Grandma and grandpa haven't seen the kids in months. You haven't seen your siblings in nearly a year. The cousins hardly know each other anymore. It's high time to get the gang together, but no one wants to cook and clean for everyone and the kids don't want to spend a week sitting around grandma's condo with not much to do. That is why so many Canadian families are taking off on vacation with three generations and sometimes four.
Whether you're aiming to hole up with siblings for a low-key retreat or to invite every cousin thrice removed to a massive celebration of shared ancestry, post-millennium-style family reunions are shaping up to be a lot different than those afternoon barbeques in a park, so popular a generation ago.
With life getting busier and vacation time a precious commodity it just makes sense that we are combining family gatherings with our travel. But not every family is ready for a river cruise with the whole gang of cousins and all of those kids! --So here are a few different options to consider when you are planning your first destination family reunion:
A Reunion Cruise
Whatever time of year, cruises are great hits for multi-generational families because there are plenty of activities for all ages--even the preschoolers. It is totally up to each individual how much they do, your sister with the four-month-old can skip a port day if she really needs a quiet day in and your fun loving brother can party to the wee hours without the danger of waking the kids up. Just as important, no one has to worry about organizing a single meal or washing a dish. Cruises are a good vacation value, too, when you figure your bed, your food, and all of your on-board activities are included, and big groups mean great discounts and promotions.
A new type of accommodation is on the rise-- rent your own mansions! With rental companies like Airbnb and Homeaway it is now an option to rent a house big enough to fit your entire extended family (and quite often they have built in entertainment like games rooms, pools or hot tubs). As long as you have enough bathrooms and plenty of space to spread out, renting a house together can be a great low-cost option for a family reunion vacation. The kids can bunk together. Adults can share the cooking chores and food costs. Plenty of heart-to-heart talks will be had around the table early in the morning over coffee or late in the evening nursing that last glass of wine. Even better, you might be able to afford to go farther from home by sharing quarters--to Europe or the Caribbean, for example.
If your idea of a dream vacation is horseback riding, hayrides, fishing, horseshoes, and campfires, think about a ranch getaway for your reunion. If you can't swing a week, stay three or four days. There are ranch getaway options dotted all over the United States, as well as some fantastic options right in our own backyard-- La Reeta Ranch at Saskatchewan Landing and the Historic Reesor Ranch just outside of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan.
No destination will make the kids happier-- Disney World, Legoland, Universal Studios, water parks galore! But this destination is not just for the kids, there are fantastic golf courses, everglade tours, Epcot, beautiful beaches, and plenty of downtime hanging by the pool. There are plenty of options for accommodation in Orlando that will contain your large family group-- from Disney suites to gated neighborhoods that are set up as condo and house rental destinations. And this city knows how to cater to its guests, you can order everything from groceries to strollers, cots, and kids toys in advance so that they are waiting for you upon your arrival.
Almost everyone takes an annual Sun Holiday these days, why not sync your holiday up with the rest of the family to get in some quality bonding time. Plus, the group rates at all-inclusive resorts don’t hurt either! These resorts are popular with multigenerational vacationers for the same reasons that cruise ships are-- there is plenty for every age group to do and eat without worrying about paying for every Coke, boogie board, or craft project. It is a laid back option for families who want to enjoy time together without the headache of planning every aspect of a reunion.
Boats and Barges
Ocean-loving families who don't mind roughing it a bit (sharing tiny bathrooms) can have the trip of a lifetime on a historic Maine windjammer, sailing along the craggy coast, having a lobster-bake on the beach, exploring tide pools and tiny fishing villages, and helping to hoist the sails or navigate. A family of 20 or more could take over an entire boat.
Or if you are feeling adventurous, keep an eye out for seat sales and snag a great deal on flights to Europe where you can drive your own barge along canals and rivers in France, England, Holland, Italy, Scotland, Germany, or Ireland. The kids can help ease the canal boat through the locks. The family can explore small riverfront towns and villages, shopping at local markets, picnicking in parks, or bike riding on country roads.
If you are not scared of research and planning and you have independent minded family members who want to go the distance-- make a sentimental journey to your family’s homeland to explore your heritage.
Consult with relatives to create a family tree and then confer with a genealogical tour operator for help in locating your ancestral home. Once you identify the village or town, reach out to distant family members to see if they are interested in meeting-- you might even be able to grow your family tree. You can add to your experience, by arranging tours or special activities like a picnic or cooking class to connect to your heritage in new ways. This a great opportunity to see the country and culture that your family originates from.
Destination Family Reunion Planning Tips
Start Planning Early - Planning a family reunion can become complicated, especially a large reunion involving lots of people. Give yourself as much time as you can (experienced reunion planners recommend that families begin planning up to two years in advance).
Allow time for your guests to plan. Give them enough advance notice to adjust their own schedules in order to attend. If you are planning a reunion that involves travelling long distances many family members may need time to save money and make special arrangements for extended leave from work.
Find a Great Travel Agent - They will take care of a lot of the details and coordinate with all of your cousins. Essentially, they will do most of the work for you and at the same time make sure you are taking full advantage of discounted group pricing.
Travel agents can take care of details ranging from recommending appropriate destinations and accommodations to arranging flihts, booking activities, and making car rental reservations. Travel agents can help families with last minute itinerary changes and cancelled flights, as well as arranging for family members with special needs. For large groups, a travel agent may have access to pre-negotiated airfare and hotel rates otherwise unavailable. And, a travel agent can serve as a friendly and patient third party to help prod those family members who may not be quick to decide on travel plans.
Find Your Family Leaders - Find the family members that also take on the organizing and planning roles within their own family units (hint: these individuals usually respond to mass family emails regularly and promptly). This is your core advisory committee; together you can:
create a realistic head count of people likely to attend
consider family taste to choose the right type of holiday and destination for your family reunion
figure out what the majority of potential attendees can afford
set the dates
Select a Date and Stick with It - Picking a date that works for everyone can be one of the most difficult and one of the most important steps in planning a family reunion.
Avoid the obvious busy times of the year. Try not to schedule your family reunion on major holidays, or during prom and graduation season. Ask for suggestions and select a date that will work for everyone. And communicate plans to host a family reunion far enough in advance that attendees will be able to avoid conflicting events.
Also, avoid changing the date! Once you announce the date to family members, they will immediately begin planning other activities around it. Changing the date mid-stream, even once, will affect everyone and some guests may be forced to cancel.
Plan Activities for Everyone - Your guests may span up to four generations and it is important to consider ages and physical limitations when planning activities. Reunions should allow for time where the group splits off and enjoys different activities within smaller groups (cruises and resorts are great for this). Grandparents may not want to participate in activities like scuba diving or water-skiing; likewise, children may not enjoy ballroom dancing or a mahjong tournament.
However, there should be a couple events planned within your reunion that brings everyone together, whether it is a big group game or a family slide show and trivia night. A family reception dinner is a must. And don’t forget to get a big group picture for posterity!
As travel professional who has experience planning reunions and family vacations, I would be happy to answer any questions you might have or help you start planning your next family reunion.