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Family Reunion Party Planning Guide and Tips

Contemplating a get-together? Here are seven questions to ask before planning a brouhaha with your clan in southeast Michigan – or elsewhere.

From karaoke nights featuring your crazy Aunt Betty to board game marathons for cousins, family reunions can create lasting memories and bonds between relatives. But how to get started? With this guide, of course! Here, we offer up straight solutions to key issues (i.e., avoid landmines in advance) that'll pave the way to your perfect family get-together.

1. Who will you invite?

A. Nearby family
B. Immediate family and close relatives
C. As many relatives as you can think of

Figuring out whether you want just immediate family to attend or whether you plan on asking relatives from around the country – or even world – will help you shape other decisions about your reunion, like the time of year and even the location. The larger your gathering, the more time you'll need to pull it together. For example, popular family reunion spots can fill up months, even years in advance – especially during busy times of the year.

2. Where do you want to have it?

A. Outdoor camping or wilderness resort
B. Your home
C. Destination location

There are so many options when it comes to choosing the place for your event. While it might be less expensive to plan the gathering at your home, with relatives bunking in with you, this can create headaches when it comes to finding a place for everyone to sleep – not to mention feeding everyone three meals a day. But if you have a small group, this might be your best bet.

Camping reunions tend to be popular because it's less expensive to rent the facilities than putting everyone up in a hotel – but even more important, they have built-in activities, such as creating fires, going on hikes and sleeping under the stars. If your family likes the outdoors, Michigan has plenty of campsite options. Renting cottages is a happy medium between hotels and campsites. After all, if you're camping, you'll need to pack equipment and gear for everyone, whereas many cottages come with all the linens and supplies on hand.

Family-friendly hotspots like Orlando's Disney World, Busch Gardens, Cedar Point, may pack a 'wow' factor for family members, but depending on the number of people attending, coordinating your event at one of these locations can get pricey since family members may need to buy airline tickets, lodging, and food once they arrive. Also keep in mind that the destination itself might become the focus of the gathering instead of spending time with family.

3. What time of year do you want to have it?

A. Summer months
B. Around a holiday
C. Whenever you can get everyone together

Summer tends to offer the most options when it comes to choosing dates for your get-together – that's an advantage and a drawback. Family members might have more time off they can devote to a reunion vacation, and kids don't have school to worry about. But both points are true for most families, meaning that popular destinations, including campsites, will fill up quickly – especially over weekends that include holidays.

Plus, during the summer, your kids might be involved in camps or other activities that may overlap reunion times. The bottom line is, there's no perfect time for a reunion that will fit in everyone's schedule without creating conflicts. The best way to ensure the most people can attend is to plan far enough in advance, so that you can reserve the destination and time you want, and family members can mark their calendars.

At Chimney Corners Resort, a popular 300-acre vintage resort on Crystal Lake in Benzie County, guests reserve cabins for family reunions as much as three years ahead of time, says long-time employee Becky Ogilvie.

"We have some families who've been coming here for more than 50 years. It's a tradition," Ogilvie says. Some make reservations for the following year when they check out for the current one. "May, June and late August, we have the most availability." But she also suggests that families consider a reunion in the fall, when the leaves are out and the resorts are less busy.

 

4. How long do you want it to last?

A. An afternoon
B. A weekend
C. A week

All-day or evening reunions may make it easier for family members to attend, especially if they're nearby. But those who've traveled farther may want a longer stay to make the most out of their trip. For instance, if you decide to go camping in Silver Lake over the weekend and you have relatives coming in from California, perhaps offer to have them stay over at your home for a few days before or after the official event – or point out other activities nearby they can go to after the reunion ends. Generally, resorts offer long weekend or one-week reservations for family reunions.

5. What kind of budget do you have?

A. Everyone will pay their own way
B. Grandparents will foot the bill for the lodging while each family covers other expenses
C. You'll ask for money as it comes up

Ah, the money question. While it may seem uncomfortable to discuss budgets openly with family, it's important to establish who's paying for what to avoid any confusion or hurt feelings. The budget might not be as important for a smaller gathering, or an all-day event at the park, but if you're traveling to a resort or even a campsite, you'll need to figure out how much each person needs to contribute to the costs and when they'll pay for it.

Anticipate the questions that might come up and possible solutions before you propose the budget – say you're going to Traverse City and your family lives in Royal Oak, but you have relatives flying in from Kansas. Since the faraway relatives had to pay airline costs, should they still pay the same as everyone else for the campsite? Your brother has been unemployed for several months while other family members are fully employed, should you ask others to help contribute to a 'group family reunion fund'?

You might call around to different potential family reunion locations to compare costs. For example, at Chimney Corners, Ogilvie says she gets calls all the time from families who explain what their budget is and then ask what they can get for it. "I help them figure out how many cottages they'll need and explain what we have available on the property," says Ogilvie. The cottages come fully equipped with pots and pans, so families can cook for themselves – but, during the summer months, guests receive food credits to use on property with their weekly rentals. Activities like paddleboats, tennis and fire pits are available at no additional cost.

"So for a full week, with 32 people, you'd need two cottages, which would be around $7,000, but would also include a $450 food credit," she says. Each person then would pay around $218.75 for his or her stay. Again figuring out who pays what is a conversation that should happen before you pay your bill, because resorts don't tend to divide it up for you like a waiter at a restaurant might.

6. Who will be involved in coordinating it?

A. You'll pick two to three relatives to help you make key decisions
B. You'll ask each person involved to share their ideas as you go
C. You'll do it all!

Planning a family reunion doesn't take that much time and effort, right? Not quite. Again, the answer to this question depends on how long you plan to meet and where you'll be planning your get-together. Be sure to set aside time to put the event together. You might divide up some of the reunion tasks, like activities or food. Consider using technology to make your job easier. You could set up a Facebook page, blog or even email group list to better coordinate the event with family members.

7. What kind of activities will you have?

A. You'll ask different relatives to come up with activities on certain days
B. You'll select from activities offered at the resort where you'll be going
C. You'll figure it out once everyone is there

Sure, you don't want to over-plan family reunion activities. But you also don't want to leave everything so open that people keep asking, "What do you want to do?" and getting the response, "I don't know, what do you want to do?"

The campsite or resort you're staying at may already have activities for you to chose from that are either available as part of your lodging cost or for an additional fee. Along with reviewing those options (or having a family member be in charge of figuring out what's available in the area), you can also assign different family members a day, or parts of the day to come up with activities.

Say your family reunion lasts four days and you have four siblings with their families attending, along with your parents and grandparents. Maybe you could ask each sibling to come up with activities for a day and then ask parents and grandparents to come up with nightly activities. Again, this doesn't have to be elaborate or down to the minute, but having a general idea of what everyone will be doing may guarantee some memorable moments.

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