Whether your family reunion rolls around once a year or once a decade, you may balk at the thought of being the one to plan it. Yet the rewards of even the briefest of common family experiences far outweigh the potential hazards. Here are destination recommendations from our community along with suggestions for a stress-free gathering.
Talk Travel Forums: Where have you had successful family reunions?
Plan well ahead. Large groups require as much as a year’s advance notice. That includes air, hotels, restaurants, villas, shows, and anything else you can think of. It will also help you be mindful of individual budget preferences.
From the Forums: “If you want people to show up, location & accessibility is key.” – WannabeinMontserrat
Reserve a villa. This works best for families who thrive on the chaos of communal living. The only potential hang-up: who gets the master suite. If it’s a birthday event, the big room naturally goes to the guest of honor. Garden-variety reunions have a harder choice. One solution: donate it to some of the kids. The suite will be plenty big for a slumber party, and you’ll love the fact that their war-torn bathroom is blissfully out of sight. On that note, designate chore duties. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than doing all the work.
Reserve a block of hotel rooms. This is the optimal choice for families that tend to get in each other’s hair. Add a courtesy suite, and you have all the benefits of togetherness, plus a place to retreat to when you need it.
From the Forums: “I highly recommend separate accommodations for each family unit with only a few planned activities for all. I think we would not have happily survived sharing a large house or spending every minute together.” – KTtravel
Ask about group discounts. Your large brood may qualify for rates normally offered to schools and corporations. Talk to the group-sales office, and ask about discounts on flights as well as hotels (for multiroom blocks), theme parks, and shows.
Consider the spread of age and abilities. Kiddie parks are going to bore teenagers. Museum-heavy itineraries are poison for tots. Mega coasters? Let’s just say grandma will probably be on the sidelines. The best destinations have something for everyone, including those with disabilities. Some places like San Diego—with theme parks, museums, and beaches—have built-in entertainment for all.
From the Forums: “We had a great family reunion in Sunriver, OR. Lots of houses available for rent and a variety of outdoor sports to keep us busy. We held ours in August and the weather was beautiful.” – elburr
Provide goodies. Welcome baskets are a festive way to begin the adventure. Making them at home and shipping ahead costs less than having them custom-made at the hotel. For a beachside adventure, fill sand pails with disposable cameras, dollar-store photo albums, water bottles, Frisbees, and other goodies.
Look into child care. Keeping the kids busy frees the adults to catch up.
From the Forums: “Each family plans a different dinner, and now that the grandkids are old enough – they cook and we watch the babies!” -joan
Consider individual preferences. Planning a group trip can’t be a 100% democracy, but there are some situations that definitely call for a vote. Before booking a grown-up night, for example, make sure all parents are on board with child care. Avoid booking your favorite steak house if you know there are vegetarians.
Schedule apart time. Not every moment has to be a group hug. Build in optional daytime activities for individuals, with set meeting times, such as seven o’clock for dinner, for the group.
From the Forums: “I think the key tip is that not everyone has to do everything together. We usually plan one big dinner together for Saturday night. Other than that, everything is optional. Some people like to golf, some like to shop, some like to hike, some like to spend the afternoon at the pool, some play tennis or horseshoes — people tend to break out into small groups and do their own thing.” – lisa
Make a big finish. A special, last-night dinner doesn’t have to be a budget-busting affair. Group-sales offices at many restaurants can help arrange gala feasts. Many—even lower-end eateries—offer private rooms and special menus for such events. If you’re staying at a hotel, ask the concierge for suggestions.
From the Forums: “The primary purpose is to all be together and recharge for the next year of separation from loved ones, esp. as we all age and begin to face health problems. This year we’re off to Ireland, even in the face of the Euro! Yikes! Takes months of planning by some dedicated person, many votes, and lots of price-checking, but in the end, it always comes off great and if something goes wrong, it’s just a great story for that year’s trip.” – FlaAnn
Favorite U.S. Destinations for Family Reunions
We asked our Forum members their favorite locations for family reunions; here is just a sample of their suggestions.
View all recommendations and share your own.
Photo credit: ©Istockphoto/JGould