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Last weekend we went to Utah for a family reunion at Bear Lake. Here are all the details about our stay, the VRBO we rented, and how we make it work as a family.

This past week we went to Bear Lake for our family reunion with my siblings and parents.

We’ve been doing this reunion since 2012, and used to do it every other summer, but in the last few years we’ve done it every summer.

I grew up going to reunions every other summer on my dad’s side, and every few years with my mom’s side. Our family has spread all over the country over the years, so it’s a great chance to get everyone together and have a fun and memorable weekend.

Here was our schedule for the weekend, and some answers to your questions from Instagram:

Thursday, July 15th 

  • Check in at 4:00 p.m.
  • Dinner  (French Dip sandwiches and corn on the cob) – BRADSHAWS
  • Family Pictures – JANSSEN AND MERRICK in charge
  • Minute to Win It Games – BRADSHAWS
  • Family Come Follow Me – WHITES 

Friday, July 16th

  • Breakfast – Cereal/breakfast sandwiches – CRAWFORD + BAILEY
  • Beach Day – Ideal Beach Resort
    • Rental house has kayaks we can use
  • Lunch (La Beau’s burgers and raspberry shakes) – MOM + DAD
  • Dinner – (Crockpot – Cafe Rio Burritos and Salads) – WHITES
  • Family scripture study – BRADSHAWS 

Saturday, July 17th

  • Breakfast: Cereal/breakfast sandwiches – CRAWFORD + BAILEY
  • Boat Day – 10:00-6:00pm – Epic Recreation RV and Marina
    • 12 people are allowed on the boat at a time. We will go in two shifts again (morning and afternoon) like last year. Those who are off the boat will have access to basketball, the pool, and pickleball at the clubhouse. The rental property has a pickleball set and a basketball. CRAWFORD bring extra pickleball set.
  • Lunch – leftover Cafe Rio/Snacks (MCBRIDES) on the boat and at the pool
  • Dinner – Pizza delivery (Summit Pizza Co) – MOM + DAD
  • Family Come Follow Me – MCBRIDES
  • Dessert (Muddy Buddies) – WHITES
  • Movie Night or Pickleball/Swimming

Sunday, July 18th

  • Breakfast: Cereal/breakfast sandwiches – CRAWFORD + BAILEY
  • Family Home Church Service – DAD
    • Spiritual thought – CRAWFORD
  • Check out at 11 a.m.
  • Sack Lunches for the road – WHITES

We kept it super simple and very flexible. We have lots of little kids, so we switched things up as needed and for various activities some people joined and some did not. We just made it work!

Here are answers to your questions about our trip!

Q: Where did you stay in Bear Lake?

We stayed in Fish Haven Idaho this year at this gorgeous VRBO house.

Last year we stayed in a house in Garden City, which was a little closer to downtown with all the restaurants. The house this year was about 20 minutes north, but felt much quieter, had better amenities than last year, and we had a great experience.

The house was in a gated community that had access to a clubhouse with two pools, a hot tub, a sports court with pickleball and basketball and tennis courts, a gym, and a foosball table. It was endless fun in the evenings when we got home from the beach and the boat.

Q: How did you find the house you stayed in? (Friends, Air bnb, VRBO?)

We searched on Airbnb and VRBO. We had a general budget, and knew roughly how many bedrooms and bathrooms we needed, so that helped us narrow our search.

From there, we just looked through all the options and chose the one that looked clean and nice and had good reviews.

The most important thing for us is that every family had their own bedroom and bathroom. Last year families had to share a bathroom and it’s just tight and uncomfortable sometimes. This house had 7 bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms and was perfect for our family.

The adults each got their own rooms, all the girl cousins shared one bunk room, and all the boy cousins (except the newborn) shared the other bunk room. My brother brought his girlfriend so she got one room and he had to sleep in the open loft on a pull out couch, so less privacy and comfort for him, but he did get his own bathroom and he was nice about it.

Q: How far in advance did you begin planning and finding a place?

