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Taking the Kids: Going away for Thanksgiving

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Every year the four Houston grandkids look forward to their "confidential dinners" Thanksgiving week just with their grandfather.

"That's because anything they tell him he will never tell us," explains Jennifer Houston, whose father-in-law, John Houston, hosts the dinners with the four teens and the entire family Thanksgiving week at Half Moon Jamaica where the entire family can stay in one villa.

Jennifer Houston said the Thanksgiving tradition started six years ago after her mother-in-law's death. It had been her wish to have all four grandchildren, now teens, together at least once a year in the same place as part of the family lives in Pittsburgh and the others outside of Boston.

"We can eat all meals together at the villa or at restaurants on the property, but divide up during the day for tennis, golf, beach, pool, bike riding, snorkeling, etc.," she said, adding that she doesn't think her 13-year-old can remember a Thanksgiving at home. "Prior to Jamaica, we have spent Thanksgiving in Paris and the Bahamas," Houston said.

Increasingly, it seems, families like the Houstons are seizing Thanksgiving week for a family vacation. Families explain it is typically a slow week at work and school -- some kids have the entire week off, and there may be fewer family obligations.

Families are filling cruise ships, booking dude ranches, selling out all-inclusive Caribbean resorts like Beaches and Curtain Bluff in Antigua, hitting the Orlando theme parks in full holiday mode and renting apartments and houses in cities, as well as resort locales. (VRBO reports that traveler demand increased 21 percent for Thanksgiving between 2017 and 2018, a larger increase than for Christmas.)


"Thanksgiving travel is becoming just as popular as Christmas travel (at Beaches resorts)," observes Debbie-Ann White, senior vice president of Public Relations and Promotions. "More and more families are throwing out the traditional gathering at home and eliminating the stress of preparing a feast and instead opting for a family vacation in an exotic destination like Jamaica or Turks & Caicos."

That's the case on Carnival Cruise Line, which carries the most children in the industry, nearly a million a year, says spokesman Vance Guliksen.

"Cruise lines really do make it an extra-special experience -- ships are decked out, there are special themed events and meals onboard, and some ports of call might even hold festivities, as well," said Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic, the leading online consumer resource where you can find an overview of Thanksgiving cruise offerings.

Disney Cruise Line, for example, offers its Very Merrytime Cruises starting in early November, complete with holiday lights, Thanksgiving Day feast and visits from Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse dressed in traditional Thanksgiving attire. There are also NFL games broadcast live on the ships' outdoor jumbo LED screens -- Funnel Vision -- located near the family pool.


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