Fun for All
First things first: Don't crowd the guest list. While elders often feel like inviting every aunt, second cousin, and half-sibling, more aren't always merrier. The year we tried including my mother's sister's branch of the family, the simple act of choosing a restaurant for dinner, getting there, and sitting together nearly caused us to implode. If you do have a big reunion, avoid stress by limiting group meals to one per day.
In fact, even though the point is togetherness, it's important to choose a trip that offers family members space and time to be on their own. Instead of renting a large house, says McCarthy, "I'd err on the side of a condo with individual units." This keeps crying babies and late partyers from bothering everyone else, which leads to less friction around mealtime and permits, as she puts it, "less scrutiny of everyone's parenting style." Instead of renting the largest possible vehicle, she votes for auto-autonomy -- each family should have its own car.
And even though this is a vacation, agree from the beginning to limit sightseeing. The point is to relax, and as soon as you start trying to move as a herd, pleasure takes a holiday. So avoid places where you'd feel frustrated missing tourist sites or where you're trapped in one place with nothing else to do (an out-of-the way hotel with no kids' program). A typical compromise often cited by experts is San Diego, which has Sea World, the famed zoo, Legoland, surfing, museums, theaters, and beaches -- but if you ended up just staying at your hotel, you wouldn't feel like you'd gone to Rome and hadn't seen the Sistine Chapel.
Most crucial is having the right mindset. Take a break from lifelong relationship dramas and respect each other's differences instead of trying to get everyone on the same page. As Laura Manske, New York City-based editor of Family Travel: The Farther You Go, the Closer You Get, says, "Leave negative family memories at home. Move into a vacation Zen zone. Let it go. Smile." Fend off digs about your kids' behavior with a cheerful comment such as, "Susie's so busy with school and soccer and piano lessons that we don't mind if she wants to lie around on vacation." Look at the trip as an opportunity for your kids to get to know their grandparents and hear "secrets" about what you were like as a kid.