Things book up very quickly in Bear Lake, so we actually got lucky. We booked this place at the beginning of February. I’m shocked it wasn’t booked for the weekend we were there. There were only about 5-6 houses that fit our criteria that were within a reasonable price range.

I had hoped to get it booked by last fall, but my parents weren’t sure of their schedule so we put it off til February. Thankfully we found this place, but I was a little stressed for a bit!

Q: How many people did you have?

We had 21 total, 10 adults and 11 kids.

  • My parents
  • My older sister and her husband and four girls
  • My younger sister and her husband and four boys
  • My family with our three boys
  • My younger brother and his girlfriend

Q: Which company did you rent a boat from?

We rented through Epic Recreation at the RV Park and Marina location, which was about 20 minutes from our house. We rented the 12 Person 23′ Surf Boat and the accessory package for 8 hours.

Last year we did 6 hours and it was not enough time for all of us to get the time we needed on the boat (since we had to split into two groups and switch out in the middle).

There was another boat rental place closer to our house called Performance Rental, so we checked out their website on the way home, thinking maybe we’d rent from them next year. But their prices were higher and their reviews were worse. At Epic, they were super friendly and helpful and we had a great experience.

Q: Where did you rent the giant mat from?

My sister rented this from SUP Rentals in Springville last year and it was a favorite among the cousins, so we had to bring it back this year. My parents were driving from Las Vegas and my dad has a truck, so they picked it up and hauled it to the lake.

We didn’t see any people with them last year, but we saw a few on the lake this year. You can buy them HERE, but possibly there’s a place to rent them in Bear Lake.

Q: What is a good beach area?

Last year we went to Rendezvous Beach, which was fine. It was very crowded and you have to pay per car to enter.

This year, my brother in law got us access to Ideal Beach, which is a private beach for residents. His parents own a condo there, so he was able to get us in. It was much less crowded, and much nicer, but not accessible for most.

The owner of our rental house said North Beach was their favorite. We never went over there, but he gave it high praise and it’s closer to the rental house.

Q: Is the water freezing?

It’s chilly, but not freezing. We kept joking that it felt “refreshing” as we’d shriek as we jumped into the water from the boat. It’s the kind of temperature that takes your breath away for a second when you jump in, but you get used to it within thirty seconds.

It was also much warmer toward the edges of the lake, so when we played at the beach, it didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

Q: What activities did you have for kids and adults?

The house had a few toys (a tiny play kitchen that the kids loved), a pool table, and an XBox. But the clubhouse gave us most of the activities, with swimming, foosball, pickleball, and basketball.

We also brought some games and the Minute to Win It activities, and we logged into Netflix one night and a few people watched a movie while others were at the sports court.

Q: Do you have fun family traditions you do at each reunion?

Minute to Win It has been a tradition for the last few years, and it’s a great first evening “ice breaker” activity when we all get together.

We also always take a nice family picture (someone brings a camera and a tripod to use).

Besides that, we haven’t been really consistent about anything in particular. The last two years we’ve been at the lake, so we do a boat day and a beach day. And we plan to do Bear Lake for the next few years, at least — it’s a great location with lots of built in things to do, and we love the idea of the kids growing up learning to do water sports.

Q: How did you split up meals and household chores?

We split up meals between families, as you can see in the schedule above. This year, my little sister had a newborn baby, so we put her in charge of buying snacks for the pantry rather than a meal.

It’s also most cost effective and efficient for one family to be in charge of all the breakfasts, or all the lunches, so several families aren’t each bringing a gallon of milk, or multiple boxes of cereal. Otherwise you end up with way too much food.

We all love cooking and being together, so even though one family is in charge of a meal, everyone pitches in to help prepare, and then everyone cleans up. There were no specific assignments for cleaning.

Q: What is the Cafe Rio pork recipe you used?

My family was in charge of Friday night dinner and this is what I made. It’s always a hit.

I used THIS RECIPE from Heidikins Cooks. I’ve been making this recipe for a decade and it’s amazing. Just make sure you get a good cut of meat — that extra fat on a pork butt shoulder makes it super tender and makes the juice really soak in and make it very flavorful.

