Can 13 people, ranging in age from 4 to 75, coming from Arizona, California, Colorado, New York, and Ohio, easily get together for a week's vacation? I had no idea, but it was my job to find out.
My father had asked me to find a spot for him to treat our extended family to a reunion getaway for his 75th birthday. He got the idea from his friends who had started to vacation with their children's families. Multigenerational travel is a fast-growing segment of the leisure travel industry. In a 2005 survey of 1,655 travelers, 35% of grandparents report having taken at least one vacation with grandchildren during the previous 12 months, up from 30% in 2003, according to Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, an Orlando travel marketing firm.
My dad figured this vacation would be a great opportunity for our far-flung family -- which included his fiancée, three daughters, two sons-in-laws, four grandchildren, and his brother and sister-in-law -- to reconnect and relax. It was. We spent the week at the Half Moon resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I realize that we were quite lucky and that for many a trip like this could end up horribly for everyone. Looking back, I can see a number of reasons why our trip turned out as well as it did.
APPOINT A TRIP PLANNER
Putting one or two people in charge of coordinating the trip can pave the way to a more harmonious experience. The person chooses the dates, books the lodging, and may handle the money and deposits.
At the time of our escape, my children were 4 and 5 1/2. My father and sisters understood that a long airplane journey crossing multiple time zones would be difficult for my kids. We chose a Caribbean island instead of a cruise, a popular choice for multigenerational travel, because my husband and I get seasick. My older sister's only request was that we go during the Christmas break so her girls, 11 and 13, wouldn't miss school.
ENLIST A TRAVEL AGENT
Once we made the where and when decisions, I enlisted the help of Barbara Nichuals, president of Bayside Travel in Bronxville, N.Y. You'll want to find someone like Nichuals who specializes in planning family trips and has visited the resorts. Knowing the specifics of the properties firsthand, such as the size of the rooms, quality of the food and service, and availability of activities, minimizes the chances people will be unhappy. What's more, travel agents can often leverage their relationships with resorts and cruise lines to get better accommodations or other upgrades.
Our needs as a group were many. The men wanted golf and tennis; my sisters and I requested water sports and horseback and bicycle riding; and my aunt and stepmom-to-be looked forward to shopping and spa treatments. My father wanted to relax on the beach as well as do some sightseeing. My husband and I were also hoping for babysitting or a kids' club. Half Moon had it all.
CONSIDER EVERYONE'S BUDGET
We were lucky my father could foot the entire bill. He set a $30,000 limit, which was to include travel accommodations, food, and activities for everyone. With that in mind, Nichuals suggested an all-inclusive resort because we would know the cost in advance. Make sure you inquire about group discounts. Many resorts offer lower rates for parties of eight or more.
PLAN EARLY My task was made easier because I started planning nearly a year in advance. We had our choice of rooms at any of the resorts we considered, and we were able to book good flight times at reasonable prices. Given the long lead time, we purchased travel insurance that would refund about 70% of the cost if illness or other unforeseen circumstances forced us to cancel the trip. The cost varied, from $105 to $190 per person, depending on the age of the traveler. We paid about $1,300 to insure our trip.
COORDINATE YOUR TRAVEL
Choose a destination that everyone can reach easily. We didn't want anyone to be up all night traveling. Our flights arrived about the same time, allowing us to rendezvous at the airport and take a minibus to the resort. You also want to consider the distance between airport and hotel. Ours was an easy 15-minute drive.
DEFINE TOGETHERNESS IN ADVANCE
Being on a family trip doesn't have to mean being together all the time. Find a place that allows for individual rhythms as well as getting together.
Half Moon has large private villas to cater to family reunions and weddings. A villa, complete with a private pool, maid, and cook, would have been quite luxurious, and a bit cheaper than the seven hotel rooms we rented side by side. But to my father's credit, he knew my sisters and I needed our own space and figured separate rooms would avoid family tension.
While we enjoyed meeting for breakfast, staking out our beach lounge chairs together, and pairing off for activities, we all cherished our late afternoon family time alone just to collect ourselves before dinner. As a group, we also took a couple of fun day trips to waterfalls and caverns.
For the first time in 30 years, I celebrated the New Year with my father and two sisters. We left Half Moon with wonderful memories.
By Toddi Gutner