Great Places to Go for Family Reunions
Three families' fantastic get-togethers; plus the best reunion locations, from Arizona to Washington State and even the Caribbean
Whether you're aiming to hole up with siblings for a low-key retreat into childhood reminiscence or to invite every cousin thrice removed to a tightly scheduled celebration of shared ancestry, organizing family reunions isn't as daunting as it sounds.
THE DEATON FAMILY
Timberlock Resort, Indian Lake, New York
The last time that Jackie and Paul Deaton brought together their five children, plus children-in-law, plus 10 school-age grandchildren, was for a daughter's wedding a couple of years ago, with Jackie and Paul playing host. The seniors were "just a little bit preoccupied" with minutiae such as which grandchild was about to sully his photogenic outfit.
So when the three Deaton generations reunited last year, they congregated at an unpretentious, 22-cabin Adirondacks camp called Timberlock (518/648-5494, June—Sept.; 802/453-2540, Oct.—May; www.timberlock.com; family of four from $336; book at least a year in advance). They rented six gaslit cabins for a week on the undeveloped shores of Indian Lake. The Deatons hiked along cliffs near a bear cave, paddled canoes around the lake's loons, and held storytelling sessions by the camp's nightly fires. Any Deaton seeking privacy could retreat to the well-spaced cabins, and yet Timberlock's one-seating meals guaranteed face time even from teenagers.
After the group's last dinner, Jackie and Paul received a surprise souvenir: an oar that their offspring had carved in Timberlock's woodshop and then all signed—an ideal tribute, Jackie notes, to a week of kinship and splinters by the lake.
THE FOUCHER-LEWIS FAMILY
The Foucher-Lewis clan of Louisiana traces its ancestry to an unusual antebellum couple: the Foucher part of the name belonged to a white plantation owner, a widow, who fell in love with a slave she owned, named Joseph Lewis. The couple kept their children a secret from the neighbors—the kids were sent to play out back in the slaves' quarters whenever anyone stopped by. Not even the pair's descendants knew much about their heritage—until last summer, when they held their first reunion.
The event's main organizer, Betty Lewis-Carter, a great-granddaughter of the widow and the slave, told the family story to about 200 gathered relatives. They'd just feasted on crawfish, crabs, shrimp, and corn in a field near where the plantation once stood (cousins still own property in the area). She and her fellow organizers had kept the party arrangements as simple as possible. They rented some equipment, including a tent and a "space walk." But the supplies and labor came largely from volunteers: cousins and friends living nearby prepared and served the food, provided a trampoline, cleaned up afterward, housed out-of-town guests for the night, and sheltered all the partygoers after dusk, when the Louisiana mosquitoes arrived.
Throughout the festivities, Lewis-Carter pumped the attendees for more names and phone numbers of relatives to invite to the next reunion, scheduled for this year. "We're going to keep networking and networking from here," she says. "This is something we should have started doing long ago."
THE LUNG FAMILY
Snow Mountain Ranch, Winter Park, Colorado
By gathering every few years since 1979, the Lung family, descendants of Chinese emigrants to the United States in 1900, has virtually perfected the art of the reunion. Well over a year in advance, the designated point-person starts announcing dates, locales, and per-head costs in the semiannual family newsletter. Last summer, nearly 100 relatives showed up for a three-day celebration at Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado (970/887-2152; www.ymcarockies.org; family of four from $74 off-season). Run by the YMCA of the Rockies, this lodge-and-cabin complex offers rugged charms—raw-timber porches, 5,100 acres of craggy vistas—and a dining room that seats 480.
The weekend's program was meant to appeal to all personality types. Thrill-seekers blasted at each other in laser-tag matches and rode a 600-foot-long zip line; more scholarly sorts played mah-jongg or studied a time line of Lung family milestones—births, graduations, marriages, deaths—dating back to the years in China. At the Saturday-night banquet, family members demonstrated talents ranging from Chinese folk storytelling to yo-yo rolling to break dancing.
