Did you know that over 3 million people head to New York City to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person each year. Like every one else, I love watching it on television every year, but actually going to NYC to see it live had been on my bucket list for many years. Since we’re only a few hours from NYC, last year my hubby, Chris and I headed down to Manhattan to see the parade. Before we went down, I did my research and wanted to pass on my best tips for surviving the experience to you guys.
1. Know the parade route!
This is going to help you in a few ways. First of all, I highly suggest you plan where you want to view the parade from ahead of time, so obviously you will need to know which way the parade goes. Plus, that way you can tell your cab driver exactly where to drop you off at when you get there. Secondly, if you are watching the parade from near the beginning of the route, you will not walk into the crowds still watching it when you leave.
The parade kicks off at 77th Street and Central Park West. It travels downtown to Central Park South (59th Street) and from there it heads east to Sixth Avenue, where it continues south to 34th Street (Herald Square). The Macy’s website has map of the parade route.
Chris and I parked ourselves over on Central Park West, on the corner of 72nd street. I had read beforehand that anywhere in the 70’s and 60’s were the best places to sit because they would be a tad less crowded. I am not sure I believe that after experiencing it for myself, but we wanted to be near the beginning of the parade and were very happy with where we sat.
2. Get there early!
If you’re not a morning person, you need to make an exception if you’re going to the parade. We arrived at our spot on the corner of 72nd street at 5:30 am and there were already a bunch of people there. I’m not kidding. By 7 am, it was three people deep behind us and when the parade started at 9 am, it was at least 12 to 15 people deep on the sidewalk behind us. If you want a front row seat, you should plan on arriving by 6 am at the very latest.
3. Wear lots and lots of layers!
I mean lots! It gets cold out there and since you’ll be sitting outside in it for a good 5-6 hours, be sure to bundle up. Wear layers, bring blankets and don’t forget the hat & gloves.
4. Limit your liquids!
Since you are going to be sitting (or standing) outside for hours, don’t drink too much that morning. Believe me when I tell you that if you move, you will lose your spot. Restrooms aren’t as easy to find along the parade route as you’d think and when you do find one – they are crowded. Chris left for a bathroom run around 7:30 am. He found a Starbucks a few blocks away and stood in line for 30 minutes to use the restroom.
Not to mention, you will have to have to fight the crowd to get out and back in to your spot.
5. Go prepared!
Bring chairs, your portable phone charger, blankets, a good book, snacks and whatever else you need to be comfortable outside for 5-6 hours that morning. It was sprinkling the day we went, so we had ponchos and umbrellas with us.
I had read conflicting information before I headed down about whether or not chairs were not allowed on the sidewalks, so we left ours at home – just in case. Some articles I read said you could bring your own chairs and some said they were banned. We brought blankets to sit on, but didn’t want to drag the chairs on the off chance we couldn’t use them and then be stuck carrying them around.
Once we got there, not only did we find out that they are allowed, but there were tons of guys walking around selling them. Brilliant, right? Yes, I broke down and bought two of them – and paid a pretty penny, but you know what? It was totally worth it.
Plus once the parade starts, everyone crams forward and if you have a chair, you will have a little more personal space than if you don’t. Trust me, people pack it in tight.
One last thing that I want to mention is when the parade ends, everyone will make a mad dash to the subway and you can pretty much forget about finding yourself a cab. Chris and I just walked the three or so miles back to our hotel when the parade was over, but if you don’t want to do that, I would recommend finding a restaurant close to where you plan to watch the parade and make a lunch reservation. That way you can kill some time while you wait for the crowd to thin out.
Bonus Tip: You can go see the balloons the night before!
The inflation starts at 3 pm and you can go see the balloons in all their glory until about 9 pm on Wednesday night. About 432,353 police officers and barricades will herd people (literally) into a procession that starts at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue, and circles around the Museum of Natural History. It’s extremely crowded, but I have to say it that is very well organized.
The balloons are inflated one at a time, so if you get there at 3 pm, hardly any will be blown up. We arrived around 7 pm and all the balloons were done being inflated. The line increases as the night wears on, so I am not sure if there is a perfect time to go, but again, it’s really well organized so you will get a chance to see them all no matter what time you arrive.
It was pouring the night we went, so all the umbrellas didn’t help with the crowds, but everyone made it work.
It’s actually pretty cool to see all those balloons you are used to seeing on tv in real life. Even if they are on the ground held down by giant nets – it’s really just as cool to see the balloons like that as it is to see them float by in the parade.
If you’re wondering if it’s worth it to go over and see the balloons inflated on Wednesday night, it is. It really is. If you are in the city anyways for the parade, make some time to go see the balloons the night before. It’s truly awesome to see them all there on display like that.
I loved seeing the parade in person and if you ever get a chance to go see it for yourself, do it. It’s something that everyone should experience at least once in their life.