The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade always attracts a crowd from the Upper West Side of Manhattan down to W. 34th Street, where you’ll find the store for which the parade is named. It can be exciting to cram onto the streets and see each of the floats and balloons roll by. Even if it is chilly outside, with the coffee in your hands quickly growing cold, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and experiencing it in person does not compare to having it on television in the background when you’re preparing Thanksgiving dinner.
If you come to New York City for the parade, there’s an attraction the night before that doesn’t draw the same hype, yet I find to be much more fun: the balloon inflation. From 3 PM to 10 PM the night before Thanksgiving, crowds converge on the blocks that circle the American Museum of Natural History to watch the balloons slowly take shape. For many, this is an alternative to going to the parade, providing both the experience of seeing the balloons and the feel of an insider going behind the scenes. A unique touch for me is a Gadling family connection: Melanie Nayer‘s father was part of the crew inflating the balloons in years past.
%Gallery-108282%You can feel the crowd start to form well before the W. 79th Street entrance. As low as W. 75th Street, the Columbus Avenue sidewalks became crowded, and by the time I passed Shake Shack, on the corner of Columbus and W. 77th Street, I was effectively in line. It moved quickly, however, and within 15 minutes, I was crossing Columbus with friend and fellow travel blogger Laurie DePrete and headed toward the first balloons down on W. 77th Street.
From 3 PM to 6 PM, the scene changes drastically. Balloons go up as the sun goes down, and characters begin to come to life. Some, such as Snoopy, were not yet recognizable, while others, including Shrek and a Smurf, were already recognizable. At points, the bodies were jammed in, making it virtually impossible to move, but there were spots where the spectators moved easily.
Turn the corner from W. 77th Street to Central Park West, and there’s nothing to see: all you do is walk up to W. 81st Street, where the spectacle continues. Spiderman, Santa and Kung Fu Panda were taking shape on the street.
He exit wasn’t as crowded as the entrance, but t still took a few minutes to push up to W. 82nd Street, where the walking was a little easier. If you’re without kids, the next natural stop is Prohibition, a bar on Columbus Avenue between W. 84th Street and W.85th Street for an excellent Irish coffee and a chance to shake off the chill of the November evening air.
There’s nothing quite like going behind the scenes of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, even if it isn’t the exclusive experience that it sounds. If you do want to get a great view, though, whether it’s for the balloon inflation or the parade itself, nothing compares to making friends with someone who lives in a building overlooking the inflation or parade route!