Talking Turkey at the Beach

Originally published in the November 2014 issue of DeSoto Magazine — Exploring the South as “Out-of-Town Turkey Trot.” Story by Mary Ann DeSantis.

Who says Thanksgiving has to be celebrated at home? More folks are opting to use the four-day holiday for an off-season getaway. These Gulf Coast destinations offer tradition along with lots of surf, sand, and family-style fun.

THE GRAND HOTEL/MARRIOTT RESORT, GOLF CLUB & SPA
POINT CLEAR, ALABAMA
If it’s Southern tradition you want, head to Mobile Bay’s eastern shore where The Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Alabama, has helped guests celebrate Thanksgiving in style since 1847. In addition to the lunch and dinner Thanksgiving buffets, family-friendly activities are offered throughout the holiday weekend at the resort, which is a member of the Historic Hotels of America.

“With more than 160 years of history, Thanksgiving at The Grand is nostalgic, relaxing and great for creating family memories,” says Bill Lang, public relations director for RTJ Golf Trail and Resort Collection, which includes The Grand Hotel. “The Grand’s attention to detail makes it a perfect place to be thankful together.”

Provided by The Grand Hotel/Marriott

Provided by The Grand Hotel/Marriott

Arrive in time to follow a procession to the hotel’s croquet lawn where a cannon is fired at 4 p.m. daily to salute both past and present military. Join in a flag football game, play a round of golf, or take a bicycle tour around the 550-acre property. If something more relaxing is what you have in mind, then join in The Grand’s tradition of afternoon tea, visit the luxurious 20,000-square-foot European-style spa, or relax on the private white sand beach.

And don’t worry about the children. They have their own busy itineraries including a Glow in the Dark Scavenger Hunt and a Children’s Pajama Party Fun Camp, both scheduled for Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving.

“We have families who have returned every year for Thanksgiving at The Grand,” says Lang. “It is a stress-free tradition where families have celebrated together for generations.”

Daily traditions include horse drawn carriage rides around the oak-lined property followed by a late afternoon bell ringing that signals the time for a spectacular Mobile Bay sunset. The Turkey “Tuck-in” is also popular with children who look forward to one last visit from The Grand Turkey and Pocahontas before saying good night.

And when everyone wakes up on Friday, the resort will have been magically transformed into a Christmas wonderland complete with a gingerbread replica of The Grand Hotel.

CAMP GULF 
DESTIN, FLORIDA
A casual and easy Thanksgiving on the beach is what you have in mind. After all, November’s weather is still nice enough to enjoy the sun and sand on Florida’s Emerald Coast. Sleeping on the beach can’t get any easier than Camp Gulf, recently acclaimed as one of the top RV parks in the nation by TravelChannel.com.

The family-friendly atmosphere attracts repeat guests, especially at Thanksgiving when the resort hosts the holiday meal in the well-equipped activity center. Turkeys and ham are provided while guests supply covered dishes.

“We started the Thanksgiving tradition 20 years ago, and it grew to 450 people before the BP oil spill,” says General Manager Patrick O’Neill. “We expect between 350 to 375 this year.”

Stephanie and Charles Ott of Chattanooga, Tenn., spent several Thanksgivings at Camp Gulf when they owned an RV. “Everyone eats outside on picnic tables and it’s like a huge family,” says Stephanie.

O’Neill says many guests stay in contact with each other after they meet at Camp Gulf.

“RVers are social people and really friendly,” he says. “So it is like family when they get together for the holiday.”

Family-owned for 45 years, the park also includes 20 rental cabins and has meal gatherings down pat when it comes to efficiency. “We can get everyone served in a 15-minute span,” reports O’Neill.

For those who want to work off that turkey and dressing, Camp Gulf will host its third annual “Turkey Trot,” a one-mile lap around the resort, on Friday, November 28. For those who want to shop on Black Friday, the Silver Sands Premium Outlets mall is only a quarter mile away. And for others who want to relax, the sugary sand beach is just a few steps away.

HILTON SANDESTIN BEACH GOLF RESORT & SPA,
DESTIN, FLORIDA
You don’t have an RV, but you still want to spend Thanksgiving at the beach. You can’t go wrong at Sandestin, the largest full-service resort (2,400 acres) on Florida’s Gulf Coast for more than 40 years. Thanksgiving at the resort is special because there are so many ways for families to reconnect and relax.

In addition to scrumptious holiday menus at on-site restaurants, the SunQuest SOLARIS yacht will offer Thanksgiving dinner cruises. The SOLARIS conveniently docks at Sandestin’s Baytowne Wharf.

You can work off those holiday calories with paddleboarding, kayaking, golf, tennis, bicycling, and, of course, shopping. Sandestin offers a Thanksgiving Shopper’s Package that includes accommodations, breakfast for two adults, a $100 gift card to the Silver Sands Premium Outlets, and a complimentary shuttle service to the mall on Friday.

If you don’t want to leave the property, however, The Village of Baytowne Wharf has charming shops, eateries, galleries, and a seasonal ice skating rink through February 1. A sidewalk sale among Baytowne Wharf shops is scheduled for Black Friday.

“I love the fact that you can park your car and never have to leave the property,” says Linda Keng of Jackson, Miss. She and her husband, Randy, have visited Sandestin more than 30 times over the past 20 years.

“We particularly enjoy the off-season when crowds are smaller,” adds Randy. “The beaches are the best, but our time on the beach is usually minimal because there are so many other things to do.”

ROSEMARY BEACH COTTAGE RENTALS
ROSEMARY BEACH®, FLORIDA

Photo by Mary Ann DeSantis

Photo by Mary Ann DeSantis

For some families, only a home-cooked meal will do at Thanksgiving. You can still have your gourmet kitchen and turkey, too, in an HGTV-worthy condo or home at Rosemary Beach®, a neo-traditional community on northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, between Destin and Panama City.

For much less than the cost of a luxury beachfront hotel, families can stay in fully appointed homes and have access to first-class amenities, making Rosemary Beach® a prime destination for multi-generational family reunions. In addition, families booking seven nights over Thanksgiving week will get a free Honey-Baked ham or turkey, free grocery delivery, and a chance to win a $250 Publix gift card.

Thanksgiving week begins with “Rosemary Unleashed,” a family and pet friendly festival on Sunday followed by the “Taking it to the Streets” music festival on Monday. A live theatre performance of “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is set for Tuesday.

Wednesday’s family movie night under the stars gets everyone in the spirit with the animated movie “Free Birds,” a pre-Thanksgiving tradition in Rosemary Beach®. Work up your appetite with a 10K and one-mile Fun Run on Thursday morning. If you don’t want to cook, the town’s many restaurants will be open. Start your holiday shopping at Friday’s sidewalk sale in the Town Center.

The fun-filled week is completed with the annual tree lighting ceremony on Friday evening and breakfast with Santa on Saturday.


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