Picking the right spot for a family reunion can be as challenging as finding the long-lost relatives you plan to invite. So we asked several experts to name their favorites. Not surprisingly, YMCA retreats, state parks, and a few special resorts topped their lists.
Our panel consisted of Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine; Tom Ninkovich, author of the Family Reunion Handbook; and several reunion planners themselves. Here's what they picked:
Silver Bay, New York
Located on 700 acres along the western shores of Lake George, Silver Bay is listed on the registry of National Historic Places. Close to the former Olympic Village of Lake Placid and just a few minutes from some of the best Adirondack Mountain hiking, this popular Y is great for outdoor-oriented families who like a little history on the side. For sleeping, choose from dorm rooms, hilltop cottages, a historic inn, and more.
Breaks, Virginia (bordering Kentucky)
Want the scenic grandeur of the Grand Canyon without the crowds? Check out the Breaks for your family reunion. Home of the deepest natural gorge east of the Mississippi, Breaks' towers, rock formations, and caves will keep the kids busy for hours. The park also offers hiking and biking trails, swimming pools, and horseback riding for grownups, as well as a rustic lodge, large campground, and cottages.
Smuggler's Notch, Vermont
There's lots of water flowing at Smuggler's Notch family reunions -- and they're not just tears of joy. Smuggs, a self-contained village in New England's Green Mountains, is home to a ski resort in winter and an unofficial water park all summer long, with eight pools, three waterslides, splash pools, and a giant rapid river ride. When the kids get too waterlogged, they can dry off with a tour at the nearby Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory, the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, and Historic Shelburne Museum. Reunion planners can sample the resort at special orientation weekends for $25 per person per night.
Here's how to make one of the country's most popular -- and expensive -- family reunion destinations more affordable: Stay in Kissimmee-St. Cloud. More than 40,000 hotels and motels, condos and campgrounds are just a five-minute drive to Disney World and Orlando's main attractions. And they're half the price of staying inside the Magic Kingdom. Rates at some motels just outside Disney's main entrance start at $19.
This restored 19th-century army fort, active during the Indian wars, is now a popular family retreat. It's cheap, centrally located, and accommodates large groups. Highlights include Rides on the Tour Train, a horseback ride through Pine Ridge Escarpment, open-air jeep rides among the buttes, stagecoach rides, and chuckwagon buffalo-stew cookouts. Reservations must be made at least a year in advance. Rates start at $9.50 per person per night, depending on accommodation.
Trout fishing is a big draw at this affordable getaway, just 90 minutes south of St. Louis in the Mark Twain National Forest. But the tennis, sailing, miniature golf, campfires, and lake swimming also lure families here. Kids love dangling from the Alpine Swing, climbing the 50-foot-high Pine Peak Tower, and tackling the high ropes course. Family cabins average $132 per night (for three people per room) in summer and include three meals per day.
Grandma and Grandpa will love tripping back to the bubbly days of Lawrence Welk and the Lennon Sisters at this old-timey resort. But kids will get a kick out of it too, with plenty of themed attractions, including the Branson Scenic Railway, Bart Rocket Magic Show, and Silver Dollar City. The Family Getaway Package is a real deal, with two nights lodging and breakfast, passes to two attractions of your choice, plus free mini golf and use of handheld video games -- all for $129 per adult per night through September 2002.
Estes Park, Colorado
This is the Mercedes-Benz of reunion locations, hosting more than 1,000 families a year at three mountain locations. Drop-dead scenery; a wide variety of cabins, lodges, and campsites; and proximity to three national parks make this Y one of the toughest bookings in the U.S. Call for reservations at least one year in advance. YMCA members get wait-list priority.
Port Townsend, Washington
This historic fort atop a high bluff in the Victorian seaport of Port Townsend is known and loved for its 100-year-old buildings and unforgettable views of Puget Sound. Stay in a former officer's row house, or a castle with ancient glass still in the windows. Arrange a salmon bake at the fort's shore-side beach shelter or host an evening party in a former blimp hangar. The price is the best part; rates start at $33 per day, including meals.
If your clan can afford the splurge, The Alisal will be a reunion to remember. Nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley, 35 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, California's premier guest ranch has been a favorite of well-heeled families for generations. Set on a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch, this unusual getaway will appeal to the horse lovers and tennis players in your clan. Low season is November through March. But if you have to ask that kind of question, you can't afford this place!