Come Together – Right Now
12/4/2009 3:30:16 PM
Learn how to put together family reunions you'll want to tell your grand-kids about.
Come Together – Right Now
Family reunions to tell your grandkids about
You can follow each other on Twitter, befriend one another on Facebook, Skype until the wee hours and keep tabs on each other’s blogs, but nothing can replace the in-person, hands-on, cheek-pinching satisfaction that comes from getting your grandparents, aunts, cousins and kids together for the time-honored ritual of the family reunion.
The fact that generations of families have relocated to every corner of the globe is nothing new. What is new, however, is the relative ease with which we can draw everyone back together again, schedules permitting. The steps to crafting a reunion so tempting that your relatives will not only not dread it, but also actually count the days until the next one, are simple.
Consider the following step-based planning system: first, since different members of the family require different levels of diversion, choose a city in which the options for entertainment reach far and wide. Second, try to settle on a spot where the year-round outdoor activities are as plentiful as the indoor ones. Next, choose a hotel that’s big enough, and offers enough in the way of amenities, to ensure that cousins aren’t continually tripping over each other and the kids can feel like they have a sense of autonomy.
The following is a list of our five picks for both out-of-the-way and in-the-spotlight cities that fit the bill. Each has its own charms; all offer enough in the way of fun to placate even the toughest customer.
Low Country Leisure
, quite possibly the country’s most preserved architectural and historical treasure, provides so much to see, do and eat that success is almost a given. What to do:
History buffs in your brood will love the city’s cobble-stone streets and aged charms: Charles Towne Landing
, The Charleston Museum
, Patriot’s Point
, Fort Moultrie
and boat tours to Fort Sumter
, the island where the Civil War began.
Send swingers out to one of Charleston’s many world-class golf courses, while anglers will enjoy chartering a deep-sea fishing boat.
Shopping is one of Charleston’s big draws. King and Meeting Streets — a 16-plus-block shopping district offers everything from antiques shops to an Apple store. Alternately, Charleston’s famous open-air market is a great place to browse for native sweetgrass baskets, homemade jams and jewelry by local artisans.
It can feel like there is a restaurant for every day of the year in this nexus of low country seafood and down-home desserts. Charleston doesn’t disappoint with palate-pleasing options from the traditional low country boil to one of the many international bistros on the city’s side streets.
Think about planning your trip for the spring when Charleston hosts Spoleto Festival U.S.A.
, one of the most exciting arts festivals in the country. Alternately, align your reunion with the annual Charleston Food + Wine Festival
, the Moja African-American Arts Festival
, the Historic Foundation Festival of Houses and Gardens
or the Christmas Parade of Boats
. Where to stay:
Your group can’t do much better than Charleston Place
, an architectural homage to 18th century craftsmanship and hospitality. Centrally located at the intersection of Meeting and Market Streets, Charleston Place provides walking access to loads of shopping and the historic South of Broad (or SOB) section of town.
Think of it as a grand, 17th century residence where Southern hospitality rules. Sisters will love reconnecting in the hotel’s full-service European-style spa, and inquisitive kids will love the hotel’s summer sea camps. The hotel also offers the tots in your group a special welcome package with pint-size robes and free meals in the Palmetto Café. Want a creative activity for all ages? Borrow an Inspired Artist Kit consisting of a portable easel, sketch paper and charcoal from the concierge. (The kit is complimentary, but the paints are on you.)
The staff is available year round to arrange for tours, customized sightseeing itineraries, baby-sitting services and transportation to help your reunion go off without a hitch. One Door Opens
Often referred to as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, Door County, Wis., is as much fun in winter as it is in the summer. The region makes our list for reunion destinations for its scenic environs, loads of activities (sailing, golf, lighthouses, museums, shopping, hiking, biking, kayaking, zip-lining) and staggering variety of reunion-ready accommodations. What to do:
Door County has been hosting family reunions since the late 1800s, when steamships used to deliver summer visitors. Today, airplanes and interstates bring reunion groups eager to experience the area’s five state parks, 10 lighthouses and over 300 miles of shoreline. The 75-mile long peninsula is densely packed with pristine scenery, performing arts, renowned galleries and shops.
Missing the bucolic aimlessness of your youth? Then come in the summertime when you can take your gang cherry picking or to one of the weekend festivals that run from spring through the fall.
The area has so many award-winning restaurants that it’s hard to recommend any one on particular. But while you’re here, sampling a traditional Door County fish boil, with steaks of mild, delicate whitefish fresh from the local waters of Lake Michigan, is a must, but be sure to save room for Door County cherry pie — a local staple.
Door County loves its festivals. Pretty much any time of the year will find your group smack in the middle of one of them. Consider timing your trip to coincide with October’s Cider Pressing Party and Fall Festival or the Ellison Bay Fall Art Crawl. Also charming are the Orchard Country Winery & Market
, and Schopf’s Dairy View Country Store
where your gang can milk Cookie the cow, and taste the dairy’s 30 flavors of homemade ice cream.
Segway Tours of the area supply big fun for groups (and involve 30 minutes of pre-tour training so that everyone is ready to roll). Tours wind through Peninsula State Park
, past the lighthouses or around Washington Island. The tour guide will meet your group at the location of your choice, an especially flexible option for large groups. Where to stay:
Encourage midnight raids by renting a group of waterfront cabins. The area has more than enough to accommodate your extended family.
