This was the day that brought us here: Thanksgiving. We built this vacation around the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
. I’ve been watching that parade since I was a little girl and always wanted to go. When I realized that one could get grandstand tickets through online charity auctions, it was all over but the shouting. In the end, a Brooklyn public school got a nice return on its four grandstand seats, and we got to get up at 5:30 am on Thanksgiving morning. By about 6:20, as this photo reflects, everyone was up and sunshiney … okay, they were up and dressed. Good enough.
We were literally the only people in the subway station that early, but by the time the train came, we had been joined by a few others who were clearly parade goers (revealed by their lawn chairs). The kids had perked up a bit on the walk, probably because it was freezing cold, and contrary to all weather reports that had predicted a dry Thanksgiving, it was also drizzling. However, being Upstaters, we were prepared: wearing about five layers, carrying hand warmers, and replete with extra gloves and hats.
Our tickets indicated that the line up for entry started at 6:30. Of course, the express train we boarded had shifted to a local for Thanksgiving, so we lost about 20 minutes on the way. By the time we got to the Upper West Side, the entry line stretched around a block, yet we still scored amazing grandstand seats. After we made it through all the lines and grabbed our spaces, there was still about an hour left to the parade. The grandstands line Central Park, with the opposite side being public. I have no idea when those folks got there, but they were already packed in by the time we arrived. The windows of the apartments and co-ops above were filled with children well before the parade started.
One tactical error we made was assuming someone would be selling food along the parade route. They didn’t. Ned and Penn set off to find food only to return empty handed in the face of massive lines. So, if you go, pack food and water. Luckily, in my mom-backpack, I had a bunch of cereal and granola bars, yogurt raisins, and a stray oatmeal raisin cookie. But, I had no water. In the end, this made it completely possible for us to sit in the icy cold in alternating rain and snow on metal bleachers for 4 hours without ever once having to go pee. Yay!
The Macy’s seats are at the very beginning of the parade, which meant we were entertained while waiting by cycling and roller blading clowns. We were in the second row of bleachers; in the first row was a family that included a toddler boy. Almost every Macy’s volunteer walking the route made sure to throw him a little extra confetti or give him a high five. Very nice!!
And, then, it began. When I saw those bright yellow stars, I almost broke into tears. It was magical, like seeing a fairytale come to life–all filled with helium and drifting past me. Just the coolest thing ever!
The parade starts with yellow stars and Tom Turkey, and ends with Santa Claus and red stars. Great bookends!
We couldn’t get over how BIG the balloons were. Seriously, watching the parade on tv for about 45 years does not prepare one at all for them! The coolest thing was to see them way up the block and watch them grow and grow as they got closer, slowly floating along Central Park West. Check out this colorful caterpillar just bobbing along:
Here are some of our favorites. Trust me, we watched each go by with slack-jawed wonder. Penn took so many pictures that he filled his phone. Harper took so many photos and videos, she killed her battery. Even anti-parade Ned had to admit, it was pretty awesome!
I was also surprised that folks started clearing out about halfway through the parade. Maybe it was the cold or the spitting rain/snow, but by the midpoint, we had much more room to spread out. That’s the new Paddington balloon behind the kids.
Penn had been anticipating seeing the Finn and Jake balloon since well before we left Rochester. It did not disappoint!
Let’s be honest, Elf on the Shelf freaks everyone out. Making him a massive balloon does not help things.
The parade alternates the balloons with bands and floats. On tv, the float music sounds perfect and clear; along the route, it varies considerably. This is the Goldfish float with Lucy Hale, whose music was tinny and intelligible.
Here’s Miss America!
And, Rochester’s own Renee Fleming (also intelligible).
Each balloon or float is followed by themed parade marchers, like these eggs and butter. I’ll say that it was more than dangerous to have food marching past hungry parade goers–lots of shouts of “breakfast!” could be heard.
The big heads were a bit scary. Harper could see inside the Wicked Witch, which weirded her out. The woman in front of me shouted, “Maggie Hamilton, my grandmother!” which weirded me out.
As the end of the parade neared and even the surprisingly effective hand warmers could not extend their miraculous powers to the rest of our bodies, some of us resorted to other means to keep warm. (I should mention that our family is a bit dance-y. Last night the bucket drummer TWO subway lines over waved at us because we were head bobbing and rump shaking along with him. 🙂 )
And, then, just about 2 hours after it began, the parade was over. Santa waved us into the holiday, and the rain had officially changes to big wet flakes of snow. Thanks, Santa!
It is undeniably cool to be able to just wander freely in the middle of Central Park West, and undeniably awesome to have been able to be AT the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Really a dream come true!
The night before the parade, I had enough sense to book a lunch reservation near our post-parade destination: the Big Apple Circus, which is in residence at Lincoln Center. We ate at Rosa Mexicano, scoring the first reservation of Thanksgiving at 11:30 am. That meant we had to freeze our heels for about 20 minutes before getting in, which made the warm, welcoming and delicious restaurant even more delightful.
After stuffing ourselves with guac, flautas, enchiladas, tacos, and–yes–even turkey mole, we rushed across the street to the Circus. This was our second time at the Big Apple Circus: a perfectly sized one ring circus where every seat is a good one and the acts are mystifying and delightful.
The tent was beautifully lit, with an art nouveau-styled theme of metamorphosis.
In the end, just like the last time we went to the Big Apple, we left with stars in our eyes and lots of questions in our heads about how they could do what they do. If you’re in NYC over the holidays, go to the circus. There are always good discounts on tickets, and it’s wonderfully old fashioned family fun. Our kids would go every year if they could–and leave wanting to join the circus!
On the way out, we saw the lovely Nutcracker poster on Lincoln Center: our Friday night destination. Two polar opposite shows; two great holiday traditions!
We had planned a rather untraditional Thanksgiving dinner: the Hollywoodland show at Birdland. That meant we headed back downtown, getting to the Theater district with a bit of time left for shopping and goofing around. Or, in Ned’s case, napping in Times Square.
Harper managed to be immortalized on a Times Square jumbotron looking her very best. Sigh.
Our table was house center–just ideal! Again, pays to reserve in advance.
We elected to have Thanksgiving at Birdland because it was a perfectly NYC thing to do. A dimly lit jazz club with pretty good food and a fantastic limited run show of Hollywood songbook classics by three amazing entertainers. Cool!
Plus, a dimly lit club provides the perfect cover for an 11 year old boy who had been up since 5:30 that morning to simply eat and go to sleep. Let me note, he was out by 6:00 pm! Trust me, he’s not the first person to have passed out at a table in Birdland.
Harper was more lively and looked lovely in the candlelight.
A Thanksgiving dinner of strip steaks, mac and cheese, pulled pork, corn and crab chowder, peach cobbler and mud pie was capped by gorgeous voices backed by a jazz trio. The house was full; the music hot; and the vibe full on Thanksgiving festive. Yay!
Can we stuff a Thanksgiving or what? A parade, a circus, and concert; two yummy meals; and a quick T-Day shopping excursion. Now visions of Thanksgiving bedtime are filling our heads.