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5 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade tips for first-time watchers

Nov. 04, 2022
11 min read
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Few things compare to seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person on a brisk November morning. Watching massive balloons like Snoopy and even modern favorites such as Bluey and Grogu (aka "Baby Yoda") fly down the streets of New York City is an iconic holiday experience on many families’ travel wish lists.

Assuming you don’t live in the Big Apple or the immediate area, know that seeing the parade will require forgoing (or delaying) a traditional Thanksgiving meal at home. However, passing on this tradition will likely be well worth the effort once you see your kid giddy with excitement as their favorite cartoon characters float by.

EUGENE GOLOGURSKY/GETTY IMAGES

More than 3.5 million people attend the Macy’s parade in person each year, so it's important to strategize your visit so you are not far from the curb struggling to catch a glimpse of the street.

Having attended the event ourselves, it's safe to say that there are several things you'll want to keep top of mind as you plan your day at the parade. Here are our top tips for viewing the 2022 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Related: Holiday airfare is rising: What to know if you haven't booked yet

Catch the balloon inflation the day before

If you want to get an up-close view of the balloons featured in the annual parade, one activity you won't want to miss is Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation. During this event, you'll see the balloons come to life as they are inflated.

Occurring the day before the parade, the inflation starts at noon on the Upper West Side at 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue near the American Museum of Natural History. It runs until 6 p.m., giving you several hours to get a sneak peek at what's to come during the parade.

Unsurprisingly, this pre-parade event is popular, so the earlier you arrive, the less crowded it will be as you walk the organized trail to see the balloons. Know, though, that inflating a giant balloon the height of a four-story building takes time, so you may want to test your luck by arriving closer to 3 p.m., which is when most of the balloons are starting to take shape.

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SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

To get to the event location via public transportation, allow extra time, as the subway station at 77th Street tends to get very crowded as the afternoon wears on. You can also hail a cab or use a ride-hailing service, though you'll want to walk a block or two north of the gated-off section to avoid delays.

TPG tip: Consider taking the 1, 2 or 3 train to Broadway and 72nd Street instead. It's a bit further away but an easy walk — just follow the crowds.

Related: These are the best New York City hotels for families to check out

Line up very early on the parade route

When we saw the parade, we nabbed spots around 55th Street and Sixth Avenue, a few blocks after the parade made its turn from the Upper West Side to head down toward Macy’s. Despite the parade starting at 9 a.m., we arrived a little before 7 a.m., which was already too late to get a spot directly on the curb. Still, we managed to be in the second row, which was sufficient, especially since the people ahead of us were happy to let all the little kids line up in the front to get good views.

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If you don't want to rely on luck and instead wish to snag a coveted front-row spot on the curb, you'll need to show up before 7 a.m., as the streets were already lined as far as the eye could see by that time. Based on conversations with some parade pros around us, 6 a.m. is the magic time to get a curb spot on this part of the route.

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Other portions of the route may require an even earlier wake-up call, so plan accordingly if you have a particular location in mind. For example, we were told that the prime seats in the covered bus stops are full by around 4 a.m.

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Should you have deeper pockets and want to avoid being outside in the elements, you can pay for brunch with a view along the parade route. Just be sure you look into these reservations well in advance, as they tend to fill up fast.

Related: Your guide to the can't-miss holiday happenings in New York City

TPG tip: For those arriving later in the morning, you can stand in the closed-off side streets leading to the parade. You might be 10-15 people back but can still see most of the action

Bring something to keep you occupied — and warm

The parade starts at 9 a.m. at Central Park West on 77th Street. Since the route is 2 1/2 miles long, the lead marchers don’t reach Macy’s until about 9:40 a.m., meaning you'll have some idle time before you can start watching the spectacle.

Because you could find yourself waiting several hours until the parade shows up, you'll want to bring some stuff to keep your kids occupied, such as snacks or breakfast and portable games. A backup charger is a good idea, too.

My family opted to enjoy breakfast on the street before coloring and watching some Netflix shows on our cellphones. We sat as much as possible before the parade arrived, which I highly recommend doing — at the very least, for your little ones — to preserve your standing ability for when the balloons make an appearance.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

You can bring camping chairs, buckets or anything else you may want to sit on to the parade, though these items are not very helpful for the parade itself since everyone seems to stand. Still, at the very least, you'll probably want to have some hotel towels or blankets to sit on instead of the hard, cold, gum-covered New York City sidewalks. Don't forget proper attire (think: jackets, hats and umbrellas, if rain is in the forecast), too, since the weather can quickly turn in late fall.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Live in the moment

While we all attend the parade with images of the annual event from our TV screens playing in our heads, know that in person, the celebration is a little different.

Like at home, everyone begins getting excited as the parade start time nears, and before long, cheers erupt as the parade comes into view. The first thing we spotted was clowns roller-skating with bundles of balloons. Soon after came the New York Police Department motorcycles, horses, marching bands, cheerleaders, floats and, of course, the huge character balloons.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

However, what you may not realize from watching at home is how interactive the experience can be. Being so close to the front row meant that our daughter got to be part of the parade. In addition to receiving high-fives from clowns and getting confetti in her hair as it was thrown, she got to enjoy a face-to-face encounter with a Harlem Globetrotter.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Everything you see on TV doesn't happen along the parade route, either. Some performances, including those by the Radio City Rockettes and various singing and dance groups, only take place in front of Macy's Herald Square (where the cameras sit). As a result, you'll want to manage your expectations. Don't worry about what you're missing. Instead, focus on all that's taking place in front of you: the floats, balloons and festivities.

Book a hotel near the parade route

The parade covers so much of the city that there isn't one best hotel for attending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. While there are some hotels that are physically on the parade route, it's not as simple as booking a room at one of these properties and watching the festivities from your window.

Sure, there are some windows at the route-adjacent hotels that offer good views, but hotels are savvy, so those rooms are often sold as part of pricier parade packages. As such, you'll have to pay more and often meet minimum stay requirements to see the parade from your actual hotel room.

If you don't want to splurge to see all the action from your room, ask if your hotel has a special viewing area for guests. Oftentimes, hotels on the parade route do have some space outside where patrons can watch the parade as it passes by.

The following are a few highly regarded properties on the parade route:

The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park. NICK ELLIS/THE POINTS GUY

Should you have trouble securing a room at a property on the parade route or wish to save a little money, consider staying a block or more off the route.

On our trip a few years ago, we stayed one avenue off the parade route at The St. Regis New York and loved it. It was a very short walk to and from the parade, which was much appreciated when the parade ended, as it was a chilly day when we attended.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Some other points-friendly hotels that are within walking distance of the parade route include:

Related: 8 festive hotels for people who really love the holidays

Bottom line

After my family attended the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, we walked away thinking the event itself was wonderful. The balloons flew high, the weather that year was decent for late November and the people all around us were fantastic. It even started to snow right before Santa arrived at the end in a way you couldn't plan.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Since New York City is an incredible place to be for the holidays, there are all kinds of other ways to celebrate the season after kicking it off with the parade. Be sure to go see Santa in person at Santaland on the eighth floor of Macy’s on 34th Street (reservations are required). Also make a point to peruse some of the festive holiday markets throughout the city when you're not busy ice skating at Rockefeller Center or catching a performance of a Christmas classic like "The Nutcracker" or "A Christmas Carol."

Featured image by NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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