Updated: 12/25/19 —
Sometimes in life you get truly lucky and get to do something you’ve wanted to do since you were a kid. Other times you head to your favorite spot in Chinatown only to discover it’s been shut down after sources discovered employees making dumpster dumplings in the alley surrounded by rats. Hey, you win some, you lose some, maybe you get food poisoning. C’est la vie mes amis. But since you’re here looking for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips, you’re clearly winning.
But this post isn’t (just) about a possible hantavirus contraction; it’s about fulfilling childhood dreams and channeling the spirit of your grandmother. Last month I attended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and it was as magical as I always dreamed it would be. Not as magical as the Magic Eye book I got for Christmas 20 years ago, but pretty damn close. (For the love of god, how do those things work?!?!?!)
MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE TIPS
Before my trip to New York City I scoured the interwebs for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips for attending (also “how do rear view mirrors work” because I’m infinitely curious). Most of them were on blogs with ‘mommy’ in the title but sometimes you’ve just got to work with what’s available. Like that time I killed a spider with half a can of hair spray. (Unless you want to chip away at the spider’s hardened corpse that’s stuck to your bathroom tile, don’t kill ’em with hair spray.) Mothers of toddlers aren’t the only people who dream of attending the parade, just clearing that up.
Some Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips were useful, others just ridiculously stupid. “Dress warm,” you say? No kidding, thanks for the insider tip! I’m brand new to this thing you call ‘weather.’ Oh, I should get a hotel room overlooking Macy’s for the best view of the parade, is that right? It’s only $1000 a night? I could literally get a Black Hawk flyover from the U.S. military for a better price. They owe me a few favors anyway.
Step aside mommies! Ambitious, childless couple coming through!
DO STUDY THE PARADE ROUTE BEFOREHAND
On the official parade website, they post a map of the upcoming parade route each year. Using this you can map out the best spots to watch the parade, where you’ll want to stay during your visit to NYC, how you’ll get to the route, and much more. On the left side of the page, they give you Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips on best viewing spots and where to avoid.
DO GET THERE BEFORE 6 AM FOR THE BEST SPOT
The first of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips I read was: if you want a spot up front you need to get there at 6:30 AM (for the 9 AM parade) – so I vowed to get there at 6. Then I read 6 is better, so I vowed to get there at 5:45. I’m an overachiever if there ever was one. Is the day after Halloween too early?
Because I thought it would be a good idea to take public transportation to Central Park West on a major holiday (I was like, really tired), I instead arrived at the parade route in Midtown at the late hour of 6 o’clock and guess what? I was one child back from the barricade. One child who got there at, you guessed it, 5:45 as a place holder for her mother who was sleeping in. See? Get there before 6. (Or, ya know, birth some offspring to use as stand-ins.) Go big or go home, people! Second behind the barricade is first loser, everybody knows that.
And actually, I take back the title of this section. The best spot would be inside one of the curb side bus stations–built in seating, a roof over your head, protection from the elements. Sounds dreamy. Probably smells like urine, but dreamy all the same. These coveted parade-watching spots fill up around 4:00 am, so I’ve heard. #futuregoals However, if you’ve traveled all the way to New York City for this event and there’s crappy weather in the forecast, meh… it wouldn’t be the worst thing.
DON’T TAKE THE SUBWAY TO THE PARADE ROUTE
I was aiming to grab a spot at Central Park West near the start of the parade at 75th Street. Since my morning began at the Pod Hotel at 51st Street and 3rd Ave, I decided to take the subway to the Upper West Side. The New York City subway, I may be the only one who has ever said this, has never let me down. Until now. We waited for half an hour for a train that never came. “FORGET IT! WE’RE WALKING!” I never said I was a patient person. This may help explain the whiskey you’ll read about later.
We exited the station and walked two blocks straight to the parade route and popped a squat right there at 6th Ave and 52nd Street. I realize now that was what we should’ve done in the first place, but if I had done everything perfectly this wouldn’t be much of an article, now would it? The route was already lined with people as far as the eye and my 50x zoom lens could see so we just picked a spot on a corner and broke out the muffins. They actually might have been Pillsbury… hoo-hooo!
Related Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips: Walk to the parade route. Get a hotel near where you want to watch it. Taxis are iffy since many streets are closed for the parade. Horse carriages are just sad. Roller blades are always fun! ⇠ said no one who was popular in high school, ever.
DO BRING MUFFINS AND SHARE THEM WITH YOUR CURB BUDDIES
You’ll be trapped in your chosen spot for six hours, unable to move, because someone hijacking your space is an all-too-real probability. Sometime in those six hours hunger will strike so be prepared. My advice? Muffins! I recommend lemon poppyseed. I baked them at my house in Massachusetts at like 10:00 the night before, threw them all into a Ziplock bag, and shoved them into my backpack. Whatever, it worked. I may be giving you Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips but I never said I was Martha Stewart.
Don’t forget to share with the friends you’ve made on your street corner that didn’t bring anything more than their stories of life in small-town Minnesota to get by. Muffins are good and people will like you. Except for the one guy who “brought his own.” Sure, okay, whatever. Don’t take my muffins. Trust me, you’ll want your sidewalk neighbors in your parade posse when people start trying to sneak, shove, and crawl in front of you. OR THROUGH YOUR LEGS which is an actual thing that happened to me.
