Thanksgiving On the Road

Smoked Turkey on the Barbecue and Ready to Carve

Smoked Turkey on the Barbecue and Ready to Carve

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. The best way to spend it? At home, cooking a huge feast for our family, good friends and – as in recent years – a couple of young Marines from Camp Lejeune as part of our community’s Thanksgiving with the Marines annual event. But there were four Thanksgiving Days spent on the road that were memorable in their own right.

A Succulent Turkey Off the Barbecue

A Succulent Turkey Off the Barbecue

When the boys were in school in Atlanta, they had the entire week of Thanksgiving off most years, so Simon and I took vacation days, and we would often go on a family trip. We went to Florida twice, to Williamsburg and, one year, to Europe. Wherever we were, though, Thanksgiving Day was always celebrated, even if we had to improvise.

The Disney World Surprise

In the fall of 1990, when Kevin was nine and Gary was seven, Simon and I hatched a plan to take our boys on a surprise trip to Disney World for the entire week of Thanksgiving. Their principal and teachers were in on the secret, so when the boys were both called to the office shortly after lunch on the Friday before and told to bring their backpacks, they thought they were in some kind of trouble.

Earlier that day, we had packed up what we hoped they would want to take on the trip (never try this with teenagers), some road snacks and our dream to give our children the surprise of a lifetime. After settling them in the car, we told them we were going on vacation, but they would have to figure out where.

We had given them maps, and being the precocious youngsters they were, they got it shortly after we started heading south on I75.

Everything cooperated: the weather, the hotel and short lines at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and MGM Studios.

At the outset, Simon and I saw this was something we wanted to do for the boys, but, in truth, we enjoyed the week every bit as much as they did.

We stayed at Wilson World (now known as Magnuson Grand Hotel Maingate West), a family-friendly hotel with a big breakfast buffet, comfortable rooms, a pool and the Knutty Professor to entertain the children in the evenings.

So, how did we spend Thanksgiving Day? Wilson World had a special buffet dinner, and we chowed down on a reasonably good traditional turkey feast with all the trimmings.

The meal may not have been quite up to my standards, but the four of us chatted about what we had seen and done at the Disney Theme Parks and planned our visit to the Kennedy Space Center the following day. It was one of many family moments for which I will always be grateful.

The Bradenton Beach Bash

Two years after our Disney trip, we were back in Florida for the week of Thanksgiving. This time we set off for Bradenton Beach, on Florida’s west coast to meet up with Jerry, Brigitte and their children, friends from our Montreal days, who were living at the time in Florida.



We weren’t scheduled to meet our friends until Thanksgiving Day, so we stopped at Crystal River to swim with the manatee and pick up some fishing gear.

After Crystal River, we made our way to Largo, to see how Island Packet sailboats were made. Since we had recently bought a 27 footer, it was interesting to see how it had been put together. These boats are sturdy and nicely laid out down below. They’re also good heavy weather boats, perfect for a water-wimp like me.

The next stop was Palmetto, where Buffy had been trained at Southeastern Guide Dogs. After a pleasant visit with trainers and pooches, we headed to our final destination, a few miles down the road.

We had rented a beach condo, and arrived there on the Monday evening. Again, the weather was in our favor, so we spent the next two days swimming, sailing, fishing and relaxing. I actually managed to finish an entire Tom Clancy book.

So, how did we spend Thanksgiving Day? The day before, we had purchased a turkey, foil roaster, and other ingredients for a paired-down, but tasty, dinner. Gerry and Brigitte brought some fixings from home, and we gave thanks for friends, beautiful beaches and all the other blessings that filled our lives.

The Washington Wash-Out

The fall of 1995 found us making plans to visit Washington, DC and Williamsburg, Virginia during Thanksgiving week.

Unfortunately, our leaders in Congress, in their infinite wisdom, shut down the government on the day of our scheduled departure. This meant that the itinerary we had carefully cobbled together for visiting government-run sites like the White House, the Capitol, the Smithsonian and the monuments on the Washington Mall were a no-go.

Williamsburg was still a go, though, so we set about giving our boys a lesson in flexibility.

We got out the trusty map, and looked at possible routes to Williamsburg and what there was to do along the way. As we drove eastward, Kevin was put in charge of planning our trip through North Carolina, and that was how we discovered New Bern.

This town had been the Colonial Capital of North Carolina, and is rich in history and historical things to do. Located where the Neuse and Trent Rivers meet, New Bern is abundant with numerous eye-popping water views., But what was most important to us at that particular time was the fact that our friends, Lynne and Lois had their boat docked there in preparation for a long-term cruise to the Caribbean. We met up with them, enjoyed a pleasant dinner and, the following morning, saw them off on their grand adventure.

With our friends safely on their way, we got busy exploring New Bern. Tryon Palace, the residence of the Colonial Governor of North Carolina, was a must-visit for us. The guided tour led us through the various levels and rooms, where people in period costume told of life in this pre-revolutionary house.