The storyteller, a.k.a. Cousin Ed, is also the family historian, and he helped unite the weekend's varied strains by designing T-shirts for everyone. They're printed with his drawing of a golden dragon—the reunion took place in the Chinese year of the golden dragon, which comes around only once every six decades. The creature symbolizes, fittingly, the sharing of good fortune.
30 GREAT PLACES FOR A FAMILY REUNION IN THE UNITED STATES AND THE CARIBBEAN
All of these resorts have room for several generations to spread out comfortably, as well as attractions on-site or nearby that appeal to varying age groups. Almost all also have meeting or dining rooms that your clan can take over. Word of advice: If your group is big, try bargaining for a better rate.
Denali National Park Wilderness Centers Denali National Park; 907/683-2290, fax 907/683-1568; www.campdenali.com; minimum three-night stay from $1,125 per person, double occupancy; kids under 12 from $855 (all meals included). THE SETUP A 17-room lodge and 15-cabin encampment nearly 100 miles into a sub-Arctic national park. WHO TO BRING Kinfolk who'll appreciate wildlife dramas such as grizzlies tussling and caribous calving, meals of Arctic grayling and tundra-grown blueberries, and glimpses of Mount McKinley from just about every vantage, including the peepholes cut into the doors of the privies out back.
Enchantment Resort Sedona; 800/826-4180 or 520/282-2900, fax 520/282-9249; www.enchantmentresort.com; rooms from $350. THE SETUP A scattering of casitas and haciendas (with a total capacity of 952 people) modeled after ancient cliff dwellings, in a red-rock canyon where, according to local Native American legend, mankind was first born. GET WITH THE SPIRIT Hear fireside retellings of regional myths, performed on weekend evenings by a member of the Havasupai tribe. By day, send the kids to carve kachina dolls in the Camp Coyote program, while adults forget old squabbles beneath Anasazi Herbal Sweat Wraps at a new adobe spa.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort Solvang; 800/425-4725 or 805/688-6411, fax 805/688-2510; www.alisal.com; suites from $450; kids 3—5 $45, 6 and up $75 (breakfast and dinner included). THE SETUP A 10,000-acre working cattle ranch with 73 TV-free cottages. WAYS TO REVEL IN FAMILIAL LOVE Help each other cross over snags on a mountainside ropes course. Take lessons in country line dancing, or adopt a burro at the petting zoo, collaborating on its feeding and grooming. Individualists, meanwhile, can sail solo around a 100-acre lake casting for bluegills, and drinking-age revelers can go for tastings at wineries.
GOOD DEAL: Asilomar Conference Grounds Pacific Grove; 831/372-8016, fax 831/372-7227; www.visitasilomar.com; family of four from $185 (breakfast included). THE SETUP Twenty-eight shingle-and-fieldstone lodges along a mile of white-quartz dunes, built as a YWCA retreat in the 1910's. REENACT CHILDHOOD Assemble your siblings under a single homey roof again—the lodges hold from three to 56 bedrooms apiece. Reminisce about summer camp in the dining hall, and at the beach, reflect on nature's own strong family ties—a monogamous shorebird called the black oystercatcher can often be seen training its offspring in the art of shellfish shucking.
Sorensen's Resort Hope Valley, Calif.; 800/423-9949 or 530/694-2203; www.sorensensresort.com; cabins for four from $105. THE SETUP Once a shepherd's summer grazing outpost, now 31 eclectic cabins (from studios to three-bedroom units), including a log-for-log replica of a 13th-century Norwegian granary. BUILD MUSCLE MASS TOGETHER In the winter, snowshoes, sleds, and cross-country skis are recommended gear at Sorensen's and at the nearby Lake Tahoe resorts. In summer, hike the unpopulated Sierra Nevada (barely a person per square mile lives in this county) and pay homage to brave pioneer families—the trails still bear gouges from Conestoga wheels.