DON’T FORGET TO BRING SOMETHING TO SIT ON
(…New York City sidewalks and all.) Even though the real danger comes from above*, you’ll want something to separate your clean bootay from whatever is on the sidewalk. This is Manhattan–there’s going to be something on the sidewalk. Bring a blanket, a towel, a La-Z-Boy recliner, I don’t care. I brought a blanket I once bought at a Stuckey’s truck stop in Alabama. Solid purchase. Since it was Thanksgiving in New York City after all, I counted on the blanket pulling double duty when the freezing temperatures came. SURPRISE! It was 65°F that day. Alrighty, so just a butt protector then.
DON’T DRINK ANYTHING*
The mommies of cyberspace kept giving me Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips like “bring a thermos of hot chocolate or coffee” and to that I said, “Whaa? With this bladder? You crazy.”
And just where are you going to relieve yourself, lady? I know it’s New York City and all but I am not peeing on this street corner. And I’m certainly not moving because a very large woman and her six kids have started crowding me in an effort to overtake and gain ground. One even tried to squeeze through my legs to get in front of me. The polite and patient middle school teacher next to me said nice things like, “We’ve been here for a long time and we’ve earned our spot up front. Maybe when the parade starts we’ll let you up front to take a look but for now you will have to wait back there with your mom.” Me, on the other hand: “Awww Hellllll Naw!” *forcefully squeezes legs together* The parade struggle is real folks.
I brought my Camelbak filled with water for moments of dire dehydration but that. is. all.
Just know now: there is nowhere to pee. And even fewer places to do the other thing. The couple next to us took turns making trips to the Starbucks down the street but even that is dangerous. Making a purchase as Starbucks every time you have to pee? It’s a vicious cycle, people!
*Unless you have an iron bladder like my husband and watching a parade just won’t do without a flask of whiskey. There’s an exception to every rule.
DO BRING A BOOK TO PASS THE TIME
If you can’t sit and wait for things patiently, we would make great friends. Also, maybe you should bring a book to keep yourself occupied. I brought The Martian by Andy Weir. Have y’all read that? You’ve probably seen the movie. The book is loads better and hil-ar-i-ous. Hollywood apparently doesn’t want you to know this.
BUT DON’T READ IT
First of all, it’s dark out. Leave your book light at home, nerd. Second of all, there’s too much to see! The people watching is phenomenal. You’ll form a symbiotic curb relationship with strangers from Minnesota. And you will spend hours playing “What’s That Cop’s Job?” where you try to figure out an officer’s position within the NYPD based on how they’re dressed and what type of vehicle they arrived in. Wow, it was actually a lot more fun than it sounds, promise. OK fine, I’m a nerd! Whatever. Let’s move on…
What I’m saying is… take it all in. Watch them set up for the parade, watch the people pour in, make friends with all the *other* crazy people around you who thought waking up at 4:30 AM on a holiday was serious business. Don’t retreat into the pages of a book and forget where you are–the most magical event in the most amazing city!
DO GET INTO THE PARADE SPIRIT
I should preface this by saying… you will never find me at another parade. I don’t like parades. I don’t get the point and I think they’re stupid. There. But like I said earlier: Go big or go home. If I’m going to go to a parade, it’s going to be the parade. Besides, it’s easy to get into the spirit when you’ve been watching this event on TV since you acquired the ability to actually lift and point your head towards the TV, and have dreamed about being a part of it ever since.
Stop trying to look cool and let your inner dork out. It’s easier for some of us, I get it. What’s the worst that could happen? They could show you on TV, geeking out after a high-five with a clown dressed as a cheerleader for the Turkey Tech Gobblers, to the millions upon millions of viewers nationwide? You’re going to be exhausted and covered in confetti regardless so you might as well have fun.
DON’T TRY TO MAKE SENSE OF THE CLOWNS
Seriously, I don’t know what to make of the clowns at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Honestly, I kind of liked the giant pencils (who wouldn’t!), but the old men dressed as babies? That’s my weirdness limit for the day. The breakfast clowns were cool ’cause ya know, I like breakfast. But the “wacky graduates“? Where do they come up with this stuff?
There was one really big clown that just scared the bejeezus out of everyone in Manhattan.
Everyone within earshot: “Oh my god! He’s looking right at us!”
DO TAKE THIS GUY’S ADVICE IN A BIND ⇡⇡⇡
So you didn’t read any Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade tips at all and showed up late and can’t get a spot anywhere close to the route? You can do as one page suggested and “see it from a hill or playground”…huh? Or you can follow this guy’s lead and just walk back and forth repeatedly. Sounds equally ridiculous, but hear me out: being at an intersection, the police let people cross the street in between balloons and floats. This guy walked back and forth over and over, stopping in the middle to take pictures of the action. I may have arrived three hours early but I bet this guy got the best photos. Also, he wasn’t the only one doing this. Apparently word gets around in Chinatown.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF TERRORISTS
Despite the increased terror alerts for that day at that event in that city, I honestly felt I was in the safest place in the world that morning. Every type of law enforcer imaginable was out there. NYPD counterterrorism, FBI, bomb squad, swat team, the A-team, ministry of magic, the Night’s Watch, and cute little puppies. OK, they were ferocious, man-eating beasts but still, adorable. If I had given in to all the warnings that day I would have missed out on fulfilling one of my life’s goals and a momentous and unique experience. Don’t let fear dictate your lives and especially not your travels.
It was ironic how Christmas-y the Thanksgiving parade was. But, judging by how sad those pilgrims were at the get-go, I don’t blame them for pulling the ol’ switcheroo…
DO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE PARADE AFTERMATH
One surprising advantage of visiting New York City on Thanksgiving is that 6th Avenue is closed all. day. long. Having an entire New York City avenue all to yourself is something you never knew you wanted so badly that comes along almost never.
HAVE ANY MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE TIPS OF YOUR OWN?
LET ME KNOW BELOW!
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