I spent Thanksgiving on a cruise – it wasn’t the holiday I expected

Thanksgiving on a cruise seemed like a great idea. I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking a perfectly timed multi-course meal to please my in-laws. More importantly, I wouldn’t have to clean up after the party. I wouldn’t have to spend the weekend finding fun ways to keep the kids entertained while avoiding crowded stores. I could trade the cool Northeast for the warm Caribbean.

The thing is, once you’ve replaced a family vacation with a family vacation, it doesn’t really feel like Thanksgiving anymore.

Here’s how Thanksgiving Day went at the Mardi Gras celebration, and what to expect when you decide to drop the dishes and set sail for your November vacation.

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Thanksgiving for many begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the National Dog Show and ends with a football game. Our Carnival cruise ship inherited two of the three traditions, showing the parade and NFL games on the giant poolside LED screen, as well as on TV screens spread throughout the Heroes Bar and Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Brewhouse. The ship’s entertainment staff also hosted a turkey scavenger hunt and turkey trivia.

However, I’m not sure there were many people on board to appreciate their efforts.

When I signed up for this cruise, I assumed Thanksgiving would fall on a sea day. This is usually the case on Christmas cruises when you typically spend Christmas Day at sea. This is because the tour companies also take the day off to spend time with their families and are not available to take you snorkeling or drive you around their towns.

However, Thanksgiving coincided with our visit to Amber Cove, Dominican Republic, as well as the one day we booked a long tour. My family left the ship at 8:30 am and didn’t get back on board until 3:00 pm. We missed everything but football, which was never our tradition.

On our tour, I sent my mom photos of my family outfitted in helmets and life jackets to slide down Damajagua Falls and with squirrel monkeys on our heads at Monkeyland in Puerto Plata. Only later did it occur to me to wish her and my dad a happy Thanksgiving. I had already forgotten that it was a public holiday. It just felt like another day on our cruise – especially because we were on vacation, not because of Turkey Day.

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It didn’t help that the ship wasn’t decorated for Thanksgiving. I was expecting seasonal decor in the common areas or a pumpkin spice latte special advertised at the JavaBlue coffee bar, but there was no pumpkin or haystack to be found. I met a woman in the elevator wearing a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving t-shirt, and several shipmates supported their teams at Thanksgiving Day games by wearing soccer shirts. Also, our room manager left a towel with a pet turkey on our bed (which was a funny touch).


The most solemn moment came as Carnival Celebration departed from the pier at Amber Cove. We were docked opposite sister ship, Carnival Freedom, and many guests on both ships came out onto the balconies and upper decks to watch the departure. Everyone started waving and shouting “Happy Thanksgiving!” to each other. In that moment, I felt gratitude that even at a time when cruise ships are tricked out with roller coasters and water parks, people still enjoy the simple pleasures of waving at strangers when a ship sets sail.

Thanksgiving feast

Thanksgiving dinner at Mardi Gras. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

At our house, dinner is the big thing on Thanksgiving. My husband and I like to cook, as does his family. So you can expect homemade pies and cranberry sauce, creative filling recipes and plenty of side dishes. I really like turkey, especially when it’s loaded with sides, and I love making sandwiches out of all those leftover Thanksgiving dishes the following weekend.

I was curious to see how Carnival would pull out all the stops for Thanksgiving dinner, which will be served in the main dining room at the usual dinner times.

It wasn’t a formal night, which I found surprising, but I guess Carnival had to accommodate the sports team’s attire. Anyway, I made my family dress up a little because I was in a party mood. The main dining room wasn’t noticeably spruced up either; I didn’t see any Thanksgiving decorations or any other reference to the holiday.

The menu, which is only accessible on our phones, had an autumn leaf design and seemed longer than a typical dinner menu. The only culinary nod to Thanksgiving, however, was a slow-roasted turkey appetizer, served with cornbread dressing, bourbon honey yams, gravy and cranberry sauce. For dessert there was a choice of pecan or pumpkin pie or a festive treat with ginger biscotti, pumpkin mascarpone cream and mulled plum (no added sugar).

