We’ve come up with a cornucopia of travel ideas focused on great Thanksgiving vacation destinations. Sure, we cover the obvious – after all, no list would be complete without a nod to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade or the site of the 1620 Pilgrim landing – but we also favor less traditional destinations, from lush islands and beach spots to desert landscapes and ski slopes. Plus, with fares so discounted to Europe at this time of year, we’d be remiss not to pick at least one European capital; our preferred city is known for its terrific beer and French fries, although you’ll be hard-pressed to find football on television (American football, that is). We’ve even recommended a jaunt on the high seas, since we figure there’s no better tribute to the adventerous spirit of the Pilgrim pioneers than by making your own transatlantic trek. So bring your family along for the fun and enjoy the best of Thanksgiving!
Granted, there’s not much of a connection between Thanksgiving and this Dutch-owned Caribbean isle, but it’s certain that giving thanks for all of life’s little pleasures is made infinitely more effortless when kicking back on the turquoise shores of tropical paradise. Boasting glorious weather nearly year round (Aruba is, for the most part, safely situated south of the tropical-storm belt), basking on the powdery white sand beaches needn’t be interrupted – unless, of course, the activities of this tiny 20-mile-long island should lure you away. Water sports abound, as do opportunities to explore surreal desert island landscapes where cacti and iguanas compose an exotic landscape – head out on foot, Jeep, or by ATV. All-inclusive luxury resorts line the shores, diverse culinary fare is served up in numerous restaurants, and superb shopping opportunities abound. Casinos, bars, clubs, and assorted evening extravaganzas animate the night, while glorious sunrises give an incentive to party until dawn in one of the top Thanksgiving vacation destinations.
Sure, you could be content scarfing down your traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all its trimmings, from turkey to Brussels sprouts, or you could sprout a plan for something a little bit different this year and actually head off to Brussels instead. With just over 7 hours of flight time between the Belgian capital and the East Coast, Brussels makes for a feasible long-weekend getaway. Plus, this gastronomic paradise assures you needn’t forgo the feasting – just trade in the turkey and eggnog for moules-frites (mussels and French fries) and any one of several hundred delectably brewed Belgian beers instead. Or, give in to the whims of tradition and hunt down one of the restaurants where many ex-pats gather for the holiday – the American Club of Brussels, for one, hosts an annual Thanksgiving dinner. Best of all, when you’re not chowing down, you can explore a charming city of cobbled streets and historic squares drenched in European tradition – with the magnificent Grand Place as its focal point and dozens of unique museums, you’ll be giving thanks for treating yourself on a trip to one of our favorite Thanksgiving vacation destinations.
If you’re hankering to leave the shores of the continental U.S. this Thanksgiving, but are craving traditional Americana on Turkey Day, there’s no finer option than the Aloha State. We recommend spectacular Kauai, a dramatically landscaped isle surrounded by glimmering Pacific waters. The oldest inhabited island in Hawaii, it’s no wonder people first settled down here – and opted never to leave. Every inch of Kauai seems to reflect some new and fascinating wonder of nature – be it the remote Na Pali Coast, where majestic cliffs preside over the sea; the central jagged mountain region with its verdant rainforests; the breathtaking grandeur of Waimea Canyon; or the seemingly endless miles of golden sandy beaches. And while much of the rest of the U.S. is watching leaves drop to the ground with the onset of winter, Kauai remains as lush and green as you’ve ever seen – one of the most rewarding Thanksgiving vacation destinations in every way.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Whether it be fishing, golfing, a spa retreat, or lazy beach-bumming days, a Thanksgiving getaway to Los Cabos sure beats the usual family banter around the dining room table. Located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, Los Cabos is composed of two very different towns: Cabo San Lucas, described by some as a glorified Los Angeles-style resort, and San José del Cabo, a traditional Mexican village. Whichever you fancy, both come complete with haute-style resorts and spas, world-class dining, and plenty of golden beaches. Fishing and golf are also major draws here, and an array of championship courses will easily tempt you away from watching afternoon football. Plus, you’ll be able to forego the usual game-watching diet of beer and chips and treat yourself to margaritas and tacos instead – an indulgence for sure at one of our top picks for Thanksgiving vacation destinations.
New York City
For the biggest Thanksgiving event in the country, head to New York City for its annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. At 9am each Turkey Day, countless Macy’s employees – and a supplementary force of 4,000 volunteers – meet at 77th and Central Park West to begin their march, which heads down a route on Central Park West, Central Park South and Sixth Avenue year. It’s a fantastical procession filled with colorful floats, marching bands, and at least a dozen giant helium balloons (for a sneak peak, the public can view them being inflated on the Upper West Side the evening before the parade) – to the delight of the some 3.5 million spectators that come out to watch from the sidelines. Out-of-towners may be surprised to learn most of those viewing the parade are locals, meaning they aren’t staying in New York City hotels. That translates to low demand – and super low rates – all weekend long at even the chicest of Big Apple addresses. If you’re at home basting the turkey instead, stay tuned to the spectacle on television. This is one American pageant – and one of the most quintessential Thanksgiving vacation destinations – that’s bound to please.