We also used THIS RECIPE for the cilantro lime rice, Heidikin’s recipe for the ranch dressing (but we added more mayo and less buttermilk cause otherwise it’s way too runny), and bought uncooked tortillas and mexican pinto and black beans from the grocery store.

The best part was that it cooked all day and was ready when we got home from the beach. We just whipped up the rice and other salad and burrito ingredients, and we were eating within 30 minutes of walking in the door.

Q: How do you handle the finances of the reunion?

We split the cost of the house 5 ways (per family). My youngest brother paid his part for the first time this year…in the past, he’s been under the umbrella of my parents part. He gets the short end of the stick cause he paid the same amount as my sisters, who each have 6 people in their families, but he was cool with it.

My parents covered the cost of renting the boat, and then we split the meals up according to assignment. Each of us purchased our own groceries before arriving.

Not everything is exactly even, but that’s real life and everyone is good about paying for their part.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask!

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All About Our Family Reunion in Bear Lake

Gates family reunion bear lake picture web-res

Last weekend we went to Utah for a family reunion at Bear Lake. Here are all the details about our stay, the VRBO we rented, and how we make it work as a family.

 

This past week we went to Bear Lake for our family reunion with my siblings and parents.

We’ve been doing this reunion since 2012, and used to do it every other summer, but in the last few years we’ve done it every summer.

I grew up going to reunions every other summer on my dad’s side, and every few years with my mom’s side. Our family has spread all over the country over the years, so it’s a great chance to get everyone together and have a fun and memorable weekend.

 

bear lake on the boat
bear lake north beach
bear lake spike ball
bear lake rental house
bear lake water mat
bear lake philip and merrick
bear lake cousins on the tube

Here was our schedule for the weekend, and some answers to your questions from Instagram:

 

Thursday, July 13th 

  • Check in at 4:00 p.m.
  • Dinner  (pre-prepared enchiladas, ready to cook at the house) MCBRIDES
  • Family Pictures – JANSSEN AND MERRICK in charge
  • Minute to Win It Games – BRADSHAWS (details about these later!)
  • Family Come Follow Me – CRAWFORD + BAILEY

Friday, July 14th

  • Breakfast – Cereal/breakfast sandwiches – CRAWFORD + BAILEY
  • Morning at the clubhouse pool, gym, and pickleball courts
  • Lunch at the house – Sandwiches, chips, fruit, veggies – BRADSHAWS
  • Beach and Boat Day at North Beach
    • Bring Kayaks and beach toys from the house
    • Mom and dad bring rented lilypad
    • Bradshaw family brings their boat
  • Dinner – pizza ordered and picked up from Summit Pizza (we bought 6 large pizzas and 2 breadsticks and had plenty of leftovers. 5 pizzas would probably have been better)
  • Family Come Follow Me – MCBRIDES
  • Put tomorrow’s dinner in the crockpot to begin cooking

Saturday, July 15th

  • Breakfast: Cereal/breakfast sandwiches – CRAWFORD + BAILEY
  • Morning at the clubhouse pool, gym, and pickleball courts
  • Lunch at the house – leftover pizza, enchiladas, etc
    • Merrick preps dinner so it’s ready after the beach
  • Beach and Boat Day at North Beach
    • Bring Kayaks and beach toys from the house
    • Mom and dad bring rented lilypad
    • Bradshaw family brings their boat
  • Dinner – Cafe Rio Copycat SaladsWHITES
  • Dessert (Muddy Buddies) – WHITES
  • Adult Temple fireside – MOM
    • Kids go to bed earlier or watch a movie

Sunday, July 16th

  • Breakfast: Cereal/breakfast sandwiches – CRAWFORD + BAILEY
  • Everyone pack sack lunches for the road – BRADSHAWS
  • Check out at 10am
  • Church in Garden City at 10:30am
  • Lunch at Heritage Park in Garden City
  • Everyone drives home

 

We kept it super simple and very flexible. We have lots of little kids, so we switched things up as needed and for various activities some people joined and some did not. We just made it work!

