Mary Jo Campbell says she was being selfish. Her five grown children and their spouses counter that her gesture was just the opposite.
``An amazing gift,'' said daughter-in-law True Campbell, who lives in North Carolina. The senior Mrs. Campbell wanted her far-flung children around her for her 75th birthday. And, more than that, she wanted them to concentrate on her and each other without the distractions of work -- three are doctors -- and their 10 children.
So nearly a year before her milestone birthday last fall, Campbell, a widow who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., called all of her children and invited them and their spouses on a week-long Windstar Cruise to out-of-the-way Caribbean ports. The ship would be small (less than 150 passengers), she told them, casual (no need to dress fancy for dinner) and luxurious. She was picking up the entire tab. No grandkids invited.
``We have reunions with the kids in the Smokey Mountains every other summer, and everything revolves around them,'' she explained. ``This was for the adults.''
``It's the first time since high school we were together on vacation,'' added 40-year-old daughter Becky Arrants, who also lives in Tennessee.
``We had conversations we never would have had time for if the kids had been along,'' said True Campbell, the working mom of three boys. ``The summer reunions are a lot of fun,'' she explained. ``But they're a lot of work.''
Reunion vacations are a lot of work to plan, too, with families scattered so far across the country. That's the dirty little secret of these increasingly popular trips -- whether the grandkids are invited or not.
``The biggest mistake people make is to think it's going to be easy,'' said Helena Koenig, the Maryland travel agent who was among the first in the country to recognize the potential of this multi-generational travel market and has emerged as a national expert on the subject.
Rule 1: Plan early, up to a year in advance.
This is the time to get grandma and grandpa wired. E-mail makes trip planning a lot easier. This is not the time to surprise everyone with airline tickets for a certain date. That's because kids' soccer tournaments, basketball playoffs, kindergarten graduations and camp dates must be put into the mix, along with work schedules. ``A real pain in the butt,'' said Judy Sitzman, laughing. She had just finalized the details for taking her family of 13 to Maui this June. ``I don't think the grandkids realize how much work this takes,'' she said.
And it's usually grandma and grandpa doing that work -- as well as footing a big chunk of the bill, those in the travel industry say.
Rule 2: Be clear who is paying for what.
The effort involved to make one of these trips happen doesn't seem to dissuade anyone, though. Nearly 20 percent of last year's trips spanned three generations -- more than 17 million trips, according to the Travel Industry Association. Millions of others -- nearly a third of last summer's vacationers -- included a reunion in their plans, and TIA officials expect the reunion trend to continue this year.
Club Med now books hundreds of these groups a year, giving up to 20 percent off for groups with 20 adults or more. Forty percent of Disney Cruise Line's business include three generations, and that likely will continue when the first seven-day trips begin this summer. Colonial Williamsburg sees a lot of these families. So do ski areas, with grandpa leading the way down the slopes in winter or on hiking trails in summer. "We feel this is a big growth area,'' agreed Jennifer DelaCruz, a Carnival Cruise Line spokesperson. ``I could do nothing and they could do a lot on a cruise, and we could be together,'' explained Elaine Vocelka, a 77-year-old Houston grandmother who opted for Carnival. ``I'm hooked on the idea.''
``I smile every time I look at the picture in my office,'' said Dolores Bliss, a Pennsylvania school principal. She and her husband John gave their two grown children and her mother a Disney Cruise for Christmas. ``It's the memory of the time together that we can hold on to afterward,'' she explained.
But sometimes grandparents find it takes coaxing to persuade everyone to go at all. ``You're taking all of the baggage from the relationships with you,'' explained Florida psychologist and author Nancy Schlossberg, an expert on multi-generational relationships and University of Maryland professor emeritus. Too often, she sighed, the grandparents' expectations exceed reality.
Rule 3: Don't expect this to be a trip of a lifetime, especially if the grandkids are along.
``Think of it as a celebration, not a vacation,'' advised Helena Koenig. ``Everyone is going to to have to sacrifice something.''
Some may think the cruise ship is too glitzy or the hotel not upscale enough. Parents may go to a resort when they'd rather be camping. Grandparents might have to eat at 7 instead of 5. Kids are going to whine and complain just like they do at home.
Rule 4: When the going gets rough, get away from each other for a few hours.
Judy Sitzman, for example, has arranged for each of her three children's families to have their own car on Maui. Even the Campbells, who relished their time together, scattered during the day so each could do what he or she liked -- horseback riding, lazing in the sun or touring.
They took a lot of pictures, too, presenting their mom with five photo albums. Mary Jo Campbell wants to keep those pictures coming. She's already thinking about an 80th birthday trip.
IF YOU WANT TO TAKE THE WHOLE GANG:
Ask about group rates and special discounts for large families. You'll get the best deals if you can travel off season or in shoulder season.
-- Call Windstar Cruises at 800-258-SAIL or www.windstarcruises.com and ask about early booking and airline discounts.
-- Call Club Med at 800-CLUB MED or www.clubmed.com. Ask about summer deals that allow you $150 off per room.
-- Call Cruise Line Inc., one of the largest cruise discounters in the country, at 800-777-0707 or www.cruiseline.com. Ask how many adults you need in order to qualify for a free berth. For every 15 full-fare passengers on Carnival, for example, families get one free berth.
-- Summer at ski resorts is a great bargain for large families with plenty to do for everyone -- even kids' camps. In Colorado's Vail Valley, for example, two-bedroom condos are available for under $100 a night. Call 800-525-3875 or www.visitvailvalley.com.
-- History-loving families can opt for Williamsburg's economical Revolutionary Fun Packages that average a little more than $800 for a family of four and include five-day admission to Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens and other area attractions. Call 800-211-7169 or www.revolutionaryfun.com.
-- Holiday Inn Family Suites in Orlando has special grandtravel packages that include two-bedroom themed Kidsuites and food discounts for grandparents. Kids eat all meals free. Rates start at $139, $89 after mid-August. Call 877-387-5437 or www.hifamilysuites.com.
(c) 2000, Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate