What's the most important decision when planning a family reunion? "Set a date so that family members can put it on their calendars before planning vacations," says Tom Ninkovich, author of Family Reunion Handbook (Reunion Research, 1998). And, remember, the key aspect of choosing a reunion date is to stick to your final decision. Changing the date will only create havoc for others. Things to consider when choosing a date: Plan ahead. Most reunions need to be planned one to two years in advance. Advance planning enables you to reserve the ideal meeting place. Planning ahead also allows attendees to set aside vacation time and save money they might need to attend. Get a consensus. Don't just pick the date that's right for you. Poll family members to avoid time conflicts. If there are family members who absolutely must attend (for example, grandparents), check with them first. Then choose a date that's best for most people. There are many ways to choose a date. You could offer 3-4 different options and have family members send in their votes by a certain deadline. You might want to offer some explanation as to why certain dates might be better than others. For example, your initial mailing might say: "Uncle Bert will be celebrating his 80th birthday on June 10. Wouldn't it be great to pay tribute to our favorite uncle by throwing a family reunion that weekend?" Then offer two or three other possible dates as a backup. Let family members know that majority rules. Unfortunately, someone will always have a conflict. One way to resolve this problem is to set potential dates for the next two reunions. That way, people who can't attend this time will hopefully make it to the next one.
Select a date. Here are a few suggestions:
Reunions can last anywhere from an afternoon to three or more days. "A general rule is that the farther people must travel, the longer the reunion should last," says Ninkovich. Few people will fly cross-country for afternoon tea. Small reunions average one day. Larger reunions last about two or three days. You don't want them to last too long, Ninkovich advises. "Your next reunion will benefit if you leave them wanting more."
After deciding when the reunion will take place, the next big decision is: Where? The possibilities may seem endless. Examples include amusement parks, a camp, church, college dorms, condos, conference centers, a cruise ship, historical sites, home(s), hotels, houseboats, motels, nature preserves, a park, a ranch or farm, resorts, and zoos. In general, your choice depends on the size of the reunion, time of year, accessibility, and the type of reunion you'd like to have (e.g., a small picnic, a cruise, a rustic camping trip, etc.) Keep in mind that no site will be perfect. "If it is nice and inexpensive, it is remotely located. Well-priced and convenient? The aesthetics have a lot to be desired," says Jennifer Crichton, author of Family Reunion (Workman Publishing, 1998). "Reunions are about family life, and family life is more about trade-offs than perfection." However, it is possible to find a site that meets most of your needs. Following are things to consider for four basic kinds of reunions.
Questions to ask include:
If the answer to many of these questions is "no," you may want to look into public parks as another option (see Hometown Reunion on the next page).
This type of event is most likely to be held in the family's original hometown. Questions to ask yourself include:
Longer reunions lasting 3 to 4 days usually require larger accommodations, such as hotels, motels, resorts, dorms, or conference centers. Once you've pinpointed the geographical location of your reunion, you might want to contact the local tourist board, Chambers of Commerce, and Convention and Visitors Bureaus. These professionals can help you find accommodations, restaurants, tours, caterers, photographers, etc. Questions regarding accommodations should include:
Always ask the facility to send you a contract with all the details you discussed. Review it carefully.
A helpful source is Family Reunion Handbook by Tom Ninkovich (Reunion Research, 1998).
For reunions that last a full week, some families prefer to camp out in tents, RVs, or trailers. Check out the following:
Another option is to rent condos, a house, or dorms. For dorm rooms -- sometimes available during summer months -- contact the housing departments of colleges in your reunion area. To find out about condo rentals, check with the local Chambers of Commerce, tourist board, or Convention and Visitors Bureau. You could also search the Yellow Pages, on paper or online, for local Realtors, who often publish booklets with condo or house rental information.
When arranging reservations, be sure to ask:
Still stuck? Consult the following sources: Publications:
Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs): Nonprofit organizations that represent cities or regions for all kinds of meetings. Most CVBs offer their services free of charge and can help obtain accommodation costs, site inspections, and other services based on your needs. Check out local CVBs by searching the Yellow Pages online.
Telephone Books: Available for any part of the country -- 800-848-8000 -- or on CD-ROM at your local library.
Chambers of Commerce: Good sources for accommodations, site inspections, maps, informational brochures, site-seeing trips, etc.