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Holiday alternatives
Thanksgiving travel doesn't always lead home to family

NEW YORK - Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest travel times of the year. But not everybody is heading home to mom. Some folks go skiing, some head to Orlando or Vegas, others cram the streets of New York and Chicago to watch parades. And some far-flung families gather at a hotel instead of grandma's house.

'We literally have generations of families that come for Thanksgiving. It's our busiest weekend of the year,' said Clark Albright, director of marketing at Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz. (www.camelbackinn.com), where guests get a whole bird carved at their table rather than going through a buffet.

In Massachusetts, more than 70,000 people visit Plimoth Plantation each November to learn about life among Colonial settlers and the native Wampanoags - more commonly known as Pilgrims and Indians. Here you'll find costumed interpreters plucking the feathers off real turkeys and chatting about a harvest celebration that took place in 1621.

Plimoth also hosts a variety of Thanksgiving celebrations, including a Victorian-style dinner where President Lincoln's 1863 proclamation declaring Thanksgiving to be a national holiday is read aloud. Check availability and make reservations at www.plimoth.org or 800-262-9356, ext. 8364.

In New York, the balloons and floats of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade attract thousands of spectators. If you'd rather avoid the crowded streets or the weather - which can range from balmy to freezing - you can watch the spectacle from inside the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. The building has four floors of glass windows, and some of its stores will be open Thanksgiving Day if you want a head start on Christmas shopping.

Denver shows up in top 10 lists for both Orbitz and Travelocity for Thanksgiving travel bookings, and skiing is undoubtedly part of the reason. Slopes scheduled to open Nov. 22 or earlier include Aspen Mountain, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Crested Butte, Snowmass, Telluride and Vail.

'It's a great time to ski because the weather is still relatively mild compared with the dead of winter, so we get a lot of families that enjoy that,' said Nick Bohnenkamp, with Colorado Ski Country USA. 'Our largest resorts open up in November to cater to that crowd that wants to come out here for the four-day weekend.'

The glitz and glam of Vegas may not remind you of hearth and home, but you'll have plenty of distractions to keep you from pining for mom's apple pie.

Restaurants offering Thanksgiving meals include Top of the World at the Stratosphere, Spago at Caesars Palace, David Burke at the Venetian, the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at the Paris, and MIX at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay.

Tony Bennett and Wayne Newton are both in town for shows, and the Bellagio Conservatory has a spectacular autumn-themed scene on display through Nov. 24, complete with a 35-foot-tall cider mill, babbling brook, a bed of pumpkins and 1,000 red and green apples. For more information, visit www.vegas.com.

You can celebrate Thanksgiving with a horse and carriage ride at the landmark Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., which will already be decorated for Christmas by then. For meals, you have a choice of venues - Bistro, Deerpark or Stable Cafe or, if you're staying at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, you can have your turkey at The Dining Room. Three-night packages at the Inn start at $1,760 for two; for details, visit www.biltmore.com.

In California, the annual San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival, featuring two dozen Dixieland bands, takes place Nov. 21-25. And wine-lovers can spend Thanksgiving Day aboard the Napa Valley wine train, which offers lunch and dinner excursions; for details, call 800-427-4124.

Finally, if you'd prefer to celebrate on the other side of the Atlantic, head to Italy. Francesca Bortolotto Possati, the owner of the Bauer Hotel in Venice (www.bauervenezia.com), holds a traditional Thanksgiving meal at the hotel each year for guests and friends.