How to Plan a Family Reunion

By: Patrick E. George
Is the local park a perfect place for a family reunion?
Is the local park a perfect place for a family reunion?
AP Photo/Cameron Bloch

When you get an invitation to a family reunion, your response probably goes one of two ways:

The invitation can be greeted with joy at the prospect of seeing old loved ones and meeting new additions to the family. Or, depending on how you feel about your relatives or in-laws, it can also be met with slumped shoulders and a groan, along with the need to take some ibuprofen.


But let's say you get tapped to organize the reunion, or decide to throw one on your own. Planning a family reunion takes a lot of work. Who gets invited? Where do you hold it? Will you have food or drinks? Is it going to be a sort of big family vacation? How much do you want to spend?

Obviously, every family is unique in its own way. Sometimes a family reunion can involve hundreds of people from the same clan. Other times, it means getting to see just a few aunts, uncles and cousins that you haven't seen in a long time. If you're in charge of planning the reunion, it's your call on how big you want to go. Family reunions can involve family vacations to Disney World, cruises, camping trips, barbecues in the backyard and just about everything in between.

In this article, we'll discuss the logistics of planning family reunions, and offer some tips on how to decide exactly what to do.


Family Reunion Locations

Walt Disney World is a popular family reunion location.
Walt Disney World is a popular family reunion location.
AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove

The family reunion mainstays have always been the picnic or the backyard barbecue. It's relatively easy and inexpensive and it can be centered on one family member's home. If you or someone in your family has a big yard or a good park in their community, this may be your best option for entertaining a big crowd.

However, if you're thinking of making the family reunion into a giant family vacation, picking the right venue is extremely important.


Consider the various members of your family and what they like to do. Is your family outdoorsy? A big camping trip might be the way to go. Just remember, you'll want a place that has accommodations for everyone. Some campgrounds even specialize in family reunions.

For example, the North Landing Beach Campground and RV Resort in Virginia Beach, Va., includes custom family reunion packages with picnic tables, a theater system, playgrounds, pools, volleyball and basketball courts and camping sites [source: North Landing Beach]. It's good to find a site that offers something for everyone.

If you have lots of small kids involved, family reunions at a theme park may be a good option. It's hard to do better than Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and the resort even has tools for family vacation planning that include itinerary management, lodging assistance and personal help for those families traveling with large numbers of children [source: Walt Disney World Resort.]

The park famously includes lots of on-site hotels at various price levels, so no matter what each family's individual budget may be, you'll be able to keep everyone in your group close when you have your celebration.

There are lots of other options depending on what you like to do. Cruises, dude ranches, weekends at fancy hotels, fishing trips and other family vacations all work, too. Just remember that not everyone in your family may like to do those things, and your job as the planner is to attempt to keep everyone happy.

In this next section, we'll discuss how to spice up your reunion with different themes.


Family Reunion Themes

If you're going to be around huge numbers of relatives, you may as well find ways to make it a fun time for all. Why not add a theme to your family reunion?

Again, this all depends on your family's size and what their interests are. If everyone (or mostly everyone, anyway) is of a certain cultural heritage, consider centering the theme on that. You could have lots of Mexican or Italian food, decorations and maybe even play some music from those countries.


The theme can also focus on an important coinciding event, like a 50th wedding anniversary, a graduation, a new baby arrival or maybe an elderly family member's birthday. You could even do a throwback theme to a certain decade you and your family members remember fondly, like the 1950s or the 1980s, for instance.

If you're family's extra fun, encourage costumes that match the event as well. If you're going on a cruise, consider having everyone dress in pirate garb to spice things up a little. If your group has a sentimental family vacation spot, consider going back and re-living one of your favorite family vacations from years ago.

Basically, think of it as a big party with all your relatives invited. Try to plan something that's fun and includes everyone. Be creative!

Now that you've hopefully picked a theme, what do you do at the family reunion itself? Up next, we'll talk about reunion activities.


Family Reunion Activities

The three-legged race is almost always a favorite at family reunions.
The three-legged race is almost always a favorite at family reunions.
AP Photo/Sang Tan

The invitations are sent, the lodgings are booked, the plane tickets are purchased and everything appears to be in order for your big family reunion. Now one question remains: What is everyone going to do when they get there?

Obviously, if you're taking a big theme park family vacation, that won't be an issue. But for a camping trip, a picnic or simply a get-together at someone's home, you had better have some ideas about how to keep everyone entertained.


First of all, if you have small kids, you'll need to find safe and fun ways to keep them occupied. If the kids aren't having a good time, chances are, no one will be. Consider games, arts and crafts, coloring books, movie time or possibly even an entertainer like a clown. A swimming pool is also a great way for kids to have fun -- as long as there's adult supervision.

Remember, games aren't just for kids, either. Family reunions can feature three-legged races, softball and volleyball games, or whatever other activities your family is into. Another great idea is story time -- this is a great opportunity for the family elders to pass on some time-honored tales to the younger generation. You could even consider putting on a talent show, having a gift exchange, an eating contest or burying a time capsule to be unearthed at the next reunion [source:].

Perhaps the most important activity you'll want to do at your reunion involves a camera. Take lots and lots of pictures. You'll want to document the kids at that stage in their lives, just like you'll want lots of pictures of your elderly relatives, too. Who knows when everyone will be together next? And technology makes things easier than ever. You can share digital photos with the entire family using a photo sharing Web site, and you may also want to consider taking digital video of the reunion and uploading it to a Web site like YouTube. That way, everyone will be able to enjoy the memories of the reunion, regardless of where they are.

On the next page, we'll address some tips you'll need to know if you're the one planning the reunion.


Tips for Planning Family Reunions

We're hoping that after reading this article, you'll have at least a few ideas about how to start planning your family reunion. Here are a few points to keep in mind so that everything runs smoothly from start to finish:

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Everyone wants to have fun at family reunions, but there's no sense in going bankrupt doing it. Also, make sure everyone in the family can afford to partake in your plans -- a big theme park vacation may not suit everyone's pocketbooks.
  • Keep everyone in the communication loop. Send out a "save the date" notice, and keep track of exactly who is planning to attend and who won't be there.
  • For big events, assign different tasks to your family members. Have someone who's in charge of games and activities, someone in charge of the cleanup and so on.
  • Offer plenty of things to do, but don't overdo it. You'll also want to have some "free time" built into the schedule so relatives can talk to each other and just enjoy one another's company [source: Neal].
  • You can have t-shirts or other gifts specially made up for your reunion as keepsakes from the event. Make sure you have enough for everyone, and get sizes from your guests beforehand.
  • Make sure everyone is on the same page. Create a schedule of events and ensure directions are clear.
  • Bring enough food and drinks for everyone! Remember, it's always better to have too much than not enough.

These are all good tips. However, don't forget the most important tip for planning a family reunion: remember to have fun and include everyone! Families are dramatically diverse in ages and interests, but everyone wants to have a good time when they're together at a reunion.


For more information about family reunions and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

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  • Top 5 Family Reunion Games
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  • How to Plan a Family Reunion Cruise


  • "Activities." (May 13, 2010)
  • Neal, Carole E. "Family Reunions - Celebrating Your Roots! Tips for Planning Your Reunion." African American Genealogical Society of Northern California. June 20, 1998. (May 13, 2010)
  • North Landing Beach. "Family Reunions, Groups and Clubs." (May 13, 2010)
  • Walt Disney World Resort. "Large Party Accommodations at Walt Disney World Resort." (May 13, 2010)