By Lisa Marie Hart
There is truth in ancestry, and sometimes the best way for people to reconnect with their roots begins with the names and faces on their own family trees. In today’s fast-paced, whirlwind society, family reunions are too few and far between: Limited time off, full schedules and geographical separations can create a considerable challenge for getting together. Yet, those same reasons make reunions of every shape and size more important than ever. More personal than an email, deeper than a phone call and capable of creating unspeakably powerful bonds that will endure far beyond sharing a few photos online, reuniting helps families stay connected through the waves of life’s changes.
The tradition of such grand gatherings didn’t fade away with evolving times; rather, they’ve adapted to take on a fun and practical new form to better suit today’s modern family. Whether it’s a vacation that feels like a family reunion or a family reunion that feels like a vacation, destination reunions are a profound and fast-growing trend that resonates with everyone, both young and young at heart.
A destination family reunion offers long, lazy days made for reminiscing, catching up on the latest family news, creating new memories and, as its greatest value, staying vibrant and strong as a family year after year. Sea Island Executive Meetings Manager Holly Hersey, who helps plan numerous reunions every year, notes that many families build their gatherings around a birthday, anniversary or other landmark family event.
Gretchen Johnston Carpenter has taken her daughters and their families to Sea Island for two destination reunions, including one that took place on her birthday. Both reunion trips were coordinated by her son-in-law, Jamie McLawhorn, who says that choosing a venue with exceptional service makes all the difference.
“Sea Island makes things easy for everyone, and our family is always comfortable there,” McLawhorn says. “With family holidays, someone is always hosting. At Sea Island, it feels like we are at a family home, but [Sea Island is] hosting.”
Hersey explains that booking well in advance for a destination gathering can help secure preferred dates and room types, ensuring that there’s plenty of time to work with staff to set up reservations and other group activities. “Some families assign one person to coordinate dinners and another to coordinate activities,” she says.
With so many different appetites, the task of reaching a consensus for catered events risks becoming an event in itself—all the more reason to plan ahead. Hersey recommends narrowing down the selection to two or three menus that will suit any palate. If the reunion centers around a birthday celebration or anniversary, the celebrants should be given the honor of selecting the cuisine.
Before coordinating any activities, it’s most important to consider what the family hopes to take away from the experience, Hersey adds. Whether families seek a laid-back stay with plenty of opportunities to reminisce and reconnect, or days packed with adventure and exploration, all reunion itineraries should be personalized to maximize time spent together.
McLawhorn says the Sea Island staff worked hard to understand how his family wanted to spend their time and provided customized suggestions to suit all ages—he remembers the father-and-son fishing trips as just one of the many highlights.
“Count on a family meal together each night and a few group activities like a fishing trip or a family shooting tournament,” Hersey says. “The tournaments are a great confidence builder for children—who can shoot at the air rifle bull’s-eye course—and a unique family competition. … The instructors make sure that every person in the family experiences success.”
“We often do things separately, then end up all running into each other later at the pool or for family beach time—which is the best,” McLawhorn adds. “Though our children might say the best parts [are] the family outings for ice cream.”
The best advice Hersey can offer, however, is to forget overplanning. “Overscheduling is a sure way to exhaust yourself and your family,” she explains. “Build in free time, and everyone will have a great time.”
One or two planned activities per day is more than enough to allow individuals time to explore personal interests, such as tennis, golf, kayaking or just soaking up sun on the beach.
Personalization is key to a modern and meaningful family reunion. The best destination gatherings are packed with surprises, designed to make memories and include a personal touch at every turn that represents each family’s history, preferences and own unique style of getting the most out of life’s journey, together.