Planning a Family Reunion: How To Get Started

Maybe you are thinking about how to plan a family reunion. Here are some quick guidelines you might find useful for getting started. Keep in mind that Pickwick Travel can provide any assistance you might need in setting up or organizing a family reunion vacation or any other type of group travel.
Set up committees

Don’t go it alone. Share the work. Everyone has different skills and experience to bring to the planning. More than likely, you’ll have to do this long-distance with emails and phone calls.

Some of the different ways you can divide up the organizing—
• Food/Catering Committee
• Communications–Compile a list of invites and send invitations. Keep guests in the loop with updates. (See below: “Creating a family information web site.”)
• Establish one person to collect money and keep track of the finances.
• Activities, decorating, putting together a memorabilia table.
• Committee to organize the set-up and clean-up.

Create a timeline & payment schedule

The first meeting should be to determine what kind of get-together you want to have– a one-day party, a weekend, a family vacation week, or a cruise. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of deposits and final payments.

Set up a budget
Remember to add up all the little things. You may want to pad it just a little for unexpected expenses.

Things to budget for–
Venue rental * Banquet/Catering cost * Decorations * Invitations and postage * Entertainment * Family website * Welcome packets and award gifts.


After your planning committee is formed and dates and location are established, the next step is to fill in the details.

If you are going to block hotel room space at a group discount, be careful–some hotels require a contract with an attrition clause.
• Negotiating guest rooms sometimes involves an attrition clause, which basically guarantees the hotel that you will use a certain percentage of the guest rooms contracted or blocked. Most standard hotel contracts have an 80 percent attrition rate, where the group is financially responsible for eight out of 10 guest rooms blocked even if they aren’t reserved. It’s vital to go into a contract negotiation knowing your group. If you overestimate the number of rooms needed, you may find yourself receiving a hefty attrition bill at the end.

Create a family information website.
There are several internet companies that let you create a small simple website for events. These websites are reasonable–around $10/month. You can also set-up a Facebook page.
Catering/Banquet room
Buffet style is best and is usually the most affordable for a group. When getting a quote, be sure to get beverage (non-alcoholic) and gratuities included in the per-person cost. If you are planning far in advance, touch base with the restaurant manager or sales director periodically to ensure they are still in their positions, and confirm that your group reservation is still on the schedule. At least a week before event call to give them your final head count.

7 Things You Should Know About Travel Insurance

First off, I am a travel agent and not an insurance expert. This list is general, because there are many variations and plans available. I hope to give you just a little more understanding and knowledge about what kind of questions to ask when looking to purchase travel insurance.
What a typical insurance plan covers–
Sickness, injury, death, or death in the family. Coverage is for cancellation prior to and during the trip. If you need medical attention, or if there is an emergency back home that would cause you to end the trip early, this is called trip interruption. Most policies provide coverage for your major travel expenses, including some medical coverage, emergency evacuation, and baggage loss or delay. Missed connections due to weather and flight delays are another issue of concern and are covered in many insurance plans.
Points to know:
• To be covered for pre-existing medical conditions, you must generally purchase insurance within 2 weeks of deposit. This is true even if you are just putting down a $100 deposit on a $2000 trip and final payment is 8 months away. Lately, though, some cruise line insurance plans will let you purchase the policy when you make final payment.
• In some cases, especially for travelers over 70 years old, a cruise line insurance plan can be quite a bit less than one offered by an independent provider. But you will still need to buy coverage separately for the airfare, since most cruise line plans will not cover air unless you buy it from them.
• The cost of an insurance premium is determined by the traveler’s age and trip cost. The cruise line insurance cost is usually determined by the trip cost alone.
• When adding up your trip cost, you cannot pick and choose what you’d like to cover. It is very important that you add up all trip costs that are pre-paid and non-refundable.
• When upgrading to a Cancel for Any Reason policy (and it’s usually an extra cost) you will not get 100% of your money back if you do have to cancel. Usually about 50%-70% of the total is reimbursed. Many of the cruise line plans include a Cancel for Any Reason clause, but if this clause is needed, then usually you’ll get something like 70% back towards a future cruise.
• If Medicare is your primary form of health insurance, it is extremely important that you buy travel insurance. Medicare does not provide coverage outside of the United States.
• For travel more than 30 days, beware: there could be an extra daily charge added for every day over 30 days.
Vacation can be a huge monetary investment. There are so many things that can go wrong and that are out of our control. We all need to be smart about purchasing travel insurance.

Escorted Tours Designed for Families

Escorted tours for families are a fairly new market concept. In the last few years several leading tour operators have begun to reach out to families traveling with school age children, as well as to grandparents who like to travel with grandchildren. Escorted tours have also become known for attracting retired folks.
Tour operators have taken escorted tours and made them kid-friendly, involving them in cultural activities, and introducing them to natural wonders in an active, learning, and doing way. Some of the most popular destinations are Australia, Europe, China, and the U.S. National Parks. As an example, Disney Adventures has even added long weekend trips to cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Nashville.
Some of the unique activities you’ll see in a European itinerary are speedboat rides on the Thames River, Harry Potter castle tours, and a scavenger hunt at the Louvre museum. Family tours at other destinations include hikes in Yosemite, a pizza party with s’mores at a campfire on Lake Powell, or a visit to a Dude Ranch outside of San Antonio, Texas.
For busy parents with not a lot of time to plan, escorted tours are stress-free and can feature:

  • Experienced guides
  • Tours which are all-inclusive of activities/excursions and most meals
  • Pre-paying the trip in advance
  • Traveling with other families so that kids have built-in new friends

…because after all: Happy kids on vacation mean happy relaxed parents.

Reinventing Family Reunions

Have you been on a cruise lately and seen all the groups of families (wearing matching t-shirts) and having a fantastic time together? They’re on to something fun. Kids spending a week playing with cousins and sharing quality time with grandparents. A week on a cruise ship with family, no hurry, no worry, and plenty of time to just … hang out together.
I personally have immediate family in six different states. Needless to say, my husband and I spend a lot of time traveling over the course of a year to visit family. And I know of many others who are doing the same thing.
Families today seem to be more spread out across the nation. It is becoming rare that kids grow up living in the same area as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

                                 This is why Pickwick Travel is branching out— and focusing more on family reunion vacations.

                   We all try to take vacations periodically anyway. So why not every year or two get together for a multi-generational family vacation?  it’s the new family reunion! Many of us may have grown up attending Saturday afternoon family reunions in a park or church basement with a pot-luck dinner. They were fun, lasted one day, but only the people who lived nearby attended.

Why not reinvent family reunions, make them young and fun?! Families are more active and grandparents are more youthful than ever before. Happiness for all is centering family time around camping, boating, national parks, and beaches.

There is always something to celebrate—

  • New babies
  • New spouses
  • Graduations
  • Anniversaries

Pickwick Travel invites you to visit our newest family member—Branching Together, which specializes in family reunion vacations.

Vacation-Packing Day High!

For me, packing for vacation is an adrenalin high. How else can you explain that euphoria right before LEAVING TOWN. The long-awaited escape is tomorrow morning and I’m dancing around the house with my I-pod loud — fuel for my gathering and cleaning frenzy.

  • Washing, drying, ironing, and folding.
  • Eating all the perishables out of the fridge (munching on celery and yogurt as I write).
  • Constructing piles–shoes, hat, and umbrella. Then there’s the carry-on pile of electronics, magazines, pretzels and candy.
  • Load the Kindle with books and movies, and the I-pod with new music and podcasts (my latest binge). And get those babies plugged in and charged.
  • Oh yeah, pharmaceuticals, I’ve learned my lesson. In the past buying Sudafed in Argentina and China has not been an easy thing to do.
  • Drag the suitcases in from the garage. This needs to be orchestrated just right, Lupey (dog) needs to be outside when this takes place. The sight of luggage coming down the hall causes some anxiety.
  • Now she’s in the car and we’ll be off to the “country club”, she prefers the sound of that to the word kennel.
  • And at the end of the day I will change the voice mail message on my phone, and I’ll set up the email responder to say—“I will be away from the office……”


Slow Travel

Slow Travel: this topic has recently caught my attention. In the past I have always been a pretty hyper traveler. Usually, travelers have a short time in one place and I try to cram in as much as possible before moving on. It was on my last trip to New York City that I started to seriously thing about going slower. During that trip my husband and I stayed in the same hotel for 6 days. It was nice to spread my stuff out, hang clothes in the closet, plug in the white-noise machine, and really settle in. After that trip I started to examine other ways to take it slow.
Hotels– Boutique hotels have become the new trend, replacing the popularity of B&B’s of the 80’s and 90’s. For the slow traveler a hotel is more than just a place to sleep at night. It is also considered part of the location experience. If you are in Inverness, Scotland, do you want to stay at a sterile chain hotel? On the other hand, it could be dangerous to enjoy your hotel so much that you don’t want to get out and sightsee. I remember staying at a hotel in Beijing, where there was a large breakfast buffet area with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a tranquil garden. Each morning there would be a Tai Chi class going on outside the window. Watching participants dressed in white and moving slowly together in unison made you want to eat slow and linger. I’m sure the hotel had that arranged on purpose.
Cruises– There is a new flavor of international cruises which feature ships staying longer in a port. I know that Azamara was one of the first to start this. Usually a ship stays in port about 8 hours during the day. More and more, some cruise lines are staying in port overnight. This way people can visit a city in the evening and enjoy the nightlife. Sometimes, the feel of a city is very different at night than in the day. Another type of cruise that fits this slow pace is the repositioning cruise, where you can be at sea for 5-6 days at a time.
All-Inclusive Resorts– To me, this is the kind of vacation that people with stressful, high-pressure, and physically-demanding jobs crave. They love the idea of falling into a beachside lounge chair and hardly moving from it for the week. This is the ultimate slow vacation. Drinks are brought to you and the restaurants are only a few steps away.
Everyday I discover more on this topic, and I plan to continue reading up on this immersive style of travel. But I will be doing it slowly…

Next up…New York City

Lincoln Center
Outside the Lincoln Center

Two weeks out until my next trip….New York City. I have been there several times before, so this time I’m looking to go a little more in-depth and try some new things. My husband attends a conference there every year and most times I come along for the free ride, well almost free anyhow.
While he sits in meetings all day, here is what I have on the agenda:
City Pass— There are several city passes: New York Pass, New York City Pass, and New York City Explorer Pass. And each one is just a little different in how it works and what it covers. I made a list of the things I’d like to see and how much each costs separately. I added it up to see which pass fits best and if the price is worth it. I went with the NYC Explorer Pass this time. For $80 I can choose 3 tours or attractions from a list of 50 and I will have 9 days to use it. My wish list for this trip is NBC studios (I did this about 15 years ago, so it’s worth a repeat), the Natural History Museum, and The Metropolitan Museum including The Cloisters. I really wanted to go to Ellis Island (again), but it is still closed due to the hurricane damage.
Gourmet Food Truck Walking Tour– $48– I signed up for the tour that starts in the Financial District. We will visit and eat at 6 different food trucks around Manhattan.
Food— Here is the most fun of all: researching restaurants. We have our favorites, so that makes it hard to break away for something new. My husband insists on Nobu Next Door, and maybe Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. He also has a recommendation for a restaurant called Frankies Spuntino. Last time we were here it was NYC Restaurant Week, and, what do you know, we will be there during Restaurant Week again! This is great… 275 restaurants participate in offering a $25 lunch or $38 dinner, which is 3-course prix-fixe menu. Actually, this is how we had come to find our favorites from the last visit.
Broadway show—This one is still a ? (thinking about it).
That’s the line-up. I will be back later for a full report on how it goes.

Alaska Cruise…notes exposed

I started out writing this in my usual day by day format and found it to be just too boring. Almost everything on this trip has gone as planned and what more is there to cruising than excursions and eating. I did experience/learn a few new things this time and here are some of the highlights—
Vancouver—In addition to doing a full day excursion to Victoria and Butchart Gardens, we did spend a morning walking about Granville Island. From our hotel downtown (Westin Grand) it is about a 15 minute walk to the Yaletown pier. There are several water taxi’s (Aqua Bus) going to different piers and Granville Island. This area is a farmers market/flea market type place selling fruit, vegetables, seafood, etc. There are lots of handicrafts and art galleries.
• Second night on ship I do believe I witnessed the best sunset of my life and I am not usually one to ooh and ahh over sunsets. I also enjoyed having daylight until 11pm, more time to watch the whales from my balcony.
• Celebrity Millennium, as most ships do has a pretty good offering of daily activities. Many that I regret not getting around too. I-phone/I-pad orientation, Zumba, a variety of wine/martini/port tastings. There are watercolor classes, scrapbooking, and most days a talk from the naturalist.
• Something I learned this cruise for the next time I cruise… Our cabin happened to be a couple decks directly below the gym and the pool. Easy access and you don’t have to slog around half the ship in a wet swim suit.
Internet/Wifi on board is very expensive, when docking in a port ask the crew where to find internet cafes and libraries, they know these things. For this particular cruise, Juneau has a library about 1 block from the ship, and in Skagway the library is on 8th and State, just off of the main drag.
• And here is a great tip I discovered if you are taking the round trip White Pass Railroad excursion– Going up the mountain left side is good because you have the best views, but everyone from the right side will be hovering over you trying to see out. And of course- the little balconies on the back and front of the train car are packed, everyone with a camera is trying to get pictures. Here’s the deal, when you get to the top of the mountain the train comes back down and the crew makes everyone change seats with the other side of the car. My advice is to ride up on the right side and then at the top you move to the other side. You will have the window to yourself and the balconies because everyone has already gotten their pictures on the way up.

