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Plan a 'destination' family reunion

Spending time with the family has risen to the top of the list of things Americans want to do on vacation this summer.

The Travel Industry Association says family reunions and travel seem to go hand-in-hand, judging by the fact that 34 percent of U.S. adults have traveled to one in the past three years. This translates into nearly 72 million U.S. adults.

In fact, one in five (22%) U.S. adults say they took a trip to attend a family reunion in just the past year. Keeping with the family theme, more than half of reunions are held in someone's home (52%). City or town parks (12%) and national/state parks or forests (6%) are also popular. And family reunions occur with some frequency-at least once a year for half of family reunion travelers.

While statistics show most family reunions occur close to home, more and more extended families are packing up Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, nieces and nephews for journeys that venture farther a field. And every facet of the travel industry is taking notice.

Travel expert Valarie D’Elia offers these ideas for destination family reunions, far beyond the usual picnics and weekend getaways:

All-inclusive: Cruises and resorts
Best for: Active and diverse families who want a convenient, no-fuss vacation and the opportunity to mix it up with other guests. Offers a myriad of itineraries.

Watch out for: Extras such as excursions and the bar bill .

Must do: A private family reception.

Budget: Family of 20, 5 day cruise — $350-600 per person, everything but airfare included.

All-inclusive cruises and resorts are the no-brainer of family reunions. Since most everything is included, meals, some drinks, and entertainment, there are usually few budget surprises. Mainstream cruise lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Holland America specialize in bringing big groups of relatives together with activities for all ages. Mom can be at the spa, kids can be entertained with age appropriate activities, and while Grandpa is teeing off on deck, Grandma can be learning the intricacies of serving afternoon tea. Families get together at dinnertime to swap stories and organize the next day.

Dedicated cruise planners make it easy to coordinate all the details and will pass some perks along for the big groups.

Carnival for instance offers one free berth for every 15 bookings, and provides special on-board amenities - champagne and chocolates, stateroom upgrades, private cocktail receptions. Another trend developing is the use of online resources to keep the family connected before the big voyage, with chat rooms, online polls and newsletter tools.

Resources:

www.carnivalconnections.comwww.royalcaribbean.comwww.ncl.comwww.hollandamerica.comwww.disneycruise.com

Reunion packages: Disney Magical Gatherings
Best for: Mickey fanatics 5 years and older who want a customized itinerary with a designer Disney theme. Special perks for groups of 8 or more.

Watch out for: Peak season & crowds.

Must do: Fast Pass & Kid Swap.

Budget: Family of 10, 7 nights, $1,400 per person, airfare, Disney hotel, park hopper passes, dining plan and two special activities ALL included.

Magical Gatherings is an innovative program with new products and services designed for extended travel groups planning a Walt Disney World Resort vacation. New online tools make it easier than ever to plan a multi-household vacation.

And groups of eight or more staying at a Walt Disney World resort can book new Grand Gatherings experiences that include the “Safari Celebration Dinner,” “International Dinner and IllumiNations Dessert Reception,” “Magical Fireworks Voyage” and “Good Morning Gatherings.” Dedicated planning specialists will assist Grand Gathering groups with special celebrations, dining and recreation reservations.

Groups can make Magical Gatherings reservations anytime with easy-to-use Magical Gatherings online planning tools. Magical Gatherings vacations can take place at Walt Disney World deluxe, moderate or value resorts, with an itinerary that covers the theme parks, water parks and other entertainment and recreational locations within the 47-square-mile Vacation Kingdom.

The Magical Gatherings vacation-planning program provides easy, step-by-step tools, including a Vacation Planning Kit complete with DVD or video. Online vacation planning is a breeze with the new Web-based Magical Gatherings Planner at www.disneyworld.com/magicalgatherings. The online tools allow you to send invitations to family and friends, engage in group chats about your itinerary, create polls for consensus building, browse and share other Walt Disney World Web pages and build a complete group vacation itinerary.

Renting a Villa or apartments
Best for: “Do it Yourselfers” and families with little ones who want privacy with lots of destination options and shared expenses. Good for special occasions — birthdays, anniversaries.