Phoenix & Scottsdale
Thanksgiving celebrates a legendary dinner between Pilgrims and Native Americans – why not tip your hat to America’s original inhabitants this Thanksgiving and head to Arizona, where the ubiquitous presence of ruins and reservations hold living tribute to the nation’s Native American past. Lively Phoenix makes for a good home base, boasting amazing venues such as the Heard Museum, housing a wonderful Native American art and archaeology collection that highlights works by indigenous peoples of the Southwest – Navajos, Hopis, and Apaches – many of whom still reside on nearby reservations. It’s also a great launch pad from which you can head out on a local road trip along the legendary Apache Trail, a 40-plus-mile route marked by breathtaking scenery, ghost towns, and ancient ruins. Meanwhile, the posh resort city of neighboring Scottsdale offers such diversions as Western-themed Old Town Scottsdale, a good spot to pick up turquoise jewelry and Navajo rugs. Even the local “pamper-me” spa culture in one our most indulgent Thanksgiving vacation destinations reflects the area’s Native American heritage and desert setting: Get smothered in an adobe clay body mask or exfoliated with a cactus-and-aloe-infused scrub at an area spa.
Celebrate the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrim-style, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where Mayflower passengers famously disembarked back in 1620. After visiting their supposed landing site, at Plymouth Rock, pay your respects to the statue of native Wampanoag chief Massasoit, who signed an accord with the Pilgrims in 1621; what few members remain of his people today can be found living across the water, on Martha’s Vineyard. These two sites aside, the area’s biggest draw at this time of year is Plimouth Plantation a sizeable estate that recreates the 17th-century Pilgrim village that once stood here, complete with timber houses, barn, and livestock, as well as a replica of the Mayflower itself. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more historic spot among our top picks for Thanksgiving vacation destinations.
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You’ll need your sea legs to follow in the Pilgrims’ footsteps this Thanksgiving! We propose reenacting the seafaring adventure that those adventurous pioneers set out on nearly 400 years ago aboard the legendary Mayflower. Happily, you can experience the exhilaration of crossing the Atlantic without having to rough it as the poor Pilgrims surely did – one of the world’s top cruise lines offers transatlantic crossings around Thanksgiving week. Cunard’s lavish Queen Mary 2 whisks travelers from the Mayflower Cruise Terminal in Southampton, England to New York – set sail on the 7-nighter leaving on November 20, 2012. (Note many of the cabins for this year’s sailing are sold out, but as of press time there was still limited availability for a last-minute cruise. Bookings are also available for transatlantic sailings around the holiday in 2013.) The itinerary is a little off path from the original course between Plymouth, England, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, but a fitting tribute for a Thanksgiving vacation destination all the same.
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The Vail ski season officially kicks off in mid-November, and ski bums the world over are hoping for another year of spectacular snow conditions. This means snow bunnies can head West for the holiday and hit the slopes to work off those extra Turkey Day carbs. With 5,289 acres of terrain available, including superb back bowls, you’ll have plenty of wide stretches and untouched trails to schuss on. Besides the exciting mountain possibilities at one of the top Thanksgiving vacation destinations, the picturesque snow-covered town also offers notable restaurants, lodgings, and fashionable boutiques to charm you off the pistes as well. One of America’s favorite winter retreats doesn’t come cheap mind you, but you can capitalize on season-starter lift packages that will save you a few bucks to use towards your holiday shopping.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
This tiny U.S.-affiliated island paradise is as close as you’ll easily get to uncharted territory in the Caribbean – it only recently opened to tourism after serving for decades as a U.S. military base – and its close proximity to the East Coast (it’s about 4 hours from New York to San Juan, plus a short flight or ferry ride) makes it ideal for a long-weekend beach getaway. Known for its virtually unspoiled sands, this 21-mile-long islandFl, situated 6 miles off the coast of mainland Puerto Rico, isn’t your average Caribbean hot spot, so don’t come expecting high-rise hotels, luxury complexes, or shopping centers – instead, the island caters to sophisticated, eco-minded tourists with small boutique hotels, the Caribbean’s largest wildlife refuge, and over 40 miles of pristine beach. Visit before everyone else discovers it – and be thankful for the experience at one of our favorite Thanksgiving vacation destinations.