Few places to see Santa in New York City compare with Macy's Santaland. It's a magical experience for tourists and natives, so why not take your kids this holiday 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 25 (the day after Thanksgiving and the parade) through Christmas Eve. While the lines can be long, there's plenty to look at while you wait. A major bonus: There are great photo-ops along the way, as well as a way to skip the line almost completely.
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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.
Visit the website for precise hours of operation as it varies by the day. 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 a photo in that Macy's frame, though, is pretty fun.
There is plenty to see even before you get into Santaland, starting with the new 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.
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.
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Elves escort kids through Santaland with plenty of holiday cheer. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala.
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 in line. If a long wait isn’t for you—and be advised, it has been as long as three hours—Macy's has expanded its Express Pass service, a coup for parents, especially those with younger tots. You can book your Express Pass time 48 hours to 30 minutes in advance of your desired arrival. We have popped into Macy's on a weekday, took one look at the long line, and hopped online to get our Express Pass and been in to see Santa within 30 minutes. The downside of the Express Pass? You don't get to see some of the popular attractions, including Santa's sleigh and the toy train display. But if you (like my family) have been there, seen that, the display hasn't changed much this year, and you'll still be surrounded by the pretty holiday scene of decorated trees and lights.
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/courtesy of Macy's.
Good to Know Before You Go
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. You still may encounter a line but it should be shorter. Note: Elves seem to overestimate the wait time so an hour wait can be closer to 45 minutes.
Want to skip the line? Try a Santaland Express Pass. Sign up on Macy's website. FREE reservations can be made up to 48 hours in advance. If you arrive without an Express Pass, use your smartphone to see if slots are available or ask the elves to book a reservation for you on their iPads. Express Pass holders wait about 15 minutes while the standby line can take hours.
Bring your own camera. 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. 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.
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 on 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. Photo by Kelly Skyles via Instagram.