Prepping for winter with deep lunges to get those quads in shape? Waxing your skis? If your idea of adventure includes snowflakes and slopes you have a lot of options. In fact, there are over 400 ski areas in operation across 37 states. But, which are the best?
Over the past decade+, select ski resorts like Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen Snowmass, Park City, Jackson Hole, and Telluride have consistently remained among the most highly rated destinations. These resorts have maintained their popularity due to a combination of factors including their terrain, snow reliability, lodging and dining options, and non-ski activities. Meanwhile other ski destinations have seen a rise or fall in their rankings and popularity due to several factors including:
Investment in Infrastructure: Resorts that invest in upgrading their lifts, expanding terrain, or enhancing visitor amenities tend to attract more visitors.
Weather and Climate Change: Snowfall patterns impact the popularity of ski resorts. Resorts that consistently receive ample snowfall remain popular, whereas those with less predictable conditions might see a decline.
Marketing and Branding: Effective marketing strategies can boost a resort's popularity, especially when targeting new demographics or international visitors.
Economic Factors: For example, resorts that offer more affordable options or package deals might see increased popularity in times of economic downturn.
Access and Connectivity: The ease of access to a resort, including proximity to airports and major cities, can affect its popularity.
Global Events: Events like the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted travel and tourism, leading to shifts in the popularity of destinations based on travel restrictions and health concerns.
The National Ski Areas Association estimates that roughly 12 million people visited a U.S. snowsport resort during the 2022/2023 season but, from our research, there isn't a definitive source of ski resort popularity over time.
Ski magazines (e.g., SKI, and Snow), travel publications (e.g., Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler), and others regularly release rankings and reviews of ski resorts. These rankings are often editorial reviews or based on reader surveys and cover various categories like snow quality, terrain, and family-friendliness.
Having reviewed all of the above, here's our list of the top snowsport destinations for groups:
Vail, Colorado: Known for its extensive terrain, advanced lift system, and luxurious village atmosphere.
Aspen Snowmass, Colorado: Celebrated for its four diverse ski areas, high-end amenities, and lively town.
Park City, Utah: Praised for its large skiable area, quality of snow, and proximity to Salt Lake City.
Telluride, Colorado: Often highlighted for its challenging terrain, stunning scenery, and historic charm.
Breckenridge, Colorado: Popular for its high altitude, varied terrain, and vibrant town life.
Deer Valley, Utah: Consistently rated high for its customer service, grooming, and upscale amenities.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Known for its expert terrain, iconic runs like Corbet's Couloir.
Mammoth Mountain, California: Recognized for its lengthy season, diverse terrain, and accessibility from major California cities.
Beaver Creek, Colorado: Often included for its family-friendly atmosphere, high-quality snow, and luxury experience.
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia: Regularly recognized for its vast terrain, vibrant village life, and consistent snow quality.
Please let us know if we're missing your favorite ski or snowboard destination. Perhaps Heavenly or Killington? And check out our Ski Guide for Groups for a ski trip checklist and other planning resources.
As the days get shorter and the temperatures colder, it's a great time to start planning (or perhaps dreaming) of Spring and Summer adventures and travels. For inspiration, we're revisiting this story of two amazing weeks boating in the San Juan Islands. We also added resources to help you plan, or simply imagine, a glorious vacation on the water.
What a trip! Bird watching. Kayaking. Whales diving under our boat (and me in tears with a mixture of fear and awe). Dining like royalty on freshly caught crabs. Anchoring and tying up to docks around the islands. Meeting other boaters and reveling in the comaraderie. Feeling more relaxed than I have in years. Meeting up with family and dining with friends on various stops along our cruising route. Ah, that's the life. Now, back to reality and awaiting the Visa bill.
Each island has a unique flavor, as does each harbor and bay. Although the charm of Deception Pass State Park (on Whidbey Island), Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor (both on San Juan Island), Fisherman's Bay and Spencer Spit (both on Lopez Island) is specific to each locale and its inhabitants, I found Sucia Island the most mesmerizing.
Sucia is a state park unto itself without permanent residents, a fossil bed, a tranquil respite from urban sprawl, a sanctuary for birds, vultures, seals, and very possibly a mouse or two. It offered what I needed most - silent nights and a bounty of nature to explore. The abundant plant and tree diversity was pointed out to me by my forester companion (who also doubled as skipper and chef - what would I do without him?!). He identified species as we hiked along the 15 miles of trails around the island. I believe there were approximately 14 tree species alone; each time we saw a new one, our heads would tilt back to find the top (I was looking at the beauty of it all while he analyzed the tree health and age). Madrona, firs, cedar, oak, maple, juniper, aspen, alder, yew - the list seemed as endless as the seascape, viewable from various bays, inlets, rocky embankments, and beaches around the island. Sucia is a wonderland for nature lovers. I know I'll return.
