We went to NYC over Thanksgiving weekend this year so that we could see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade is probably the biggest NYC event I’d ever be interested in attending, considering that New Year’s Eve seems somewhat less appealing after having heard of people camping out for 24 hours and wearing diapers to reserve a spot to watch the Ball drop in Times Square.
As it is, for the parade we got up at 5am (not my ideal alarm time for vacations) in order to reserve a spot by 6:30am, lost half an hour when we realized we’d forgotten the breakfast we packed and had to wait in an insanely long line for food at Starbucks (bad idea, but it looked like the only nearby option), finally found a pretty good spot to watch the parade by 7am, waited a couple more hours for the parade to start, then spent another one and a half to two hours watching the parade.
We watched along central park on the west side of the street between 67th and 68th streets. It was pretty packed, but surprisingly, by the time the parade started we had a little bubble of space around us that lasted the length of the parade.
And the weather was awesome: just chilly enough to be festive but not so cold as to make standing outside for four hours unbearable. In addition to the usual marching bands and drill teams, we saw some interesting 80s dancers…
…and some extra large writing utensils…
…and some people who came up with interesting solutions to getting a good view of the parade…
…and Breakfast even made an appearance!
The parade was awesome. I especially loved seeing all of the giant balloons floating down the street, particularly the nostalgic ones like Sonic and Snoopy and Kermit and the Pillsbury Doughboy.
Poor Ronald McDonald was losing a shoe!
And Sponge Bob was pretty funny since his giant eyes gave him a crazed look floating overhead. The people towing him made him bounce along, adding to the effect.
There was even a wiener dog!
And finally, the parade ended with Santa’s float.
After Santa passed at the end of the parade, they actually opened up the street pretty soon after and let everyone walk in the street. So we got to walk behind the parade, which was fun for a little while.
It was an awesome experience! And for me, probably a one-time experience since in the future I’d rather visit NYC on non-holiday weekends when the city is a bit less crowded.
Based on our experience from this trip, here are my tips for watching the parade:
- NEVER EVER go into a Starbucks before or after the parade unless there is no other option, especially if it’s to use the restroom. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that either line will move quickly.
- Better restroom alternatives include the free public restrooms in Central Park (if you’re sitting on that side of the parade route) or hotel lobbies (probably a better option after the parade since their restaurants and bars will be open by then, and in theory you could be a potential customer rather than someone looking for a free restroom).
- Old-school pre-cell-phone meeting strategies apply to parade day. Do not expect to be able to make or receive calls or text messages anywhere near the parade route. Even if it looks like you have great reception, it probably won’t go through.
- If you’re more interested in the balloons and floats than the parade performances, watch near the beginning of the parade route, as performances toward the end of the parade route make the parade last much longer there.
- Most advice online says to get to the parade route at 6:30am to get a good spot. If you want a really good spot (i.e. no one is between you and the street), you’ll probably want to get there by 6am. If you’re OK with a few people between you and the street, 7am is OK. However, in that case you’ll probably want to find something to stand on.
- If you have a compact folding stool or step ladder, setting that up along the wall is perfect, as you’ll be able to see well, can get there a little later, and won’t be obstructing anyone’s view.
- Bring a blanket to sit on while you wait since the ground will be cold.
- Regardless of how warm it seems, bring lots of layers just in case, especially socks and gloves and hats.
- If you’re willing to pay to watch the parade (I don’t know how much or to who), there are some bleachers set up in places along the parade route that are reserved for people who bought tickets. The ones across the street from us (along the edge of Central Park) were deserted when we arrived an didn’t fill up until much closer to when the parade started.
- Unless you pay for street access prior to the parade (I’m guessing this might be related to the reserved seating), don’t expect to be able to walk across any streets blocked off for the parade. You’ll be sitting on whichever side you approach from.
- If you stick around until the end of the parade, you’ll be able to cross or walk in the street shortly after.
- Don’t try to ride the subway immediately after the parade. Take a walk in Central Park or around the city and find a place away from the parade route to have lunch so that the crowds have a chance to die down.
- If you take a bus to or from NYC over the weekend of Thanksgiving, arrive three or four times as early as you normally would (on both trips), and expect the bus ride to take twice as long as it’s scheduled to take. This was the line for buses out of NYC at 10am on Sunday, and it only got worse by the afternoon:
I didn’t see any buses leave on time, and departure times were just used determine who would board the bus next, regardless of when it actually departed.