 

bear lake raspberry shake
bear lake mama bird water
bear lake house
bear lake VRBO house
bear lake lilypad
bear lake wet suit wake surfing

 

Here are answers to your questions about our trip!

Q: Where did you stay in Bear Lake?

We stayed in Fish Haven Idaho this year at this gorgeous VRBO house.

The first time we did a family reunion in Bear Lake, we stayed in a smaller house in Garden City, which was a little closer to downtown with all the restaurants. It felt busier and more crowded, and the house was definitely more squished, with smaller spaces to gather, and families sharing bathrooms. We found this amazing house two years ago, which is about 15 minutes farther up the lake, and we loved it so much that we came back this year! (We skipped an official reunion last year because my brother got married in August).

The house is in a gated community that has access to a clubhouse with two pools, a hot tub, a sports court with pickleball and basketball and tennis courts, and a gym. The owner of the VRBO also put in a basketball and pickleball court on property this year, so that was a super fun addition for the kids.  It was endless fun in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings, in between trips to the lake.

 

Q: How did you find the house you stayed in? (Friends, Air bnb, VRBO?)

Three years ago, we just searched on Airbnb and VRBO. We had a general budget, and knew roughly how many bedrooms and bathrooms we needed, so that helped us narrow our search. When we had a mediocre experience with the first Bear Lake house we stayed in, we looked for something a little more spacious and found THIS HOUSE. It’s our second time staying there because we have had such a great experience and it has plenty of space and rooms and beds. We already booked it for next summer too!

The most important thing for us is that every family had their own bedroom and bathroom. Our first year, families had to share a bathroom and it’s just tight and uncomfortable sometimes. This house has 7 bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms and was perfect for our family of 21.

The adults each got their own rooms, all the girl cousins shared one bunk room, and all the boy cousins (except my sister’s youngest, who is 2) shared the other bunk room.

 

Q: How far in advance did you begin planning and finding a place?

Things book up very quickly in Bear Lake, so we’ve had this booked since last August. We just choose dates at the reunion and get it booked for the following year so we don’t have to stress about it.

 

Q: How many people did you have?

We had 21 total, 10 adults and 11 kids.

  • My parents
  • My older sister and her husband and four girls
  • My younger sister and her husband and four boys
  • My family with our three boys
  • My younger brother and his wife

 

Q: Which company did you rent a boat from?

My sister’s family got a boat last year, so we used their boat this year. But in the past two Bear Lake reunions, we’ve rented a boat.

Here are the details:

We rented through Epic Recreation at the RV Park and Marina location, which was about 20 minutes from our house. We rented the 12 Person 23′ Surf Boat and the accessory package for 8 hours.

Our first year at Bear Lake, we rented for 6 hours and it was not enough time for all of us to get the time we needed on the boat (since we had to split into two groups and switch out in the middle).

There was another boat rental place closer to our house called Performance Rental, so we checked out their website on the way home, thinking maybe we’d rent from them the next year. But their prices were higher and their reviews were worse. At Epic, they were super friendly and helpful and we had a great experience.

Some people have asked about how we handled the rental, and if anyone has driving experience. My brother in law grew up boating, so he knew how to drive a rental boat (although every boat is a little different, I think, so they gave him a little tutorial when we picked it up). If you don’t have anyone in your family with boat driving experience, especially driving while people are doing water sports, I’d say that you probably shouldn’t rent a boat. I would personally never feel comfortable doing that when I have zero experience.

 

Q: Where did you rent the giant mat from?

My sister rented this from SUP Rentals in Springville our first year and it was a favorite among the cousins, so we had to bring it back the last two times. My parents were driving from Las Vegas and my dad has a truck, so they picked it up and hauled it to the lake.

You can also buy them HERE, but possibly there’s a place to rent them in Bear Lake.

 

Q: What is a good beach area?

Our first year we went to Rendezvous Beach, which was fine. It was very crowded and you have to pay per car to enter.

Two years ago, my brother in law got us access to Ideal Beach, which is a private beach for residents. His parents own a condo there, so he was able to get us in. It was much less crowded, and much nicer, but not accessible for most.