Quick tips for boating trips:
- Take a wearable PFD (i.e., a personal flotation device) and wear it.
- Learn how to tie knots before the boating or sailing trip.
- Practice at least once jumping off the boat to the dock to secure the lines (when docking) so the vacation isn't your first time doing it (this is both for safety and to avoid looking like a novice at the docks when your boat cruises in).
- If you're not the skipper, be a great crew member by being alert for instructions and thinking ahead to anticipate problems and needs.
- In peak boating season, plan ahead for places you must see by making reservations (and wing the rest - leave room for flexibility based on weather and whim).
Ready to go but don't own your own boat?
Chartering a boat can be a wonderful experience, offering unique opportunities to explore coastal regions, islands, and open waters. Here are three well-regarded marketplaces where you can find boats to charter with and without crews:
Boatsetter: Boatsetter is a popular platform for boat rentals and charters. It offers a wide range of options, from small boats to luxury yachts, and includes additional services like hiring a captain.
GetMyBoat: This is another well-known boat rental and charter service, often referred to as the "Airbnb for boats." GetMyBoat provides access to thousands of boats in over 180 countries. You can find everything from kayaks and sailboats to luxury yachts.
Sailo: Sailo specializes in boat and yacht rentals and is known for its excellent customer service. They offer a range of boats, including sailboats, motorboats, and luxury yachts. It also provides options for both bareboat and skippered charters, catering to both experienced sailors and those who prefer a crewed experience.
When considering a boat charter, always ensure to check reviews, compare prices, and understand the terms and conditions of the rental, including safety procedures and insurance coverage.
Whether you charter a boat, take a cruise, or book a sunset sail as part of a group trip, boating is a great way to go. And many cities and destinations offer fun and accessible ways to enjoy time on the water without requiring any prior boating skills. However you go, getting out on the water offers a unique perspective.
This story was originally published September 2006.
The holidays are fast-approaching, a prime time for family gatherings. And one thing is a given at family events of any size: food. Organizing meals for family reunions and groups of friends can be delightful but also stressful and challenging.
Here are five tips to help you manage this smoothly:
1. Plan Ahead with a Menu: Start by creating a menu that caters to various tastes and dietary restrictions. If appropriate for your group, include a mix of vegetarian and gluten-free options to ensure everyone has something they can enjoy. Planning the menu in advance allows you to organize shopping lists and prepare some dishes ahead of time.
2. Use Sign-up Sheets for Potluck Style: If you're opting for a potluck, use digital sign-up sheets like Google Forms or Sheets. This helps to avoid duplicate dishes and allows family members to showcase their specialty recipes. It also distributes the cooking load, making it easier for everyone.
3. Bulk Cooking and Prepping: For main dishes, consider recipes that can easily be made in large quantities, like casseroles, stews, or pasta dishes. Preparing some components of the meals a day or two in advance can also reduce stress. Items like desserts can often be prepared in advance.
4. Set Up Stations: Organize the dining area with different stations for appetizers, main courses, desserts, and drinks. This helps to manage the flow of people and reduces crowding. Stations can be themed (e.g., a kids' station with child-friendly foods) to make the dining experience more fun.
5. Consider Dietary Needs and Allergies: Make sure to label foods, especially if they contain common allergens like nuts, dairy, or gluten. Offering a variety of choices ensures that those with dietary restrictions or allergies can still enjoy the meal.
The key is in planning and communication. Make sure everyone is aware of the plan and, as appropriate, their responsibilities. Our post on the art of delegation may also be helpful.
Ready to get started planning your group gathering? Here are a few excellent sources for recipes that can cater to a wide range of tastes and dietary needs:
Allrecipes.com: This website is a treasure trove of recipes from around the world. You can find dishes that suit a variety of dietary needs and preferences, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and kid-friendly options. The user reviews and ratings are particularly helpful in choosing the best recipes.
Food Network: Known for its celebrity chefs and cooking shows, the Food Network's website offers a vast collection of recipes. These range from simple, quick meals to more elaborate dishes. The site also provides cooking tips and video tutorials, which can be especially useful for trying out new or complex recipes.
Epicurious: This site is well-regarded for its sophisticated and diverse range of recipes. It's great for finding unique dishes that can add a touch of elegance to your gathering. Epicurious also includes user reviews, and many recipes come with step-by-step instructions and photos.
Taste of Home: Focused on home cooking, this website offers a plethora of recipes that are perfect for large family gatherings. The recipes often include options for large batches, which is ideal for a family reunion setting.
Remember, the essence of holiday gatherings is to create an atmosphere of warmth and joy. The goal is to create happy memories and enjoy the company of family and friends.
Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit!
