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 alike during the 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, Christmas Eve.
For the second year in a row, visitors must book a FREE reservation to visit with Santa at Santaland, which requires some advance planning but does mean a much shorter wait when you get there. Read on for everything you need to know about visiting Santaland this year.
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Kids will love the train display, holiday lights, and other decorations that adorn the Santaland trail. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
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.
Here's how it works: All visitors must make a reservation to schedule their visit with Macy's Santa. Reservations are FREE, and can be made starting Sunday, November 18, 2018 by logging on to macys.com/santaland to select a time. Each family is allowed only one reservation per season, and reservations can be booked anywhere from 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. Pro tip: Macy's releases a new day of reservations each morning at 6am.
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. Starting November 18, you'll also be able to make reservations by calling the holiday hotline at (212) 494-4495.
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! Some readers have told us that despite the new reservation system, they've still wound up with a lengthy wait to see Santa. We always recommend 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 to Macy's Santaland 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 ranged from $20.99 to $59.99 last year. 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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Trek across the magical Rainbow Bridge in Santaland. Photo by Mike Coppola for Macy's
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 you 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. Photo by Mike Coppola for Macy's
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 mingling 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 for 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 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. 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, or send it online. For every letter Macy's receives, the company donates $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million.
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, Lego-themed displays on 7th Avenue, and the six new window scenes along the Broadway side of the store. The new Broadway windows, which will be unveiled November 15 at 6pm, will feature a new character, Sunny the Snowpal, an astronaut who carries out a space-themed adventure with Santa. You can also stay warm indoors by going 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 offers 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.