What to pack:
Watch the weather forecasts before you leave to get some idea of what to expect. It can be mild that time of year in NYC or very cold. We got the cold.
Pack things that can be worn in layers. You will be in and out of buildings and can shed the outer layers.
I wore a long coat that helped keep the wind chill factor down. Be sure to take something for your head. Bob ended up buying a headband to keep his ears warm under his jacket hood.
Dress for the theater is casual to dressy. We saw jeans and minks. We dressed in nice slacks and sweaters and did not feel out of place.
It goes without saying. TAKE COMFORTABLE SHOES!
Just like anywhere else you travel these day, always be aware of your surroundings. We rode the subway most of the time and did not feel any threat. There is security around and we were never approached by panhandlers. On the streets, especially after the shows let out, there will be a slew of "salesmen" with purses and jewelry and other designer copied items. They may try to attract your attention, but we didn't feel hustled. (They do it with one eye searching for the authorities.. All their stuff is on a blanket they can gather up quickly.)
Men, it's always a good idea to carry your wallet in your front pocket when you travel. Ladies, a purse with a zippered top does not always prevent the skilled Artful Dodger from lifting your wallet. Be sure to keep it tucked under your arm and not slung over your back.
Trust your instincts and use common sense.
Thanksgiving Parade (2005)
It was a cold day. The wind chill factor was atrocious but the excitement and anticipation of seeing first hand the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade kept us warm through the wee hours of the morning as we camped out awaiting the start of the annual event.
Our patience was rewarded as we caught the first glimpse of large inflated stars with the Macy name written across them. Marching units paraded by, some doing a little two step, others performing more intricate maneuvers. Parade floats passed by with celebrities waving their gloved hands at the crowd. But the true stars--the real celebrities--were the giant inflated balloons that are the trademark of this parade.
My heart skipped a few beats as Scooby Doo appeared in the distance, moving down the street between the tall buildings of New York City. He floated a few feet above the pavement, a wide grin on his face, proud to be the center of attention. One by one the stars of the show passed by us, occasionally pausing for a moment giving us opportunity to see the coordination it took for the balloon crew to keep their giant friends in tow when the wind began to kick up.
Each member of the crew held a large card that resembled the type you wind your Christmas light strings around. Each line that came down from the balloon was wound around a card and when there were adjustments needed, the crew chief would call out to the various members (numbering from around 12 to 30 depending on the size of the balloon) to either wind in twice or let out three times--whatever the adjustment that needed to be made. Anchoring each large balloon were thick ropes attached to two or three small jeeps.
Everyone in the parade was in a festive mood and happy to be there. They would rally the crowd by getting them to cheer for their character balloon and then shout "Happy Thanksgiving" to all of us as they moved down the street
The two hours passed quickly and the arrival of Santa's float signaled the end of the parade and the beginning of the Christmas season. The crowd wandered off to the turkey dinners awaiting them either at home or a nearby restaurant. We too headed for our hotel and the prospect of a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Our day had been anything but traditional being away from family and the usual routine but as we walked the few yards to the door of our hotel, we realized that for two hours we had been kids again enjoying with youthful delight a true Thanksgiving tradition.
A Breakdown of our NYC Trip: We began planning for our trip a year in advance searching the internet for details of the parade, packages, and hotel suggestions. There was not the plethora of information I expected, so I hope to help you out here if you are looking to make the trip and to experience for yourself the thrill of seeing the giant balloons and the Thanksgiving Day festivities as well as some of the other wonders of the Big Apple.
Continental Vacations Package-- We opted for this package since we live near a Continental hub and the air travel was convenient. Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we flew from Cleveland to Newark, NJ. The Newark airport is very nice and transportation to Manhattan was easily arranged with a shuttle service (part of our package but a shuttle can be obtained on your own at the airport transportation desk after arrival). Travel on Tuesday morning was very light with little waiting time for check-in at Cleveland or congestion at the Newark airport.
The shuttle service picked us up about 1/2 hour after we checked into the transportation desk. It was a little over an hour ride through mid-morning traffic to our hotel in Manhattan. We had a bit of a problem with the voucher for our shuttle. There was only one copy. If you go with the Continental package, you might want to check at the transportation desk to see if the voucher can be exchanged there for the round trip tickets needed to get back and forth. It may save some confusion for the drivers and you.