There are several companies that will ship luggage and sports equipment (golf clubs, skis, bikes, snow and surf boards...) to your travel destination. These services take the hassle out of traveling with bulky bags and heavy items and make it easier to get your luggage and gear from point A to B. It’s a great way to simplify and de-stress the travel experience. Particularly larger, busier airports can be difficult to navigate. Skipping bag check lines and long waits at the baggage carousel (not to mention the oversize baggage area) can ease and streamline your trip. Plus, you won't have to rent equipment once you arrive.
Shipping options, pricing, and terms of service vary from company to company, so it's important to review the latest info from each provider including their shipping guarantees and insurance options. That said, in general, here’s how these service work:
1. Online Booking and Scheduling: Visit the company’s website to set up and book your shipment. During this process, you will be asked to provide details such as your pick-up location, destination, desired shipping dates, and information about the luggage or equipment you are sending. There may also be service level options (e.g., economy to express) based on how quickly you need your items to arrive.
2. Pricing: Pricing is determined by factors such as the size and weight of the items, the distance they will travel, and the chosen speed of service. Each company offers a quote at the time of booking.
3. Packing Your Items: You are responsible for packing your bags or equipment as if you were going to check them in at an airport. For specialty items like golf clubs or skis, companies like Ship Sticks may offer guidance or provide specialized packaging to protect your gear during transit.
4. Labeling and Documentation: After booking, you typically need to print out shipping labels and, if you're shipping internationally, any necessary customs documentation. In some cases, the company might send you label pouches or even arrange for a driver who will attach the shipping label upon collection.
5. Collection: You can arrange to have your items picked up from your home, office, or other specified locations. The actual collection is usually handled by third-party couriers affiliated with major shipping carriers like UPS, FedEx or DHL. Alternatively, you may also have the option to drop off your luggage at a local carrier store or a designated drop-off location.
6. Shipment and Tracking: Your items are then shipped through the company's logistics network, which is often a partnership with well-known carriers. Throughout the journey, you can track your shipment using tools provided by the company, receiving updates on their progress to your destination.
7. Delivery: Your items are delivered directly to the destination you specified, such as a hotel, golf course, vacation home, or even directly to a cruise ship or sporting event.
8. Guarantee: Many of these services come with a guarantee for on-time delivery, adding a layer of assurance. Their customer support teams are also typically available for inquiries and to resolve any issues that may arise.
Here's a list of some well-known and well-reviewed shipping services:
1. Luggage Forward - Luggage Forward specializes in door-to-door luggage and sports equipment shipping worldwide. Luggage Forward is known for its dependable service and has earned 4.7 stars on Trustpilot.
2. SendMyBag - SendMyBag has also gained a positive reputation for its international luggage shipping, often being noted for its competitive pricing and clear communication. SendMyBag has a 4.6 star rating on Trustpilot.
3. Ship Sticks - ShipSticks Ship Sticks has received accolades from golfers for their reliable and easy-to-use service, which is tailored to the needs of golf travel. Ship Sticks has a 4.7 rating on Trustpilot.
4. BikeFlights - For cyclists, BikeFlights is often the go-to service. The company has built a solid reputation for careful handling and efficient delivery of bicycles, which are items that require special attention during shipping. BikeFlights has a 4.8 rating on Trustpilot with over 40,000 reviews, the most of any company on this list.
5. Luggage Free - Luggage Free has been noted for its premium, white-glove service, and is often highlighted for providing a stress-free experience with high levels of customer satisfaction. Luggage Free has a 4.7 star rating on Trustpilot.
Each of these companies provide varying levels of service, tracking options and customer support to ensure your items arrive safely and on time. Availability of these services may also vary by location. We recommend visiting their websites to confirm availability, compare prices, service options, and recent customer reviews to find the best option for your specific needs. You may also want to consider choosing a company that specializes in the type of shipping you require.
Lastly, it's also worth considering the oversize baggage fees of the airline you're planning to travel. These fees vary airline-to-airline based on the size and weight of the baggage as well as the route (especially for international flights). Oversize and overweight baggage fees change over time but typically start at $100-$200 per bag, each way, and are often in addition to any standard checked bag fee. Some airlines may waive oversize fees for items like skis or golf bags on particular flights.
Group rates at hotels can offer several benefits, including:
Cost Savings: Hotels often, but not always, offer discounted rates for groups as an incentive to book multiple rooms. The terms and rates for groups are typically negotiable, allowing customization to meet the group's needs.
Room Blocks: Hotels can set aside a block of rooms for a group, ensuring that everyone is accommodated at the same location. This is especially helpful for events like weddings and reunions.
Flexible Payment Options: For group bookings, hotels may offer flexible payment options, such as individual payments by group members or a single invoice for the entire group.
Additional Amenities and Services: Groups may receive additional amenities and services as part of their booking, such as complimentary meeting spaces, upgraded rooms for organizers, or welcome gifts.