Courtyard at Tryon Palace in New Bern

Courtyard at Tryon Palace in New Bern

During the two days we spent in the New Bern area, we also visited the kid-friendly Maritime Museum in Beaufort, and spent a couple of hours wandering around the charming boating town of Oriental.

When we left the area, it was on the Cedar Island Ferry, which took us on a rather harrowing ride along the edge of Pamlico Sound to the Outer Banks island of Ocracoke. The excitement arose when the boat’s rudder got caught up in a large fishing net, and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. What should have been a two-hour run turned into a four-hour ordeal with two bored teenagers.

Ocracoke Island was a short-lived treat following our misadventures on the not-so-high seas. Sadly, the delay got us there with little daylight left to explore. We did find a fun pub, where the locals seemed to like to hang out, which had a dart board, good beer on tap and simple, good-tasting food

The next day, we set out for Norfolk, Virginia, with a visit on the way to Kill Devil Hill, where the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane. Kevin chose the impressive Nauticus National Maritime Center in Norfolk as our last activity before Williamsburg. We spent almost an entire day there,, taking in the various water-related and marine live exhibits, films and interactive opportunities.

The two days we spent in Williamsburg, a detailed recreation of one of the first settlements in America was like walking through a door into the 17th Century. It was here that Patrick Henry shouted, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” and where seeds of revolution were sown by the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

We saw and participated in demonstrations of the daily work and craftsmanship that depicted the lives of the early settlers. We were also treated to live reenactments of scenes from the pre-revolutionary period. Most of these were interactive, and everyone was encouraged to participate. Gary was tagged to play George Washington in a town hall meeting, where our first president was a local politician. Then the boys joined a motley crew and marched off to Norfolk to join the revolution following a fiery speech by a passionate orator. I can’t swear to this, but it sounded like one of the boys was saying, “But we just came from there!”

So, how did we spend Thanksgiving Day? Since almost everything in the area was closed, we ended up at Shoney’s, a family-style restaurant chain that had a soup and salad bar, along with a family-style menu. Naturally, Thanksgiving items had been added to the buffet, and that’s what Simon, Gary and I chose. Kevin, who was the only one with any sense on that day, opted for a chicken stir-fry from the regular menu. While Kevin enjoyed his hot, savory dish, the rest of us choked down what had to have been the worst Thanksgiving meal ever. The food was tasteless and barely warm. To say it was uninteresting would be a kindness. But we were together, in good health and had experienced a wonderful fun-filled week as a family. The food may have been substandard, but the blessings were anything but.

Improvisation in Innsbruck

Thanksgiving week of 1997 was the year we took the boys and their friend, Walker, to Europe. This was the first time we were using the internet to help us plan a trip. We could not help chuckling at a German website where someone with a sense of humor had written, “clicken sie here,” to indicate where to access the desired information.

Simon, Kevin, Gary, Walker, Buffy and I landed in Frankfurt on the Saturday morning, and headed straight for Heidelberg to see the famous castle. Then, we piled into our rental car and drove to Strasbourg, France for our first overnight stop.

Throughout the entire trip, we never stayed in the same place for more than one night. Arranging the car with kids, dog and all our luggage every morning was a challenge, but by the time we were ready to come home, Simon had it down to a fine art.

Our travels took us through Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria and back to Germany. I plan to dedicate future posts to various parts of this trip, because it was truly amazing in many ways.

So, how did we spend Thanksgiving Day? We were in Austria, and it was snowing like crazy. On top of that, it was getting dark, and we had no reservations in Innsbruck, which was our planned destination. The road we were on took us into a long tunnel. Later, we estimated that we travelled almost 9 miles underground, but it felt like we were in there for hours. Now, Simon hates tunnels, especially long tunnels. Fires and cave-ins are unlikely, but they do happen. Needless to say, there was a certain amount of tension in the car. It was getting late, everyone was tired and hungry because of our delay driving through the snow storm and that long tunnel didn’t help.

When we finally emerged from what seemed like the maw of hell, we found ourselves thankful for several things: it had stopped snowing, we were close to Innsbruck and we had no trouble finding a phone booth to call about accommodations.

Our first attempt was a dud. The owner of the bed and breakfast we called told us, upon hearing about Buffy, that her son was allergic to dogs. But we hit pay dirt on our next try. We found ourselves in a small hotel with a dining room that was still open. That was a good thing, because it was well after 9:00 PM by the time we got settled and were ready for dinner.

To no one’s surprise, there wasn’t anything on the menu that even remotely resembled turkey, gravy, cranberry relish, sweet potatoes, etc. Following the Shoney’s experience, though, I wasn’t so sure that this was a bad thing. I settled on a pasta dish with beautifully tender veal in a light cream sauce. It was hot and comforting, and there was so very much for which to be thankful.

I sincerely hope that your Thanksgiving – for those who celebrate it – was as over-the-top glorious as mine was. This year, to my ever-expanding list of things for which I am always grateful, I added -you, my readers. Thank you for subscribing, following me on Twitter and Blog Lovin and for your comments. Thank you for making this blog worthwhile.

Have you spent Thanksgiving or other favorite holiday away from home? What was your experience? I’d love to hear from you.

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