Watch out for: Extra charges for cleaning, linens, even electricity. Occupancy limitations.

Must do: Hire a chef & arrange ground transportation.

Budget: Family of 11- 7 nights $3,000 per person, airfare included.

Independent villa and apartment rentals offer a comfortable, intimate space for family reunion groups with terraces and pools and lots of space to gather and bond. Some villas are resort-based, providing the added benefit of all the commensurate services, but most are freestanding in thousands of locations around the world. Families who shy away from pre-packaged tours appreciate the autonomy this type of accommodation offers, especially with small kids in tow, who won’t be bothering other hotel guests and can play till their hearts content. Since there are so many family members in one place, there is always a built in babysitter!

There are a few caveats to consider however, as most villas don’t accommodate more than 15 people. These occupancy limitations may require big groups to consider renting a compound. Room configurations may be odd sized as well, so the group must be divided up into appropriate family units. One of the major complaints from villa renters is how the pictures on the internet sometimes misrepresented the reality upon check-in. Details such as the number of steps can be glossed over or left out all together, posing a difficulty for seniors to negotiate. Since a villa presents an intimate living situation for relatives who haven’t spent a lot of time together it’s important to discuss rules for daily living and reach compromises prior to the reunion rather than hashing it out during the reunion.

Check what amenities are included in the rental price. You may be charged extra for linens and cleaning. Decide whether to rent cars or hire a van for excursions and short jaunts to the grocery store.

Resources:

www.wimco.com

www.rentvillas.com

www.villa-vacation.com

www.rentalo.com

Ancestral travel
Best for: Independent minded families who want to go the distance and make a sentimental journey to their homeland to explore their heritage.

Watch out for: Language barriers in planning.

Must do: Visit the cemetery.

Budget: Family of 20, 10 days $3,000 per person, airfare included, meals & excursions extra.

Memories: Priceless.

The Society of American Travel Writers recently released its top 10 list of “must-see” destinations in a lifetime. Of course, it mentions the Taj Mahal and the Egyptian pyramids, but topping the list is a sentimental favorite: a visit to the homeland of your ancestors.

Travel expert D’Elia, a second- generation Italian American whose roots date back 100 years to a small village in Italy, is leading a trip of 20 extended relatives to their ancestral home this summer.

Every year since 1942 her extended Italian family has held a picnic in Connecticut celebrating their Italian American Roots. This year’s picnic — number 65 — will take place on Italian soil. While Val has had a close connection to her roots all her life, she says it’s easier than you might think to trace yours with all the resources available.

Do your research — consult with relatives to create a family tree and then confer with a genealogical tour operator for help in locating your ancestral home. Once you identify the village or town, take a scouting trip to meet a relative or close contact before bringing the whole family over.

Arrange a tour and special activities like a picnic or cooking class, something that represents your heritage.

Make the “roots” visit the highlight of the itinerary but plan other excursions around it.

Use it as an opportunity to see the country, not just the village.

Resources:

www.ancestralrootstravel.com

www.ancestraltravel.homestead.com

General tips for family reunion travel

  • Start planning early, at least a year ahead
  • Choose a family captain and assistant
  • Settle on destination, venue
  • Pick a date and stick with it
  • Set a budget
  • Ask for deposits upfront
  • Consult with a non-family member such as a travel agent or cruise planner to offer non-biased expertise. Be prepared to pay a fee.
  • Ask about perks for large groups — free rooms, reduced airfare, cocktail parties
  • Identify a theme — family milestone like anniversary or birthday
  • Communicate: Elicit input from everyone. Use online planning tools —i ncluding family polls and online chats, newsletters. Schedule at least one family meeting prior to the trip.
  • Take ages into consideration, activities should include something for everyone
  • Include some down time
  • Figure out transportation needs
  • Set aside family time- reminisce about relatives past and present.
  • Wear special commemorative t-shirts or hats
  • Build memories, take lots of photos and videos
  • Make it A tradition
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