There are two things I missed the most over the past pandemic years…family and travel! The devastating pandemic dry spell took precious years out of my life…years that I knew I could never get back. Finally, I had a positive pandemic moment. I realized it was time to ditch the disruptive anxiety…time to lighten my life…time to see family again.
The time had come. The time was right to plan a family reunion. However, this would not be an easy task. The biggest challenge would be getting 18 people, spanning 4 generations, and living in 5 different cities, to agree on a date, a location, and an accommodation.
Having made a positive decision, it was time to start moving right along. First step: nail down the requisite essentials…date, location, and accommodation. Moving right along, I began to check off those boxes.
• Date: Only one long weekend out of the entire year seemed to work for all business and school schedules.Box checked!
• Location: Since 14 family members lived on the East Coast, (and 10 of those 14 lived in Broward County, Florida) Fort Lauderdale was a no-brainer choice for location. Box checked!
• Accommodation: After researching the myriad of options available in Ft. Lauderdale, the family trusted my travel experience and agreed on my accommodation choice of the Lago Mar Beach Resort & Club…located five miles from the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport and just one mile from Port Everglades. Box checked!
Lago Mar is a spacious oasis that exudes old Florida charm that is decidedly…and purposefully…different. It is understated, not loud; gracious, not pretentious; deferential, not presumptuous. It is a casual luxury resort more reasonably priced than most other luxury resorts. Please don’t confuse this under-the-radar resort with Donald Trump’s over-the top, pricey, glitzy Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
Lago Mar has been family-owned by 4-generations of the Banks Family since 1960. It is the quintessential Florida retreat where personal service exudes the feeling of a private club. Spoiler alert: If you think it feels like a private club, that’s because it is a private club. The resort’s property is not open to the public and all services are solely for the enjoyment of resort guests and beach club members. There is no influx of outside visitors on the property…with the exception of the wild iguanas that can be seen sunning in the bushes and trees, or slithering around poolside.
Please allow me to share with you what turned out to be the perfect post-pandemic reunion for my 4-generational family (4 children; 9 grandchildren; 4 great-grandchildren and yours truly).
Thursday: Several members of the family opted to arrive a day before the festive weekend was to begin. Time to check in, rest up after airport hassles and dine, on their own schedule, at one of the hotel’s six dining options.
Friday: Let the games begin. Everyone headed to the 500-foot private beach (one of the largest in Broward County) to build their castles in the sand. Since there are a limited number of private umbrella-style cabanas permanently anchored on the sandy beach, I reserved several (modest charge) in advance of our arrival. Steamer chairs and beach umbrellas are also available. A day of fun in the sun is great, but shelter from the sun is also necessary throughout the day.
Lunch was poolside, beneath thatched palapas. The adult table officially began their beach vacation with the quintessential beach drink…a creamy coconut, pineapple and rum Pina Colada. Florida-style ahi tuna poke and humongous turkey club sandwiches were the unanimous choices for lunch.
Following a lunch of chicken fingers and burgers, the four 4th generation boys also got their quintessential beach treat…a post-lunch stop at the hotel’s Soda Shop for ice cream.
After lunch, some returned to the beach; others chose to take advantage of other on-site activities such as basketball, tennis, pickle ball, putting course, shuffleboard, ocean-front pool, oversized chessboard or children’s playground.
Dinner for 18 was on the Seagrape Terrace, a shaded enclave adjacent to the Acquario Dining Room that overlooks Lago Mar’s pools and beautifully landscaped grounds. To keep the little ones from getting too restless during a long evening meal, they were well supplied with crayons, paper menus to draw on and culinary treats.
Saturday: While the rest of the family enjoyed more of what they did on Friday, the aging matriarch of this energetic family (that’s me), needed to chill and recharge both mind and body. So, I took a well-deserved break from family festivities and headed for the hotels boutique spa, a cozy hidden gem that blends contemporary European-style elegance with a commitment to age-old spa traditions.
Alessandra Newsom, the bubbly Brazilian-born Spa Director, handed me the spa menu and I had no trouble selecting my treatment of choice. Being the only 1st generation family member (aka…the oldest), my eye was immediately drawn to one particular item on the spa menu that seemed to scream out: “This one’s for you babe!” This old gal didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I decided to give the opulent Anti-Aging Caviar Facial a try.
Esthetician Jane lavished my skin with pure Caviar and a blend of extracts was meant to improve my wrinkles, elasticity and texture. I had hoped that the luxurious face mask, said to increase skin oxygenation and suppleness, would reduce my signs of aging. As I drifted into euphoria, I wondered if the family would even recognize the new youthful me after undergoing my ultimate beauty rejuvenation. Much to my disappointment, they did!
Saturday evening was the only time during our memorable weekend that the family ventured off Lago Mar’s manicured grounds. 2nd generation daughters and their spouses hosted a hibachi dinner at daughter Susan’s Ft. Lauderdale home.
By the time everybody arrived, Hibachi Chef Andre had already set up his hibachi grill and dinner tables. While the 4th generation great-grandsons (ages 4 to 8) ran off their excess energy in the yard, the fourteen adults (spanning 3 generations) were transported to Japan…with a little help from some Sake, (Japanese rice wine) and Kirin (Japanese beer).
Next came the main attraction. The hibachi dinner was much more than a delicious dinner of grilled steak, salmon, chicken, veggies and fried rice. It was an evening of entertainment as Chef Andy flipped and flopped his culinary works of art onto our plates. A fun time for all ages…and a fabulous finale for a family reunion.
After a long and lonely hiatus from family and travel, getting back on travel’s magic carpet once again instilled a feeling of joy and excitement in this nomadic hodophile (one who loves to travel). As the weekend came to a close, I realized that I may never again have the chance to gather 18 family members together at the same time.
Suddenly, words from ABBA’s song “Move On” were running through my head: “I’ve travelled every country I’ve travelled in my mind. It seems we’re on a journey, a trip through space and time…like the sunrise in the morning, life is dawning. Move on.”
Yes, it was time to move on!
Janet Steinberg, winner of 54 National Travel Writing Awards, resides in Cincinnati but calls the world home.
Photo Credits: Janet Steinberg