When it comes to Thanksgiving in New York City, there’s really only one game in town: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Now in its 92nd year, the Macy’s parade is a great thing to do with kids on Thanksgiving Day, and New Yorkers have the advantage of it taking place in their hometown. Do you have to go every year? No. But every kid should see this New York tradition and holiday spectacle at least once. Here’s how to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade with kids and actually enjoy it. Gobble gobble!
photo: Charley Lhasa via Flickr
The 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
First, an overview. The 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is aptly themed, “Let’s Have a Parade.” It kicks off at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 22.
The route goes from 77th Street and Central Park West down to 59th Street, where it turns left. It proceeds South on Sixth Avenue to 34th Street, and then hangs a right to bring it on home to Macy’s flagship store. You can see a map of the route here.
The actual distance covers is about 2.6 miles, and parade duration depends on your vantage point. The closer you get to Macy’s and Herald Square, the longer things take, as most of the performances take place in front of the viewing areas there and for the television broadcast on NBC. Uptown, it’s about an hour-and-a-half; near Macy’s, it’s closer to three hours. Note: Viewing it in person is not the experience of watching it at home—the bands don’t play on cue, it’s obviously a little chillier—but, as they say, it’s not worse, it’s just different.
photo: Karmakazaseal via Flickr
New additions and old favorites
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is famous for its giant character balloons and floats, and draws marching bands from around the country (there are 12 of them this year). The stars also come out, often performing musical numbers on various themed/branded floats.
This year, the celebrity lineup includes John Legend, Diana Ross, Martina McBride, Barenaked Ladies, Rita Ora, Pentatonix, as well as The Muppets and the cast of Sesame Street.
The big additions to the giant character balloon line-up this year will be the famed Saiyan warrior Goku from “Dragon Ball Super: Broly, and the elf stars of Netflix’s “The Christmas Chronicles”– Fleck, Bjorn, Jojo and Hugg. Also new: Go Bowling “balloonicles” (hybrid balloons and vehicles), in the form of a bowling ball, bowling pins and bowling shoe.
Perhaps our favorite addition: Little Cloud, the iconic creation of art collaborative FriendsWithYou™, as part of Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery series, which invites contemporary artists to recreate their work as parade balloons. Artists Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III will join Little Cloud with a stunning rainbow inflatable and two raindrops. (Past works in the series have included balloons from famed artists Tom Otterness, Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami, Tim Burton and KAWS.)
Rounding out the new inflatable cast will be Sinclair Oil’s Baby Dino balloonicles, Universal Orlando Resort’s™ The Nutcracker and the shining star of Macy’s Christmas celebrations, Sunny the Snowpa
Returning favorites include Charlie Brown, Olaf, Paw Patrol, Pikachu, The Grinch, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy.
Plus: The Rockettes, Manhattan Youth Ballet, and 1,000 clowns!
Thanksgiving Eve: Balloon Inflation
Real New Yorkers know that Thanksgiving actually starts with the balloon inflation the night before, on the blocks surrounding the American Museum of Natural History.
Once a sort of “let’s go down and check that out” activity, it’s now a full-on mob scene, so be prepared for crowds and to move slowly. Still, it’s another “must-do” of Thanksgiving in New York.
The good news: it starts early, so if you can get out of work and head over in the afternoon, you can beat the crush.
Inflation is from 1 p.m. – 8 p.m. on 77th Street and 81st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. (Enter at 73rd and Columbus.) You can download an inflation map here.
photo: tweber1 via Flickr
Watching the Parade
Obviously, the early bird gets the worm here. For a front row/curb-side seat, plan on marshaling the troops to be in position by 6 a.m. (Obviously bring snacks, water, hats, gloves and maybe a blanket for sitting on or wrapping a chilly person. Binoculars can also be fun.)
Central Park West between 75th and 59th Street is prime parade-watching territory, as is Columbus Circle, when the parade makes its first turn; good viewing can be had along both Central Park West and Central Park South. Another strategy here: head inside to the upper level of the Shops at Columbus Circle for warmth and a view through glass.
Sixth Avenue above 38th Street is another good option.
Where not to go: the very beginning of the parade is hectic and not worth it; access to anything on 6th from 34th to 38th is highly-restricted due to the televised broadcast, and it only gets worse/it’s literally impossible to be in Herald Square. (Plus: why would you want to head into that mess?)
photo: Hilton Hotels
For Deluxe Viewing: Bucket List Options
Have cash to burn, celebrating a landmark birthday or anniversary, or have a deluxe Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade viewing on your Bucket List? Several hotels are happy to provide you with spectacular views of the parade (and in some cases, even feed you!) Below, here’s where you can book deluxe suites and rooms to see the parade in style and inside!
Hilton is the official hotel of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and has several hotels along the parade route. Rooms for viewing the parade are categorized and priced accordingly (“Partial and passing parade views”, “Unobstructed full parade views”) and within those you can select views from high floors, low floors, etc. None are cheap, and most require a minimum stay of three or four nights with rates starting at $599 a night (those are the bad seats).
Arguably the best seat in the city?: “The Ultimate Corner View Suite”, which offers eye-level views of the balloons as they pass—through two sets of windows. You’ll pay: There’s a five night-minimum stay, at the rate of $1,999 a night.
When we checked in recently, all the parade-view rooms were booked, but regular rooms were still available, and hotel guests get prime street access in front of the hotel. And FYI: NOW is the best time to book for 2019.
photo: via Hilton Midtown Facebook page
Free Pre-Parade Fun on Tuesday, November 20
Even if you can’t foot the bill for a deluxe viewing suite, Hilton invites families to get pumped for the parade with many free festivities at its New York Hilton Midtown location at 1335 Sixth Avenue. The hotel is transforming into a holiday wonderland to kick-off this year’s parade festivities, and guests, visitors, and locals of all ages can get into the holiday spirit with hourly holiday-themed activities.(It is also offering a fun holiday breakfast.) Click here for the latest info on the event.
9 a.m.-11 a.m.: Dine with the Macy’s characters – including Penguin, Moose and Polar Bear – at the breakfast buffet at Herb N’ Kitchen. Enjoy a full American Breakfast Buffet for $48, or Continental Breakfast Buffet for $30 (includes taxes and gratuity) followed by a special reading by Mrs. Claus at the North Pole
10 a.m.-Noon: Visitors can create the perfect cup of hot cocoa (with an assortment of toppings) while writing letters to Santa, which the hotel will send directly to the North Pole. Parents: head to the Hilton Honors table and enroll to win a three-night stay at Hilton Aruba.
11:30 a.m.: Mrs. Claus reads another story, this time by the lobby’s life-sized gingerbread house.
Noon – 1 p.m.: Come by to help award-winning pastry Chef Morand Dare at the interactive gingerbread demonstration
Tues., Nov. 20
New York Hilton Midtown
1335 Sixth Avenue at 54th St.
When you head into Manhattan with kids for an event you need to keep certain things top of mind: namely, where are the bathrooms.
Macy’s is here for you, and actually has a helpful interactive map of where you and yours can use the bathroom. Click here to view it. (Thanks Macy’s!)