicago

NEW VENUE (Opened Between Dec. 1, 2012 - Dec. 1, 2013)


Want to see and be seen? Follow the celebrities to Siena Tavern in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Featuring a 30-foot, oval-shaped bar, high-back tufted leather booths and open kitchen, the space is an urbanized riff on a neighborhood Italian eatery that is both relaxed and sophisticated. Of course, delicious food is the main draw, with modern twists on Mediterranean-inspired classics. Some dishes, like lasagna, gnocchi and ravioli, follow century-old recipes. Private dining options include two elevated spaces as well as The Cellar and Oval Bar, which accommodates up to 200 guests. (Siena Tavern, Chicago, 312.595.1322)

Runners-up // Firehouse Chicago; Howells & Hood




Matthew Kaplan’s photography captures the essence and excitement of corporate meetings, receptions and incentive trips. He works for corporations, meeting planners and production companies to document events for websites, publications, meeting montages, closing presentations and attendee mementos. Kaplan also takes headshots of executives- often hundreds at a time-and travels around the world to shoot client events. Known for his ability to capture lighting, décor and guests enjoying it all, he has one goal: to show events, clients and attendees in the very best light. (Matthew Kaplan Photography, Chicago, 773.769.5903)

Runners-up // Fig Photography; gopho



BBJ Linen has been the go-to partner for memorable table fashion and décor for more than 30 years thanks to its innovative ideas and history in the business. With a presence in all 50 states, the company’s sophisticated linens have been featured in nearly 2 million events worldwide, from Fortune 500 meetings and magazine photo shoots to intimate gatherings. Visionaries at the taste-setting company travel the globe to identify the textiles and patterns of tomorrow’s trends. An advanced warehouse and cutting-edge communication platforms, including its own app and client-branded websites, help this woman-owned business deliver seamless execution. (BBJ Linen, Skokie, 847.329.8400)

Runners-up // Hall’s Rental; M&M The Special Events Company




Artful design and a relaxing, indulgent atmosphere await groups at ZED451, along with abundant harvest tables filled with seasonal salads, soups, artisan cheeses, breads and charcuterie, and chefs serving fire-grilled steaks, ribs, seafood, poultry and game at your tableside. Did we forget to mention the decadent desserts and fresh cocktails? The restaurant has 18,000 square feet of private and semi-private space, including seven luxe rooms (some with balconies, fireplaces and rooftop views) to accommodate intimate gatherings or buyouts for 800 guests. More specialties include custom menus, A/V, valet parking and shuttle service.
(ZED451, Chicago, 12.266.6691)

Runners-up // Carnivale; Fado Irish Pub




For the past five years, Corporate Event Interactive (CEI) has won this honor for helping groups of all abilities and professional levels think creatively, network, collaborate, and, well, have some good old-fashioned fun. Its memorable, custom activities for retreats, receptions and meetings emphasize social responsibility, team bonding and experiential learning, delivering key messages, learning objectives and excitement to events. Clients like the personalized attention and team-integrated experience of working with this company. CEI also offers association and expo management, meeting and events planning, online registration and promotional staffing. (Corporate Event Interactive, Chicago, 312.540.1000)

Runners-up // WhirlyBall; Windy City Fieldhouse




Planners don’t merely rely on this six-time Best of Illinois Award winner to transport groups safely. They also count on the company for all their transportation needs, from meet-and-greet service to manifest management and on-site event coordination. Windy City Limousine is built on a customer-first philosophy; its trained chauffeurs provide seamless, first-class service that’s always on time and in style. Their fleet offers 200 new vehicles, including sedans, hybrids, SUVs, executive vans, luxury minibuses, party buses and 55-passenger motor coaches-many of which have been converted to alternate fuels. (Windy City Limousine, Mount Prospect, 847.916.9300)

Runners-up // Aries Charter Transportation; Your Private Limousine, Inc.



This elegant venue nestled amongst gardens, lakes and native woodlands is beautiful to behold any time of year. Indoor spaces offer stunning vistas, and range from intimate rooms in the award-winning Plant Conservation Science Center to the dramatic Nichols Hall, which holds 400 for cocktail receptions. The canopied McGinley Pavilion overlooking Evening Island is a most popular pick May through October. Outdoor event spaces include the Walled Garden or the Buehler Enabling Garden. Other spaces include an auditorium and four meeting rooms. (Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, 847.835.5440)

Runners-up // Danada House; Q Center

Congratulations to the finalists for Illinois Meetings + Events Best of 2018 readers' choice awards. We look forward to celebrating with each of you at the awards celebration on Thursday, May 10 at the Builders BLDG, where the winners and 2018 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced.

* Connect with us on social media before, during and after the awards with the hashtag #BestofIL2018


Click here to view the photos from the night! 

And check out the photobooth photos here!


From rooftops and stadiums to DJs and limos, here are your favorite providers of the year.