Smart Meetings’ editors often are invited to visit popular destinations to meet with clients, check out meeting and event spaces, and experience top F&B and activity options. It helps us with our work, but it’s also a fun part of the job—and it doesn’t get any more enjoyable than my recent trip to Palm Springs.

From the moment I arrived, professionals from Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism, Palm Springs Convention Center, Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel and other places treated the people in my fam group like royalty. This emphasis on stellar service is a critical component of the city’s tourism efforts, but it may have reached new levels during my trip.

It took place during a very special time for the city—the 27th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival. The city was buzzing from the moment I arrived on Jan. 1, and reached a frenzy the following day for the awards gala. My group was invited to attend this black-tie event, so we gathered in the lobby of the Renaissance in the evening and were taken in limousines to the convention center.

Upon arrival, we walked down a special red carpet (not the red carpet) and into the lobby, where we mingled with celebrities and attendees. I spotted Helen Mirren as she approached the bar area and after engaging her in a brief chat, I snapped a shot of her, looking elegant as usual.

Everyone was enjoying a sumptuous dinner when the awards presentation began. One by one, creme de la creme celebrities took the stage…Michael Keaton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett (pictured) and Matt Damon, to name a few.

As with most incredible things in life, the event seemed to come and go in a flash, but the evening was just beginning. Just before the program ended, we were rushed out of the building and into limousines to attend the gala after-party at the lavish Parker Palm Springs Resort. We had been told that celebrities typically show up only for a few minutes, at the beginning of the party.

Blanchett, one of the few A-listers who showed up at the gathering, was surrounded by a solid wall of people. The more impenetrable it became, the more determined I was to have a brief chat with her and snap a shot. So, I quickly created a strategy—approach her from the left rear, and then tap her on the shoulder. Lo and behold, it worked! She was very friendly, and happy to oblige. It was an impeccable ending to a perfect evening.