If you’re looking for a way to break out of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner celebration, consider a visit to the site of the first Thanksgiving at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (“Plimoth” was the most commonly used spelling in the writings of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, who wrote the history of the colony, and the Plantation keeps that spelling to distinguish it from the modern town of Plymouth.) My family and I visited on the fourth Thursday in November last year and we were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed the experience and how good the food was. And we were far from alone—the place was packed!
The older we get, the less enthusiastic many of us become about shopping, preparing, cooking and cleaning for a house-full of family. Going out for Thanksgiving dinner gains in appeal, and the Plimoth Plantation dinner is surprising delicious—rivaling and even besting many more expensive restaurants open on Thanksgiving. The menu includes roast turkey (of course), traditional stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, Cape Cod cranberry sauce, hot crusty rolls, apple cider and apple or pumpkin pie. You’ll leave filled to the gills. (The only downside of dining out is that you don’t get any leftovers to make sandwiches later!) They have both sit-down and buffet options, and while spots are sold out for this year on Thanksgiving day, you can still get reservations for Friday, November 25th at 1 pm—or plan to go next year, booking tickets over the summer. The sit-down dinner costs $98 for adults and the buffet charges $73; these prices include entry to the Plimoth Plantation museum and grounds. 800-262-9356, x8353
While in Plymouth, you also get a powerful history lesson. You can see Plymouth Rock, of course, now encased in a viewing box, and learn about Pilgrim and Native American experiences in interactive exhibits with live actors playing the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people. You can also board a replica of the Mayflower, which carried 102 passengers across the Atlantic Ocean. (It hardly seems possible given that the boat feels something like a toy ship.)
It helps to get some perspective on the experience first—the story we didn’t learn about in grade school. It was actually pretty grim for both parties, and the Native Americans look on Thanksgiving as a day of mourning, as it signaled the end of their way of life. (For one thing, many were wiped out by diseases brought over by European settlers.)
FIrst, we watched the National Geographic Channel’s fictionalized version, “Saints & Strangers”, a 4-hour film that stars “Mad Men’s” Vincent Kartheiser as William Bradford. We also viewed the PBS documentary “The Pilgrims,” featuring the late actor Roger Rees as a deeply pensive Bradford. These films revealed that half of the passengers on the Mayflower were actually adventurers rather than the devoutly religious Puritans we’ve heard about, and the Pilgrims encroached on the Native Americans in less than kind ways, actually stealing from them in some cases. They made many mistakes and struggled desperately through their first view months in America, and ultimately owed their survival to Tisquantum, a Wampanoag who taught them how to farm in the new land and acted as interpreter.
This perspective gave us a thrill as we walked down the main road of the Plimoth Plantation, where the films shot many of their scenes. The older adults in our group were fascinated by the visit and the interactions with the actors playing the Pilgrims and Wamponoag, while the younger people found it boring (as a 25-year-old, I would have found it boring, too, unless I was a history geek. Another reason aging rocks!)
If you’re in the mood for a spa visit, you can also visit Mirbeau Spa and Inn while in Plymouth. A lovely French chateau, the spa is often voted one of the best in America.