I’ll be honest: I ordered the turkey to see how good Carnival Thanksgiving was… and then the Indian vegetarian entree with nizami paneer (an Indian cheese dish) and malai saag (a spinach dish) because I adore Carnival Indian food. My husband ordered a sweet pork chop marinated in tea, my son ordered the pan-fried strip steak, and our neighbor ordered the N’awlins BBQ Shrimp. My daughter explained she wasn’t hungry, didn’t like the noisy dining room and went back to the cabin. (So ​​much for the family dinner.)

Indian food on carnival celebration. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

For dessert I ordered one of each Thanksgiving dessert because it’s not a holiday if you have to choose. My husband and son ordered Carnival’s famous Chocolate Melt Cake.

I started my meal with a stone fruit and greens salad because there was nothing green on that Thanksgiving plate — no green bean casserole or cranberry and pecan salad.

When my Thanksgiving plate arrived, the presentation was underwhelming. It looked like a cafeteria, with balls of yams and stuffing, a pile of turkey slices next to some kind of stuffed turkey roulade that wasn’t on the menu, and cranberry sauce in a metal bowl. While I thought the food was edible — and it’s hard to go wrong with mashed sweet potatoes — both the gravy and cranberry sauce were watery, the turkey was bland, and the filling was uncreative.

The Indian dish was tastier, but I’ve had other Indian meals at Mardi Gras that I liked better.

I hoped that dessert would redeem the meal—then reflected on the fact that cake isn’t often served as dessert on cruise ships. Pecan pie is my favorite, but the crust was flavorless, and I make a better pie filling than the carnival cooks. The pumpkin pie came with a delightful carrot-shaped meringue, but was also unremarkable. The holiday trifle wasn’t holiday-inspired in any way, and I don’t think it was made with pumpkin and mulled plum. (It tasted distinctly like strawberry.)

Lesson Learned: Regardless of the holiday, if you’re on a Carnival cruise ship, order the chocolate chip cake. You can’t go wrong with this approach.


Later, when my daughter finally got hungry and I took her out for a classic Thanksgiving dinner of a hot dog and roast beef sandwich, we went to the Pig & Anchor area; It was packed with people watching football and eating Guy Fieri smoked meat. This was clearly the victorious Thanksgiving dinner, and next time I’ll have to pack my New England Patriots jersey, grab a Carnival-exclusive Parched Pig IPA, and cheer with my new cruise for the offensive (both team, doesn’t matter) family .

Please don’t expect me in the top-deck turkey trot tomorrow. We’ll gobble up the green egg and ham breakfast instead.

Pros and cons of spending Thanksgiving on a cruise

Thanksgiving football games at carnival celebration. ERICA SILVERSTEIN/THE POINTS GUY

Let’s get the cons out of the way so we can end on a high note. The downside to spending Thanksgiving on a cruise ship is that it might not feel like Thanksgiving. Since the Caribbean doesn’t celebrate an American Thanksgiving holiday, there likely won’t be any fall leaf wreaths or pumpkin spice daiquiris. In fact, I saw several Christmas trees and cribs in the port. Your ship may or may not be decorated, and depending on which line you’re sailing, a turkey dinner might not be the best thing on the menu.

On the other hand, sailing during the Thanksgiving holiday is a great way to take a week off without missing too many days of school or work. You can easily find something incredible for you and your family to do together and you will likely have more memories than if you were to cook at home.

Speaking of which, not having to do Thanksgiving chores — cleaning the house, cooking, having a polite chat with your family or in-laws, washing dishes — could be the best part of the whole vacation. If you would otherwise be vacationing alone, a cruise is a great way to surround yourself with friendly people and automatically gain dinner companions.

I personally prefer Thanksgiving at home, but I also like my family and my in-laws, which not everyone does. If I were planning a Thanksgiving cruise for another year, I would do a little more research on Thanksgiving activities and maybe select a more foodie-oriented line that could serve up a gourmet holiday feast.

Nonetheless, my family had a memorable Thanksgiving full of time, food, and fun. I am definitely grateful for that.

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