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How to Watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Follow these tips and tricks and have a blast braving the crowds for a fun morning with marching bands, massive balloon characters — and millions of other enthusiasts.

For some, it's a chance to get away from peeling potatoes or running to the grocery store for last-minute provisions. For others, it's a chance to avoid Aunt Millie telling everyone — for the 20th year — about the time you Krazy-glued your hand to your head on prom night. Or maybe you just love a parade....

Regardless of your motivation, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the New York spectacle celebrating its 85th anniversary, is something that everyone living in the shadow of Manhattan has to do at least once in their lifetime.

The Thanksgiving-day forecast for New York City reveals clear skies and a manageable high of 50 degrees. That said, anyone hoping to get close to Woodstock, the Smurfs, Kermit the Frog, Julius the Sock Monkey, Sonic the Hedgehog, various musicians and actors hawking their new CDs or shows — or the man in the red suit at the end of the parade — is going to have to stake out a spot on the parade route by no later than 7 a.m. So dress warmly to manage the early-morning frost. Wear layers, comfortable shoes and have plenty of distractions for the kids to keep them happy between arrival and the festivities.

Crowds hit about 3 million parade partiers, so be ready for slow-going on the sidewalks. In addition, two words for those who feel the need to down a dozen cups of coffee to wake up or stay warm throughout the morning: no bathrooms. Anyone experienced at trying to find a 'loo on a good day in New York should expect little cooperation from merchants and no Port-a-potties on the streets for this little slice of Thanksgiving mayhem. Also, bringing a chair to the parade is a no-no, so once you stake out your little spot on the cement, that's where you are bound to remain until you leave or the parade ends around noon.

GETTING THERE If you have to drive into the city, come through the Lincoln Tunnel, but find a place to park west of 9th Avenue to avoid massive traffic and help beat a hasty retreat. You also could come into the city through the Holland Tunnel and take the subway to  various spots along the parade route:

  • Take the D to 34 St./Herald Square or 59 St./Columbus Circle.
  • Take the C to 42 St./Times Square, 50 St./8th Ave., 59 St./Columbus Circle, 72 St./Central Park West, or 81 St./Central Park West.
  • Take the 1,2,3 to 42 St./Times Square or 72 St./Broadway. The 1 local will also stop at 50 St./Broadway and 59 St./Columbus Circle.

If you're smart enough to use mass-transit, check with NJTransit to see when trains are leaving from your station. Then you have a few options:

If you're on a direct line to Manhattan, you can walk a few blocks to Herald Square or take the subway uptown and jump out when you think you'll get lucky along the route. 

PARADE ROUTE The parade begins at 77th Street and Central Park West and runs sought to the end of Central Park, turning onto Seventh Avenue and continuing south to 42nd Street. At 42nd Street, it turns east for a block to Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas). At 34th Street, the procession will head west to Herald Square, ending at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue in front of Macy's flagship store.

BEAT THE CROWDS, PART I You don't have to go to the parade to see the giant floats in person. The balloons will be inflated from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. today on 77th and 81st Streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. This cool event draws a crowd too, but it feels more like a party than a subway platform in rush hour at the parade on Thanksgiving Day. 

BEAT THE CROWDS, PARADE DAY The best shot you have for a hassle-free day is to know someone with an office along the parade route, get a hotel with a view of the mayhem or offer to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a pal who lives on Central Park West. Barring that, here are some suggestions for optimal viewing:

  • The parade begins at 77th Street and Central Park West, at the American Museum of Natural History, so you could try to stake out a spot on the museum steps.
  • Columbus Circle offers a great spot to watch the parade move around the circle, affording you the chance to watch from the south end of Central Park, as well as the west side of the street.
  • At the TimeWarner Center, occupy a spot in front of the building, which has bathrooms, a Whole Foods and seating near the street.
  • Once you leave Central Park West, Seventh Avenue will get tight, but there will be plenty of blocks where you can find a spot close the action, but be patient. The tall guy with the turkey hat will get bored when the cameras pass and he will move to find another close-up.
  • Don't be afraid to roam. If you're not there to get the definitive SpongeBob Squarepants photo, try to pick and choose spots like a commuter in rush-hour traffic. Or better yet, just chill and enjoy the experience.

WATCH OUT FOR: Keep in mind that no matter where you are going, someone is going to try to sneak in front of you, get in your kids' way or make a general nuisance of themselves. Hang in there and don't let anything spoil the day. Remember, there's a big ole' turkey dinner, cocktails — and football games on TV — waiting for you when you get home. 

FROM THE COUCH: The televised parade coverage, an extended version of the Today Show on NBC is led by Matt Lauer, Ann Curry and Al Roker. The broadcast begins at 9 a.m. and finishes at noon, when Santa Claus and his reindeer parade in.

WANT TO BE IN THE 2012 PARADE NEXT YEAR? Think you'd like to send your marching band the head down Seventh Avenue? Have a performance group that could light up the parade route? Check out the criteria here: http://social.macys.com/parade2010/#/want-to-be-in-the-parade

Eddie Yero November 24, 2011 at 06:19 AM
It's going to be a first to our lovely son Alius, and Im taking along my other two daugthers, 2 grandaugthers and some help, Have a wonderful Macys day parade and a beautiful Thanksgiving Day
libby miller November 24, 2011 at 09:18 AM
Since I was a little girl, my dream was to see the macys parade in NYC. Now I am 31 and guess what- my dream is still to see the macy's parade. Having never been to NY, I can imagine this would be one experience that would go down in the books. A girl can dream, right? Even at 31? God bless all!! And have an amazing thanksgiving! Libby Anne
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