For more details, our Group Reservation Guide includes additional insights, a list of group reservation myths, and tips for speedy group reservations.
To help you get started, here are links to group booking resources for the six largest U.S. hotel chains:
Marriott: With more than 7,000 properties worldwide, Marriott is one of the largest hotel chains in the world. Its diverse portfolio caters to different market segments, ranging from luxury to budget. This includes The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis brands for high-end accommodations, Sheraton and Westin for mid-range options, and SpringHill Suites and Four Points for budget-conscious travelers. Residence Inn is an excellent choice for groups, offering in-suite kitchens that can help save on meal costs. Marriott’s group booking website makes it easy to explore group options across its 30 hotel brands.
Hilton: Hilton's portfolio of hotel brands also encompasses a range of offerings from luxury to economy. Its top brands include Hampton, Homewood Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, and DoubleTree, but it also features luxury properties such as The Waldorf Astoria Hotels. Hilton’s group tools make it easy to book room blocks of 10 to 25 rooms directly online and share lodging details with your group. Additionally, they offer custom websites for all events at Hilton hotels, giving attendees the flexibility to reserve their own rooms within the block, at their convenience, and at the group rate.
Wyndham: Wyndham Hotels' portfolio, consisting mostly of economy and midscale hotel brands, includes Super 8, Days Inn, Ramada, Howard Johnson, and Travelodge. Many of Wyndham’s brands are known for being family-friendly and offering competitive rates. Their group booking site makes it easy to search their properties and submit group booking requests.
InterContinental: InterContinental Hotel (IHG) offers a range of popular hotel brands serving travelers from the luxury to the economy market. Their brands include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Kimpton Hotels and Staybridge Suites. Smaller groups can instantly book rooms and events in one of their featured destinations. Larger groups can submit a request for proposal for any of their 6,000 destinations.
Choice Hotels: Choice is particularly well-known for their economy and midscale brands, such as Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, and Econo Lodge, which provide affordable accommodations. After booking a room block, groups receive a unique web link for their group. This link allows access to a dashboard from which guests can be invited, payments can be made or assigned, and the group’s bookings can be viewed. Trip organizers can book up to 40 rooms online. If more than 40 rooms are needed, there’s a form available to request a quote for your group or event.
Hyatt Hotels: From Park Hyatt’s luxury properties in major cities and resort destinations around the world, to Hyatt House which offers extended-stay accommodations, Hyatt operates over 1,000 hotels worldwide. With Hyatt “Meetings on Demand” you can reserve rooms, book event space, and select food and beverage packages online.
Want to explore other options? HotelPlanner.com is independent of any hotel brand and promises to meet or beat any price for your group's travel needs when reserving 10 rooms per night or more at a hotel of equal or greater quality. HotelPlanner.com caters to a range of groups, including sports teams, reunions, weddings, more.
Once you’ve decided on your group’s destination and have your lodging set, here are links to group booking resources for the five largest U.S. airlines to help you get there.
Groups looking for a bit of spookiness might consider staying at one of these well-known haunted hotels. Even if you're skeptical about the paranormal, a night at one of these ghostly lodgings might just make a believer out of you. And, to provide a glimpse into the eerie experience at these hotels, we’ve included TripAdvisor reviews from travelers who stayed at a few of these establishments.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado - The inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining," this hotel is rumored to be haunted by various spirits, including past guests and employees. As one TripAdvisor reviewer wrote, “Something tugged on my ear when I was in bed, and I knew my husband was sound asleep at the time. I thought I saw a woman wearing an old-fashioned hat looking down at me. If ghosts freak you out, stay elsewhere."
The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas - Famously known as "America's Most Haunted Hotel," the Crescent has been the focus of numerous paranormal investigations.
The Queen Mary in Long Beach, California - This retired ocean liner, now a hotel and museum, is purportedly haunted by the spirits of past passengers. Does this sound like a place you'd like to visit? "After dark, I took the Queen Mary's haunted tour and saw a lot of scary places including the haunted ballroom... and the pool, which was the creepiest place of all because a photo taken by another guest showed an apparition."
The Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas - This historic hotel is believed to be haunted by the spirits of past guests, including Teddy Roosevelt.
The Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California - This iconic beach hotel is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman who took her own life there in the 1890s. This reviewer shares their experience: "We were staying in Room 4101, in the California Cabanas. The last two nights, the local ghosts came to visit us—for hours they turned the lights on and off, moved around the room, and adjusted the temperature to extreme heat and cold. My advice: If you aren't able to handle this type of stuff, don't check in!"
The Marshall House in Savannah, Georgia - This historic hotel is said to be haunted by the ghosts of former guests and Civil War soldiers. What's the most haunted room you ask? "I was staying in room 414, which is rumored to be the most haunted room at the hotel. In the middle of the night, I woke up to a spirit nurse trying to take my temperature."
The Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles, California - This iconic hotel is said to be haunted by the ghosts of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift.
For those interested in venturing further afield, here are five notable haunted hotels in Europe:
The Langham Hotel in London is one of the city's most prestigious hotels and is known for its alleged ghost sightings. Guests and staff have reported seeing various apparitions, including a man in Victorian evening wear and a German prince who leapt from a fourth-floor window.
Dragsholm Slot in Zealand is an 800-year-old castle-turned-hotel, said to be one of the most haunted places in Denmark. It is reputedly home to several ghosts, including the "White Lady," who was imprisoned in the castle by her father, and the "Earl of Bothwell," who was held captive in the castle and reportedly died there.
Ballygally Castle Hotel in Northern Ireland is said to be haunted by a former resident, Lady Isobel Shaw, who leapt to her death from a window after being locked in her room by her husband.
Dalhousie Castle Hotel in Midlothian, Scotland dates back to the 13th century and is believed to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Catherine, a young woman who died there in the 17th century.
Parador de Jaén in Jaén, Spain is located in a 13th-century castle and is said to be haunted by the ghost of a former Arabic princess. Guests have reported hearing mysterious noises and seeing shadowy figures in the castle's halls.
Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Follow these basic steps to ensure the family reunion is a wild success.
1. Start planning today. Family reunions can be particularly time consuming. So start early. Planning in advance will increase the odds that more people will be able to attend the reunion, which translates into more fun for everyone. By booking early, you can most likely secure better rates and/or reserve your preferred hotel or retreat site, flights and other travel arrangements.
2. Guest list size. Deciding which members of the family to invite and how far to extend the family tree can create stress and challenges. It's akin to planning a wedding invitation list. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and yet you have to draw the line somewhere. This is a personal family decision. While you can extend the invitation to more people over time, in order to begin the planning process it's critical to understand how big of an event you are planning and to have a rough sense of who will be attending.
3. Money matters. Your group's budget is perhaps the most important consideration to understand up-front. When estimating the expense for each attendee, consider the costs of transportation (by air or car), lodging, food and entertainment. With input from other family members, set a budget that will be comfortable for the vast majority of the family. If you will be collecting money from attendees to help cover the costs of special events and activities, keep detailed records of your expenses including any deposits for hotels, caterers or other service providers. Unfortunately, trip organizers are often left holding the bag with extra expenses. Don't be shy to ask for contributions. And, while you want to keep the event as affordable as possible, make sure you add some buffer to your budget. If there's extra money left over, splurge on a special treat for the group, or bank the funds for the next reunion. Most importantly, plan activities that can be enjoyed regardless of budget: potlucks, games, music, storytelling.
4. Choose the date. First of all, know in advance that you will not be able to accomodate everyone's schedule. With that in mind, here are hints to get the best date locked in:
- If you're scheduling the reunion around a particular event (i.e., a grandparent's birthday or 50th wedding anniversary), holiday or school break then your options may be limited. If you're not date constrained, and if there are particular family members who absolutely must be there, speak with them first.
- Next, talk to key family members (i.e., Uncle Bob who keeps in close contact with many people in and beyond his branch of the family tree) to determine if there are other events that might create a conflict for a number of possible attendees.
- Then select 3-4 dates that provide sufficient planning time, and send these dates to the family.
- Ask people to let you know which dates work best for them of the 3-4 options you provide, but make sure to emphasize that the majority rules so no one feels singled out if they are not able to attend.
- Many people may not be able to fully commit six or more months in advance so you may need to request guesstimates. To increase your response rate and make decision making easier, give people a deadline and ask them to rank their date preferences.
- Finally, stick to your decision. Changing dates mid-stream can create a phenomenal amount of additional work.
Continue reading Part 2.
Continued from Part 1.
Organizing a family reunion? Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Here are tips for finding locations, hotels and activities to ensure the family reunion is a smash hit.
5. Location, location, location. As in real estate, location is key. If you have a tradition of rotating between the homes of various family members or there is an obvious central location, this decision is easy. However, if your family is spread out and there’s no pre-established plan, choosing the location may seem daunting. Many families converge at places such as Disneyland and other theme parks, top vacation destinations such as Hawaii or San Diego, they explore national parks and monuments and also gather in urban, rural and resort towns across the United States. Your choices are endless and depend on group size, budget, time of year and the type of activities best suited to attendees.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you find the location just right for your next family reunion:
- Can the majority of folks easily get to the location without a huge expense (or are they willing to pay to travel that far)?
- Does the location provide fun and engaging activities for all ages from kids to seniors?
- Does the location have multiple activity options both indoor and outdoor (for those who need to get out of the sun, rain, or cold)?
