I wound up parking in the east parking lot and walked around the building to find the main entrance. On my way, I spotted a little porch area overlooking a Burger King (the view is not the best; the Sheraton is ensconsed in something of an office park):
I made my way into the lobby and was impressed with what I saw:
Almost immediately, a helpful concierge ambushed me. I explained I'm an ACFW member, that I was scouting the area. He was extremely friendly and answered my questions and then allowed me to sneak around and take some pictures.
So allow me to share what I saw in my fifteen minutes of skulking around the Sheraton with my trusty Kodak EasyShare camera. My first stop was the hotel pool, simply because it was the closest to the lobby:
The above picture is one of the nicer ones. Most of the nooks had simply plastic furniture, but I suspect that this will be a boon to those of you who have roommates. It'll be a place that people can go to do a little reading or chat with critique partners or whatever.
After scoping out the pool, I headed to the second floor where the ballroom and various conference rooms are located. I didn't take a picture of the main ballroom, mostly because it was a mess. There were two guys setting up tables and chairs for some sort of function and from the look one of them gave me, I suspect they wouldn't want their pictures taken. It was a good sized ballroom and pretty typical for a hotel.
I did get pictures of the exterior hallway and one of the conference rooms I suspect will be used for the sessions:
That brings us to the next topic: food. While we'll undoubtedly be well-fed while the Conference is running, many ACFW-ers will likely arrive early or leave later, making it necessary for them to fend for themselves. And while I know that many critique groups, agents, and other groups are having meals together Friday night, there might be a few "Friday Night Orphans" such as myself who will be looking for a place to eat.
Never fear, your advance scout has looked into this! For starters, the hotel has three restaurants, namely the Navigator's Lounge, Stevie Ray's Comedy Cabaret, and the Nine Mile Grill. I can't say that I've eaten at any of them, so you'll just have to go by what the hotel's website says.
But perhaps you'll wish to escape the confines of the hotel for your meals. If that's the case, then you have a few options.
I started my research on MapQuest and this is what I found:In this case, #1 is a Chili's, #2 is the hotel itself, #3 is a TGI Friday's, #4 is an Ember's, #5 & #6 are the same Dairy Queen, #7 is a Burger King, #8 is an "Eddington's" (I don't know what that is), #9 is a Subway, and #10 is "Cheetah Pizza." It looked like any of those options might be a little bit of a walk, or at least, it did to me.
But having been to the Sheraton, I can report that all of those options are within extremely easy walking distance. The TGI Friday's shares a parking lot with the hotel. The fast food joints are across the hotel's parking lot but there's an iron fence between them, so you'll have to do a little walking to get to them. The only one I didn't see was the Chili's. That's on the other side of Highway 100 and, I'd guess, you'd have to walk across the 77th St. bridge to get to it. That's do-able, but there you go.
There doesn't appear to be any other restaurants in the area. The next closes would be a drive down 77th St. to France Avenue. In that case, you'd need a car (or a friend with one).
But there's another option! The hotel does provide a free shuttle to the Mall of America. Remember the helpful concierge I mentioned before? One of the things he gave me was the shuttle schedule!The Mall has a wide variety of dining options. There are two food courts with the usual fast food fare (McDonald's, Sbarros, A&W, Arby's, and so on). There are also sit down restaurants like Famous Dave's (one of my perosnal favorites), the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and Ruby Tuesdays. Here's a list, stolen from the Mall's website: