Background about Macy's Parade
This annual event was started in the 1920's by first-generation immigrants from Europe who were working at Macy's department store. The first parade took place in 1924: costumed employees and entertainers paraded through Manhattan to Macy's store on 34th Street, marching with floats, live bands, and even some live animals from the Central Park Zoo. The parade drew a huge audience of spectators, and the annual tradition started. (See NYCTourist.com for interesting old photos and history about Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.)
Where Does the Parade Happen, and How Long Does it Last?
About.com's Guide for New York City Travel has the details about Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: basically, the route starts on Manhattan's West Side, at Central Park West and 77th Street, proceeds to Columbus Circle (at the south end of Central Park), and from there down 7th Avenue to Times Square, 42nd Street, and 6th Avenue, and on to Macy's flagship store on 34th Street. For decades the parade traveled down Broadway, but the route was changed in 2009.
The parade starts at 9 a.m, and near the beginning of its route, lasts about 1- 1/2 hours, while closer to Macy's, the parade will last about 3 hours.
Gigantic character balloons are a signature feature of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and have been so since early in its history. In 1927, a giant balloon figure of Felix the Cat --courtesy of the Goodyear Tire company-- made a debut, and more balloons soon followed. Mickey Mouse appeared in 1934, by which time over 1M people, in the Great Depression, were cheering alongside the parade route.
Kids will find it fun to watch the balloons being inflated the day before the Parade -- read more, below.
Many Thanksgiving events in the US end with an appearance by Santa Claus to start the Holiday Season, and viewers can expect Santa to arrive in a grand finale moment, in the Macy's Parade.
The parade also features floats, marching bands, and other live music, including the Radio City Rockettes, high-profile celeb performances, and cast members from Broadway shows. See Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade performance details, for major performers and giant balloons figures through the years.
Best Viewing Spots
Huge crowds line the parade route, so families who want to get a good view need to plan ahead.
- Get there early: waiting around for hours isn't the most appealing strategy for families, especially those with little kids; but this is of course the tried-and-true, and free, way to get a good viewing spot at an event. About.com's Guide for New York City Travel advises that "many people arrive before 6:30 a.m. the morning of the parade to stake out space along the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade route". (TripAdvisor Forums, meanwhile, report people staking out choice spots in Central Park at 3 am.) Bring warm layers of clothes for the kids, snacks, hot cocoa, etc.
- Book a hotel room with a view of the Thanksgiving Day Parade: About.com's Guide for NYC Travel has tips for booking hotel rooms with a view of the parade. These rooms are choice, so you'll need to make arrangements carefully!
- Grandstand seats: Macy's has a grandstand located at the start of the parade, on 77th Street and Central Park West. Reportedly, no tickets are sold; grandstand seats are given to guests of Macy's. Some tickets may be available through charity functions or hotel packages.
Families can also watch the balloons get inflated, on the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving Thursday parade: this "inflation celebration" is open to the public, from 3 pm on. Location is near the American Museum of Natural History, just off Central Park West, between 77th St. and 81st St.
(And families who miss the Thanksgiving Day parade can see a re-creation in Orlando, at one of the Universal Orlando theme parks: Macy's Holiday Parade happens at Sunset throughout December*, with authentic giant balloons and floats from the New York parade.)
*Always check event web sites for updates!