Figure out what type of reunion to have
If sweet and simple is appealing to you, and your family isn’t too scattered, you have several easy solutions.
One is to host a picnic at a Florida park. It takes minimal planning and doesn’t cost much. For example, Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park in Hollywood features a picnic area with grills right next to the beach, as well as fishing, canoeing, swimming, boating, and even shore-diving. Admission is only $4 for asingle-occupant vehicle and $6 for a vehicle with as many as eight people.
Another easy-to-plan option is hosting a dinner and reception at a restaurant or resort. You’ll only need to make reservations, plan a couple activities, and let your relatives know where you’ll be going.
If you’re planning a big reunion, one centered on a theme park like Disney World, or one that will bring family together from around the country or around the globe, read on.
Form a committee
As soon as you decide to have a big reunion, you should form a committee and delegate tasks. Starting a year before your event or even longer is ideal, because you’ll need time to check out likely sites, allow people to budget and get them on board.
Decide whom to invite
Generally, bigger is better as far as reunions go. If you can’t include every branch of the family tree, decide the boundaries for whom you’ll invite – first cousins, second cousins, or whatever ― then include everyone in that group.
Figure out how long your reunion will be
If your family gets together annually, a weekend may do just fine. But if you haven’t seen each other in a long time, or folks will be traveling long distances, you may want to allow a few extra days for those who can stay.
Pick a date
Take a casual survey of each nuclear family to see what times are best for them. Consider planning around a significant milestone in your family, like a 50th wedding anniversary or a special birthday.
Determine how much everyone’s willing to spend
While you’re conducting the above mentioned casual survey, you’ll want to ask about this, too. Remember to consider the financial situation of your entire family and plan accordingly. You want your peeps to be able to afford attending!
Create a Budget
Reunion attendees will pay some expenses directly, such as their travel, hotel and some meals. Yet it’s essential to establish a budget for anything that will be paid for or reimbursed by the reunion committee. Consider opening a separate bank account, because it will make it so much easier to track your spending. Include every item you can think of to put on the budget, even if it’s small, like postage stamps.
To figure out the cost per attendee, take your final cost and divide it by the number of people attending. When you send out your invitations, make sure you specify in detail what the cost per person or family includes.
It’s a good idea to set a deadline prior to the reunion by which you’ll require at least a percentage of the costs. You’ll need money for advance fees and deposits. And even if it’s okay with you if everyone just pays you back later, folks are less prone to cancel at the last moment if they’ve already paid.
Decide on your location
Once you’ve decided on dates, have an approximate number of people, and an idea of a budget for accommodations, you can pick your destination.
Ideally, you should pick a spot with something for everyone. For instance, in Fort Myers Beach, your family can enjoy adventures like Jet Skiing, explore the shops, or escape to a quiet, soul-soothing stretch of sand at Lovers Key State Park.
It also offers a kid-friendly carousel and experiences like a ropes course.
At the Hilton, your little ones can enjoy the kids programs while you enjoy some adult-time. And everyone is sure to love its sugar-sand beach and emerald-hued waters.
Wherever you go and wherever you stay, make sure that everyone can spread out, particularly if reunion is going to be more than a couple of days. Cramped quarters are not conducive to reconnecting in a positive way.
Plan an itinerary
It’s fun to share experiences, and you should plan some group activities that bring your gang together and encourage them to talk: a dolphin eco-tour or an event like a sand sculpting festival are two examples. Games provide another way to connect with each other, whether it’s corn hole on the beach, sports, or just a board game. It’s just as important to allow free time, so folks can kick back, visit with each other, or do whatever pleases them.
Communicate early and often
Your posse will need to work around school and jobs, as well as budget for a vacation and reunion fees. So as soon as possible, mail postcards to attendees with the reunion dates and information about the host city. Keep everyone informed regularly. A few weeks before the reunion, send a little reminder regarding likely weather, the planned activities, and a list of items that guests should bring.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all the planning that goes into a reunion, but the Visitor & Convention Bureaus of many Florida destinations will help you out—for free. These folks are experts at planning reunions, and can help you find the right hotel, campground or resorts, plus recommend activities, facilities and more. Their assistance will make your task much easier, and make your family reunion a complete success.
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA