Midwest Lodgings for Family Reunions
More than a third of us travel for family reunions each year. But where to go, especially if you're planning for a large group? Our research turned up 24 destinations doing exceptional jobs of hosting family groups.
Many of the Midwest's most popular vacation areas fall in the category of lakeside spots. You'll sacrifice some accessibility and convenience, but families will love the range of activities and lodgings. Our top pick: Branson, Missouri. There are lodgings for everyone, including big, full-service resorts and motels, as well as quieter, small resorts and condominium complexes along Table Rock Lake. Music shows, Silver Dollar City theme park and the lake are among the attractions. To plan your trip: explorebranson.com.
Five other areas were top picks from our research: Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, which is in a popular central location with a wide range of lodging choices (funlake.com); Brainerd Lakes area, Minnesota, a premier vacation area known for family activities and resorts as well as cottages (explorebrainerdlakes.com); Door County, Wisconsin, which has a generations-long reputation as a family destination (doorcounty.com); Traverse bays area, Michigan, with Lake Michigan beaches, pretty shore towns and top resorts (traversecity.com; petoskeyarea.com); and Mackinac area, Michigan, which has beaches, parks, historic sites and storied Mackinac Island (mackinacisland.org).
Medium-size cities and suburbs
Suburbs and smaller cities are often character actors in the Midwest's lineup of star destinations. But they deserve a second look as reunion spots. Our top choice: DuPage County, Illinois. Chicago's western suburbs are minutes from O'Hare and a quick train ride from downtown. Nearby are the DuPage County Forest Preserve's well-tended parks, Naperville's walkable downtown and the Morton Arboretum. To plan your trip: discoverdupage.com.
Our other top choices for medium-size cities and suburbs: Omaha, with more to do than you think: a great zoo, museums, historical sites and other attractions (visitomaha.com); Duluth, with a stunning Lake Superior location and a wonderfully walkable downtown (visitduluth.com); Quad Cities, Iowa/Illinois, unfairly overlooked as a destination-it has strong planning help and an impressive array of activities (visitquadcities.com); Grand Rapids, Michigan, close to the Lake Michigan shore with a compact downtown and an array of family-friendly attractions (experiencegr.com); and Lake County, Illinois, with Six Flags Great America amusement park and Gurnee Mills Outlet Mall (visitlakecounty.org).
Some destinations have carved their own niches as getaway spots, often with unique character or special-interest attractions. Our top pick: Wisconsin Dells, a longtime top family destination with a reputation that has been energized with the addition of kid-pleasing, indoor water parks to many resorts. Old-time cabin compounds and smaller, bargain-priced properties also are available. The Dells tourism office gets high marks for planning help (wisdells.com).
Other great getaway locations: Brown County, Indiana, which has an acclaimed artists' enclave centering on Nashville with 300 shops and outstanding parks (browncounty.com); Frankenmuth area, Michigan, with German food, shops and crafts (frankenmuth.org); Elkhart County, Indiana, the heart of Amish country, with crafts, small towns and hearty cooking (visitelkhartcounty.com); Hocking Hills, Ohio, popular for parks and trails (explorehockinghills.com); and Nebraska City, Nebraska, which offers small-town charm close to Omaha, plus an outdoorsy, green vibe at a top reunion property (gonebraskacity.com).
The Midwest's largest cities can be the most convenient reunion spots, especially if you have family flying in. Our top pick: the Twin Cities. Minneapolis' reenergized downtown has become a sought-after destination. But it's still easy to navigate, thanks to skywalks and a light-rail system. The light-rail also links downtown to the airport and the Mall of America. The mall, Minnesota's No. 1 attraction, is another popular reunion hub. To plan your trip: minneapolis.org.
Five more high-rated picks for a city reunion: Detroit, which offers top-notch planning and mid-range, reunion-savvy lodgings (visitdetroit.com); Cleveland, which offers excellent planning, lots of lodgings, and attractions such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Great Lakes Science Center (thisiscleveland.com); Indianapolis, boasting an appealing, walkable downtown (visitindy.com); St. Louis, with lots of free and low-cost family attractions, plus a great central location (explorestlouis.com); and Kansas City, Missouri, with new must-see attractions as well as classics such as Country Club Plaza (visitkc.com).
Organizing and getting help
We heard the same advice from dozens of tourism offices, planners and lodgings. For a successful reunion, you need organizers, a person or committee to lead the planning-a year or more in advance, if possible. The best places book up early; family calendars do, too. Also, use expert help. Most convention and visitors bureaus will send your reunion information to area hotels and ask for prices, often securing lower rates than you would on your own. Don't be afraid to negotiate. Hotels expect it. Rates and extras, such as complimentary meeting rooms and breakfasts, all are up for grabs.
Two must-haves for a family reunion: a meeting room or another space where your group can mingle informally and, for younger families, a pool-the bigger, the better. (Hot days. Bored kids. Enough said.) Also, spend time planning meal strategies. A cookout is cheap and easy. Convention and visitors bureaus often can recommend parks and caterers, if you don't want to do the grilling. Splurge on at least one banquet. Many hotels and restaurants will design affordable menus and even work with family recipes.
Lakeside lodging ideas
Big Cedar Lodge bigcedar.com
Thousand Hills www.thousandhills.com
Westgate Branson Woods Resort www.wgbransonwoods.com
Still Waters Condominium Resort. www.stillwatersresort.com
The Village At Indian Point www.villageatindianpoint.com
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Margaritaville Lake Resort www.margaritavilleresortlakeoftheozarks.com
The Lodge at Port Arrowhead www.lodgeatportarrowhead.com/
Bass Point Resort www.basspoint.com
Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Grand View Lodge www.grandviewlodge.com
Madden's on Gull Lake www.maddens.com
Kavanaugh's Sylvan Lake Resort www.kavanaughs.com
Door County, Wisconsin
Gordon Lodge www.gordonlodge.com
Eagle Harbor Inn www.eagleharbor.com
Traverse Bays area, Michigan
Boyne Mountain Resort www.boyne.com
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa www.grandtraverseresort.com
Mackinac area, Michigan
Mission Point Resort www.missionpoint.com
Lodging ideas in medium-size cities and suburbs
Comfortable and reliable chain hotels are well-represented in these areas; check to see which accommodate the needs of your reunion attendees (depending on your group, you may want to make sure there's an indoor pool, included breakfast, transportation to area attractions, etc.)
Special getaways lodging ideas
Baker's Sunset Bay Resort www.sunsetbayresort.com
Chula Vista Resort www.chulavistaresort.com
Meadowbrook Resort www.meadowbrookresort.com
Great Wolf Lodge www.greatwolf.com
Brown County, Indiana
Brown County Inn www.browncountyinn.com
Salt Creek Golf Retreat www.saltcreekgolf.com
Artists Colony Inn artistscolonyinn.com
Elkhart County, Indiana
Essenhaus Inn and Conference Center www.essenhaus.com
Amish Acres Historic Farm and Heritage Resort www.amishacres.com
Frankenmuth area, Michigan
Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn Lodge www.bavarianinn.com
Zehnder's Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark www.zehnders.com
Hocking Hills, Ohio
Look for family-size lodges through websites such as www.hockinghills.com/lodges
Nebraska City, Nebraska
Lied Lodge/Arbor Day Farm. www.liedlodge.org
Your choices here are limited only by your needs and your budget. Boutique hotels open every year in the Midwest's major cities, as do lower-priced (but perfectly suitable) national chain hotels. Weigh considerations such as downtown vs. suburbs and whether you want amenities such as a spa, free parking, included breakfast, a destination restaurant on-site, play areas for kids, etc.