Planning a Family Reunion

Nine tips for a great get-together.

Family reunions mean different things to different members of the family. Some family members dread the encounters whereas some family members get overly excited and plan elaborate activities and events. Others have never considered planning one because the mere thought of gathering the entire family in one spot is too daunting, overwhelming or expensive. But there is a way to unite the extended family for an event that is eagerly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone in your family.

    1. It’s all about location. The location often makes or breaks a family reunion. For a multi-day event, try to choose a location that is as self-contained as you can. If lodging, events, meals, gathering places and parking are all nearby, people will spend more time together having fun, and less time wrestling with logistics. A campus-style setting is perfect, so look into resorts, camps, recreation areas, clubs or even renting space at your alma mater for a long weekend in the summer. Wherever you hold your reunion, make sure that it’s centrally located to as many family members as possible, and that it offers a price range that suits the attendees.
    2. Hope for sun but plan for rain. You can choose the time of year and the location in an attempt to get the best climate for your reunion. Yet, no one can control the elements. That means you need to plan for all kinds of weather. Again, pick a versatile location. The ideal spot should have a large lodge or other weather-protected facility where the whole family can congregate for games and other fun family activities, as well as meals.
    3. Try a theme event. Though it may sound corny, it works. Everyone inevitably has fun at theme parties, even if it’s just because your teenager is laughing at attendees for dressing up or playing along. Whether the theme is simple or complex, it serves as a way to engage guests. Plus, dressing in a quirky style to suit the theme is a great conversation starter, no matter what the age of the relatives involved. A simple idea to try is changing the theme annually. One year, the theme could be Hawaiian. The next year, the theme might be Western. For the latter, attire, food and activities could all be country-style, such as giving out cowboy hats for welcome gifts, having horseback riding, playing horseshoes, starting a campfire to roast S’mores and leading a group hike. A more complex theme could be something like the board game Clue, where everyone spends the weekend figuring out a puzzle while catching up with the clan and enjoying the planned activities.
    4. Consider special needs. You’ll have a big range of ages at your reunion, and you’ll have to consider a wide range of needs. A surefire way to spoil the mood is when a family must leave the reunion in order to find a far-off doctor to refill a prescription. Confirm there is good care nearby, such as a clinic, pharmacy and hospital for emergencies. Or better yet, check that where you hold the reunion has a nurse on staff. And locations that offer supervised children’s activities, and/or daycare, are a blessing: Kids will have a blast with others in their age group, as will the adults!
    5. Don’t forget about pets. Will the facility take pets? Is there a quality kennel nearby? For a lot of people, leaving the family pet behind can be a deal-breaker.
    6. Schedule appealing activities. This can be one of the hardest things to plan. Just within your immediate family, you probably have some people who relish an afternoon at the art museum followed by a stop at the coffee shop, while another person prefers to spend seven hours hiking up a mountain to a clear mountain lake. Just be sure to maintain a broad focus when thinking of available activities. Even if you choose a facility for your reunion that offers diverse activities, consider the surrounding area, too. Will attendees have access to outdoor recreation, shopping, cultural attractions, restaurants and bookstores? The more of these attractions you find within a short radius of your chosen location, the happier everyone will be.
    7. Factor in food. If your group isn’t pleased with the options available at mealtimes, it won’t be long before people hop in their cars, heading out in all directions to find what they like for grub. And one of the last things you want is for your carefully planned event to be disrupted three times a day by people flocking to restaurants around town. Confirm that your chosen venue offers a diverse range of culinary choices, including vegetarian and possibly vegan and gluten-free dishes, along with hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers and options for more gourmet palates. It’s possible to have varied healthy and delicious fare all in one place.
    8. Designate a planner. Select a specific planner who is organized and up to the task. While it’s fine for that person to have helpers on side projects, you need one lead planner to ensure your event comes off without a hitch.
    9. Allot free time. Eager organizers of family reunions frequently attempt to fill every moment of the day with things to do. But it’s critical to balance events and activities with free time. The idea is to get everyone together a for a few daily events filled with family fun, while letting folks do their own thing at certain times of the day. That keeps the dynamic interesting when everyone reassembles for dinner, for example, and recounts what they did that day.

    Family reunions are making a big comeback this summer— they’re an affordable way to have a great vacation, get back to old-fashioned principles of what matters in life and reconnect with those cousins you haven’t seen since you were a kid at Thanksgiving nearly two decades ago. Good luck with the planning and enjoy the main event!