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All inclusive is all that
by Jacky Runice

During these insanely busy times, many fantasies involve others doing it all. If you’re the knighted reunion organizer, your dreams can come true: delicious meals served, close together accommodations, daily activities for adults, teens and children, nightly entertainment and shopping and sports excursions. You’re the brilliant organizer who chose an all-inclusive resort for the next gathering.

When you talk all-inclusives, Club Med, the grandmama of them all, is the best. Just over 50 years ago, Club Med invented the all-inclusive concept when 300 free spirits attended the first village’s opening. Since then, they’ve created 120 worldwide Club Med villages each with unique ambience, activities and offerings. There are adult exclusive villages and others with incredible children’s clubs. Some clubs offer specialized golf and tennis clinics while others teach scuba diving or snowboarding. Club Med activities vary by village so you’ll have to check your pulse if there’re not at least five things that would enthrall your group. Choose from archery, arts and crafts, biking, bocce ball, casino excursions, dance classes, deep-sea fishing, downhill and cross country skiing, fitness classes, golf, snow shoe walks, horseback riding, in-line skating, kayaking, spa treatments, night club, Ping-Pong, billiards, rock climbing, sailing, shopping, snorkeling, soccer, softball, tennis, trapeze, volleyball, water exercise and wind surfing! Club Med, the world’s largest sports school, offers more than 60 land and water sports. Of course, you can “veg” on the beach, taking time to get reacquainted while kids are occupied and dinner plans are a fait accompli.

When settling into a Club Med village, you’ll soon talk the language. “GOs” (gracious organizers) are the team of hosts and hostesses who teach classes, perform in nightly shows and run children’s programs. Guests are called “GMs,” (gracious members). No matter what the ages of your clan’s kids, Club Med has engaging programs with activities ranging from circus school (think Cirque du Soleil) to fashions shows. Children can show their talents at an evening show, making wonderful Kodak moments. GOs and GMs hail from all points of the globe making your Club Med experience multi-cultural as well as fun.
George Drake and family visited the Club Med village in Ixtapa, Mexico, for spring break and realized the location would make a wonderful reunion site. Over Christmas 2001, 19 Drake clan members celebrated the 80th birthdays of both parents at Club Med Ixtapa. George Drake, from Kenilworth, Illinois, wanted a convenient travel destination for family from across the US. As children, Drake and his siblings froliced in the waves of Lake Michigan, so water was vital. Drake requested clustered rooms in a building close to the beach and dining room with terrific views. Drake knew the ocean was perfect for sailing, kayaking, body surfing and reliving childhood memories as their parents watched.

“We wanted to go somewhere with something for everyone,” explained Drake. “Some kids went to the kid’s club and others wanted to go to the beach and lie in the sun. Teenagers found groups to hang out with. My parents loved seeing their kids grown and enjoying the water again.” Older folks relaxed in the sun, read books, walked along the beach and played golf. Drake and his wife took a cab to Zihuatenejo to poke around the Mexican markets. The extended family played beach volleyball. The 10 adults and nine kids reconnected for dinner and the nightly show “By chance, my Dad was chosen as an audience participant and we got great photos,” Drake laughed. His parents bought the clan baseball caps with “LXXX” emblazoned across the front – the Roman numeral for “80” – to commemorate the birthday celebration.

One of the most attractive aspects of an all-inclusive is dining. Three times a day, GMs “ooh” and “ahh” at famous Club Med buffets. Freshly baked breads and croissants, heaping bowls of tropical fruit, eggs any way plus local creations such as eggs scrambled with chorizo or chilaquiles for breakfast. Lunch and dinner could include sushi, fresh pastas, smoked salmon, international salads, continental entrees and heavenly desserts. There’s always pizza, hot dogs, mac ‘n’ cheese for younger palates. “Kids can eat alot or be picky,” explained Drake, “and there’s not a set eating time, but a two or three hour window, families can appreciate.” Club Med staffs its kitchens with classically trained, professional chefs and cuisine quality is superb.

Drake and his immediate family have stayed at Club Med villages in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, Huatulco (Mexico, now closed), and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. He settled upon Ixtapa for the reunion because of the friendly ocean and easy village navigation. “I would absolutely do a reunion at Club Med again!” Drake declared. “For a lot of reasons but also good value. My VISA bill surprised me because little was charged for extras.” Guests pay one price up front for lodging, meals, beer, wine and soft drinks at meals and most sports.

