Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2012: The New Route, Viewing Tips and Info on Balloon Inflation Night
On Thursday, November 22, the 86th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will take over Manhattan with marching bands, extravagant floats and massive balloons of Spider-Man, SpongeBob, Snoopy and other beloved kids' characters. Watching those giant balloons get inflated the night before the parade is a really special experience. There's a reason why it's No. 98 on our list of 100 things to do with your kids in NYC.
If you want to attend this awesome spectacle, we've got tips for the best spots and times to catch the balloon inflation. (We've gone many times!) Also, if you're planning on watching the actual Thanksgiving Day Parade itself in person, we've got the most up-to-date information on this year's new Sixth Avenue route and the new balloons, as well as advice on how to watch the parade pass by—even if you don't stake out a spot at dawn.
Wednesday, November 21 3-10pm
Start at Columbus Avenue and 79th Street
Over the past few decades, Macy's balloon inflation has become a pretty huge event in and of itself. It's really cool, but for the best experience you need to time it right. Thousands of people crowd the streets surrounding the American Museum of Natural History to witness Spider-Man, Greg from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Kermit the Frog and other favorites come to life. There are three new big balloons for 2012: The Elf on the Shelf from the 2005 children's book of the same name, Hello Kitty sitting in a retro air plane and a dancing Papa Smurf. Also making his debut: Companion, a small novelty clown balloon designed by graffiti artist KAWS. (Companion is the latest in a series of balloons created by contemporary artists like Tim Burton, Tom Otterness and the late Keith Haring.)
For the best balloon inflation experience, arrive as early as possible and wait. My son and I used to aim for 2:30pm, but now that he's in school until 3pm, we usually arrive around 4pm—along with everyone else. This event is mobbed so don’t expect a leisurely stroll past the balloons. Instead, you're herded into a procession that starts at West 79th Street and Columbus Avenue, and circles the museum.
Since it is so packed, tots in strollers and grade-schoolers or older kids who can deal with crowds do best. Preschoolers often get fussy, especially when there's not much to see or do, which unfortunately is sometimes the case. If you want to go with friends, be sure to travel to the site together or meet a few blocks away. It's impossible to hook up once you're in the fray. Trust me, I have tried.
If this sounds like too much for you, there's another way you can see the balloons up close. Jonathan, a friend of Mommy Poppins' founder Anna, advises that after the parade is over, the balloons are deflated on the side streets around 34th Street and Sixth Avenue. So you can watch those giants shrink without the mobs.
86th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Thursday, November 22 9am-noon
Starts at 77th Street and Central Park West and ends at Herald Square
You've got to get up really early if you want to find the perfect parade watching spot... or do you? Well, if you want to be right in front, yes, you must rise with the birds. But my family and I have watched the parade from the streets numerous times and we don't get up at dawn. We simply meander across town to see how close we can get. We always see something and honestly, all my son cares about are the balloons, and they're so big they're visible even from a block away. Last year, we snagged a great, relatively uncrowded spot just one block north of the procession.
Of course this year, the parade is taking a new route down Sixth Avenue instead of Seventh, so we can't say for sure how that will affect viewing. We do know two things: First, there is no secret uncrowded place on the route from which to watch. Anyone who tells you that is full of baloney (make that Thanksgiving turkey). Second, avoid Sixth Avenue between 34th and 38th Street as that area will be closed to spectators.
If you want to have an unobstructed view of everything, you're going to have to stake out your spot around 6am (really), maybe even earlier. In that case, we recommend hitting Central Park West in the 60s and 70s. The further you are from Herald Square, the better off you'll be crowd-wise. Of course, if you know someone who lives, works or is staying at one of the many hotels on the route, start bribing them now. As for trying to snag tickets for the grandstand, Macy's doesn't give them out to the general public.
One other thing to do before you set out: Download Macy's free parade app, which includes the lineup, schedule, route and much more. We're looking forward to trying it this year.
The exact route of the 2012 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is as follows: The parade kicks off at 77th Street and Central Park West and travels downtown to Central Park South, a.k.a. 59th Street. Here, it heads east to Sixth Avenue, where it continues south to 34th Street Herald Square. The Macy's website has a detailed map of the route.
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