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The grand finale of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC is the arrival of Santa Clause and the Christmas Season. Our almost-five-year-old daughter was thrilled to see Santa go down Sixth Avenue on his sleigh, so our next logical stop was to visit Santaland and the big guy himself at Macy’s on 34th Street the day after Thanksgiving. She was excited for many things on our New York City trip, but a return visit to Santaland ranked very highly on her own to-do list.
If you haven’t done it before, know that going to see Santa at Macy’s on 34th Street is a very different experience than heading to see Santa at your local mall. This Santa is the real Santa, and as such there are hundreds and hundreds of other families lined up to meet him, and the decor and environment is taken to a whole other level than walking by a few plastic candy canes on your way to see the big guy. Santaland at Macy’s on 34th Street is truly an entire North Pole wonderland.
Go When the Line for Santaland is Shorter:
The most important thing to know is that there are two main ways to visit Santaland. The first is to simply show up and wait in line. The “theme park logic” holds true at Santaland, and earlier in the day is better than later in the day. Also, weekends are going to be busier than weekdays, and I hear it gets even busier as Christmas Day approaches. If you want to avoid lines like the one I experienced in 2012 that snaked through pretty much every back office at Macy’s, then time your visit appropriately. On the plus side, when you wait in the traditional line, you get to go through the entire Santaland experience.
Request an Express Pass for Visiting Santaland:
The other option for visiting Santa is to reserve a time to visit via a free Express Pass. Yes, these days even Santa has an express pass! They have tweaked this option from one year to the next, but this year they have moved the ability to request an Express Pass to the Macy’s website for visits 30 minutes to 48 hours in advance. Looking at today, the Express Passes are all already gone until late this evening, but there are plenty of options for tomorrow. This means I recommend requesting the Express Pass as close to 48 hours in advance as possible.
The Express Pass is 100% worth it with young kids (or inpatient adults) to avoid what can be a substantial wait, but it does have a trade-off as you don’t go through the entire Santaland area. According to the elves, you don’t miss much by entering at the Express Pass entrance, but you will miss some. While I have done it both with and without an Express Pass, I can’t say with certainty how much you miss since the Santaland area has undergone changes between my two visits.
I think on our next visit, if the regular line is 30 – 45 minutes or less, we will probably just wait in that line and make sure to get the full Santaland experience, but if the line is over 45 minutes or so we would probably use our Express Pass reservation. However, we really love Christmas decorations, so if your love for sparkling lights and themed animatronics is lower than ours, then just go for the the Express Pass every time.
Enjoy the Santaland Experience:
Whether you opt for the regular line or the Express Pass, you will get to experience some Santaland magic, and it is magical. This year they got rid of a few sections, but added some joke telling reindeer that my daughter loved!
The area is somewhat dark in order for the Christmas lights and decorations to really pop. The dimly lit area also adds to the excitement and anticipation around what is beyond each turn…and of course for what is waiting at the end of the experience.
We visited the day after Thanksgiving, and there was virtually no one (as you can see) in the Express Pass line, so while we got to go at our own pace, I felt like we almost got through Santaland too quickly and didn’t get to soak everything in the way we did a couple years ago while waiting in the long line.
Our kid was thrilled to be able to virtually have the place to herself, so seeing her excitement was the best part!
After a few minutes of walking through Santaland, we were just about to Santa himself. Cue my Buddy the Elf style excitement! He was just beyond the Christmas Tree Forest….
Here’s a tip, if you would like to visit a darker skinned Santa, then let the elf at the Christmas Tree Forest entrance know you would like to see the “Special Santa” (don’t ask me why they call him that). That is a pretty unpublished option, but from all reports, it is an option to be aware of.
Waiting just beyond the trees is Santa himself…
One thing I love about visiting Santa at Santaland is that we have never felt rushed during our time with him. You are in your own private area with him, and they really make it feel like it is just you and Santa. He will talk with the kids, and happily take pictures not just with the official Macy’s camera, but also with your own cameras. They are even happy to have different combinations of people pose with Santa if you wish.
After you say your goodbyes, you officially exit Santaland and can move on to the area where you can purchase the official photos if you wish.
The official photos start at about $19.99 and go up from there, though there is no pressure at all to purchase a photo. If you have a kid of Santa-age, visisting Macy’s Santaland is as much of a “must do” while in NYC during the holidays as seeing the Rockefeller tree and gazing at all the holiday department store windows.