GOOD DEAL: Blue Lake Ranch Hesperus; 888/258-3525 or 970/385-4537, fax 970/385-4088; www.bluelakeranch.com; doubles from $75, casitas and cabins from $105; kids of any age $25 (breakfast included). THE SETUP A 1910 homestead, expanded with casitas, cabins, and a meeting barn for up to 49 guests, with room designs ranging from Victorian to Navajo. LEARN ABOUT LAND STEWARDSHIP Ask the owners how they nurtured the property from a cattle pasture into oak and piñon groves, berry patches, and riotous flowerbeds. Before your morning hike into the Plata Mountains, tuck into Norwegian French toast casserole with the ranch's own blackberry-rhubarb jam.
Vista Verde Ranch Steamboat Springs; 800/526-7433 or 970/879-3858, fax 970/879-6814; in summer, from $2,150 a week per person; kids under 11 from $1,550 (all meals included). THE SETUP A lodge and a dozen log cabins, all with woodstoves and hot tubs, for a ranch-wide capacity of about 45. CHANGE ELEVATIONS OFTEN From this 7,800-foot altitude, "kid wranglers" will whisk your littlest ones downhill to pan for gold while the grown-ups herd cattle to pastureland uphill (summer), telemark down 10,000-foot peaks (winter), or soar over the Continental Divide in hot-air balloons (year-round).
Home Ranch Clark, Colo.; 970/879-1780, fax 970/879-1795; www.homeranch.com; family of four from $8680, summer weekly rate only; (all meals included). No children under six allowed. THE SETUP A Relais & Châteaux lodge that can hold up to 50 in its six rooms, and eight cabins with numerous kid-friendly lofts inside. Welcome to ranching at its most luxurious. COMMUNE ON HORSEBACK In summer, world-renowned horse whisperers come here to give seminars on everything from constructing saddles to gentling foals. In winter, cross-country ski through the ranch's aspen groves or take the ranch's shuttles to the extraordinary downhill slopes at Steamboat Springs.
Casa Ybel Resort Sanibel Island; 800/276-4753 or 941/472-3145, fax 941/472-2109; www.casaybelresort.com; family of four from $225. THE SETUP A copy of a gingerbread Victorian mansion surrounded by new Gulf-front condo complexes containing 117 one- or two-bedroom suites. BE SENTIMENTAL TOGETHER Watching the weddings in progress during your stay will make you feel mushy about your marriage all over again. The resort has remained a popular knot-tying spot since a minister founded it more than a century ago, and couples now regularly take the proverbial plunge by jumping into the Olympic-sized pool. Kids can race crabs by day and gorge on popcorn and movies by night in the Casa Kids Club program.
GOOD DEAL: South Seas Resort Captiva Island; 800/237-3102 or 941/472-5111, fax 941/481-4947; www.south-seas-resort.com; doubles from $240; kids under 16 free. THE SETUP A Key lime plantation turned vacationers' spread, with 330 acres and 600 units of up to three bedrooms apiece. PICK A HUB Scout the resort's six restaurants, 18 swimming pools, and 18 tennis courts, and choose a gathering spot for your relatives. Then allow for occasional family dispersal: rent bikes for rides along mangrove bayous, and charter a pontoon to hunt for rare junonia seashells on deserted islands.
Kona Village Resort Kailua-Kona; 800/367-5290 (800/432-5450 within Hawaii) or 808/325-5555, fax 808/325-5124; www.konavillage.com; doubles from $480; kids 3—5 $35, 6—12 $140, 13 and over $190 (all meals included). THE SETUP Atop the ruins of a Polynesian fishing village, 125 thatched-roof cottages (some with Jacuzzis behind their traditional façades, but no TV's or phones) on an 82-acre property with fields of petroglyphs etched into lava. LET THE PROS TAKE CHARGE Staff members are so accustomed to reunions, they'll assign your group its own cluster of huts and scheduling coordinator, as well as throw private tropical-punch parties for you. But on luau night, you'll want to join everyone else to feast on pork roasted over hot rocks.
GOOD DEAL: Waimea Plantation Cottages Waimea, Kauai; 800/922-4632 (800/321-2558 within Hawaii) or 808/338-1625, fax 808/338-2338; www.aston-hotels.com; doubles from $175; kids free. THE SETUP A coconut grove with 48 former plantation workers' cottages (with up to five bedrooms); also, a bayside six-bedroom house plus a one-bedroom structure that has great in-law or teens-only potential. INDULGE IN THE CLASSICS Hawaiian delights—plucking papayas from the back yard, hiking a canyon where a tribal king greeted Captain Cook—are accessible here.
