Friday, November 13, 2015

Watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Even before we moved back to the USA from Malaysia, I realized that one thing I would really miss about expat life was the abundance of travel. So, I decided to be proactive and mentally started planning a trip long before we packed our bags. What better way to reintroduce the kids to American life than to take them to New York City? It's a crossroads of American ethnic groups with a skyline of iconic, internationally recognized landmarks.

Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade
Snoopy and Woodstock have had the honor of floating in 38 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades — 
more than any other balloon

I thought the week-long Thankgiving school break would be the perfect time, but the kids were adamant that after three years of missing the extended family for the big Thanksgiving meal, they weren't going to skip it again, no matter how fantastic the trip. "Besides," my teen asked, "how will we watch the Macy's Parade?" Then, his eyes lit up as he realized that we'd be in the very city where the parade takes place.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
The GoldieBlox Girl Powered Spinning Machine float's first appearance in the parade

So, a compromise was reached. We'd spend a few days in New York, stay just long enough to see the parade, and then fly back to Texas for a belated Friday Thanksgiving meal with all the grandparents. (My in-laws are so nice. They've included my parents every Thanksgiving and Christmas, even when I was overseas.) That really was something to look forward to! My daughter read the picture book Balloons Over Broadway in preparation, and I found myself missing expat life a little less.

As I leapt into planning mode, you should know that we are somewhat lazy parade watchers who, after living on a tropical island for a few years, are in no way acclimatized to cold weather. Waiting in the chill outdoors for hours to get a good view of the parade would never be part of our plan, no matter how many hot cocoas with marshmallows would be promised. The grandstand seats that are in the background of the TV performances are not available to the general public, and I have zero Macy's connections. I also don't know people with office space overlooking the parade route unlike a certain lucky ducky, former-Malaysian-expat friend.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Horns blaring from the Marching Band

VIP treatment

Other blogs recommended getting either a hotel room with a view of the parade or having brunch at a restaurant with big picture windows looking out on the parade. I also found some private balcony viewing options. In every single case, the price was far more expensive than what I was willing to spend. After living the high life in Malaysia, I am apparently too poor to be extravagant in New York City.

So, what's a mom to do?

I booked a hotel on a side street, a block away from the parade route, and hoped for the best. I knew that there was no way I wanted to join 3 million other viewers on the subway before and after the parade, so I wanted to be able to hoof it there on foot. Macy's sometimes changes the route, so I looked up a map of the current year. We ended up at the Shoreham Hotel which turned out to be a great location for all our Manhattan explorations.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade
Sino-American Friendship float with the Great Wall of China, dancing dragons and the Temple of Heaven
(and one white lady waving a foam finger)

Watch the Balloons Inflate

I had high hopes of taking the kids to see the Macy's Giant Balloon Inflation behind the American Museum of Natural History. It takes place from 3PM to 10PM the day before the parade. Wanting to strike the right balance between getting there early enough to beat the crowd but not so early that the balloons were still flat, I aimed to arrive around 5PM. This event draws a crowd. I read that the queue starts at 79th and Columbus then wraps around for blocks and blocks. Alas, the afternoon turned out to be wet and slushy with freezing rain. We decided that winter weather misery would outweigh any enjoyment of seeing the same exact balloons we'd be viewing the next day but with less air in them.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
This Pikachu Pokemon balloon is 4 stories tall, as wide as 6 taxi cabs, as long as 6 bicycles and requires 90 balloon handlers. Do you like their bright yellow outfits and hats?

Get there Early or Just in Time?

As I tucked the kids into bed on Thanksgiving Eve, I gave them the choice of an early wakeup so that we could get front row seats along the sidewalk at 6:30AM. The other option was a later start with the warning that the crowd may block us and all we might see would be balloons drifting across the intersection from afar. They chose to sleep in. If I had a kid in the a marching band or a friend on a float, I may have chosen to go early, but frankly, I didn't care.

We arrived at the parade route at the 9AM starting time, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the crowd wasn't that bad. Three million people may seem like a lot, but they are spread out along the 2.5 mile parade route. There were probably only seven rows of people between us and the edge of the road. Some savvy parents set up 6-foot stepladders against a building and let their kids perch on them. Best of all, we didn't feel like we were in a crush of humanity since there was empty space behind us.

Wisps of snow started falling, and our mood shifted from "Why is it so freaking cold?" to "Yay! Snow!!" Where we now live doesn't get much snowfall. Schools and the government shuts down if there's the slightest hint of ice or snow on the ground in Central Texas. Yet, here was New York City putting on a major event despite it. This really was turning out to be a magical day.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
All bundled up and glad it's not as crowded as I'd feared.

The Big Moment

The front of the parade finally appeared half an hour later, and a cheer of excitement went up from the crowd. It was just as fun and festive as I had hoped. No matter how many times I've seen it on television, being there in person and seeing the balloons towering over us, feeling the same wind that buffeted them, was a memorable experience. I easily identified some balloons like Ronald McDonald and the Pillsbury Doughboy, but I needed help from my kids to recognize a character from Skylander.

