Travel Planning: New York at Thanksgiving – The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

As a planner, my worst enemy is the unknown. When I was researching our New York trip and looking for information about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I only found one good, informative blog post. This was frustrating since no one really went into detail about what to expect, the possible pitfalls, and a good place to go and watch the parade. Hopefully this post gives future parade viewers some helpful insight!

This was “undressed” for me – most of the time, you could barely see my eyes!


I’ll start with the most memorable part of the day – we were apparently lucky enough to experience the coldest ever Thanksgiving day parade… yay! (<— note the sarcasm) Despite multiple layers, heavy “winter” jackets, scarves, gloves and more, we were woefully under-prepared for the bitter cold that morning. When we got up at 4:15, the temps were around 12˚ F according to my weather app. By the time we left the hotel and got to our chosen location around 5:15, we were at a blistering 17˚ F.

Admittedly, I’m a Californian, and my blood runs much thinner than a native Nor’Easter. That being said, holy bleepity bleep it was cold! I’m glad we learned from this experience for future reference, but it was a hard-earned lesson.

Our first sighting of the parade!


One of the most surprising parts of our time at the parade was the people out there with us. The freezing cold weather really brought everyone together as a community in the realization that we were all equally crazy for being outside in that weather for over five hours – before the parade even got to us.

The first person we met was an incredibly helpful transplant to New York; she happily answered our questions and gave us some good info, while laughing at our weather ineptness. There was also the guy who, in a booming bass tone medieval heralds would be proud of and wearing a turkey hat, periodically called out how much time was left until the parade started. Other folks we met were the group of college friends who decided last minute to visit the city for the parade; the family with a little girl who could probably rival Einstein; and my personal favorite, all the people who thought they could steal our spots at the last minute.

In all seriousness though, I can’t recommend strongly enough to engage with the people around you (if they’re willing) and try to be a good human being. Everyone’s as miserable as you are, so be kind – and buy a big pack of hand warmers to share among your newly-formed tribe.

Do your… balloons hang low?

THE 411

So I’m sure you’re wondering “wow, you said this would be informative, and all you’ve done is blabber about the cold and the people?” But fear not! Here’s your oh-so-helpful breakdown of what I highly recommend should you decide to brave the parade yourselves!

  1. Get up early – This parade is not for the faint of heart. We got up at 4:15 AM, which we thought was pretty good, but apparently if it hadn’t been as cold as it was, the area we sat in would have already been filled.
  2. Do your research – You’re reading this post and have hopefully made it this far (bravo), but seriously, do your research. Look up the parade route, and then check which side of Central Park West and 6th Avenue you’re staying on. In our case, we had chosen a spot on Central Park West near the restaurant we were brunching at, and that meant crossing the parade route on 6th Avenue. Thankfully at 4:45 in the morning, the cops let us cross, but there’s very few spots on 6th Avenue where you can cross the route before the parade starts, so be very patient and very polite to the very tired NYPD officers working the parade, ask them where you can cross, and be on your merry way.
  3. Plan to walk – our original plan was to grab a cab over to our chosen parade viewing location, and when we realized how the streets were blocked off, we quickly scrapped that plan in favor of hoofing it. If you or anyone in your party can’t walk or would have difficulty traversing the sidewalks, plan ahead and either watch the parade from your hotel or choose a spot close by where you won’t have to travel far.
  4. Bring snacks, hot drinks and room temp water – Our hotel kindly had a hot drink station set up in the lobby where we were able to fill our thermoses with tea before heading out. This was incredibly helpful and money saving, although due to the weather we did end up finding a Starbucks close to our location. It allowed us to get more hot liquid in us, and get out of the cold for a few minutes. Don’t forget about water, hydrating will help with fatigue. One mistake we made is we brought hardly any snacks, and our brunch reservation wasn’t until 10:30… d’oh! Make sure you bring enough to keep you full and energized without making a mess – protein bars, trail mix, chips, etc.
  5. Plot out a bathroom ahead of time – Speaking of our stops at Starbucks, guess which line was longer? If you said the bathroom line, you’d be correct! Everybody was trying to squeeze in a quick pitstop, so if you think you’ll have to go in the hours you’re waiting for the parade, figure out where the closest public restrooms are in case the local Starbucks is swamped.
  6. Bring clothing layers and blankets – This is an incredibly simplified version of what many parade goers had with them, but these basics would have been unbelievably helpful to us in our rapid descent to hypothermia. Many people had thermal blankets, tents, folding chairs and more; some people even had folding tables with full breakfast spreads for their group. It depends how much stuff you want to lug with you if you’re walking any distances, but my recommendation – extra warm layers and several blankets.
  7. Wear comfortable clothing – While we’re talking clothes, I can’t state enough the need to be warm and comfortable. Like I said, we waited over five hours before the parade got to us, so wearing your comfiest, warmest clothes is the way to go. Chances are, if you’re seen on the telecast, you’ll be a blob in the crowd, so fashion should be the least of your concerns.
  8. Buy HotHands ahead of time – The local stores in our area did a booming business that morning with one product – HotHands. These little packets of glorious warmth were a hot commodity with the parade goers, and we were lucky enough to be waiting with a group that graciously passed them out to those around them who didn’t have any.
  9. Pick your spot ahead of time – This was one of the smartest things I did when planning this trip. I knew that 6th Avenue would be a zoo the closer you get to 34th street, so I decided our best bet would be to head for Central Park West. It would give us a chance to get away from the telecast crowds, and we’d be done sooner so we could eat sooner! Keeping that in mind, I did a search for brunch restaurants open in the area and after reading reviews, settled on Cafe Fiorello. That ultimately determined our spot on the corner of 64th St. and Central Park West. I can’t overstate how lucky we got with that spot! It’s hard to describe in writing, but if you want a good spot with a great view of the parade, that area is a great option.
The 2018 parade route (source: Macy’s)


Ultimately, I’m incredibly glad I got the chance to experience the parade in person. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that non-New Yorkers have to see to believe. That being said, would I ever do it again? NOPE. At least, not without a warm hotel room overlooking the parade route or an actual seat in front of Macy’s. I It was a blast to watch the parade live, but I can’t see myself doing a five hour wait in the cold like that again. And that’s coming from a Disney fanatic who has way too many parade and show waits under her belt to count. But don’t let me discourage anyone from trying it! I highly recommend it, especially if you’re prepared the way I’ve described.

Hopefully this breakdown helps future parade goers, and feel free to drop any questions or comments below!

All the best,

Mrs. P²

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