Bethel Inn & Country Club Bethel; 800/654-0125 or 207/824-2175, fax 207/824-2233; www.bethelinn.com; doubles from $158; kids under 4 free, 5—15 $20 (breakfast and dinner included). THE SETUP A 62-room Colonial Revival inn overlooking a town green, and 40 two-bedroom town-house units adjoining a golf course. DOCTOR'S ORDERS Follow the advice of the therapist who built the inn as a patients' retreat in 1913, and de-stress through physical exertion. Golf on a Geoffrey Cornish—designed course (the pros teach stances and grips even to toddlers). Head into the woods for a moose safari. Hammer at a tourmaline quarry—and keep any gems you hack out. At dinner, work your forearms by cracking lobster claws.
Chatham Bars Inn Chatham; 800/527-4884 or 508/945-0096, fax 508/945-6785; www.chathambarsinn.com; doubles from $140; kids free. THE SETUP A gambrel-roofed horseshoe cupped toward the sea, with 40 rooms in the original 1914 structure and 165 more units distributed among 31 cottages of up to 12 bedrooms apiece. TEAM UP Although the kids' program is rich in tide-pool tours and sunken-treasure hunts, you'll be able to keep the generations together during the frequent whole-family competitions: see who can run fastest lugging water balloons, identify the most vintage tunes played on the pool's gurgling underwater speakers, or build the most structurally sound sandcastles.
Wade Cottages Siasconset, Nantucket; 508/257-6308; www.wadecottages.com; open May to October; family of four from $685 (three-night minimum; continental breakfast included). THE SETUP A seven-house beachfront compound (with a total capacity of about 70) owned by the Wade family since they started vacationing here in the 1920's. Warning: Returning guests book up its array of rooms, suites, apartments, and cottages early, reserve at least six months in advance. NOT FOR TYPE A'S Don't bring your most go-getting relatives. This North Bluff patch is best for picnicking and bird-watching on the dunes; On rainy days, peruse the China-trade porcelain and whaling artifacts in downtown Nantucket's museums.
Grand Hotel Mackinac Island; 800/334-7263 or 906/847-3331, fax 906/847-3259; www.grandhotel.com; open May to November; family of four from $500 (breakfast and five-course dinner included). THE SETUP One of the last surviving 19th-century wooden-resort extravaganzas, with 381 rooms; the porch alone measures over an eighth of a mile. SURVEY AMERICAN HISTORY Rooms are named for significant figures and decorated accordingly, with Georgia peach tones in the Rosalynn Carter Suite, for instance. After you've explored the hotel's lengthy halls, unwind along Mackinac Island's car-free streets and lilac-lined tennis courts or in the resort's 11 rather formal restaurants and bars (there are rambunctious kids' tables at dinner).
Related: Things to Do in Southern Michigan
Lost Lake Lodge Lake Shore; 800/450-2681 or 218/963-2681, fax 218/963-0509; www.lostlake.com; open mid-May—mid-October; cabins for four from $360 (breakfast and dinner included). THE SETUP A sweetly old-fashioned lake camp with 12 cabins of up to three bedrooms each, a 14-acre swimming lake, and 80 acres of woods. HIKE ON TIPTOE Try to add to the list of 44 avian species that have been spotted here—your kids may outdo you, thanks to the naturalist-led children's program. Snack on nutmeg muffins baked with flour ground on-site—the previous owner, an inventor known as Screwball Carter, renovated an 1844 gristmill here.
