For ten years, my family traveled to New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade weekend. We stayed at a different hotel each year and enjoyed Black Friday shopping in the greatest city in the world. Here are some fun ways to spend your holiday weekend based on my personal knowledge and wonderful memories.
Attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Attending the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Big Apple is one of the most amazing things in the United States. Not only do 3.5 million people come out to see it, but also 50 million people watch it on TV. The parade was first televised in 1952. Watching the parade on TV (NBC) is not even close to standing in deep crowds of people for hours on end. Often the blustery weather conditions are below freezing. There is no substitute for being in the midst of this huge buzz of excitement and holiday spirit.
So what do you do in NYC during the 4-day holiday? On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I recommend buying discounted Broadway show tickets by visiting the TKTS box office at Times Square. Another option is to watch the giant balloon inflation on the upper west side (79th and Columbus Avenue) between 3-10PM.
What Time Should We Claim Our Spot?
On the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade day, dress warm and get your spot early (no later than 5:30 AM). Make sure your devices are fully charged and your camera has batteries (if it requires them) as I’ve learned this the hard way. The parade starts at 9AM above Columbus Circle and will turn onto Central Park South to 34th Street at 6th Avenue. It ends around Macy’s Herald Square around noon. Often you can scoot children up closer to the parade line and sit in the front row as most people are friendly and want the best for children. The gaps in the crowds fill in quickly and bodies become pressed together at first sight of Tom the Turkey and you are squashed in the crowd for the entire parade.
We have seen great performers over the years at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The line-up is listed on-line prior to Thanksgiving Day, but often surprise guests as well. My favorites were NSYNC, Florence Henderson, Jimmy Fallon and the Roots, and Dolly Parton. Half the fun of the parade is staying warm in the midst of the huge crowd, chatting with those around you, and drinking hot chocolate side by side with other people who have the same excitement level as you do.
Where to Eat on Thanksgiving Day
Many NYC restaurants offer traditional Thanksgiving Day fare and it is a must to have a reservation. There are websites devoted solely to what is available on Thanksgiving Day. Our best meal was at the now closed Lenox Room, which included roast turkey, sage stuffing, beet & blue cheese salad, and butternut squash soup. Other noteworthy meals were at One if by Land, Two if by Sea and Bar Americain, a Bobby Flay restaurant.
The Delightful Holiday Tradition: The Rockettes
The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular and its famous Rockettes are a must for Thanksgiving Day, right after seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They are also my family’s tradition.
During our travels, we purchased VIP tickets, which granted us a souvenir program, refreshments, front orchestra seats, and a separate entrance with no line for quicker seating. The Christmas Spectacular performance has changed through the years and I still prefer the songs and style of the show circa 2000-2006 best.
For those of you unfamiliar with this performance, it holds a wide range of activities from ice skating and a Nutcracker/ballet offering, to Santa stepping into the cyber world and a living Nativity. We preferred the 2PM show so we could follow the Rockette’s with a Broadway musical, which you could sometimes land deeply discounted seats on Thanksgiving Day.
Black Friday Shopping is a Must
On Black Friday, we liked to start our day at Macy’s, which opened around 4AM in those days, then work our way to Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales. It was then time to go somewhere less crowded such as Soho for Kate’s Paperie, MAC, J Crew, and Kate Spade. While in Soho, we treated ourselves to culinary delights from Dean & Deluca, the mega-gourmet emporium. The visit also called for a stop in the Scholastic Book Store, a specialty children’s bookstore and the only one in the US.
Where to Stay over the Thanksgiving Holiday
My family stayed at some really great hotels. The Dream Hotel was a good location because it is close to Columbus Circle and the parade route. The Essex House was incredibly plush, but pricey seeing as it neighbors Central Park. Our favorite stay was at the New York Palace because we were upgraded to a huge suite that could sleep about ten. Thinking back, the W at Times Square was a wonderful location and chic digs, too.
What Can you Get Into?
New York is full of fun things to do with your children! Visit the American Girl Doll Store and enjoy a delightful breakfast or lunch at their cafe. Ice skating at Central or Bryant Park is perfect on any day, and much less crowded than the rink at Rockefeller Center. My children loved the NBC Studios tour and the Gray Line New York sightseeing holiday lights tour. Make sure to stop at the incredible Toys R Us store located in Times Square as it has a huge ferris wheel. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is in Times Square as well and my kids enjoyed seeing the life-like wax sculptures. The Central Park Zoo has an impressive wildlife center with awesome polar bear and penguin displays, plus a petting zoo. (note: as of 2016, Toys R Us is closed)
A rainy day will definitely not spoil your NYC vacation. Visit the MoMA, Museum of Modern Art for an ultra-hip gallery tour. The MoMA houses such greats as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Monet’s “Water Lillies”. Another option is the American Museum of Natural History, which has 45 exhibit halls, the Hayden Planetarium, and a large format theater. My family’s favorite rainy day activity is seeing a movie. New York City is full of very over the top movie theaters and it makes for a fun experience. Our favorite is AMC Empire 25 on 42nd Street because it has about twenty sets of escalators!
Day Trip to the see Lady Liberty
If you plan to see the Statue of Liberty, know that it will take the majority of your day. The queues are extremely long but you can purchase your tickets online beforehand. The ferries traveling to the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Island are generally packed and the travel time is lengthy. However, it is an enjoyable and scenic ride. There is high security at the statue and again, long lines. We found the tour to be enjoyable, plus you are up close and personal with our country’s symbol of freedom. The tour also includes a stop by Ellis Island which features the Immigration Museum. History states that 12 million immigrants passed through this spot over the course of 50 years chasing the American dream.
Regardless of what your weekend brings, I hope that your New York visit for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be the highlight of your year and stay etched in your memory, as mine are, for years to come. If you have any questions, I will gladly try to answer them. Safe travels and much enjoyment to you and yours this Thanksgiving holiday.
Other Things to Know
TIP: If you are planning on doing a lot of shopping at Bloomingdale’s, ask for a personal shopper. They will store your bags for you or make arrangements at no charge to transport them to your hotel. Bloomingdale’s personal shopping experience also offers snacks and drinks, a perk offered by the store at no charge.
SHOW TAPINGS: Check out the internet for show tapings and visit one while you are in the city. Here are a few shows taped regularly in NYC: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Good Morning America, Live! with Kelly and new co-host Michael, and the most famous, the Today Show, filmed at Rockefeller Plaza.
NOT TO MISS: Ground Zero, and what remains of the World Trade Center area since 9-11, offers a solemn, historic experience. The cheapest and easiest way to get there is by subway. Research the routes online before going to the city if you are a first-timer. The Twin Towers memorial site, or 9/11 Memorial welcomes you to pay your respects for a fee. Unfortunately this has turned into a most sleazy location for panhandlers so heed caution. The fee to enter the museum is $24 for adults.
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Check out our 5 Reasons to Make NYC your Thanksgiving Destination.