Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means that the 86th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is fast approaching. The festivities–attended by over 3.5 million Americans, and watched on TV by around 50 million–will make its way down Manhattan in a new route, kicking off at 77th Street and Central Park West and traveling east down Sixth Avenue. This year will also feature new stars like Papa Smurf, children’s book character Elf on the Shelf, and a new-and-improved Hello Kitty balloon.
For many Americans, watching the parade from the comfort of their home is a tried-and-true Turkey Day tradition. But everyone should brave the crowd and watch the parade in person once, or at least watch the balloons get inflated–there’s nothing else quite like it. If you’re up to the task this year, here are our best viewing tips:
The Early Bird Catches the Worm
As much as we’d love to tell you about the secret spot where you can slide into and watch the entire parade in comfort, gauranteed, the reality is that most devoted parade-watchers are up with the sunrise. So if you’re family is the type that needs an up-close-and-personal experience, plan on setting your alarm for the crack of dawn and getting to your designated spot around 6-6:30 am. Unfortunately, we’re not exaggerating–you’ll see crowds already starting to form.
The bottom portion of Central Park West, between the upper 50s and lower 70s, is close enough to get a good view–and far enough away that you won’t be completely trapped in a mosh-pit of Manhattanites. Those who want shelter from the cold can try to snag a spot near Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner building, but know that space is extremely limited there. But since the new route turns onto Central Park West and then 6th Avenue, a spot at that intersection would also offer great views. Alternatively, Bryant Park offers limited seating and options for bathroom breaks.
Because the parade culminates by the Macy’s at Herald Square, it’s no surprise that the further you are from 34th Street, the better. Plus, that area will be closed off for spectators, television crews, and those elusive bandstand ticket holders (which are only available to friends and family of parade employees).
Make Friends With Tourists
I know, sounds kind of extreme, but there are a slew of hotels along the parade route with killer rooftops and stellar views. If you don’t feel like buttering up a weary business traveler just to gain access to such amenities, you can book your own hotel room. Check out Hilton New York, Warwick New York Hotel, or JW Marriott Essex House New York, but be warned—many rooms will cost more than three times their normal rates on Turkey Day.
Use Common Sense
Remember: It takes 30-100 balloon handlers to escort these giant bags of helium through the parade route. The things are seriously massive, so you don’t need to have a front row spot in order to enjoy them. Think about what is most important for your family on parade day, then focus on finding a spot best suited to your needs. Considering it’ll be a long day of standing outside in chilly temperatures, try to snag a spot with food and bathrooms nearby: A deli, fast-food joint, or one of the city’s hundreds of Starbucks will make a good home base for you and the family.
Turn On the Boob Tube Like the Rest of Us
The morning of the festivities, don’t feel guilty if you find yourself sitting in front of the couch in PJs instead of in the middle of the crowds in your parka. Some of our editors even prefer camping out at home, warm, and being able to enjoy different perspectives of the parade from the many cameras covering the event. Sound good? Turn on NBC at 9am, where you can spend the next three hours watching every detail of the parade with hosts Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie, and Al Roker. This year, guests on the televised special include Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas, the cast of the Muppets and Sesame Street, and the Radio City Rockettes.