The Drake family is returning to Ixtapa this year simply because they had such a great time. “The manager is magnificent and we truly enjoy the Mexican people,” Dr. Drake said. “The family tried a number of activities like kayaking and many trips to local towns.” The downside to the Drake family’s Club Med trip? “We all gained weight because the food was so excellent!”

Dr. and Mrs. William Lake of Jupiter, Florida, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at Huatulco, Mexico’s Club Med. Twenty-four family members had such a fine time, 22 reunited the next year in Ixtapa. They’ll be back in 2002. “It gave the family an opportunity to get away from the humdrum and freed parents from kids for awhile,” explained Dr. Lake. The children, ages four to 20, found plenty to do in Club Med “mini clubs.” “Our rule was breakfast and lunch on your own, and then we met at night for dinner, Dr. Lake said. “We were treated by the Huatulco manager to complimentary champagne and a big anniversary ceremony.” Others chartered boats and caught mahi mahi, which the kitchen prepared for the family’s dinner.

Set on Florida’s St. Lucie River, Club Med Sandpiper is a great US destination. In addition to four swimming pools and many activities, the village offers Walt Disney World, Seaworld, Universal Studios and Kennedy Space Center excursions. Seven nights including airfare start at $990 for adults. There are also three and four night packages and frequent specials. Visit www.clubmed.com or call 800-CLUB MED.
Occidental-Allegro Hotels & Resorts chain is the largest all-inclusive resort company in the world. Occidental-Allegro has special group packages and currently discounts those traveling with children. Children 12 and under sharing a room with an adult stay free at the Occidental-Allegro resorts in Costa Rica, Mexico, and The Dominican Republic through December 21, 2002. A superior room at the Occidental Playa Real in Costa Rica starts at $56.

According to Occidental-Allegro spokesperson Sandra Montenegro, groups choose Occidental-Allegro Hotels & Resorts for many reasons. First is price. “You can leave your wallet at home because all taxes and gratuities are included.” Families enjoy unlimited non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages, exotic cocktails, juices and soft drinks and dine at restaurants offering local and international cuisine.

The properties offer a variety water sports; kayaking, catamaran sailing, aqua aerobics, paddle boats and scuba clinics. The Kid's Fun Club supervises children. Occidental-Allegro has resorts in Aruba, Antigua, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico and St. Kitts. Two new properties open in 2002. Occidental Grand Flamenco Xcaret Resort is located next to Playa del Carmen, Mexico’s eco-archeological Xcaret Park. Occidental Grand Cozumel offers 90 person meeting facilities, making it an ideal reunion resort. For additional information, visit www.allegroresorts.com or call 800-858-2258.

David Victor, President of Beach Travel in New Jersey specializes in arranging group travel packages for 10 to 1500 persons. He is enthusiastic about the Hotel Occidental Flamenco Beach in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. About 50 New York College of Podiatric Medicine Alumni Association members enjoyed their reunion in 2001, they will return in 2002. Located on Playa Dorada beach, the 582-room resort offers five restaurants, three bars and a beach club. Choose from a variety of water sports or relax by any of three, lake-shaped pools. Enjoy golf in the nearby par 72 golf course. “People are looking inexpensive, tropical settings and accommodations meeting the group’s need,” Victor explained. “I go to each resort I book, meet with staff and peruse the grounds. The Occidental-Allegro has phenomenal resort and quality group services are accommodating. At many other all-inclusives,” Victor continued, the service isn’t as good, staff doesn’t speak English and the food isn’t as tasty as the Occidental.” Contact Beach Travel at 877-506-5721; www.beachtravel-inc.com.

About the author
Journalist/Editor Jacky Runice has penned a weekly travel column for Chicago's Daily Herald since 1994 and writes about travel and dining for USAToday.com; CBS Local Chicago; and Examiner.com. She expands her repertoire at Kane, Lake and McHenry County (IL) Magazines with articles about everything from healthy living to technology. A former Chicago radio talk show host, Jacky has three grown children who have inherited her love of sampling new cultures, countries and cuisine.



Resorts with great reputations lure reunions

by Jacky Runice

Smugglers Notch

Notchville Park at Smugglers Notch Resort. Photo credit Smugglers Notch Resort. Click to enlarge.
How can a place call itself America's Family Resort without seeming a tad haughty? By delivering the goods, season after season and year after year, that's how. Reunion groups return to Smugglers Notch, in the heart of Vermont's Green Mountains, because of staff expertise in hosting groups since the resort's debut in 1956. According to Scott Tobin, head of the Smugg's Group Vacations Department, the resort has seen close to a 150 percent growth rate in reunion bookings for the last couple of years What are they doing so right?

