Thanksgiving traditions vary from family to family, region to region, but one thing is constant: you watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you are lucky enough to be in New York City, whether as a tourist or resident, seeing the parade in person is a badge of honor. This lifelong New Yorker and Thanksgiving Day Parade veteran TravelingMom shares insider tips to seeing the parade.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2018
New Yorkers who eschew the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are as common as those who have never been to the Statue of Liberty. Nevertheless, this is one of the most crowded parade routes in the Northern hemisphere, and one of the best free things to do in New York City. If you go, you are as likely to chat up a New Yorker as you are a Midwesterner. Look, we like to pretend we are jaded, but we are all little kids when it comes to giant floats and sleigh bells.
The best way to see the parade, in my opinion, is from your friend’s living room window. But real estate on Central Park West is among the city’s priciest – and it’s only on one side of the parade. The other side is Central Park, where hardy people line up hours ahead of time. (For the secret New Yorkers know, go the night before to watch them inflate the balloons.)
So how can you see the parade if you don’t have a friend with a ($3) million-dollar view?
1. Go the Night Before
New Year’s Eve outranks New Year’s Day, and some people prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, so make Thanksgiving Eve your thing. The night before the parade, all those balloons are inflated and then tied down on the Upper West Side. You can go see flat balloons, spend an hour in the American Museum of Natural History, then return and see some inflated.
Go to dinner, and come back. Even more balloons will be filled.
TravelingMom Tip: Although the balloons are inflated on 77th and 81st Streets, the only access point is 74th Street and Columbus Avenue.
2. Pretend You Are Going Skiing
Bundle up the kids, layer on the moisture-wicking fabrics and Smartwool and bring a dry breakfast to the parade route. There should be no liquids consumed while you await the parade. Why? Because there are no bathroom breaks at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. That sweet old woman who smiled at your kids when they toddled on the empty streets at 7am will assert her claim to your tiny bit of real estate if you even think of vacating for a restroom.
You may bring an emergency bottle of water, which might well freeze while you wait,
3. There Really Are No Restrooms
4. Raid the Piggybank
Sure, your kids want to go to college, but they are 5 and 7; college is years away. Splurge on a hotel room along the parade route. If you splurge enough (and book really, really early), you might snag a room with a view of the parade route and you can look down upon the festivities from the warmth of your room. If that price is a little too steep, you can bundle up and head down to street level. There, you’ll get an unobstructed parade view, courtesy of the hotel’s doormen, who keep the section in front of the hotel open for guests and free of the general parade-watching riffraff.
5. Better Yet, Friend Someone Doing No. 4
Just make sure your friend vouches for you. My kids have a deep pocketed out of town uncle who loves the parade and springs for a hotel room along the parade route.
6. Go to the Parade with a Talented Kid
All those bands from across the country get to march in the parade while their adults and other hangers-on get to watch from a special viewing area.
7. Go for the Middle
The beginning and ending of the parade route are the most crowded spots. Head for somewhere midtown, where you have the best chance of finding a viewing spot.
8. Above all DON’T DRIVE
You will thank me later.
9. Leave Fido at Home
This is not the place to bring pets.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Route
The parade starts at West 77th Street & Central Park West at 9am. If you line up by 6am on the west side of Central Park West from West 75th to West 59th Streets you can get a great spot.
The parade turns at Columbus Circle, (which has no viewing spots) then heads south onto 6th Avenue. You can line up on both sides of 6th Avenue from West 59th Street to West 38th Street.
TravelingMom Tip: 6th Avenue is officially named Avenue of the Americas.
The Grandstand is located at Macy’s in Herald Square, but you need tickets to sit in this viewing area and they are not available to the general public. If you’ve watched the parade on television, this is where the performances are filmed.