- Is there anyone in your family or extended family that may have difficulty in a location (wheelchair considerations, health issues, etc.)?
- Parents with infants have a special set of needs (nap times, feeding times, diaper changes) and may require easy-access to a quiet room.
- Will in-laws (who may not be as excited as y'all about the prospect of spending an entire weekend sitting around listening to old family stories) have interesting things to do?
- Check with the convention and visitors bureau (CVB) before setting a date to ensure there isn’t a major event in town to avoid filled hotels and a location busier than normal. On the other hand, you could make a public festival or event part of the fun!
- Explore the advantages/disadvantages of having the family reunion in the same location as a previous year. There is comfort for people in being on familiar ground; plus, you can always try new activities, food and places to stay in that same location. Survey your group and find out if they prefer a new destination or an old favorite.
- Be flexible and you’ll have the greatest chance of securing a better rate. Keep in mind peak or off-season for various locations. For example, occupancy rates in Florida are very high over spring break but typically much lower in August. Granted, Florida is much hotter in August, but prices are significantly lower.
6. Hotels, resorts and vacation rental homes. To ensure that you are able to secure your desired lodging at the best possible rate, it's best to start the search as early as possible. Key considerations in selecting the right place(s) to stay for your group include:
- Your group's per night budget
- Number of rooms required
- Hotel's location
- Amenities required (on-site restaurant, pool, in-room kitchens, etc.)
- Meeting space and catering services available (if required)
- Shuttle service and parking
When making hotel reservations, simplify this part of the group organizing process by offering options in a range of price categories (for larger groups, arrange room blocks at multiple hotels):
- Budget (typically 1-star and some 2-star hotels)
- Moderate (mainly 3-star and some 2-star hotels)
- Higher-end and luxury (4-star and 5-star hotels)
- Suite hotels, houses for rent, villas, condos with in-room kitchens (often ideal for groups with young children)
7. Schedule events and activities. Why? They increase the fun factor, offer bonding opportunities, serve as fodder for conversations, jokes, photo-ops and turn into life-long memories.
Events and activities vary from formal sit-down meals to casual barbeques, from guided tours to theater, and from physical activities to family-oriented games. Activity-planning tips:
- Activities such as swimming, tennis, golf, bicycling, walking/hiking, shopping and visiting museums and historical landmarks provide great entertainment for family members young and old.
- Be creative and leverage the talents and skills of your group when thinking about food, decorations and entertainment for these activities.
- Schedule two events per day as well as "optional" choices such as a golf tournament or a hike so people can participate or opt out.
- Everyone may not know each other (spouses, for example) so think about ways to introduce people to each other. Nametags with names and favorite villain, cartoon, sport, animal, kitchen gadget, dessert or vacation spot (you choose!) is sure to spark conversation.
- Make sure that there will be enough space and food per activity.
- Alert the group when meals are incorporated or provided with activities. If a stop at a world-famous milkshake joint follows a white-water rafting excursion, you might entice more people to go rafting.
- Have a Plan B in case of rain.
- Family reunions are designed to bring people together so plan events and activities that encourage group interaction. Something as simple as a potluck brings everyone to one place for mingling.
- Provide games (Scrabble, cards, other board games) so people can sit down and relax without feeling anti-social.
- Bring a first-aid kit on excursion-type activities such as hiking, biking, touring.
- Provide a list of what to wear and bring for each activity.
Finally, thank you to everyone who sent us feedback. Here's what we heard:
Suzanne B. shared, "We were looking for options as everyone seems to be strapped financially. I appreciate your time and service in compiling this for us."
Marina T. wrote, "Planning these sort of things are really time consuming and I think you just made it that much easier :)"
And Marilynn S. added, "I think it is SO important to plan games and activities that can be enjoyed regardless of budget. Sometimes a reunion at a park or campground is more work than booking a hotel or cruise ship but isn't it worth having ALL your family attend - not just those that can afford the reunion fees?"
This article was originally published March 2006.
Weddings come in all shapes and sizes, like the brides that are in charge. I say "brides in charge" because, let's face it grooms, once you plan that elaborate proposal and are engaged, the bride takes over from there. Yes, you help. But it usually is in reaction to requests, however subtle or overt, from your bride to be.
Ceremonies roughly fall into five major categories: Budget, moderate, luxury, elopement and destination weddings. I recently participated in my sister's wedding which fell somewhere between budget and moderate and was a bit of a destination wedding at a lakeside resort. Every detail was perfectly planned and the wedding went off without a hitch all because of the bride's event planning experience and gentle task-manager skills.