Pickwick’s cruising tips

Since I have cruising on the brain these days (3 days and counting until my next cruise), I have decided to compile my list of cruise tips. These are things I’ve either tried, read about, learned in seminars, or have heard fellow cruisers suggest.
Booking a cruise
Transatlantic/Re-positioning cruises sell fast.  Book these many months ahead for best cabin selection.
Prices during holidays and spring break are sky-high, and, yes, people cruise over Christmas.
Check the air prices before booking the cruise. So often people find really good cruise prices and later, while looking at airfare, they have a heart attack when the airfare is higher than the cruise. I’ve seen this often with Ft Lauderdale.
Be careful choosing a cabin. As a travel agent, I always look at the deck plans to make sure you’re not above or below the disco.
“Anytime Dining” (or the equivalent) is a good option if the early dining is full and you don’t want to eat at 8:30pm. As part of the “Anytime Dining,” did you know you can usually make reservations online for each night you sail before you board? Some cruise lines require that you pre-pay gratuities with the cruise deposit if you choose the “Anytime Dining” option.
Have an early morning excursion? Use room service for breakfast instead of tackling the crowded buffet. It doesn’t cost anything extra.
Sometimes you can choose your dining table size. My suggestion is that you choose either a 2-top if you like eating by yourselves (although there’s no guarantee one will be available) or at least a 6 or 8-top. If you end up at a table for 4 with another couple with whom you have absolutely nothing in common, it’s going to be a really long week. At least with a large table of people there is more variety in personalities.
Life on-board
Finding each other, ugh! I have seen families use walkie-talkie’s. With groups, I suggest  having a designated hang-out location.
Most cruise lines allow you to bring on a bottle or two (wine/champagne) at embarkation.  However, while on the cruise, you are not usually allowed to bring liquor/wine on board to your cabin. When visiting ports you can buy and bring it on, but the cruise line holds it until final day at disembarkation. The same thing happens if you buy it in the ship’s liquor store.  Sometimes in the ship souvenir shop they sell variety packs with 6 little bottles of flavored vodka and they will  allow you to take them to your cabin.
***The points mentioned above are generally true.  Please remember that all cruise lines are different and have different policies and regulations.
And the No. 1 tip — Use a travel agent!
Happy Sailing!

My likes and dislikes of cruising

First off, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the cruising world. At this moment, I think I’ve done maybe 6 big ship cruises. Here is a list of some of my personal likes and dislikes.
Like: The ease of cruising, no schedules to follow, you can be as active or lazy as you wish. Scheduled for the 6pm dining? You can blow it off and eat at the buffet or take room service anytime you like. There is always plenty to do, but you don’t have to do anything.
Dislike: At embarkation there is always about a 2-hour window when passengers are boarding and the cabins are not ready. This makes the public spaces very crowded and on top of that everyone is schlepping around their carry-on luggage. It’s loud, dining area is packed, no place to sit, and dining staff is furiously working to clean up all the dirty dishes and tables. Once everyone is allowed in their cabins….aahhh.
Dislike: The loud pounding music at the main pool area. And trying to use your I-pod here is impossible. The loud music forces everyone to yell when talking to one another. I don’t mind passing through this area and hanging out for a little bit, but it’s definitely not my camping out space.
Like: Here is my little secret– I like sitting in the lounge chairs on the deck where the life boats hang. It’s shady, quiet and breezy. It’s lower to the water line and sometimes you even get a little ocean spray.
Dislike: Sitting at a table with strangers for dinner. I’m not good at small talk. There are tables for 2, you can always ask.
Like: On our last cruise we discovered eating lunch in the main dining room, rather than the crowded, standing in line buffet. This became the highlight of our days at sea. We always got a table of our own and we’d have a long, relaxing, three course meal with cocktails, and white tablecloth service.
Dislike: The hairy chest/belly flop contests, I think these events are probably geared more to the Caribbean and Mexico cruises. This probably does not go on with the upscale cruise lines like Regent, Oceania, or Seabourn. I’m getting old, but I’d rather go to high tea in the afternoon or play scattagories.
Like: Days in port and you don’t get off the ship. Sleep in late, while the others are lined up to get out the door, and have a leisurely breakfast (you’ll have the dining room practically to yourself). This is the best time to schedule a spa treatment, the spa runs the best specials on port days.
I love cruising and I’m counting down (7 weeks) and I’m heading out for my 2nd Alaska cruise, can’t wait!