The owner of our rental house recommended North Beach, so we decided to try that out this year and we loved it. It’s $14 per car to enter, and we brought three cars in (one was the truck with the boat), but it was a much bigger beach and nicer sand.

Q: Is the water freezing?

In the past, it’s been chilly, but not freezing. This year it was VERY COLD when we were on the boat, so my sister brought their wet suits for wake surfing on the boat, and that make the whole experience MUCH more enjoyable.

It was much warmer toward the edges of the lake, so when we played at the beach, it didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

 

Q: What activities did you have for kids and adults?

The house had a few toys, a pool table, and an XBox. But the clubhouse gave us most of the activities, with swimming, foosball, pickleball, and basketball.

We also brought some games and the Minute to Win It activities.

 

Q: Do you have fun family traditions you do at each reunion?

Minute to Win It has been a tradition for the last few years, and it’s a great first evening “ice breaker” activity when we all get together.

We also always take a nice family picture (someone brings a camera and a tripod to use).

Besides that, we haven’t been really consistent about anything in particular. The last two years we’ve been at the lake, so we do a boat day and a beach day. And we plan to do Bear Lake for the next few years, at least — it’s a great location with lots of built in things to do, and we love the idea of the kids growing up learning to do water sports.

 

Q: What Minute to Win It Games do you play? 

Here are the Minute to Win It Games we’ve played this year and in the past:

  • Face the Cookie: Place an Oreo or sandwich cookie on your forehead. You have one minute to use your facial muscles to move the cookie down your face and into your mouth—without using your hands!
  • Suck it Up: You’ll need straws and two plates per person. Place 20 M&M’s on one plate, and you have one minute to see how many candies they can transfer from one plate to another with the suction from the straw and no hands.
  • How’s It Hangin’: With a cut of yarn, tie a banana around your waist so it hangs between your legs and almost touches the ground. Without hands, you have to swing the banana and hit a wiffle ball from point A to point B in one minute.
  • Card Ninja: Place a large bowl in the center of a coffee table or on the ground. Everyone gets a deck of playing cards (make sure they have different designs so you can differentiate, and each person throws them (kind of like throwing stars) into the bowl. Whoever gets the most cards into the bowl in one-minute wins.

 

Q: How did you split up meals and household chores?

We split up meals between families, as you can see in the schedule above. My younger sister and I were in charge of one dinner each, my older sister was in charge of two lunches, my brother was in charge of all breakfasts, and my parents bought pizza one night and brought snacks for the house/

It’s most cost effective and efficient for one family to be in charge of all the breakfasts, or all the lunches, so several families aren’t each bringing a gallon of milk, or multiple boxes of cereal. Otherwise you end up with way too much food.

We all love cooking and being together, so even though one family is in charge of a meal, everyone pitches in to help prepare, and then everyone cleans up. There were no specific assignments for cleaning.

 

Q: What is the Cafe Rio pork recipe you used?

My family was in charge of Friday night dinner and this is what I made. It’s always a hit.

I used THIS RECIPE from Heidikins Cooks. I’ve been making this recipe for a decade and it’s amazing. Just make sure you get a good cut of meat — that extra fat on a pork butt shoulder makes it super tender and makes the juice really soak in and make it very flavorful.

We also used THIS RECIPE for the cilantro lime rice, Heidikin’s recipe for the ranch dressing (but we added more mayo and less buttermilk cause otherwise it’s way too runny), and bought uncooked tortillas and mexican pinto and black beans from the grocery store.

I start cooking the meat with just water and salt the night before, and then add the sauce ingredients in the morning. This time, I made the dressing and rice at lunch time, so when we got home from the beach around 6:30 or 7:00pm, I just had to heat up the beans, cook the tortillas, and we were eating within about 20 minutes.

 

Q: How do you handle the finances of the reunion?

In the past, we’ve split the cost of the house 5 ways (per family). Before my sister’s family got their boat, my parents covered the cost of renting the boat, and then we split the meals up according to assignment. Each of us purchased our own groceries for our assigned meals before arriving (Bear Lake has a little country store, but not a real grocery store, so it’s important to get groceries before you come! We stopped in Logan last year and Evanston this year).

