The Great-Outdoors Reunion
Best for: Camping fanatics, the cash-strapped.
Pros: It’s low-cost, and everyone can choose lodging that fits his own budget.
Cons: “National parks tend to book six months in advance, so that requires early planning,” warns Mack. Access can be difficult, too, as many parks are several hours away from a major airport. And if bad weather strikes, you could face several long days of playing Go Fish.
Where to go: If you can reserve a spot in time, national parks are a great bet, as most offer year-round activities for kids. The nationwide chain of KOA campground facilities (koa.com) provides another affordable option. Most offer cabins, RV hookups, and no-frills campsites to suit any level of outdoorsmanship; many also have swimming pools and other amenities on-site. The Newburgh, New York, location, in particular, throws in arts and crafts, basketball courts, and nighttime movies and offers a full-service reunion-planning package with activities, outings, and meals orchestrated specially for your group (from $87 a night for a cabin for four; reunion extras not included). Church-retreat grounds, like the Windermere Baptist Conference Center (windermereusa.org), in Roach, Missouri, are another alternative and have abundant outdoor activities (think cave tours, hiking trails, and parasailing) and the facilities to feed groups (motel-style lodging from $66 a night per family, with basic cabins for less and luxe lodges for more; three meals a day for $20 a head; some recreation costs are extra). Even the YMCA has reunion-appropriate destinations: The YMCA of the Rockies (ymcarockies.org), in Estes Park, Colorado, offers hotel-style lodging and family cabins and can arrange campfires, meals, and activities just for your clan (from $119 a night for a cabin for four; reunion extras not included).
Dealing with downtime: Be sure to bring plenty of board games, puzzles, and books to carry you through any foul-weather days. Or create a conversation-sparking deck of cards that features a family photo (about $20 a deck at shutterfly.com or kodakgallery.com).
Organizing meals: For meals not provided by the facility, designate each family to be the provider of a different meal for the whole group―whether it’s cooked over the campfire or trucked in from the nearest takeout joint.