First, there's the convenience of the Resort's Village with centrally-located eateries, lodging choices, ranging from studio to one-to-five bedroom, fully-equipped condominiums, and award winning family activities available right on-site. Warm weather activities include mini golf, swimming, waterslides, playgrounds, nature center, driving range, tennis, and two teen centers for the family members often hardest to satisfy. Kids can enroll in an all-day day camp and babies are welcome in the spacious nursery facility located in the Village. Winter brings downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snow shoeing and lessons for all. How about tube sliding, iceskating, snowmobile tours, dogsled adventures and an indoor play facility for the kids to work off extra steam? Ski-scared adults needn't merely watch from the chalet any longer. Long renowned for its children's ski programs, the resort turned its attention to adults in the 2004/2005 season with the debut of a new on-hill program called the Mountain Experience Adult Camp. In this four-day program, guides from the Resort's Snow Sport University (SSU) work with adults to rekindle their sense of play on the slopes.

The FunZone at Smugglers Notch Resort.
Photo credit Smugglers Notch Resort. Click to enlarge.
Don't give a fig about snow sports? Burlington, just 30 miles away, is a portal into heaven for the serial shopper offering distinctive Vermont clothing, crafts and antiques. In the warm months, Lake Champlain offers a variety of boating and fishing activities, too. Families gather in the evenings at Smuggs for wholesome fun such as Bingo and hula parties. Later, adults can take in comedy acts and live bands. Larry and Carolyn Bernhardt brought 30 relatives to Smuggs over Christmas in 2003 and have booked Christmas 2005 for a repeat performance. After the Bernhardts married in 1997, they found that buying gifts for their newly blended family of six children and 11 grandkids was, frankly, a nightmare. "In 2001, Carol and I decided to do a family get together and we thought a family ski weekend over Christmas, to re-introduce family members to each other, would be a very nice Christmas present," explained Larry. "We started looking as far North in the Northeast as we could go to ensure snow. Carol had heard about Smugglers Notch, being a great family spot, from her plumber. So I was assigned the task of investigating the location" He explored the resort's website (www.smuggs.com) to be sure that Smuggs was truly a family-friendly place, considering the clan's children ranged in age from five to 20. "There was a number for group activities, so I took to the phone and was lucky enough to have (reunion consultant) John Kup answer," Bernhardt said. "I explained what I was trying to accomplish and the details of our get together. He sent a video and a brochure to us and to each of our children. Kup was extremely helpful. We had kids coming in from all over the place and arriving at different times and dates. He sorted it all out and everything was a go! John made arrangements to accommodate activities for the entire group. These activities ranged from day care with ski lessons, beginner ski lessons and advanced ski lessons. Additionally, we wanted a sit down dinner for all nineteen of us. When we arrived John was there to meet and greet our family. The weather was great and everything went like clockwork. It was the most memorable Christmas I can remember. When we asked all twenty one kids and grandkids (we added two more since), what they wanted for Christmas this year, the answer was loud and clear. Smuggs!!! So I called my buddy John and we are now set up for 2005. Pray for snow," Bernhardt added.

Smugglers Notch is a year round reunion resort as the Garstka Reunion discovered. Held in August of 2004, the gathering checked in at 24 family members who met at the resort for an entire week. "This was our third Family Reunion," explained Polly Garstka. "Two were held in Southern California and we chose Smuggs because one of our daughters had heard great things about it and had gone skiing there with her family. Because three families lived on the East Coast, we wanted a location in that area." Garstka and her husband traveled to Smuggs from Los Angeles, two families came from the Washington DC area, one from Boston, one from Tokyo and another from Hawaii! "Smuggs was very cooperative," she said. "I contacted group sales a year ahead of time to try to confirm possible dates. They arranged our housing units conveniently close together. The children were able to be grouped together with their cousins for the Children's All Day Programs. Everyone received a Smuggs t-shirt as a souvenir. They referred us to a photographer to take our family reunion photo. They were very responsive to my inquiries as arrangements were being made for the reunion. They responded to all our requests while we were there." A daughter-in-law celebrated a birthday during the reunion and many family members took advantage of the resort's wide-reaching activities from bird-watching and tennis to art classes and yoga. "At the end of our reunion we polled the grandchildren, and they all agreed that they would love to go to Smuggs again in 2006." Garstka said. "I have referred several people to Smuggs and will continue to do so."

With help from resort's professional staff of reunion consultants, even planners should expect to enjoy a reunion vacation. The staff will coordinate every detail of activities and entertainment, lodging needs, meal plans, banquet facilities, transportation, reunion keepsakes and a photographer. Reunion planners may qualify for a Group Leader Getaway Weekend, held several times a year. Experience the resort on your own with a two-night package with meals (two breakfasts and one dinner), welcome mixer and dinner presentation at $25 per night pp. During fall and winter reunions, group leaders are offered a complimentary vacation for organizing 40 or more people. Summer, fall and spring reunions for groups of twenty or more enjoy a free customized t-shirt for each reunion member or cash in on a Group Reunion Photo. If you hop online at www.smuggs.com/reunions, you can fill out a simple form, submit and receive a customized reunion vacation plan within hours.

For information or a customized reunion plan, you may email one of Smugglers' Notch Reunion Planners at reunions@smuggs.com or ring 800-521-0536.

The Most Unique Resort In America
Notchville Park at Smugglers Notch Resort. Photo credit Smugglers Notch Resort. Click to enlarge.
From "America's Family Resort" to one that has christened itself "The Most Unique Resort In America," Sunrise Resort in Moodus, Connecticut, has the reputation to back up the moniker. Located in the Lower Connecticut River Valley on the Salmon River, Sunrise has been called "One of the 10 Great Places to Gather the Family" by USA Today and it's no wonder — there's so much for kids, adults and families to do on the resort's 140 acres. Choose from snoozing by the pool, floating down the Salmon River, poking around the adjacent Echo Farm Nature Preserve, a soak in the whirlpool, play air hockey, basketball, volleyball, tennis, softball, bocce ball, get the kids on a fire engine ride or encourage the teens to attempt the rock climbing wall.

Everything's included but you will have to pay $2 to show off on the miniature golf course. Rates include three meals a day (plus a snack at night), use of the resort grounds, a ton of guided activities and entertainers ranging from magicians and mimes to bands of all persuasions. Many repeat visitors like the fact that liquor isn't served at Sunrise, but feel free to bring your own beer and wine.

To be sure, individual families have plenty of imaginative activities, hearty food and up-to-date facilities to make for a great vacation, according to Jim Johnson of Sunrise Resort. But, get a group together and magic happens. "Reunions receive all that the individual families get and then some," explained Johnson. "Most all reunion groups can have their own dining area just for themselves. Some reunion groups like to join our individual overnight vacationers in the Club House for nightly entertainment. Other groups prefer their own private area at night to share family memorabilia, stories and their own entertainment. Social directors can be available for day or night 'Reunion Only' activities — things like field events (water balloon toss, sack races, tug of war), ball games, a hot tub party, just to mention a few. Sunrise can also help promote a reunion by custom designing a flier with specific dates, pricing, general information and the actual name of the reunion," he said.

Sunrise hosts about ten reunions every year with most checking in at around 20 members. A recent Quinn Family Reunion, however, counted 100 people who adored it so much they're planning to return in a year. Mary Driffin was the CEO of the Brown Family Reunion. Roughly half of her clan lives in Baltimore and the other half in Connecticut. "They started coming to Sunrise ten or 12 years ago and originally they planned to alternate each year — one year in Baltimore and the next in Connecticut," Johnson said. We're happy to report the family liked Sunrise enough to do several consecutive years with us," Johnson beamed. Mary Driffin concurs wholeheartedly. "Sunrise Resort is one of the best places I know of where you can get your three delicious meals, take children and get all these activities that are included — there's so much to do," Driffin exclaimed. "Sunrise's Johnson family is such a lovely family," the New Haven resident said, "they make you feel like you are part of their family. We like the surf 'n' turf on Friday night and the huge cookout with anything you want to eat on Saturday night. I'll tell anyone to go to Sunrise," Driffin said. "The Johnson family makes sure that the children know about all the activities and the kids just go crazy — they can get bicycles, swim, go horseback riding. They put their personal touch on it that makes it so nice — they want to make you happy." The most recent Brown Family Reunion checked in at around 60 members and the highlight may have been the outdoor gospel concert that the family performed with help from the resort.

Sunrise Resort opened its doors to guests way back in 1916 and Johnson's ancestors starting working on the property in 1937. The Johnson family bought out their Aunt Dot and Uncle Frank in 1986 and set forth another generation of hospitality. Go to www.sunriseresort.com and explore the wholesome environment, gorgeous landscape, special events, hearty meals and friendly staff waiting to help you plan your best reunion ever. That is, until you book the next one at Sunrise Resort. Call 800-225-9033.

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