We also all individually paid for our own travel expenses. It was most expensive for us since we had to buy 5 plane tickets, and also more expensive for my brother and his wife since they flew in from NYC.  My sisters live about 3 1/2 hours away from Bear Lake by car, and my parents live in Las Vegas so they drove up (which was about a 9 hour drive for them).

Not everything is exactly even, but that’s real life and everyone is good about paying for their part.

Next year, my parents have decided to pay for the house, but up to this point we’ve always split the cost. I’m not sure what we’ll do after next year, but we have just played it by ear year by year.

Q: What were the sleeping arrangements?

The VRBO house has plenty of room, so all the adults get their own room and bathroom, and there are two bunk rooms. One with 6 beds for all the older boys, and one with 4 beds for all the girls. There are some other open spaces with pull out couches and beds, but so far we don’t have to use those.

Q: Where do you take family photos?

There is LOTS of empty space all around the houses in the gated community, so there are plenty of spots to take family pictures. We just walked through the brush behind the house and found a good spot, but you could find places all over!

We just brought a tripod and remote and took pictures with my sister’s nice camera. We’ve hired a photographer in the past, but the tripod has worked really well so just do it on our own now.

Q: Who plans it? (one person, divide and conquer, etc)

We rotate through each year, with one family officially in charge, but everyone else helps out as needed. Since we’re in the same spot and same house multiple years in a row, it’s super easy to have the same format and just repeat every year.

Q: Do you pick the same date every year?

Not necessarily, but mid July has been our sweet spot the last few years with everyone’s schedule. We decide on a date at our current reunion and get the next year booked right away!

 

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask!

 

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7 Comments

  1. Natali says:

    Hi Merrick! FYI, renting in the Reserve should typically also get you access to the Reserve Beach too – definitely worth asking if you decide to rent there again next year! I’m surprised they don’t mention it in the listing, but the same key fob that gets you into the clubhouse also gets you into the beach.

    Whether the Reserve Beach has any sand not depends on the time of year and the water level, but this year it is perfect. The beach does get crowded given how many homes are in the REserve, but not nearly as crowded as the public beaches. Plus, it’s only 2 minutes down the road, just before fish haven! It’s Much easier to take the littlest kids back and forth for naps.

  2. ThaiS says:

    ThE cost is the biggest hang up for me with My husband’s family reunion. Everyone lives in utah and we live on the east coast. Anytime ive ever tried to suggest doing soMething different that they would haVe to fly to… Like myrtle beach… its alWays met with we cant go becaUse it is too expensive or theres work issues. But we are still expected to Always fly there. Im The onLy Woman in the family who has a full time career and going there is an entire week of pto when i only have 2 for the year. Ive choseN to have my husband go with our kidS this year because if im going to take time off from work (im a nurse) after the heLl covid has been it is not going to be go to utah for the 100th time. Im planning on going to europe with my mom in the spring instead.

  3. Rebecca Ellsworth says:

    HoW do you handle the boat Rental. We would love to dO a Reunion on a lake but no one in my family haS boating experience. Any advice? Did you just try it?

  4. Graeme Smith says:

    ASO Mammoth, the best mammoth outdoor store for your adventurous trip, we have the largest selections of snowboards, bikes, and ski gears. We are ready to help you race down the mountain,

  5. Ali says:

    Do yoU remember where you went for family pictures? We are doing a reunion and having someone from bountiful come to do our pictures but we need a good location. We want mountain backdrop over water backdrop.

  6. Michelle says:

    Bear lake ACTUALLY just got a new bigger grocery store! Its not as big as a super walmart or anything but its much bigger than the last one. Its really well stocked and has almost everything people should need 🙂

  7. Olivia says:

    A good option to spend time actively with your family. I myself am from Arkansas and have already found the Ozark Experience blog which has collected many cool destinations for outdoor activities, from camping, hiking to off-road driving. It remains only to pack things and gather friends for this

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