Trumpets, clowns, balloons, and Santa. What’s not to love about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? (Photo: Macy’s Inc.)
by Cathy Bennett Kopf / The Open Suitcase
Attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City was No. 7 on my family’s bucket list, sandwiched between “Take an Alaskan Cruise” and “Watch a Match at Wimbledon.” We made the decision to go because we wanted to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in a big way. Despite having lived their entire lives in and around New York City, they had never gone to the parade. And there’s nothing bigger than the world’s most famous annual kick-off to the holidays.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade started in 1924 as a promotional gimmick to announce the Christmas shopping season. The parade route stretched for six miles, from Harlem to the store in Herald Square at 34th Street, and featured employees in fanciful costumes and animals on loan from the Central Park Zoo. Today, millions of people gather early in the morning to get prime spots along the parade route so they can watch the giant bobbing balloons sail down Sixth Avenue.
The parade still features floats — they’re just a bit glitzier than the original ones. (Photo: Macy’s Inc.)
The best way to attend is to book a stay at one of the hotels along the parade route. You’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the action and a refuge from the crowds and the weather. But be prepared to pay for the privilege. Hotels often require multinight stays and charge a premium price; for example, rates at the JW Marriott Essex House range from $1,399 to $3,499 per night.
We decided to front load our trip and arrived on a Tuesday. That gave us time to play tourist in our hometown on Wednesday. We went to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, did some early holiday shopping, wandered through Central Park, and caught a Broadway show.
The parade on Thursday was like the perfect dessert after our big tourist meal. The crowd was dense but extremely well behaved, and everyone’s smiles were as big as the balloons. There’s no better way to kick off the holiday season than by celebrating Thanksgiving in New York.
If you’re considering a visit, the following information can help you plan your trip.
▪ Check the parade route in advance. It’s changed in recent years due to construction in Times Square.
▪ Get a room. Contact hotels along the confirmed parade route to inquire about Thanksgiving packages. Most require at least a two-night stay. Request a mid-level room (floors 7-15) for the best view from the hotel window.
▪ Don’t miss the Balloon Inflation event. The enormous balloons are inflated Wednesday (3-10 p.m.) on the streets surrounding the American Museum of Natural History at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue. Take public transportation; the subway deposits you right into a line. Shuffle along with the crowd and watch as Snoopy, Paddington Bear, and new-this-year Angry Bird come to life, safely secured by netting and the volunteer handlers. Restrooms are available in the museum.
You can’t really appreciate the size of the balloons until you’re up close and personal with Buzz Lightyear. (Photo: The Open Suitcase LLC)
▪ Claim your sidewalk space. If the weather’s crummy, plan on watching the parade from your hotel room. When the weather’s perfect, you’ll need to claim your sidewalk space no later than 6 a.m. to get the front row. If you choose to sleep in though, don’t worry. Fifteen rows back on the side streets, you’ll still get amazing views of the giant balloons as they pass by.
▪ Eat out. Relax and enjoy a restaurant Thanksgiving. I initially felt guilty because there’d be no homemade turkey with stuffing and cranberries and pie and leftovers, but I got over it — fast. New York has thousands of great restaurants, and since I usually spend 72 hours prepping a meal that my family consumes in 15 minutes, it was really nice to let someone else do all the work for a change.
For the latest information, check out the Macy’s parade site.