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November 18, 2007 -- Family Reunion Planning Tips -- (Essence Magazine Page R6)

Great Destinations

We love the old reunion standbys - Atlanta, Oakland, D.C., Raleigh, and Durham - but a locale farther afield might add spice to your gathering. Some ideas to consider:

Theme Parks

From Walt Disney World and Epcot (disneyworld.com) in Orlando, Florida, to Six Flags Great America (sixflags.com) in Gurnee, Illinois, a theme park provides an instant focal point for your event. Young families can hit the roller coasters while the grands picnic and enjoy some adult conversation until the troops return.

Cruises

Glide through the waters off Alaska or sail away to the exotic Caribbean. Royal Caribbean International (royalcaribbean.com) offer a reunion package for a minimum of eight guests, while Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity X Club (celebritycruises.com) offers activities for everyone, includes magic shows, karaoke, and babysitting for children under the age of 12.

Safaris and Tours

Take in some of the world's most gorgeous terrain and explore Africa's fascinating history (safari.go2africa.com has ideas for getaways with kids). Spector Travel of Boston (spectortravel.com) specializes in Africa Roots & Culture to such countries as Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Benin.

Beach Houses

Rent a house along the Bahamian or Mexican shore, or lease a villa on Lake Como in Italy. (Vacation Rentals by Owner, vrbo.com, lists short-term leases around the world.) Closer to home, consider the Sea Islands of South Carolina or Georgia or Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

Spa Resorts

As much as we relish our family legacies, the air can get downright tense when we all come together. A Swedish massage might be one of the best gifts you can give your people. (For ideas, check out familytravelfiles.com/reunions or spafinder.com.)

Family Reunion Tips

Make it kid-friendly

Set up a puzzle that kids can work on throughout the weekend. Provide chalk for hopscotch, bubbles, double Dutch jump ropes, crayons and coloring books, and toys and games for preschoolers. For older kids, stage an American Idol-style competition, sans the Simon-esque stinging criticism, or invite the talented comedian, spoken-word poet or singer to provide the commercial-break entertainment.

Establish traditions

McLean's three-day reunions include a formal recognition of accomplishments (graduations, promotions, births, weddings) and a candle-lighting ceremony to honor deceased family members. Another useful tradition: Each year the family of Aisha Fikes Allen, 29, of Hyattsville, Maryland, raises funds to assist its college-bound teens.

Stay Connected

Record the festivities, then after the reunion, send each family a photo or a DVD. Or consider a family Web site where everyone can upload pictures, post recipes and blog about Cousin Joan's wedding or Uncle Charlie's ninetieth birthday party. Four years ago, Brenda Cannon, 52, then a Microsoft engineer, created just such a site after her own family get-together.

Now she runs FamilyLobby.com, an Irving, Texas-based enterprise that customizes Web pages to connect families year-round. Her site underlines the true purpose of all the hard work: deepening familial bonds. "When I began researching Black family reunions 20 years ago," says Vargus, "many claimed the Black family was vanishing. Yet I saw us coming together to reunite in record numbers. Whatever our difficulties, for us, the value of family has always remained strong."


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