Family, friends, bridesmaids and groomsmen were excited for the wedding and geared up for an extended weekend at a lakeside resort. And we were all assigned tasks to do either weeks before the wedding, the day of the ceremony or after the ceremony. When we arrived at the wedding location two days before the event, my lovely bride sister had a three-ring binder with all her wedding coordination plans neatly organized in print. That binder contained the secrets to the most organized wedding I've participated in. If you don't want to hire a wedding coordinator and want to do it yourself, here's how my sister did it. Amend this to suit your wedding's needs/tastes and assign anyone you want to the task(s). The key is delegation and proper follow-up by the bride (and groom).
Tips and Tasks Before the Wedding
- Get yourself a good checklist for wedding "to-do's" - use our wedding guide, Martha Stewart magazine's pull-out, or any other resource you can find to help you with such big items as dress and tux/suit purchases, music secured, minister/officiant reserved, ring purchases, flowers, cake, food, etc.
- Set a budget and stick to it - use the checklist and decide what items are critical to you and which are flexible (example: toasts can be made and enjoyed without the expense of champagne or sparkling wine and people can raise whatever glass they have in their hand)
- Before sending save the dates and invitations and doing any wedding planning, have a heart-to-heart with the groom about what should be the spirit and environment of the wedding
- Use people's strengths and assign tasks they will like and can handle - know your helpers well
- Rely upon both bride and groom family and friends and spread things out if needed - don't keep relying on your maid of honor for everything!
- Throw a party to assemble and address wedding invitations - with all the scrapbooking and fancy paper stores around, it is easy to create a professional-looking invite at a low cost
- Drinks - assign people to pick up kegs of beer, cases of wine and ingredients for mixed drinks unless bartender at receception site has those covered; assign same people who pick up those ingredients to set those items out at the reception (unless the reception site covers this)
- Create notebook with contact information of vendors (for cake, food, flowers, music, minister, etc.) and set an itinerary for the wedding day (i.e., timing of bride's hair and make-up, timing of photos and who gets photos when and where)
- Assign one person to the rehearsal dinner coordination and communication if necessary, etc. (perhaps place the groom's family in charge of this if they are covering costs of this meal and event)
Tasks for Wedding and Reception Set-Up
- Bride reviews notebook with groom and bridesmaids of itinerary and ceremony + reception map with location of decorations so others can direct vendors and not have to rely on the bride for all the answers
- If grandparents or others need wheelchair access to buildings or locations, keep that in mind when planning the wedding
- Assign one person to the ceremony location as "site lead" for decorations and to be a runner if needed
- Assign another person to the reception location as "site lead" for decorations, meeting vendors, etc. and enough people to help set up the decorations
- When photos are happening, make sure at least one or two people (a bridesmaid and groomsman, most likely) can be runners for the photographer to gather the appropriate family members at picture time
Tasks for Leaving the Wedding
- Make arrangements ahead of time for transporting gifts
- Make arrangements for transporting extra alcohol and food
- Assign multiple people to take down decorations or remaining items that may be important to keep
My sister must have had many more tasks I was unaware of, but it all happened so smoothly, I didn't notice. Next family wedding I attend or participate in, I'll be fully prepared. Thanks, sis. ;-)
This article was originally published October 2007.
For their breathtaking landscapes, natural beauty, rich history, cultural allure, and diverse entertainment offerings, here’s our list of the top 10 states for destination weddings.
1. Nevada: Las Vegas, often called the "Wedding Capital of the World," is famous for its swift, simple, and frequently impromptu weddings. The city's numerous chapels, combined with its entertainment and nightlife, make it the #1 destination for out-of-state weddings. However, beyond the Strip, Nevada also boasts stunning desert landscapes and luxury resorts. For couples beginning their planning, the Las Vegas tourism board's wedding guide is an excellent starting point.
2. Hawaii: With its tropical beaches, lush landscapes, and romantic sunsets, Hawaii is a top choice for many couples. Each island offers a unique backdrop, from the dramatic cliffs of Kauai to the bustling beaches of Waikiki. There are no state residence or U.S. citizenship requirements to get married in Hawaii. Couples can find everything from caterers to florists and photographers on the Go Hawaii website.
3. Florida: Popular spots like Miami, the Florida Keys, and various Gulf Coast locations attract out-of-state couples (particularly those from the Northeast), seeking a sunny and sandy wedding. The state also boasts numerous luxury coastal resorts and, of course, there’s Disney World. The Visit Florida wedding planning guide provides details on getting married in Florida and offers ideas and inspiration for exceptional venues.
4. New York: Beyond the allure of a New York City wedding, upstate New York offers beautiful venues in the Catskills, the Adirondacks, and the Finger Lakes wine region. With its iconic landmarks and cosmopolitan charm, New York City is especially popular among international couples traveling to the U.S. to tie the knot. New York State was one of the first states in the nation to legalize marriage for LGBTQ individuals. I Love NY’s LGBTQ New York Wedding Guide incudes details about licensing rules and LGBTQ-friendly venues.
