There are few places to see Santa in New York City that compare with Macy's Santaland. It's a magical experience for tourists and natives each Christmas season.
'Tis the season for Macy's to open its 13,000-square-foot winter wonderland, which overflows with holiday cheer from its live "elves," to an enchanted forest, animatronic toys, and a train display. Santa holds court from Friday, November 23, 2018 (the day after Thanksgiving and the parade) through Monday, December 24, aka Christmas Eve.
For the second year in a row, visitors are treated to a brand-new reservation system to hopefully foil those pesky long lines of the past. A major bonus: There are great photo-ops all along the way, so the kids barely have time to squirm or fuss.
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Kids will love the train display, holiday lights, and other decorations that adorn the Santaland trail.
Macy's Santaland Basics
Macy's Santaland is located on the eighth floor of the flagship store in Herald Square, on 34th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Santa flies in at the tail end of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and officially starts taking requests on Black Friday. He'll hold court through Christmas Eve.
All visitors are required to make a reservation to schedule their visit with Macy's Santa. Log on to macys.com/santaland, beginning on Sunday, November 18, 2018 to select a time. If you want to risk it, you can make an on-the-spot reservation at in-store kiosks, but it's based on availability, so you might end up waiting a long time. You'll also be able to make reservations by calling the holiday hotline at (212) 494-4495. Each family is allowed only one reservation per season; reservations for 30 minutes to five days ahead, of time, so if you're hoping for a Christmas Eve reservation, you'll have to wait to book it. TIP: Macy's releases a new day of reservations each night at midnight.
Your reservation then guarantees your spot in line. So, yes, there will still be some sort of line, but it should be shorter—as long as the elves keep moving everyone along! In the past, we've always recommended that families go early to beat the crowds. By early, we mean both early in the day and early in the season. The nearer to Christmas, the longer the lines, especially as the day wears on. If possible, go on a weekday immediately after Santaland opens. Monday through Thursday mornings will surely be a good bet.
Want a really short line? Book the Santa Express Lane. It's available Friday through Sunday and takes kids directly to Santa, though this does mean they don't get to go through the Christmas village.
Admission is FREE, but you'll be hard-pressed to pass up a photo package of your cutie on Santa's lap as you exit. Prices range from $20.99 to $59.99. You can, however, take a quick shot with your phone for a digital keepsake. Having an official photo in that Macy's frame, though, is classic holiday memorabilia.
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Elves escort kids through Santaland with plenty of holiday cheer.
There is plenty to see even before you get into Santaland, starting with the Hallmark Channel Ticket Booth, where guests imagine they're purchasing tickets for a journey on the North Pole Express. Just before your board, peek at the animatronic displays from Macy's old Miracle on 34th Street windows.
Chatty elves with names like Licorice, Tootsie, and Clementine move visitors along and engage kids with tales of Santa's workshop, keeping everyone's energy up as they wait their turn to see St. Nick.
Check out Santa's overflowing sleigh as you wait your turn.
Once you've journeyed through the train, you arrive at a holiday wonderland filled with stuffed animals on glittering mounds of artificial snow, giant toy soldiers, trees festooned with ornaments and lights, a sleigh overflowing with gifts, a massive train display ensconced behind glass, and a 6-foot-tall Christmas tree.
If you've been before, you'll recognize many of the characters. The reindeer have been spruced up, and there are brand names all over, including the Domino Sugar Bake Shoppe with its giant gingerbread men; Aflac Ducks, who mingle by the ice rink; and Lionel Trains' Industrial City.
Multiple Santas are on duty in private rooms, preserving the illusion of one true St. Nick. While you don't get a lot of time with the man of the season, you’re rarely rushed. Almost all Santas listen to a child’s entire wish list before posing for pictures with the family, and we've found them to be very patient and accommodating to those with fearful (or crying) babies and toddlers. All visitors get Santaland pins, and photo packages come with a complimentary cardboard frame.
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Caroling snowmen are just one of the whimsical holiday touches at Santaland. Photo by John Minchillo/Macy's.
Good to Know Before You Go
You must make a reservation. All visitors must make an appointment online at macys.com/santaland, at an in-store kiosk, or by calling the holiday hotline at (212) 494-4495. Reservations can be booked for 30 minutes to five days ahead of time.
Bring your own camera/phone. There are plenty of photo-ops throughout Santaland. Although Macy's hopes visitors purchase photo packages, the staff won't prevent you from snapping a quick pic with jolly old St. Nick.
Bring your stroller or baby carrier. Young children need a stroller; otherwise they're in for plenty of standing. Of course, if the new reservation system works as well as Macy's hopes, perhaps you'll wish you hadn't dragged the stroller along! There's also one stroller-only elevator reserved for visitors, which is helpful when the store is packed with holiday shoppers. Bring snacks, too, but you'll have to discard them before entering Santaland.
Ask if you want to see a Claus of color. Macy's seems reluctant to publicize this, but if you are interested in an ethnic St. Nick ask an elf if one is on duty.
Mail a letter directly to Santa and Macy's will donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Photo by UpUpa4me via Flickr
Write a letter to Santa to help others. Macy's is again partnering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help make the dreams of critically ill children come true. Support its work by having your child write a letter to Santa. Print out the letter and bring it to the mailbox in Santaland. For every letter Macy's receives, the company donates $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. You can write your letter online with Macy's Wish Writer app or write an original one in the store.
Save time to see Macy's holiday windows. You'll find the classic Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus displays on the 34th Street side plus new ones along Sixth Avenue. Or head up one more floor to "Holiday Lane" on the ninth floor to see (and buy) all manner of Christmas and holiday decorations.
Hungry? Try Koreatown. West 32nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, is full of Korean restaurants. A popular choice is Mandoo Bar, which specializes in dumplings, including baby dumplings perfect for small mouths. The Tick Tock Diner on 34th Street and Eighth Avenue features traditional diner fare. Stella 34 Trattoria, on the sixth floor of Macy’s, is an Italian eatery ideal for families, which also hosts weekly brunches with Santa. And if you're hungry in line, there is an Au Bon Pain directly across from the Santaland line on the eighth floor for sandwiches, coffee, or juice and cookies for the kids.
Top photo: Kids can opt to pose with Santa solo or with parents. Photos by Rose Gordon Sala except where noted.