In my excitement, I bragged "Watching the Macy's Parade in New York!" on Facebook. My cousin in Philadelphia immediately responded that her husband's nieces were on one of the floats. How cool is that?! I made sure I snapped a photo of them.

I strained to make myself taller whenever a marching band went by and raised my camera high above my head as a periscope. My tall hubby and teen had no trouble at all seeing over the crowd. We waved at Nick Jonas on one float and KISS's Gene Simmons in full costume on another. I gaped in amazement at the Cirque de Soleil acrobats who were able to bounce and fly through the air as their float rolled down the street.

We didn't have front row seats, but we were satisfied with what we were able to see by arriving at starting time.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
Excited to see my cousin's nieces as Gingerbread Kids on the Domino Sugar float.

And then they were gone

My younger two kids had their fill of the parade after seeing the specific balloons — Pokemon Pikachu and Greg the Wimpy Kid — they were interested in. Because our hotel was so near, hubby was able to take them back to our cozy, warm room while the teen and I stayed until the end. As always, Santa himself in a flying sleigh brought up the end of the parade. Less than 2 hours after we spotted our first balloon, the parade had completely passed by and were marching off towards the performance stage for their big finale in front of Macy's. The crowd cleared, and the empty road — a rare sight in the Big Apple — stretched out in both directions.

By 2PM, we loaded our suitcases into a taxi and were on our way to the airport. What an incredible, memorable way to celebrate our first Thanksgiving back on American soil.

Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade
Santa's Sleigh is the traditional end of the parade

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  1. Amy @ Ms Toody Goo ShoesNovember 13, 2015 at 7:39 PM

    Great fun reading this, Michele! One of the best perks of my old job was that my office overlooked the parade route. Glad your family got to experience this truly American spectacle, no doubt due to your incredible planning!

  2. We will miss it by 2 days, as we leave NYC on the 24th. That was bad planning wasn't it. I am a big kid and would love to see the Macys Parade.

  3. The Macy's Parade is one of those amazing events just about everyone wants to see. You're so lucky to have been there to witness it. Such an exciting parade :-)

  4. I didn't know they have such a great parade for Thanksgiving in New York. I'm sure your kids enjoyed it tremendously.

  5. Michele, You lucky girl! I have always wanted to see the Macy's parade in person...I like the way you did it! How much fun!

  6. I rarely plan my travels around events. Just too crowded and expensive. This one looks fun though :) I always forget about it, until I see it in movies/tv-series :)

  7. How cool! We watch the parade every Thanksgiving without fail - my oldest daughter is a huge Broadway show fan so we like to see the performances of the current shows on stage to see if they are something we want to see. ( My father-in-law was a football coach for 30 years so my husband's family had never seen the parade when they were little and the first time he watched it was when we were married!!) I always say I will go see it in person "someday". Thanks for sharing!

  8. What a fun adventure and such an all-american experience for your kids after living as expats.

  9. I grew up in Connecticut so several times, when I was little, we went into New York to see the Thanksgiving Day parade. While it was great fun, I admit to liking the fourth of July parades much better, just because it wasn't so cold!

  10. My husband and I took our daughters to the Macy's Parade and for a weekend vacation for 10 years when they were growing up. Its our most beloved tradition. I cannot wait to have grandchildren and do the same with them so I totally understand your thrill of being part of it.

  11. That was an amazing way to see the parade and celebrate your return to the States. Plus you got to celebrate with the grandparents. My husband's family have always welcomed my parents to their Christmas Lunch and it makes it so much easier for us on Christmas Day. :)

  12. You got such great photos. It seems like a pretty good view in spite of being a bit back from the curb. Interesting how it is experiencing cold after living in Malaysia. I'm still not used to Singapore's humidity, but I've never been able to handle the cold either! Thanks for sharing your parade experience. I've never been to the Macy's in person, but I usually watch. This year's looks good! #wkendtravelinspiration

  13. I would like to watch the parade one day but I am not sure if I up to wait in the cold weather. One time I was in New York for New Year's Eve (my sister lived in Brooklyn at the time) and we ended not going to Times Square due to the cold and crowds. I like your idea of booking a hotel nearby and walk late to see the parade.

  14. Very clever booking a hotel around the corner from the parade. Whilst I love the idea of seeing these iconic NY parades the thought of those crowds does my head in. The nearby hotel would be a great solution.

  15. Watching the Macy's parade every Thanksgiving morning has been a tradition in my home for as long as I can remember - at least, whenever we're in the U.S.! I've often wondered what it would be like to actually see it firsthand and you surprised me when you said that the crowds weren't bad. I'm not a fan of the cold, though. Booking brunch with a view is a brilliant idea I'd never considered - and far cheaper than getting a hotel on the parade route. Thanks for the idea!

    Thanks too for linking up to As We Saw It and #TheWeeklyPostcard. :)

  16. How awesome! As a former marching band geek, Macy's Thanksgiving Day has been on the bucket list pretty much forever. Thanks for sharing your experience - it's both encouragement and inspiration for us to finally cross this one off the list!

  17. Thanks for sharing about great honouring Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. This will aware people about what day is thanksgiving and why this is a public holiday.


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