5. California: No other state offers such a diverse landscape and range of options for destination weddings. From beaches to the wine country of Napa and Sonoma, coastal towns along the Pacific Coast Highway, glamorous spots like Beverly Hills, and rustic settings in the majestic Redwoods or Sierra Nevada mountains – the choices are vast. Visit California provides dozens of venue options to help you craft the perfect celebration.
6. Colorado: For those seeking a mountain backdrop, Colorado provides breathtaking venues in places like Aspen, Vail, and Estes Park. Whether in summer or winter (indeed, even winter), Colorado is the destination for high-altitude weddings. If you’re eager to wed in Colorado but mountains aren’t your thing, Colorado offers an array of venue options from dude ranches and historic hotels to luxury resorts.
7. South Carolina: Exuding Southern charm, South Carolina boasts beautiful beachfront, coastal, mountainous, and urban settings to say “I do.” Charleston, especially, has surged in popularity in recent years. With its historic ambiance, cobblestone streets, and moss-draped oak trees, it ranks as one of the premier wedding destinations in the Southeast. TheKnot provides a comprehensive guide to assist couples in obtaining a marriage license in South Carolina.
8. Louisiana: With its rich Cajon and Creole heritage and Bayou beauty, Louisiana presents diverse settings that make it an excellent choice for destination weddings. New Orleans stands out, especially its historic French Quarter, vibrant music scene, and festive atmosphere, as a favorite for many out-of-state couples. Moreover, the state’s world-renowned cuisine, featuring dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, po’boys and beignets infuse a distinctive flavor into wedding feasts. The Ultimate Guide to New Orleans Weddings offers resources ranging from help obtaining a marriage license to arranging a second line and assistance with your group hotel reservation.
9. Arizona: Home to some of the country's most picturesque landscapes, from the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon to the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona offers a unique and stunning backdrop for any wedding. Additionally, with over 300 days of sunshine each year, Arizona is a dependable choice for outdoor ceremonies. However, be mindful of the extreme temperatures in the summer! Whether you prefer a luxurious resort in Scottsdale, a rustic ranch setting, or an intimate desert ceremony, Arizona is an excellent choice. If you’re contemplating tying the knot in the desert, the Brides guide to planning a successful desert wedding offers helpful tips and recommendations.
10. Alaska: This choice might be unexpected and less conventional, but for adventurous couples, seeking a truly unique experience, Alaska presents an opportunity to marry amidst majestic glaciers, snow-capped peaks, tranquil lakes and picturesque rivers. In certain parts of Alaska, during specific times of the year, the sun barely sets. This provides extended daylight for festivities and unique photography moments. However, Alaska’s weather is unpredictable, so it’s crucial to be prepared for a range of conditions, even in summer. “Anything can happen in the great wide open” notes Alaska Bride. Check out their tips for planning an outdoor wedding. Finally, it’s worth noting that some of Alaska’s most breathtaking locations are remote, potentially leading to higher travel costs and time for guests attending the celebration.
Naturally, "top destinations” is subjective and this list may change based on trends, economic factors, and global events like pandemics. Ultimately, it isn’t just about the scenery, weather or cultural significance of a location; it’s about what’s best for you, your partner and the loved ones celebrating with you. Finally, before you get too far down the road with planning, be sure to check and know the current marriage license requirements. Happy wedding planning!
Group air reservations offer several benefits for groups of 10 or more traveling together for events such as weddings and family reunions. One of the primary advantages of a group reservation is the ability to hold a block of seats with a deposit, rather than paying the full ticket price upfront. Additionally, there is typically flexibility with passenger name changes up to a specific date. This flexibility is especially helpful if some attendees are unsure whether they will be able to attend and others may take their place.
However, several factors can influence the cost-effectiveness of group fares. Depending on the group’s size, travel dates, and destination, group fares might be more competitive than refundable tickets. However, they often cost more than other, less-flexible, ticket options available online. It's worth noting that larger discounts, if available, are typically reserved for bigger groups, usually those with 50 or more travelers.
One of the appealing aspects of group bookings is the assurance that everyone will travel together on the same schedule and pay the same amount. Yet, with early planning, there is usually good availability of individual seats on most flights and, if group members are prepared to book in advance, fares may not vary substantially. It's also vital to understand that group fares are subject to availability, including potential blackout dates. Planning in advance is crucial to avoid such limitations. Additionally, group fares might have fees for changes, additions, or cancellations, so it's important to read the terms carefully.
For those considering group bookings, most airlines have a dedicated group booking department. If you can't locate their group desk online, call the carrier's main booking line to inquire about making a group reservation. Also, remember that you will need to designate a group leader to be the primary contact with the airline.
To help you get started, here are links to group booking resources for the five largest U.S. airlines:
Check out our group reservation guide to learn more about the benefits of group reservations and get wise to some group discount myths.
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