Horse Prairie Ranch Dillon; 888/726-2454 or 406/681-3155, fax 406/681-3222 in summer and 801/796-6858 in winter; www.ranchlife.com; open June—September; from $950 per person for four nights (four-night minimum), $900 for each additional adult; 10 percent discount for kids 10—12 (all meals included). Minimum age: 10. THE SETUP An 1870's homestead turned Black Angus cattle ranch, with five log cabins (for a total ranch capacity of 24 people) that have cushy amenities like washer-dryers and VCR's. PITCH IN Help brand, wean, and drive the cattle across grazing lands. Afterward, if you're not too sentimental, dine on Angus steaks. Also ride horses in Lewis and Clark's footsteps: the exhausted explorers bargained for fresh mounts from Shoshone warriors in this valley.
Rockywold-Deephaven Camps Holderness; 603/968-3313, fax 603/968-3438; www.rdcsquam.com; open June to September; family of four from $350; cottages from $3,500 (one-week minimum); 5-20 percent discounts in June, August, and September for stays of more than four nights (all meals, cafeteria-style, included). THE SETUP A 104-year-old complex of 60 pine-walled cottages holding up to 14 people apiece, plus two 15-room lodges; many families have been returning for decades, and seniority counts in wrangling reservations. BUILD UP YOUR OWN SENIORITY Reserve for uncrowded June or September. And while the kids paddle around peaceful Squam Lake (where On Golden Pond was filmed), the adults can rock on porches and note the lack of noise—you won't even hear refrigerators humming, because the cabins' iceboxes are cooled by ice harvested from the lake each January.
Bishop's Lodge Santa Fe; 800/732-2240 or 505/983-6377, fax 505/989-8739; www.bishopslodge.com; doubles from $169; kids over 3 $15. THE SETUP More than 100 rooms and suites in 15 adobe-style lodges, some dating back to the 1910's, fresh from a $20 million expansion and renovation (with a spa opening this fall). JOIN THE CLUB The children's program, which offers activities like trout-fishing and hikes into a petrified forest, has been around for 60 years—alums now bring their grandchildren. An 1870 adobe chapel on the site will interest your family's history buffs; a bishop indeed lived on this foothill of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Mohonk Mountain House New Paltz; 800/772-6646 or 845/255-1000, fax 845/256-2100; www.mohonk.com; doubles from $310; kids 4—12 $70, over 12 $115 (all meals included). THE SETUP A seven-story Victorian pile on a lakeside cliff, with about half of its 261 rooms overlooking the water, plus six cabins that sleep up to six people each. GENES MATTER The Smiley family—could there be a more appealing name for hotelkeepers?—have owned this lavishly landscaped perch since 1869. They cater to reunions with their Victorian dining rooms, kids' programs even for two-year-olds, and weekend themes appropriate to family ancestries—if you're of Scottish descent, say, you can gather in January to study bagpiping and kilt-making.
Guadalupe River Ranch Boerne; 800/460-2005 or 830/537-4837, fax 830/537-5249; www.guadaluperiverranch.com; doubles from $299; kids 5—12 $45, 13—17 $65, 18 and over $85 (all meals included). THE SETUP Cut-stone cottages in the woods plus river- or canyon-view rooms and suites (46 units total), on an estate that belonged to Olivia de Havilland. THERE'S EVEN A SPA Form flotillas of inner tubes to ride the sleepy Guadalupe River. Send your party's adults for sea-salt polishes at the spa, while the kids check out a doe that lives improbably among the longhorn cattle: the herd raised it after it was orphaned, and it stays even though it could easily jump the fences now. As a souvenir, give everyone jars of barbecue sauce made from the ranch's prickly pears.
GOOD DEAL: Wildflower Inn Lyndonville; 800/627-8310 or 802/626-8310, fax 802/626-3039; www.wildflowerinn.com; doubles from $150; kids 4—11 $20, 12 and over $25 (breakfast included). THE SETUP A Federal farmhouse and outbuildings, many in Vermontian red, with 21 suites or rooms. THE TICKET FOR YOUNG FAMILIES The owners know it's important to serve pancakes shaped like teddy bears, as well as early kids' dinners followed by G movies (during which adults get to linger over filet mignon or cognac-soaked breast of duck). Parents and offspring can swim together in the granite-edged pool in summer; in winter, sled down the inn's hill or play broom hockey on its pond.
