By Beth Buehler
It’s time to pull out the family contact list and begin making plans to bring the whole crew together in Colorado. For some, that may mean multiple generations from great-grandparents clear down to the youngest babies of the bunch. Lots of personalities and interests to cover; yet, no one has a lot of time to handle the planning.
My parents have organized destination family reunions for my immediate family in conjunction with their wedding anniversaries, the big ones like #40 and #50. We still share favorite memories about those trips that provided priceless time together. My sisters and I sent our parents weekly surprises leading up to their 40th anniversary trip and made cloth bags for everyone to take on the flight and designed shirts to wear on the night we went out for dinner to celebrate. A high-end crystal seashell commemorated the beach trip anniversary, and a crystal captain’s wheel was given to my parents as a keepsake for the 50th anniversary boat excursion.
Colorado-style, the gathering could be a ranch vacation, a stay at a camp or cabins at one of the YMCA of the Rockies’ two Colorado locations, or a summer getaway to the mountains or cities in a full-service, plush hotel when the kids are out of school.
The Place – Are people driving, flying or taking the train or a combination of all three? That may help narrow down the destination. Denver, Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction are on Amtrak’s train route providing a unique way to traverse the miles, and the Ski Train from Denver to Winter Park is a neat way to provide a city/mountain experience. Colorado Springs, Denver and Grand Junction all have several flights daily, and ski towns are never too far from airports.
The People – What are family members’ interests? If the group loves the outdoors, book a stay in the mountains, along a body of water, or at a resort with a big outdoor pool and along a recreation path like The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain.
How about a resort with tennis courts and/or golf like The Inverness Hotel & Conference Center (soon to become part of the Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand), The Gant in Aspen or Cheyenne Mountain Resort and The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs?
Families who want to build in some brewery hopping, cultural outings and amusement park fun will be totally at home in towns like Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder. Towns with free buses like Crested Butte and Aspen, a free gondola like Telluride, and light rail, buses and B-Cycle in Denver make it easy to explore without cars.
The Theme – While a theme isn’t a necessity, it sure makes a family reunion more fun. Perhaps tie into the destination or activities family members love. If everyone golfs, golf shirts and golf balls with a family crest/logo and prizes for a golf or miniature golf tournament are fairly easy options. Or perhaps focus on music across the decades where everyone comes dressed as a favorite musician and picks a favorite song for a family play list. If mountain adventures are the focus of the trip, utilize a camp theme, organize a scavenger hunt and monogram backpacks and fill them with useful things like chapstick, sunscreen, trail mix, water bottles and area trail maps.
The Action – There is no shortage of activities to choose from in Colorado, no matter what the season. Send out a quick survey to family members with some activity choices to find out preferences. If it’s just immediate family, you may already know that downhill skiing isn’t for everyone so make sure there is a spa outting for those who don’t want to bundle up and consider a snowshoe adventure that the whole group can enjoy. Make it fun for little ones with colorful and small items to find along the way. Local outfitters can help guide horseback, rafting and all sorts of adventures and provide equipment and guides.
Hotel sales teams and local convention and visitor bureaus and tourism offices provide great advice about must-sees in their area, including museums, concerts, restaurants with private dining space and patios, and scenic picnic locations.
The Memories – It’s fun to go home with some sort of memories from the trip, whether it’s a welcome gift, hat from the destination or a matching shirt. Hire a photographer to take a family photo and make sure to have a way to share pictures and video after everyone goes home. My aunt and her family who are spread out across the country move around to various Colorado locations and like to rent large homes and take advantage of local activities like rafting. One time they had fun bringing a package of fake mustaches and taking candid photos; it can be as simple as that or renting a picnic shelter by one of Colorado’s beautiful lakes and having a Western-style meal catered.
The options for memorable family reunions are nearly endless with a little creativity and thoughtfulness sprinkled in. Whether it is an annual gathering or surrounding a special anniversary or birthday, consider these five tips and utilize local experts to make a Colorado family reunion one that is long treasured.
Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has helped plan family reunions and numerous meetings and events, and enjoys exploring Colorado in all seasons.