Sheraton Manhattan Hotel-- Our hotel was on 7th Ave. and 51st Street. It was an excellent location convenient to the subway, Times Square and the Theater District. Again we experienced a little difficulty with our paperwork. This one was our fault. There was no separate hotel voucher--just an itinerary which turned out to be the documentation the hotel required. We had left it behind. Once we phoned Continental Vacations, they faxed an itinerary to the hotel which satisfied them. Without it, they would have charged us their going rate of $350/night. We never did figure out what our rate was with the package but it certainly wasn't that much!
Our room was very nice with a comfortable king sized bed, business center at the desk, the usual TV/armoire, an upholstered chair/ottoman, and a small but comfortable bathroom. Our window looked right out onto the parade route but was obstructed some by a building below us. That was fine with us. We didn't come to view the tops of people's heads.
The hotel gave us wonderful maps and booklets to help us navigate--the most important being the subway and bus routes. The last time we were in NYC (about 30 years ago) the subway looked intimidating. It has either gotten less complicated to navigate, or our travel experiences have given us more confidence. Most stations have booths with very helpful people and we found many tourist stops eager to explain how to catch a bus and get you to your next destination. (New Yorkers don't deserve the bad press they get sometimes.) There were holiday specials for fares. Be sure to check out what's available.
Tuesday's Itinerary-- After settling into our room, we selected our best maps and our list of stores that were must visits for the holidays and headed off to find lunch. We found a deli not far from our hotel. (Delis were the cheapest places to eat--great sandwiches, wonderful breakfasts.) We split a huge corned beef sandwich and watched people and traffic scurry past the window. We were truly getting into the New York scene.
We walked the rest of the way to Times Square and gawked at all the sights familiar to us from years of watching news programs and New Year's Eve celebrations. Across from the ABC studios is the huge Toys R Us store that is at least three times larger than any other Toys R Us I've been in before. Some of the highlights included a 60' Ferris Wheel in the open space in the center of the store, a LEGO display with replicas of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, a larger than life dinosaur and a giant Barbie doll house that contains everything you ever wanted to buy for Barbie.
Next we walked a couple blocks over to 5th Avenue. (Be aware that the distance between Avenues is greater than the distance between Streets.) We enjoyed the windows in Saks then walked down to Trump Tower. Being Apprentice fans, we had to stop in. In the lobby, there is a great ice cream place, the new Trump Bar, and a coffee shop. We sat by the seven story waterfall that is pictured so often on the TV show.
We wandered in and out of Tiffany's just to say we'd been there and moved on to FAO Schwartz. I expected an older traditional building but it was more art deco. The door opened to a first floor filled with every stuffed animal imaginable, all sizes right up to a life-sized giraffe. On the second floor, a couple was dancing on the giant keyboard from the movie Big (Tom Hanks). We saw people demonstrating some toys but until we heard one say, "would you like me to autograph that," we didn't realize they were the toys' inventors. The highlight was the baby nursery where you could view baby dolls in bassinettes set behind a Plexiglas wall. When you found "yours" you could ask the "nurse" to bring it out to hold and then purchase it if you desired. (This made me wonder if it didn't confuse children about where babies come from.)
Along the way, we stopped at St. Patrick's Cathedral to admire the architecture and the interior full of wonderful artwork and massive arches. It reminded us of the impressive cathedrals of Europe.
A Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise brochure looked interesting so we opted to take their 4 p.m. Semi-Circle cruise that goes down the Hudson, up the East River and back. We couldn't have picked a better time to go. With the early sunset, we watched as the lights of the city came to life. It was a beautiful cruise narrated with interesting facts as the landmarks and sights were pointed out.
For dinner, we stopped in at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company on the second floor of the building across from ABC and next to Toys R Us. We were there around six and only waited about 20 minutes. Luckily we got a table by the window where we enjoyed the ambiance of Times Square while we ate. The meals were a bit pricier (averaging around $20/entree) than other Bubba Gump's we've been to but we learned that meals were expensive most everywhere in NYC except the delis.
Wednesday's Itinerary-- Before we left home, we set the TiVo to tape the Good Morning America show on Wednesday morning but we found out Tuesday night that you needed to make reservations to be able to get inside the studio. It had not been obvious on their website. When I e-mailed the show, I received a "canned" answer that never mentioned the link on their site. We watched for a time from outside the window but it was cold and we gave up.
We made our way to the Radio City Music Hall at Rockefeller Center. We had purchased tickets months in advance for the Christmas Spectacular as soon as they became available on the internet. This show defines the word spectacular! The RC Music Hall is a must see even if you can't get in to a show. We did the tour as well, getting a great look at its history and some glimpses behind the scenes.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the coffee shop in the lower level of Rockefeller Center and sat down in front of the window that looks out at the skating rink. The bright sunlight and clear skies encouraged us to buy tickets to see the city from the Top of the Rock. It is Rockefeller Center's revamped observation deck and has a grand view of central park and the skyline of the city.
The Big Balloon Blow-up was scheduled from 3-10 p.m. It is located near the American Museum of Natural History at 77the Street and Central Park West. We watched, fascinated as the huge balloons came to life. Large tanks of helium and big hoses filled the inner and outer layers of the balloons. It's a popular place and very crowded. They "control" the crowds by making it a one way pedestrian traffic circle. Most people however, ignored the one way signs. After a few hours, our hunger alarms went off and we went in search of food.
Our niece had recommended a restaurant to us--Carmine's Italian Restaurant at 200 W 44th between 7th and 8th Avenue. Unfortunately, she neglected to tell us that one plateful of food would feed an army. The salad alone would have fed a whole family. It was delicious--no denying that, but way more than we could eat. We struck up a conversation with some people next to us and ended up sending what was left home with them.
Thursday's Itinerary-- Thanksgiving Day--We awoke at 6 a.m. and looked out our window to see that people were already lining up or claiming their spot below us on the parade route. We hustled into our layers of clothes, grabbed our folding stools, and set off to claim our territory. Just behind our hotel we managed to squeeze in between a family and a couple from California. I sat while Bob scrounged up a breakfast sandwich and some coffee for us. Since we were right behind our hotel, we were able to go back to the room a few times for bathroom breaks and to get warmed up again but as it got closer to 9 a.m., the crowds got thicker and we were moved off the curb and into the street.
The first unit of the Macy's Parade arrived at our block between 52nd and 51st Streets at 9:30. We all stood and folded chairs and blankets. Those behind us crowded into the extra space. The parade was a delight. There were concerns about the wind but the balloons were tethered close to the pavement (Chicken Little dragged his foot). Still it was thrilling to be so close and see them towering over our heads.
By 11:30 Santa was passing by us and it was all over. We moved away as the crowd dissipated and went to our room to warm up and relax and watch a little football. When we heard about the accident with the M & M balloon, we decided to check it out. Times Square was alive with activity--cleanup activity. There wasn't much to see of the accident except the fallen light fixture but we were fascinated with the squadron of street cleaners moving up and down the street brushing all the trash into their trucks. The NYC sanitation department is certainly adept at cleaning up after a crowd.
At 3 we went down to the restaurant in the Sheraton, Russo's Steak and Pasta. We had reservations for their Thanksgiving buffet. They put on quite a spread. There was a huge salad/appetizer buffet with salad makings, pastas, seafood, and fruit. We had a choice of five different entrees we could order including seafood, pork and beef options. We ordered the traditional turkey dinner. It came with real turkey, dressing, gravy, cranberry relish, sweet potatoes, and green beans and was excellent. The dessert buffet was a little disappointing but had some excellent pecan pie. Thankfully, Bob didn't tell me how much it had cost until later.
The rest of our afternoon was devoted to making our sign for the Today Show. Lest the pounds from dinner stay with us, that evening we decided to stroll around to look at some more Christmas displays. We took the subway to Macy's and enjoyed the storybook windows and then went over to Rockefeller Center and watched the skaters for a bit. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Friday's Itinerary--It was another early morning--6 a.m. We grabbed our poster board and headed for Rockefeller Plaza where the Today Show allows the crowds to gather for intimate moments during the weather/news breaks. There was an outdoor concert as well lending to quite a celebratory atmosphere on the plaza. There is some security to get past but I believe he was more concerned with our sign not being offensive or advertising. I had my five seconds of fame--all caught on TiVo. (See my blog, Wandering Writer, for more comments on the experience.)
We purchased tickets at the NBC Experience Store around the corner for a tour of Rockefeller Center and the NBC studios. They were back to back tours. The Rockefeller Center tour was directed mostly at the architecture of the buildings in the huge area that encompasses the Center. Lots of interesting history was interspersed. Unfortunately, we returned late to the NBC store and had to hustle to get to our next tour. Someone misdirected us and we ended up at the end of the preceding studio tour and missed ours. Our ticket money was refunded when we could find no other openings that fit our schedule. We opted (much to Bob's glee) to trek to the Sony store and check it out. We missed their museum but did check out the new hi-def video camera.
Next on our list was Grand Central Station. We didn't take a lot of time to explore. It was lunchtime. Across from the entrance was the Central Cafe. It looked like an older place, with rich wooden booths and tables, and advertised the fastest breakfast in town. Bob enjoyed chili and I had a delicious chicken salad sandwich. (Note: I couldn't find any info on the web about this place, but it must have some history.)
Perhaps the most important thing I wanted to see in NYC next to the parade was Ground Zero at the site of the World Trace Center. We spent the afternoon in the financial district being awed again by the immensity of the tragedy that took place 9/11/01. The rubble is cleared but the empty space is enormous. The subway station is open again and right across from it is St. Paul's Church. This little church with a big heart was central to the rescue operation providing shelter, food, and encouragement. There are display areas set up with remnants of the memorials and the rescue effort for visitors to see. (For more impressions see Wandering Writer.)
Lion King was the big event of the evening. It was at the New Amsterdam Theater. The production was excellent but not a whole lot different from what we had seen back home when the traveling show came to our area. The interior of the theater was intriguing and delightful to explore. The New Amsterdam is one of the oldest surviving legitimate theaters on Broadway.
Saturday's Itinerary--There was not much time for more than a stroll to a restaurant for breakfast. We happened upon Lindy's Restaurant, home of the famous New York Cheesecake. No, we didn't have cheesecake for breakfast but we did have very expensive waffles. It was our last morning in NYC, so we splurged.
Our trip home was easily managed. The only hiccup being the voucher issue with the shuttle driver but that was worked out quickly. Coming home on a Saturday also beat all the heavy holiday traffic again.
Questions? Please feel free to contact me with questions you might have about the parade.
©Karen Robbins 2005/2006
All text and photos on this page are copyrighted in my name. Please obtain permission for use.
Page updated 09/07/2012
Information: The parade starts at
77th Street and Central Park West (this is also where you can see them blow
up the balloons Wednesday evening) and ends at Macy's on 34th Street and 6th
Avenue. There are no tickets sold. Reviewing stands are for guests of Macy's
only. Arrive early. (We were there at 6 a.m. and the front rows were almost
filled at our viewing spot.)
If you bring strollers or folding chairs, be sure they are small and can fold up into an easy to carry package. Once the parade starts, everyone stands and the crowds press in. Starbucks was open and some of the delis for coffee and breakfast rolls but be aware that the closer you get to parade start time, the harder it is to get in and out of your viewing spot. I did not see any porta-potties so you might want to plan appropriately.
After the parade, it is interesting to stroll down to Times Square and watch the major cleanup. You'll probably never see so many street cleaners and leaf blowers in one place again...until New Year's..
Points of Interest--Toys R Us;Trump tower; FAO Schwartz; Tiffany's' St. Patrick's Cathedral; Circle Line Cruises (Hudson/East River)
Points of Interest--Good Morning America; Radio City Music Hall; Rockettes Christmas Spectacular; Top of the Rock; Big Balloon Blowup
Points of Interest--Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade; Rockefeller Center Skate Rink; Macy's Christmas Windows
Points of Interest--The Today Show; Rockefeller Center; NBC Studios; Sony Store; Grand Central Station; Ground Zero (World Trade Center); St. Paul's Church; New Amsterdam Theater (Lion King)
Points of Interest--Lindy's Restaurant
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