GOOD DEAL: Beach Haven Resort Eastsound Eastsound; 360/376-2288, fax 360/376-6183; www.beach-haven.com; cabins or apartments from $95; one-week minimum in summer, two- or three-night minimum the rest of the year. THE SETUP A strip of pebbly beachfront and centuries-old pine forest, with 13 log cabins and two modern apartments, all kitchen-equipped, accommodating up to 10 people per unit. LOOK FOR THE HOLE Summer returnees tend to book the following year's visits as they're leaving, so consider gathering for spring break or Thanksgiving—the Puget Sound's year-round attractions include sea kayaking, watching pods of orca whales, crab trapping, and peering into tide pools of sea anemones and starfish.
Red Rock Ranch Kelly; 307/733-6288, fax 307/733-6287; www.theredrockranch.com; $1,585 per person for six nights; six and under half price (all meals, activities, and gratuities included). THE SETUP A ranch with nine log cabins of up to three bedrooms each. The ranch owns the valley floor, surrounded by national wilderness. CALLING ALL COWBOYS Fish for cutthroat trout in the ranch's creek, sip coffee boiled over open flames at a riverbed cookout, and hike or ride to take in views of three mountain ranges. Your group's seasoned horsepeople should know, though, that they can rarely gallop at the ranch—saddle time is spent mostly in the steep wilderness, where the horses can't rush and must concentrate on every hoof-hold.
The Buccaneer Gallows Bay, St. Croix, U.S.V.I.; 800/255-3881 or 340/773-2100, fax 340/778-8215; www.thebuccaneer.com; doubles from $195; kids under 18 free in summer, kids 12 and under $10 in winter (breakfast included). THE SETUP A plantation house and pastel outbuildings (many with connecting suites), totaling 138 units, plus an 18-hole golf course, owned for five decades by a family that's lived on St. Croix since 1723. IF ANYONE CARES TO BUDGE FROM POOLSIDE Take free lessons in snorkeling, sailing, or kayaking. Encourage the 4-to-12 set to hunt for geckos in the free kids' program.
Dragon Bay Port Antonio, Jamaica; 877/677-3724 or 876/993-8751, fax 876/993-8971; www.dragonbay.com; one-bedroom suites from $210; kids 12 and under free, over 12 $20. THE SETUP Thirty villas climbing a lagoon bank, with décor that combines tropical prints with such neo-British colonialisms as a half-timbered pub. SIGHTSEEING WITH A HOLLYWOOD THEME Lord of the Flies and Robin Williams's Club Paradise were filmed on these white sands, the real Blue Lagoon is nearby, and Tom Cruise made Cocktail at the resort's thatched-roof beachfront watering spot—now known as the Cruise Bar.
GOOD DEAL: Maho Bay Camps/Harmony Studios St. John, U.S.V.I.; 800/392-9004 or 340/776-6240, fax 212/861-6210; www.mahobay.com; doubles from $75; kids under 16 free, over 16 $12; minimum one-week stay in winter. THE SETUP A solar- and wind-powered eco-compound of 114 "tent-cottages" (canvas-wrapped wooden frames) plus a dozen cabins built from recyclables, alighted as gently as tree houses on steep terrain. A FEW INDULGENCES You can view lava-red sunsets, snorkel through neon-hued fish schools, and hike to ruined sugar mills. But you'll also have to take showers (brrr) in communal bathhouses (unless you have a cabin), fill drinking-water jugs from communal taps, and cook on propane stoves—or you can dine at posh Caneel Bay down the road, or at Maho's own restaurant, self-serve, of course.
GOOD DEAL: Nail Bay Virgin Gorda, B.V.I.; 800/871-3551 or 284/494-8000, fax 284/495-5875; www.nailbay.com; rooms from $99 off-season, suites from $135, villas from $176; kids $30. THE SETUP A year-old spread of two apartment houses and 16 privately owned and diversely decorated villas, with up to five bedrooms apiece. PLAY HOUSE Pretend you've all managed to agree at last on buying one grand family compound. Roam from villa to villa, dipping into each other's private pools and ogling each other's architecture (one house even comes with a waterfall in its living room). Break from the clannish insularity over West Indian barbecue at the resort's restaurant, or sip drinks from the swim-up bar.
