Design by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist | Photos courtesy of the Arty and Frost families
The Canceled Family Reunions of the Pandemic™ were painful. Fire halls and picnic shelters across the country sat empty, just waiting to witness an awkward conversation between Boomer relatives and their Gen Z descendants. Deposits were lost. Casseroles went unbaked. And, devastatingly, loved ones passed away without a chance to see their extended relatives again. The pandemic took many things from us, but time with family was one of the most poignant losses.
Enter the revenge family reunion.
Once able to gather again, families have taken things up a notch. They were stuck at home, apart, and they are over it—and they’re going all out to make up for the lost time. Blowout cruises, swanky hotels, and luxe all-inclusive resorts are taking center stage for rescheduled family reunions now that most families feel safe traveling again.
That’s what motivated the Arty family of Long Island to plan not one, but two destination family reunions. Frantz and Jamie Arty weathered the height of the pandemic at home with their three kids and Frantz’s parents, who live with them. They lost their grandfather when Fratnz’s dad died of COVID in the spring of 2020. The loss forced them to reevaluate the time they spend together and how they make memories. Once it felt safe, they booked large, lavish multi-generational family trips to both Jamaica and Disney World. “I think before the pandemic, we would’ve never spent the amount of money we did,” says Jamie, “but because we did lose a family member to COVID, it kind of was like, ‘You know, if you don’t enjoy it now, you might not ever.’”
While other families did not personally experience a death due to COVID, the highly possible fear was a driving force that made many wonder about future chances to convene again. For the Frost family of Cincinnati, the pause in travel felt like a race against time for aging relatives. Uncertainty about travel and differing views about the pandemic made getting their extended family together tricky, but things finally felt better to everyone by the summer of 2022. The entire family gathered from two countries across thousands of miles in British Columbia for their matriarch’s 90th birthday.
“I honestly wasn’t sure, during the pandemic, that a get-together like this would ever happen again, especially not during my grandmother’s lifetime,” says Alexandra Frost. “She met two of my four children she’d never seen before, folded beach towels with me, and reminisced about decades past, and had the time of her life.” For Frost, the trip felt like the unofficial conclusion to the worst parts of the pandemic. “We were able to get back to normal in so many ways, making everyone appreciate it much more than we would have five years ago.”
These splashy reunions aren’t an anomaly—in fact, they are fast becoming the norm. Travel industry experts have been inundated with booking requests for multigenerational events. While data is still emerging, the evidence is clear. At the Kimpton Banneker Hotel in Washington, D.C., Dennis Hernandez is navigating a slew of events that highlight this trend. As the director of marketing and sales, he hears guests express a pent-up demand for togetherness and celebration that seems unlikely to ebb soon, if ever.
“Without leaning into that almighty crystal ball, I’d say based on my conversations—and given what the world experienced over the past 36-plus months—family reunions are healing,” says Hernandez. “It’s a great celebratory way to reconnect with everyone, make memories, and an opportunity to share family cultures and traditions while exploring new destinations.”
His guests are requesting the Banneker’s boardroom as a hospitality space for shared meals, as multiple generations reserve blocks of hotel rooms. They’re springing for the suites, too. The Banneker provides kid scooters and adult bikes, freezers that can be delivered to guest rooms that maintain breast milk at the correct temperature (which a regular mini-fridge can’t do), and is walkable to all the history the capital has to offer. Adapting their corporate meeting areas for elaborate family reunions fits their ethos, says Hernandez.
It’s not just metropolitan hotels that are adapting to the rise in multigenerational travel. At Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, families are booking up to eight townhouses at the seaside resort for large multigenerational gatherings, says vice president and managing director Sheldon Suga. Large family trips were rescheduled along with a large crop of new family bookings—and most of those include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. These large groups love all a resort setting has to offer without ever leaving the premises.
“The appeal of Hawks Cay for family reunion groups is that the resort offers a variety of activities and experiences for everyone right on property,” says Sheldon Suga, VP managing director of the resort. “So these groups tend to engage in general resort activities without requesting anything out of the ordinary.” There are a handful of restaurants at Hawks Cay, boxed lunches for excursions, and Publix delivers directly to guests’ doorsteps.
The want for a major “do over” is obvious not just from the hotel perspective. Travel agents Jennifer Novotny and Elizabeth Henn have decades of experience booking family trips at the travel agencies they run. After all, families have always loved to travel together—but it’s now taken on new meaning for their clients in a post-pandemic world. This growing trend has created a few unique challenges, though the industry is ready to meet these changes.
Novotny says she has had to work harder to ensure a family’s trip is a magical experience. “It does require that we handle the booking a bit differently,” she explains. “It takes a bit more legwork to triple check things on the backend.” Securing rooms near each other or finding spaces able to accommodate such large groups can be tricky, but her clients are undeterred. “One family had a long weekend reunion canceled,” Novotny continues. “They rescheduled an entire week at a theme park.” She has long-standing relationships with many clients and is overjoyed to see them finally able to gather again.
When Henn looks at her data for theme park bookings in 2022, the rise in lavish trips is clear to her. Prior to 2020, a family of four at Walt Disney World cost around $4,000 for a four-day trip including tickets, meals, and lodging. That same trip now costs about $6,000, which Henn describes as a good value at a moderately priced resort. She’s finding that’s not what families want for their multigenerational trips in 2022 and beyond, though. “Our agency is predominantly booking deluxe resorts, where the rooms alone are averaging $700 to $900 per night, many times even more,” she says.
“If anything positive can come from it, it would be that we all cherish time with our loved ones,” says Henn. “That’s why I think even with the recession, travel will still be a priority. People may start scaling back a bit with the added amenities, top accommodations, and VIP experiences, but they still are going to want to vacation and make memories together.”