To some, Thanksgiving means being home with the family; to others, it's an excuse to travel far, far away. The plethora of festive revelries held at Orlando's Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort tend to attract the latter demographic. And the hotels, resorts, and restaurants in the area ensure that visitors have more options than a smoked turkey leg to eat on this feasting holiday.
There are plenty of buffets and pre-fixed menus to choose from within Florida's famed amusement parks, but if the holiday has you yearning for a day away from cartoon characters, then perhaps one of the world-class restaurants in downtown Orlando would better suit your style.
Dinner in the Parks
While the folks in Manhattan watch balloon versions of popular cartoon characters float down Sixth Avenue in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, your family can mingle with them in the flesh on their own turf. Neither Walt Disney World Resort nor Universal Orlando Resort closes their gates for the holiday. It's quite the contrary, actually: The parks are livelier than ever, and many of their beloved eateries offer festive fare.
At Walt Disney World Resort, there are a number of Turkey Day options at the Swan and Dolphin Resort, including Garden Grove's nightly buffets and Fresh Mediterranean Market, which focuses on healthy and organic options, including vegetarian choices. For Italian fare, head to Il Mulino New York Trattoria, and try Todd English's bluezoo for global coastal cuisine.
Over at Universal Orlando Resort, Loews Hotels are a good bet for special holiday menus. Visit Portofino Bay Hotel's Trattoria del Porto for Thanksgiving dinner with an Italian twist (and visits by Universal characters, plus holiday crafts and live music). The Kitchen at the Hard Rock Hotel includes a chilled seafood bar as part of its Thanksgiving menu, and Islands Dining Room at the Royal Pacific Resort adds an Asian touch with sushi and stir-fry stations.
If it's a less touristy, more upscale atmosphere you seek, head to the city center for a turkey feast prepared by one of Orlando's top chefs. 310 Lakeside, for instance, offers the obligatory homestyle favorites in a chic environment. Reservations are strongly suggested.
Alternatively, Boston Market, which has several locations in the Orlando area, serves special Turkey Day meals, either for dine-in or takeout (confirm location hours and reservation availability). Adventurous foodies might be more interested in Columbia Restaurant's Spanish take on the traditional Thanksgiving foods, which includes vegetarian options.
Hotels and Resorts
Folks who are staying in one of Orlando's ever-popular destination hotels don't even have to leave the building for a five-star feast. Non-guests are welcome, too. Gaylord Palms Resort's The Villa de Flora is a Mediterranean restaurant that offers Thanksgiving fare inspired by various parts of the world, although you must purchase tickets for the brunch in advance. If you're in Mount Dora, try Lakeside Inn for a feast of seafood, prime rib, ham, turkey, and more.
Both La Hacienda Restaurant and Nicker's Clubhouse Restaurant at Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills do a Thanksgiving brunch, and at Caribe Royale Orlando, The Tropicale offers an afternoon/evening buffet with live jazz music. The Rosen Plaza hosts a daytime buffet featuring international dishes like dim sum and yakisoba, too.
If you're stuck near the Orlando International Airport, consider celebrating at Hyatt Regency's Hemisphere Restaurant, which will be cooking up an organic and locally-sourced Thanksgiving buffet during the day at a relatively inexpensive price.