Peter Island, B.V.I.; 800/346-4451 or 284/495-2000, fax 770/476-4979; www.peterisland.com; doubles from $490 in summer; villas from $870; children under 12 $75 (all meals included). THE SETUP Fifty-two bungalow-like rooms, plus two villas on a squiggle of an island off Tortola on which almost nothing else has been built. WHY YOU'LL TEAR YOURSELF AWAY FROM THE BIKE AND BOAT SUPPLY For a trip to the island's tallest ridge. At 1,000 feet, it offers one of the Caribbean's finest vistas—a dramatic backdrop for that family photo.
The Club Med Alternative
For privacy, you might be able to do better. It's not the perfect ticket for a grand cultural excursion, either. But for family fun by the minute and, most important, ease, look no further. The majority of Club Med's 127 villages worldwide (800/258-2633, www.clubmed.com)—whether the sun-worshiping spots in the Caribbean, Mexico, Brazil, Asia, Australia, and on the Mediterranean coast, or the ski resorts in the Rockies (a new outpost just opened at Crested Butte, Colorado) and the Alps—welcome multigenerational gatherings. And the kids' program lasts all day.
HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
THE FIVE ESSENTIAL STEPS
1. Do a head count. How many people are in your family—or how many do you want there to be?If you're thinking big, great Web sites to know about are peoplesearch.net and cyndislist.com/finding.htm.
2. Consider family tastes. Are you freewheeling barbecue folks or yacht-club types?More important, how many of you have a serious golf fixation?
3. Figure out what the majority of potential attendees can afford. Consider setting up a reunion bank account, and organize fund-raising raffles or souvenir mug and T-shirt sales.
4. Pick a place on the map and research reunion locales by perusing tourist board Web sites —or choose a hot spot from our list.
5. Set the dates. The goal is for everyone to bond—what takes one family a few hours might take another a week—without lingering long enough to let any skeletons out of the closets.
These sources guide you through all the steps, from designing irresistible invitations to coping with post-party letdown.
Family Reunion: Everything You Need to Know to Plan Unforgettable Get- Togethers,
by Jennifer Crichton (Workman). In-depth profiles of 13 recent gatherings, plus well-designed tip sheets on topics like baking cakes for 50 and delegating responsibilities to young relatives—just don't let the 15-year-olds handle valet parking, Crichton warns, no matter how much they plead.
Family Reunion Handbook: A Complete Guide to Planning and Enjoying Family Reunions,
by Tom Ninkovich (Reunion Research). Especially savvy about reunion financing; Ninkovich explains, for instance, how to convince your reunion venue to maximize freebies, such as shuttle bus service. Also check out his Web site, www.reuniontips.com.
The Family Reunion Sourcebook,
by Edith Wagner (Lowell House). The book's advice includes the nitty-gritty (what to pack in the group's communal first-aid kit) and the soaringly imaginative: Why not stage a Wild West shootout with sheriff cousins arresting an unsuspecting aunt or two?For more tips, as well as links to reunion- oriented professionals who'll even videotape oral-history interviews with your aged relatives, see a quarterly that Wagner edits called Reunions ($3.95 a year; www.reunionsmag.com).
www.family-reunion.com An easy-to-scroll site particularly rich in ideas for breaking the ice among cousins who have just met. Check out the printable forms for reunion organization, including post-event surveys to find out what the clan might want done differently next time.
The Web site of the American Society of Travel Agents (www.astanet.com) lists more than 250 specialists in family travel who can help organize reunions.
If you want to reunite in the American Southwest or the American or Canadian Rockies, Off the Beaten Path (800/445-2995 or 406/586-1311, fax 406/587-4147; www.offthebeatenpath.com) can walk you through all the planning. The cost is considerable, but you get what you pay for: OBP's staff has scoped out every high-end resort—not to mention ice floe and ghost town—worth visiting. Choose from 30 self-guided 7- to 14-day trips, or commission a customized itinerary.