Thanksgiving in paradise: How Marco’s hotels serve it up for island’s guests

Lance Shearer

You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen preparing a Thanksgiving Day feast for your family. In fact, you don’t even have to be home at all.

Over a thousand guests will fill, or nearly fill, the rooms at Marco Island’s two signature resort hotels for the Thanksgiving holiday, having opted for sand in their toes over the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot. To accommodate them, the JW Marriott and the Hilton Marco Island are putting on a variety of dining options.

More:‘Hope’ for the holidays: Islanders package 250,000 meals Saturday morning

Most of the diners at the two beachfront hotels will likely be overnight guests at the respective establishments, with both hotels reporting they are near capacity for Thanksgiving and the ensuing weekend. At this writing, some seats in the dining rooms are available for Islanders, but reservations are a must, and tables are filling up fast.

“We expect a sellout. We’ll do around 450 (meals) for Thanksgiving,” said Hilton executive chef Corey Hepburn. The Hilton will serve their Thanksgiving buffet in the Deck at 560, with Gulf-view dining both in the inside dining room and outside on the deck itself.

The buffet will give patrons all the holiday favorites, starting with the chef-attended carving station serving thyme-roasted turkey breast with roasted pear velouté (whatever that is), plus herb-encrusted prime rib au jus. Additional entrees include cider-glazed pork loin seared salmon, plus Gulf coast oysters, shrimp cocktail, and a “farmers’ table” of cured and dried meats.

Over the holiday, Hepburn expects to go through 500 lbs. of turkey, prime rib and salmon, he said. Desserts include traditional pumpkin pie, pumpkin chiffon pie, Bourbon pecan pie, spiced apple galette, cheesecake lollipops, brownies and blondies, plus assorted petit fours. Cost is $65 for adults and $25 for children 6-12. Children five and under eat free.

“We get a lot of locals coming to our buffet,” said Anastasia Leptich, director of sales and marketing at the Hilton. “We’ll also have a Christmas buffet – similar but with a different menu.”

Deck at 560 bartender Julie Karlson even came up with signature drinks just for Thanksgiving. Dubbed the “pumpkin-tini,” the creamy concoctions feature Crop pumpkin vodka, vanilla vodka, and Bailey’s Irish Cream, and are served straight up of frozen.

The Marriott offers four different Thanksgiving menus in four restaurants, ranging from the traditional to haute cuisine to modern takes on the holiday classic. At Tesoro, for adults 21 and over only, the meal features yogurt-marinated turkey breast with confit leg and thigh, melted cabbage, hibiscus cranberry, chorizo dressing, and smoked brown butter gravy. Preceded by “crispy delicate” squash soup and followed by apple rose tart, the repast costs $55 per adult.

At Ario, diners choose from porter-brined turkey breast, prime filet, miso sea bass, or for the vegetarian, a cauliflower steak, for prix fixe $80. Appetizers include heirloom carrot soup, “Ario wedge,” tomato mozzarella, and sea scallops, with brown butter pumpkin tart or Yuzu Key lime for dessert.

More:‘Owl in the Family’: Burrowing owls have learned to coexist with Islanders

Maia at the Marriott offers a complete Thanksgiving dinner, with a carving station, sides including green bean casserole, honey-glazed sweet potatoes, Yukon gold mashed potatoes, and cauliflower or roasted spiced pumpkin soups. Included in the $75 price (kids under 12 $25) are no fewer than 11 different desserts.

It is also possible to have a Thanksgiving plate – not buffet-style – for just $28 at the JW’s Quinn’s on the Beach and get some of that sand in your toes. The menu includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, fried Brussels sprouts, cranberry relish and gravy.

Between all the restaurants, “we’ll go through 135 turkeys, 185 pumpkin pies, and 15 gallons of gravy,” said Amanda Cox, director of sales and marketing at the JW Marriott. Like Leptich, she said signs are very encouraging for a blockbuster season, even topping last winter.

“We had a record-breaking season, and we’re expecting to break that record,” said Cox. “It’s never a bad thing in paradise when the weather up north turns bad this early.”

“We’re seeing very positive indicators for the season,” said Leptich. “We’ll be at capacity.”

No, there’s no place like “hotel for the holidays.”