Door County’s Web site
lists so many lodging options in so many communities that your main challenge will be choosing. But choose you must, so do so wisely. All of the towns and bays are delightful, but each does have a slightly different personality. Any property will gladly help you set up activities for every age and inclination. Seclusion at the Slopes
Stowe, Vt., long known for its old-school snowy pleasures, makes a cozy cold-weather retreat. Thinking of Stowe as a winter-only would be a crime; Stowe is reunion heaven year-round for its variety of outdoor activities, rural charms and quaint town scene. What to do:
At 4,395 feet, Stowe's Mt. Mansfield sits higher than anywhere else in Vermont and provides a perfect jumping-off point for year-round outdoor activities.
In the winter, skiing and snowboarding may dominate, but sleigh-riding and dog sledding provide unexpected fun for all ages, and snowmobiling, snowshoeing and ice skating give everyone in the group plenty of occasion to hoot, holler and laugh. Cross-country skiers love Stowe’s hundreds of kilometers of both groomed and backcountry trails.
Riotous autumn colors make for world-renowned leaf peeping and a vibrant backdrop for hiking and rock climbing on the face of Smugglers’ Notch
In the spring and summer, Stowe shows its green side with above-timberline hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing and canoeing.
Part of the charm of this New England village is in the art, jewelry, crafts, handcrafted furniture and award-winning Vermont foods on every corner. Couple this with tickets to any of the arts performances and you have the makings of a crowd-pleasing destination.
For a family friendly activity, take a tasting trip to Cold Hollow Cider Mill
and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory
. Where to stay: Topnotch Resort & Spa
sits on 120 acres near Mount Mansfield and offers enough activities onsite or close-by for everyone.
Extended families will love the Resort Homes at Topnotch
, which are spacious two- and three-bedroom townhomes with full living and dining rooms and chef’s kitchens. The resort homes are ideal because they offer the amenities of the hotel, with the intimate charm of a vacation home.
The onsite spa offers Aromaessence facials and custom massages to work out any kinks your gang acquires on the slopes. Be sure to make dinner reservations at Norma’s for after your spa treatment. The restaurant’s windows frame exquisite mountain views.
The Rhode to Fun
Newport, R.I., combines small-town amenities with the gorgeous backdrop of some of the nation’s most historic homes. Designed for the Astors and the Vanderbilts, the mansions ensure that Newport’s blue-blooded pedigree remains a focal point.
What to do:
Gather your group and tour the former estates of America’s most notorious rich and famous. Astors' Beechwood
, Belcourt Castle
, The Breakers
, The Elms
and Rough Point
all deliver jaw-dropping history and splendor.
Consider a vineyard or brewery tour. Newport Vineyard & Winery
and Coastal Extreme Brewing Company
(in addition to several others) host facilities tours and tastings daily. Newport Vineyard’s custom-labeled wine by the case makes an excellent reunion memento.
In the warmer months contact Kayak Newport or Sea Kayak Tours of Newport, either of which will be happy to organize a group kayak trip around this famous coastline. On land, Native Newporter Tours offers private tours that promise to give your gang a real insider’s peek into the town.
Where to stay:
The Hyatt Regency Newport
on Goat Island in Narragansett Bay is just minutes from downtown and manages to channel the charm of Newport into a resort setting. Take the gals down to the full-service Stillwater Spa or toss the kiddies into the one of the indoor or outdoor swimming pools. Outside, a cozy fire pit begs your family to gather around it and make s’mores.
Best of all, dogs are welcome at this pet-friendly hotel and may just make a new friend in Darby, the hotel’s resident border collie.
High Rolling Hijinx
Never let it be said that Las Vegas
was one-dimensional. This high-rollers hub has become more family friendly in recent years, inspiring more and more large family groups to add it to their hit list.
What to do:
Kids will love Vegas, especially the roller coaster at New York-New York, the Barbary apes at the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park
, the Turbo Drop at Buffalo Bill’s, the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay
, the MGM Grand Lion Habitat
, the Motion Rides at Circus Circus Adventuredome
and the Lied Discovery Children’s Museum
Pack the moms off for treatments at the famed Canyon Ranch Spa at the Venetian
. The fact that it’s the largest spa in town (62 treatment rooms) means that every woman in your group could, theoretically, have treatments at once.
Many Vegas restaurants can accommodate large groups, even more so if you call ahead. Try Buca di Beppo
or Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian
. RUB BBQ (Righteous Urban Barbecue)
at the Rio is also a perfect place for a big group to find gob-smacking ribs.
After-hours contingents of grown-ups can head out for dancing at Mandalay Bay's House of Blues
or Diablo's Cantina at the Monte Carlo
Everyone — from grandparents to toddlers — will thrill at Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio, so be sure to arrange for tickets in advance so that no one gets left out.
Where to stay: Harrah’s
takes the prize these days for their Total Experience package. Once you pick your dates, a specialist works with each group to create a customized itinerary, including suggestions for insider experiences that most travelers wouldn’t be able to obtain (or dream up) on their own: private rooms at sold-out restaurants, behind-the-scenes tours of local landmarks, after-hours shopping excursions and more.
Of course, guests at Harrah’s always enjoy insider access to the hotels, pools, spas, restaurants, nightlife and golf courses. Best of all, there is no extra charge for Total Experiences: Travelers only pay for what they book.
As a final tip, be sure to plan for time together as well as time apart. No one wants to feel like they are on a 5th -grade field trip. Also, never underestimate the value of pre-planning. Start 12 months in advance and have a couple of back-up dates in mind. Then, contact the tourist board or visitors bureau to help you pull together information packs for each person’s room. Fill them with city maps, attractions coupons, and even a city shopping and dining guide. Your preparedness will cement your status and ensure that your kith and kin will reminisce fondly for years to come.
Group Travel Planner