Tips for Planning a Family Reunion

Get expert advice for making your next multi-family gathering a big success.


If you think planning the nightly family meal is a big deal—thanks to soccer practice, tuba lessons, the dog’s vet appointment and your work schedule—planning a family reunion can be an especially daunting undertaking. But the payoff is sweet.

“Family reunions have become especially popular since 9/11,” says Jim Kackley, general manager of Thomson Family Adventures, which was recently awarded Best Family Adventure Company by National Geographic. “Parents and grandparents often tell us that they want to spend more of their valuable time with family.”

In fact, 34 percent of adults in the United States (72 million of us) have traveled to a family reunion in the past three years, according to the Travel Industry Association (TIA).

Taking Time for Togetherness

“Today’s family reunions look very different than the outdoor picnics and sleeping on your grandmother’s couch of yesterday,” says Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.–based American Resort Development Association (ADRA), which represents the vacation ownership and resort development industries. “Families now want to make the most of traveling long distances to visit relatives,” he says. ADRA has a program called “Take Time for Togetherness,” an initiative that provides travelers who are planning family reunions with event planning tips including managing invitations, selecting a location and ice-breaker games.

Of course, the current financial situation is beginning to have an impact on family reunion trends. Janet Lincoln, senior sales manager at Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod, a family reunion hot spot, says because of the spiraling economy, “We are hearing from travel agents that their clients are becoming more interested in ‘closer to home’ vacation options—without giving up any of the resort activities and amenities they expect.” Chatham Bars Inn draws a lot of business from New York City and Boston, both within driving distance.

“The biggest challenge of planning a large family reunion is finding a place that offers something for everyone,” says Dan Daly, spokesperson for the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau. Family reunions in that neck of the woods include private family banquets in a dining room at Mount Rushmore National Memorial and day trips to Crazy Horse Memorial, Badlands National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument. The bureau can help families with the planning, says Daly.

Tips for a Memorable Reunion

  • “Make sure all the key parties have bought into the concept,” says Kackley. “Our family travel advisor who books the family reunions usually asks to speak with all the heads of families.”
  • Once you’ve settled on a place, “start planning early,” insists Kackley. “With so many family members involved, it is difficult to get consensus,” he adds. Further, certain times of year are more difficult to secure than others. “If you want to travel over the December holidays and your group is 15 to 30 people, you need to be booking a year to a year and a half before,” he adds. Lincoln agrees, saying Chatham Bars Inn’s summer season is especially busy and planning ahead is key. “In July, we have a five-night minimum, and in August, we have a seven-night minimum, so it’s best to plan as far ahead as possible.”  
  • If any of your family members will be traveling by plane and live near each other, look into blocking flight space with the airlines to get a better fare, says Kackley.
  • If your family reunion will involve young kids, Kackley says, “it is important to be clear who will be watching them” if they engage in activities that are designed for the adults. Also, make sure that the activities are set up so that the most active 15-year-old and the eldest 90-year-old will both be entertained.
  • And, Kackley adds, like any vacation, make sure there is downtime built into the itinerary for everyone to hang out together. 

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