In today's world, families become scattered far and wide across the globe. People move away to seek job opportunities, more pleasant climates, or simply to indulge their restless wanderlust. As a result of that, family reunions, where we get a chance to see our grandparents, reconnect with distant cousins, and keep family traditions and lore alive, have become increasingly important events. Reunions Magazine, a publication that covers the get-togethers' subculture, estimates that there are more than 200,000 family reunions each year, attended by some 8 million people. Nearly three-quarters of those gatherings have 50 or more participants [source: Randall].
If you're organizing a family reunion, picking the right destination for your event can be a tricky task. You need a travel spot that's accessible and affordable, and can provide fun activities for everyone. For example, if you pick a golf and tennis resort in the Bahamas, that may make your athletic cousins from Florida happy. But your cousins from Wisconsin would rather go hiking and bird-watching in a national park. And more importantly where can you go that Aunt Ruby will feel comfortable enough to bring her world-famous red velvet cakes? No reunion is a reunion without that.
You get the picture. It's a tough call. But here are some options to choose from.
Renting a beach house is an ideal situation for a family reunion because everyone can either live together under one roof or in the same proximity. And every age group can find something to do. Those who like the outdoors can spend their days sunning or reading on the beach or poolside. Those who aren't sun worshippers can while their time away napping on the couch, watching movies on the DVD player or shopping at local boutiques and markets.
Living in a beach house also means you don't have to spend money eating out for every meal. Relatives can pool their grocery money to stock the cabinet with staples like cereal, sandwich meat and of course plenty of Old Bay Seasoning to cook the fish and shrimp on the grill that Uncle George picked up from the local market.
So where do you find these great properties? Consider places that are accustomed to hosting large families like Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina which accommodates 20 to 25 reunions each year. Also try calling rental property agents in places like the white sand beaches in Destin, Fla., the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Jersey Shore, Cape May in New Jersey or even Capistrano Beach located 60 miles south of Los Angeles.
Dorothy just might have been on to something when she tapped her heels three times and repeated, "There's no place like home." Hosting the family get-together at a relative's residence can really make other members feel right at home.
So how does it work? Find one person with a house big enough where everyone can stay or use the home as central headquarters. Central headquarters is the place where people meet up between activities, check-in when they first arrive or go to chill out and relax. If the host home isn't big enough for everyone to crash, the host can find a hotel close enough for some of the relatives to commute to.
Daily activities could include a picnic lunch at a local park or in the host's backyard, an outdoor sporting competition or indoor gamefest, followed by an evening awards banquet at the hotel. After the meal, get ready to clear the tables while Aunt Gladys kicks off her stilettos and runs to the dance floor for the Electric Slide.
No group stands out like a sore thumb more than a family visiting a major metropolitan city wearing bright red shirts with "The Jones Family" printed across the back. But who cares? It's OK to let the whole city know that you've arrived. You've been planning this trip forever. In fact, Aunt Sue gets the chance to become city chic as she has already told her entire bridge club that she's headed uptown for the weekend.
Hosting your family reunion in a major city in the United States provides an abundance of activities for everyone to participate in. They can enjoy restaurants, plays, shopping, museums, tours, sporting events, outdoor festivals and too many more expeditions to count.
So open up the U.S. map and pick a city. The fam can check out America's history in Washington, D.C. by visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall or the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. Or they can all hop on a double-decker sight-seeing bus in the Big Apple for an average of $76 per adult or $59 per child to ride downtown and uptown [source: City Sights NY]. Of course when they're done with the tour, the crew can make their way on over to Macy's Herald Square on 34th Street.
Or they can continue the shopping theme at Chicago's Magnificent Mile and stop off for some really good Chicago-style hot dogs from a street vendor. And if you time it right, you can be there in May during the "Tulips on the Magnificent Mile" to see hundreds of thousands of tulips blooming on the street [source: Magnificent Mile].
At first glance, camping might not seem ideal for everyone -- especially your prissy cousin, Roslyn -- but as long as family members have a willingness to try something a little different, this can certainly turn into a memorable trip. Your definition of the words "roughing it" will dictate your lodging arrangements. For the true- blue family campers, pitching tents in campgrounds at places like the City of Rocks State Park in Faywood, New Mexico and Jellystone Park (found in many states) can make them feel at one with nature. Many camping sites in the U.S. and Canada offer plenty of good tent areas and allow you to bring the family dogs, making camping a fun experience for those willing to temporarily forgo modern conveniences.
If you need to ease Roslyn and the other family members into the idea, a log cabin might be a better fit for the family reunion. For instance, Sorensen's Resort, an all-season resort near Lake Tahoe, Calif. offers cottage, log cabins and mountain vacation homes rentals. Typically a two-night minimum is required on weekends and a three- to five-night stay on holidays and special events [source: Sorensen's Resort]. Just like the beach house, cabin living provides an opportunity for the family to stay together either under one roof or relatively close by. And for the outdoorsmen and women of the group, activities like hiking on beautiful trails, fishing and riding bikes in the spring and summer and skiing, sledding and snowshoeing in the winter are like paradise.
What would Dad call his perfect family reunion destination? The one where he doesn't have to take out his wallet ten times a day. That will be the case at many all-inclusive resorts. If your group travels to a place like Sugar Bay Resort & Spa in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, one fee will get your group breakfast, lunch and dinner and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, resort taxes, and tip. It also allows family members to battle one another in beach and pool volleyball, basketball and tennis and non-motorized water sports [source: Sugar Bay]. Of course, you won't feel so guilty about piling your plate with grilled fish and plantains at practically every meal since your fee also includes access to the fitness center.
