Tips for Seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

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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.

See a turkey float instead of eating turkey!

See a turkey float instead of eating turkey!

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.

Bundled up and ready for the parade!

Bundled up and ready for the 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.

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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.

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Crowd at 7AM

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.

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Second row arriving at 7AM

That said, the prime seats in the covered bus stops are apparently full around 4AM!

Prime Macy's Parade seats!

Prime Macy’s Parade seats!

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!

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Crowd behind us by the time the parade started

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.

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Save your energy for the parade!

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.

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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!

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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!

Comments

  1. Thanks for the tips! This looks like it would be fun to do sometime. Although my fear is that one of my kids would have a bathroom emergency and have nowhere to go. Were there porta potties on the streets anywhere?

  2. I’ll just emphasize that these are specifically tips for seeing the parade with kids (this being, after all Mommy Points). If everyone in your party is an adult, I would *highly* recommend not doing any of this; rather:

    – Show up when you want to– 9:45 or 10:00; you’ll get a perfectly good spot at any time.
    – Keep in mind that 99% of the fun of the parade (again, for adults) is elevated– floats, balloons, Santa, etc.
    – If you get a spot on one of the plazas that front office buildings on 6th ave, you’ll be sufficiently elevated to see the marching bands, etc., anyway.

    The parade is so long that viewing it can be (and should be) a pretty stress-free experience, especially by NYC standards. I say this as someone who hasn’t missed the parade in 10 years. Just sleep in (a bit), relax, and have fun.

  3. One thing to bear in mind that on Thanksgiving in New York it can be 55 degrees or 25 degrees. Standing still in 25 degree weather for hours can be a truly miserable experience, especially for a child. So if you’re going to brave it, layer up well and bring more extra clothing that you imagine you might need.
    .
    Remember that even an hour or two before the parade you will not be able to cross the parade route anywhere. So if you’re planning to be on the east side of the parade figure out a way to get there by subway, or be in location hours early.
    .
    Finally, there are some good viewing spots in Central Park in the 60s — elevated hillocks that let you see over the crowd actually on the sidewalk. To get there, get off the subway at 86th or 96th Street, cross into the park north of the parade start, and walk south from there.

    • Larry, for sure about the weather. It was in the 30’s for us, but I was thankful it wasn’t terribly cold. We would have basically worn ski gear if it was really cold. The police were letting some folks across the street, but that did clamp down as the start time got closer. Good tip on the hills from Central Park if you are okay not being right in the action.

  4. Our family of 4 left our hotel (Doubletree Times Square at 47th and 7th) around 730. We were gonna walk up to Columbus Circle, but it was superpacked that way, and they were shutting the streets down to new pedestrians. So we decided to get back closer to our hotel and we found a descent spot around 6th ave at 49th and on the east side of 6th ave. HOWEVER, there are several spots along the route where there are 2 sets of barricades set up. Where we were just happened to be on of those spots. Some policeman saw our young kids (3 and 5) in the middle of the crowd at our descent spot, and took us up to the very front of the front barricade! They did this to several families, and they also seemed to be letting friends, family, and other off duty police people go in this section. It was awesome as not only where we front row, we weren’t packed like sardines. We were also just a about a block or 2 and on the opposite side from Radio City, so it led to some great pictures because most of our pictures of the parade have their famous signs in the background.
    We also went to the inflation festival the night before which is right by the famous Natural History Museum. We planned it so our kids watched a night at the museum the week before, then we went to the museum and our kids had a blast there. (very very crowded that day, but i would do it again) then when we left the museum at about 5, we were actually inside the inflation barricade route.
    We used Southwest and Hilton points, so we were gonna be flexible if it was gonna be any colder. The forecast was for the 30’s which we could handle. If the forecast would have been worse, we probably would have cancelled and just got the points redeposited.. We also flew Tuesday and Saturday, and it was very stressfree those days.

  5. Last year the front row magical time was 6:00-6:15 near the end of route. We were just a few blocks up from Macy’s. We got front row but the 6:30-ers got second row. My handy fold-up picnic blanket was wonderful and useful. Enjoy, loved the experience with my child!

  6. We are going to see the parade this year & plan to bring our chairs since we will be there right at 6:00. Are there lockers near by to leave them after the parade to see the sights? Also, what recommendations do you have to get lunch that is budget friendly near by?

  7. Can I ask a silly question? In some of those photos (like the covered bus stop and the one right before it), people are sitting in those collapsible folding chairs. But when the parade starts, it looks like people are packed shoulder to shoulder. What did they do with their folding chairs? I’m wondering if they took them back to their hotel rooms while somebody held their spots, or like if they just kept them at their feet somehow? Sorry for the weird question, just trying to plan a trip for next year!

    • They are still there as far as I know. I didn’t see anyone take them away. We were towards the front of the crowd, so some in the front just sat in them the whole time as they only had small kids standing in front of them. I would just bring them if you want them and the rest will work itself out.

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