Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been an annual “rain or shine” tradition since 1924 (except for three years during WWII when there was a rubber and helium shortage, so no balloons could be made). Originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade, it is now held on Thanksgiving Day to kick-off the Christmas season. First televised in 1946, the pageantry, musical entertainment, beautiful floats, and humongous balloons are now enjoyed by more than 50 million people all over the country from the comfort of their toasty warm homes (tune into your local NBC station).
Since New York weather is rather unpredictable in late November, if you want to see the Macy's parade unfold in person, I recommend that you dress in layers. You’ll be glad you did when you look out and see the scantily and sparkly clad Radio City Rockettes kicking up their shivering heels! Speaking of glitz and glamour, you’ll also be able to see hot pop stars, marching bands from all over the country, and the casts of Broadway shows perform along the route. You just might see Santa Claus, too! While you can get a better view watching the Macy’s Parade on NBC or from a hotel room that over looks the route, all the excitement is down on the streets.
The traditional route of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was changed in 2009 to accommodate more spectators. It begins at 9 a.m. at 77th and Central Park West, traveling south to Central Park South where it turns east. At 7th Avenue, the Macy's parade turns south and proceeds to 42nd Street, where it continues east to 6th Avenue. Then, the parade moves south on 6th to 34th Street and finally west to Herald Square at 34th Street and 7th Avenue.
Once you are bundled up, get to your viewing site early (about 3.5 million people gather along the route). Spectators start showing up with blankets and coffee before 7 a.m. If you want to eat your Thanksgiving dinner (or lunch) along the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade route, you should make your reservations far in advance. While many restaurants were traditionally closed for the day, some bold rebels are starting to open for dinner and offer fixed price meals.
Macy’s recommends watching its Thanksgiving parade along Central Park West between 61st and 72nd Street. The last time I watched the parade from the street, we stayed at the Mayflower Hotel on Central Park West, between 61st and 62nd street. While we could not see the parade from our room, we could take turns running back to the lobby to get warm after we secured our viewing spot. Keep in mind that no folding chairs are permitted, so be prepared to stand (or jump in place to keep warm, as we did) for several hours.
If you’re in the City on the evening before Thanksgiving, I suggest you check out the inflation of the balloons from 77th Street to 81st Streets between Central Park (3-10 p.m.) West and Columbus Avenue. Thousands of people come to watch the balloons come to life with the assistance of balloon professionals and Macy’s volunteers.
Bring hand warmers—you know, those air activated little pouches that you can buy in ski shops, outdoor equipment stores, and even some hardware stores? All you do is open the outer wrapping, and tuck the little warmers into your pockets, mittens or gloves (mittens work better because you can move your fingers around). They are inexpensive and will last a good seven hours.
Avoid Herald Square at all costs! It is crazy crowded.
Restrooms are hard to find. I have had luck, however, at Starbuck’s where they might let you use the facilities—especially if you buy a latte! Here are a few locations along the route: 34th between 6th and 7th Aves.; corner of 6th Ave. & 34th Street; 42nd Street between 6th and 7th Aves.; 1535 and 1530 Broadway—across the street from each other—between 44th & 45th Streets; 7th Avenue between 51st & 52nd Streets.
Use public transportation. Check out the 1, 2, 3, and 9 subway lines. The re-routed driving traffic will cause congestion and time delays. If you come by car, you’ll waste precious time in traffic jams that you could use to find your Macy's parade viewing spot.
There are many hotels along the route. Call in advance, ask for special Thanksgiving packages, and if they don’t have any lodging rooms left that overlook the Thanksgiving parade route, ask if they have a meeting space, catering room, or lobby that has a view. Here are a few along the route: New York Marriott Marquis (the lobby is on the 8th floor and there are restaurants and lounges that overlook Times Square), Trump International Hotel & Tower New York, Bryant Park Hotel, Sheraton Manhattan Hotel at Times Square, the Wellington Hotel, and the Renaissance New York Hotel in Times Square.
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