Other Caribbean all-inclusive resorts, like Beaches and Breezes offer similar packages. Keep in mind, though, that some include alcoholic beverages in the one fee while others charge extra for alcohol. Most charge additionally for Internet access and in-room movies.
Some resorts also provide special activities for children of all ages. For example, Beaches Resorts in Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos offers pre-teens and teens programs where your young cousins will be treated to amenities like a pizza bar, karaoke and disco, group water sports and a talent show [source: Beaches].
It's hard to go wrong when you pick a familiar, popular vacation destination such as one of the Disney resorts, which enables participants to get good prices on travel and hotels. The resorts also often cater to reunion groups with special amenities. For example, California's Disneyland offers you an opportunity to book its Big Thunder Ranch for a family barbeque including barbecue chicken, ribs and all the fixin's or to arrange an appearance by costumed Disney characters at a reunion dinner at its on-site restaurants [source: Disneyland]. The resort will even provide personalized Mickey ears, pins and badges, and photographers are on hand to snap pictures that you can then turn into mugs, T-shirts and other memorabilia.
If you decide to head to Disney World in Florida, the family can take advantage of special services just for you. If your reunion includes eight or more people and you're staying at select Walt Disney World resort hotels, you all will be classified as a Disney Grand Gathering. Everyone in the family will have access to receptions, dinners and gatherings that are only available to your family. These include the Illuminations Dinner and Dessert Reception, a Safari Celebration Dinner, Good Morning Character Breakfast, and a Magical Fireworks Voyage [source: Orlando Fun Tickets].
According to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), at least two-thirds of agents who made travel arrangements for family reunions said cruises were the most popular destination [source: Runice]. No wonder. With cruise ships departing from 22 ports in the United States and Canada, you can find one within driving distance of many U.S. cities.
A short voyage on a cruise liner is one of the easiest options for a family reunion. Brand-name cruise ship lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Holland America specialize in catering to large groups like reunions with special deals. Carnival, for example, offers perks like private cocktail parties for groups who book at least eight staterooms [source: Carnival]. These floating resorts have activities for everybody, ranging from rock-climbing walls and roller-blade tracks to cooking classes and guest lecturers. Royal Caribbean offers a program called Royal Reunions that offers special activities and gifts for family reunions [source: Royal Caribbean].
Costs range depending on the itinerary, length of voyage and the size of the group, but some cruises can be as cheap as several hundred dollars per person. They're a particularly good deal for families because parents and kids can share a single large stateroom [source: Cruisecheap.com].
A rented villa in a picturesque foreign location can be a great place to rekindle family relationships. The languorous luxury setting encourages you to sit around with a glass of wine and chat, which is what most people want to do at reunions.
One great location is Italy's romantic Tuscany, where you can rent a lovely villa that sleeps 20, complete with a spacious living room, dining room with a fireplace, a pool, extensive grounds, and for those who can't halt their media addiction, satellite TV and Internet access. Villas are for families with deep pockets, though. A week at the previously described palace costs 8,125 to 11,562 euros (approximately $10,515 to $15,000 U.S.), depending on the season. And unless you're accustomed to cooking for large groups, you'll have to hire a chef as well [source: Family Reunions Tuscany].
National parks are a great place to have a family reunion. Not only will families find it invigorating to be in the great outdoors, but there are usually a variety of activities available, from kayaking to leaf peeping. And most have ample accommodations in a range of prices for large groups.
For a transcendent nature experience that just about everybody is sure to enjoy, try Yosemite National Park in California. Yosemite offers waterfalls, mountains and grand meadows, as well as a chance to look at 400 different wildlife species -- from bears to birds. If all else fails, you can marvel at the ancient giant sequoias. The lodging options range from camping to luxury suites at the Ahwahnee Hotel. There are also a variety of restaurants of all price ranges, from pizza to fine dining [source: Yosemite].
On the East Coast, you might want to visit Acadia National Park, which is situated on Mount Desert Island along the rugged Atlantic coast of Maine. The park features some the most beautiful scenery in the East -- granite mountains, sparkling lakes, forests, meadow marshes and a spectacular rocky coastline. For the robust, there are plenty of outdoor activities, from hiking and bicycling to horseback riding and canoeing, while those who prefer less strenuous recreation can tour the wild gardens, take a carriage ride or visit the park's two museums. Both hotel accommodations and camping are available [source: National Parks Service].
If you're a hardcore genealogy buff, you probably won't be content with anything less than traipsing around the exact remote village where your forebears lived three or four centuries ago. But good luck in getting everybody else to go there, or finding hotel rooms.
You may have better luck with a slightly broader approach, in which you focus on your regional or national heritage. And chances are that your ancestral homeland is eager to have you. Scotland, for example, extends an open invitation to anyone of Scottish ancestry to attend its Homecoming 2014 celebration, which comes on the heels of the successful 2009 Homecoming celebration, one of the largest international family reunions spotlighting Scottish heritage [source: Event Scotland].
If you have Irish roots -- and who doesn't, to some degree? -- you're really in luck because that country has a flourishing family reunion industry. Companies like MyguideIreland will plan an itinerary for your group, and even try to track down some Irish relatives for you to meet [source: MyguideIreland].
If traveling overseas doesn't appeal to your clan, no problem. A family reunion centered upon a visit to historic Ellis Island, where 12 million immigrants entered the United States between 1892 and 1954, might provide a truly moving experience. There's a museum on the island that focuses on the history of immigration, and you can also take in the Statue of Liberty [source: Better Homes and Gardens].
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