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Seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City is a pretty iconic item on many families’ travel “wish lists”. Assuming you don’t live in the NYC area, seeing the parade does require forgoing a traditional Thanksgiving at home, but when you see Snoopy and Spiderman flying high over your head down Sixth Avenue, and more importantly the look on your kid’s face as that happens, skipping one home-cooked turkey is well worth it.
Over 3 million people see the parade in person each year, so in order to make sure you aren’t 10 people deep from the curb, struggling to get a glimpse of the street, you do have to use some strategy and planning. Having just attended ourselves, here are a few tips for attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
See the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon inflation the night before:
A great way to get an up-close view of the balloons (and get into the parade spirit) is to see the balloons as they are inflated and come to life the night before Thanksgiving. The inflation starts at 3PM on the Upper West Side near the Museum of Natural History, and there is a very busy but organized trail you can walk down in order to see all the balloons.
Be aware that the subway station at 77th will be very crowded, which wasn’t too big of a problem unless you happened to need to buy a MetroCard there, in which case the line was intense. Be sure to have enough money loaded on your MetroCard so you don’t have to wait in line to add money at that station. It was also pretty easy to get a cab out of the area if you go a block or two north of the gated off section.
What time to get to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:
We saw the parade from roughly 55th and 6th Avenue, which was a few blocks after the parade made its turn from the West Side to head toward Macy’s. We got to our spot a few minutes after 7AM and were too late to get a spot directly on the curb. However, we were the second row from the curb which was totally sufficient, especially since the people in the front were happy to have all the little kids line up in the front to get good views.
If you want to be sure to have a front row spot on the curb, you will have to line up before 7AM as the streets were lined as far as the eye can see by that time. I’m guessing somewhere between 6AM – 7AM is the magic time to get a curb spot based on conversations with the folks who were in the front.
That said, the prime seats in the covered bus stops are apparently full around 4AM!
Bring stuff to keep yourself occupied before the parade:
The parade itself starts on the Upper West Side at 9AM, which means it doesn’t make its way all the way down the parade route to Macy’s until probably 9:40AM or so. That results in several hours of waiting around before the parade starts, so be sure to bring some stuff to keep your kids occupied before the events get going. We had breakfast on the street, colored, and watched some Netflix. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade lasts two full hours, so I encourage the little ones to stay seated in the hours leading up to the parade in order to preserve their standing ability for the actual parade!
Brings seats for the parade:
You can bring camping chairs, buckets, or anything else you want to sit on to the parade. This won’t really be helpful during the parade since everyone seems to stand, but it will help make the hours leading up the parade a bit more comfortable. At the very least, I would recommend bringing some towels or blankets to sit on instead of the hard, cold, gum-covered NYC sidewalks.
Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:
Naturally, everyone gets very excited as the parade start time nears. The first thing we spotted were clowns roller skating with bundles of balloons who were working to get the crowd excited. Soon behind them were the NYPD motorcycles, horses, marching bands, cheerleaders, floats, and of course, the huge character balloons.
Being so close to the front row meant that our daughter got to interact more with the parade. This included high-fives from clowns, confetti thrown on her from time to time, and even a face to face with a Harlem Globetrotter!
If you are going to go through the effort to go to the parade with your kids, my advice is wait until they are at least four or five years old if you are only going to go once. My second piece of advice is get up early enough to be pretty close to the front, as otherwise they might miss some of the up-close magic the parade has to offer.
The performances you see on TV watching the parade by the Radio City Rockettes or some of the dancing and singing groups don’t really happen on the parade route. A few of the performers ride the floats through the parade and wave at the crowds, but the performances are just done in front of Macy’s and the TV cameras, so come to see the floats and balloons, not to see someone sing.
Which hotel to stay at for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:
The parade covers so much of the city that there is no “best” hotel to stay at in order to get to the parade. Obviously there are hotels that are physically on the parade route, so those are options if you don’t want to travel at all to the parade. Just don’t think you can simply book a room at one of the hotels on the route and watch from your window. There are some windows that will offer good views, but the hotels are savvy, and those rooms are often sold as part of pricier parade packages with increased rates and minimum stay requirements. In order words, be ready to pony up more cash if you want to confirm a parade route view from your hotel room. Also note that the parade route does change some years, so be sure you are looking at the current year’s map if you want to pick a hotel literally on the route.
Some hotels on the parade route do have some space outside for guests and some hotels even partnered with services who would hold your spot on the curb for you in the morning for a fee – heck, it’s NYC, where you can buy virtually anything at anytime.
We stayed one avenue off of the parade route at the St. Regis (more to come on that stay soon), so it was a very short walk to/from the parade, which was very much appreciated when the parade ended and we were ready to warm up (and use the restroom).
The parade itself was wonderful. The floats flew high, the weather was decent for late November, the people around us were fantastic, and it even started to snow right before Santa arrived at the end of the parade. It was really that perfect. It isn’t something I would want to do everything as I enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving at home, but I’m so glad we did it this year with our almost-five-year-old.
Being there for the parade also means you have perfect timing to go see Santa in-person at Macy’s on 34th Street the next day, so stay tuned for updated tips on that process!
If you have ever seen the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I’d love to hear your stories and tips!