A Visit To Macy’s Santaland

Macy's SantalandThis week, in between a visit to the Brazilian consulate to apply for tourism visas, and working on the Gadling family travel gift guide, I decided to make a trip to the North Pole. Or rather, the one on 34th Street, where the most famous department store Santa resides at Macy‘s Santaland. Visions of David Sedaris dancing in my head, I decided if we were going to do this, I might as well do it right. As I walked in the front door of the store (bustling even on a midweek afternoon), I wondered what sort of masochistic experience I was about to put myself through, especially with a person who won’t even remember it. At 17 months of age, my baby Vera is having her first American Christmas, as we spent her first holidays in Istanbul. Now as we are thinking of leaving New York again, I figured she might want to see a little of the magical holiday city that millions of children want to visit every year while it’s still just a subway ride away.

Last year, I took Vera to her first Santa at the annual International Women’s League Holiday Bazaar, held at the once-glamorous Istanbul Hilton. The annual fair is a scrum of expat families bumping elbows for overpriced but hard-to-find in a Muslim country items like Christmas crafts and Italian sausage, but if you are foreign and living in Turkey, you are pretty much obliged to go (I recommend getting some black beans from the Brazilian table, a few bottles of French wine, and hightailing it home). At five months old, she took meeting a strange bearded man like a champ, though it was before the dreaded separation anxiety kicked in, back when I could still use the bathroom by myself. The Noel Baba, aka Santa, she met at the holiday bazaar wasn’t the most authentic, but he beat the skinny Santa we saw in our neighborhood selling Lotto tickets, in a shiny suit and smoking a cigarette. In Turkey (ironically where St. Nicholas comes from), Santa is associated with New Year’s Eve and is almost as ubiquitous as in America during December, but the concept of visiting the man and asking for presents is still thought of as a bit odd.

%Gallery-173473%Fast forward to 2012, when it took me just a few days to get sick of holiday music again, the baby showed only sporadic interest in the seasonal decor rather than childish glee, and we were right in the midst of American materialism in all its festive splendor. After an intense elevator experience involving multiple store employees with walkie talkies, coordinating stroller-only and no stroller cars like parade marshals, we arrived on the eighth floor, official headquarters of Kris Kringle (from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., at least, who knows where he sleeps). Joining the line, one elf informed us, “Only about a half hour!” and judging from the relieved reactions of other parents, I assumed this to be quite short.

This time estimate was about accurate, looking at the time stamp on my photos, but included the diversionary time inside “Santa Land” before we actually saw the big man himself. I discovered this is not just a line to see a man in a red suit, it is an experience. Standing in line was like an anthropological study of Christmas: there was the gaggle of female relatives in town for shopping and holiday sightseeing, the pair of twin baby girls dressed up and looking much more relaxed than their parents about this event, and even a dour-looking couple of German adults behind me with no children. There were local families (playing hooky from school, perhaps) who come every year, bewildered-looking foreign tourists, kids out of their mind with excitement, and babies who just drooled and snoozed. A few minutes after getting in the outer line, we “boarded” the Santaland Express, a sort of life-sized train with a big bell on front, which each child seemed delighted to ring loudly, making me wonder how often the outer line elves got headaches.

Then we were inside Santaland itself, a wonderland of lights and animatronics, which was alternating thrilling and terrifying to small children. I won’t spoil it all – it really is an experience one should do once, especially with children – but the highlights for me were a huge Christmas tree with model trains circling and a large map of Santa’s route (I like tracking him online on the NORAD website). My baby loved the dancing bears and skiing penguins, but a sense of foreboding grew over us as we inched closer to the main event. Various elves tried to prep us for seeing Santa, even shooting some practice shots along the Santaland landscape. Spoiler alert: I think there might be more than one Santa, though the process of being ushered into Santa’s lodge is well-choreographed enough so you can ignore all the identical lodges and sounds of photos being snapped. We watched a family in front of us with an 8-month-old baby – still happy to play along with his parents’ excitement to take pictures of him with a stranger – and I made a note to drag my husband along next time to help wrangle and document the process. Vera began reacting like a cartoon dog going to the vet, whimpering and pawing at me, desperate to not be put on the lap of this man. Despite the best efforts of the high-quality Santa and elf photographer, we couldn’t get a happy shot.

A few minutes and $20 later, we had our official 2012 Santaland portrait (I opted for no photo mugs this year). “Don’t you like any of them?” a concerned elf asked as I slowly looked through the contact sheet. “Oh no, they are awesome! Every child needs their first crying-with-Santa photo!” I replied. I was proud that Vera had now entered the pantheon of scared of Santa photos, a proud tradition all over the world for many generations. I’m not sure I’ll return in Christmases future if I don’t live in NYC, but I’ll proudly wear my “Santaland 2012″ pin, at least until December 24.

Macy’s Santaland Herald Square is open every day 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. until Christmas Eve, December 24. Download the Macy’s app to book an “express” visit to Santa.

[Photo credits: Meg Nesterov]

FlyBuy Wednesday has the deal for air travelers: free access

FlyBuy WednesdayBlack Friday or Cyber Monday has nothing on “FlyBuy Wednesday” when Gogo, a leading provider of in-flight connectivity has a special deal for passengers traveling onboard the more than 1,200 Gogo-equipped aircraft this holiday season: Free In-flight Internet access.

If 30 minutes of free access is not enough, try special discounts and in-air only exclusives at more than a dozen top online retailers including Macy’s, BestBuy.com, and Barnes & Noble.

It’s all aimed to give passengers traveling for the holidays the opportunity to shop high above the holiday crowds of Black Friday and get a jump on Cyber Monday.

“The holiday season can be a hectic time of year, so we’re thrilled to help travelers get ahead on their holiday shopping while they’re in the air starting on what is traditionally one of the busiest air travel days of the year: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, or FlyBuy Wednesday,” said Ash ElDifrawi, Gogo’s chief marketing officer.

Gogo’s in-air holiday store will be available from Wednesday, November 23, 2011 through the New Year. The online store features special holiday discounts and in-air only exclusives from retailers including Barnes & Noble, BestBuy.com, FTD.com, Harry & David, hayneedle.com, jcpenney, Lobster Gram, Macy’s, Omaha Steaks, Wine.comand more (retailers and offers may vary based on airline).

“The exclusive Gogo Fly & Buy Holiday Store is another example of the value we can deliver to passengers who have made it clear that they want to stay connected in-flight. Now they can get their holiday shopping done from 30,000 feet and use their time on the ground to celebrate the season with friends and family.”

Connect with GoGoAir on Facebook and Twitter.

Top 10 New York hotels to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The 84th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade takes place at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 25. Where will you be? If your plans take you to New York for the big event, you’d better start planning! The parade is equally about precision as it is the holidays — to know where to sit, stand, and see everything makes all the difference.

HotelsCombined.com compiled a list of the Top 10 hotels along the parade route that offer the best views of giant balloons, one-of-a-kind floats, Broadway musicals and marching bands. And of course, we can’t forget about Santa. The holiday season officially kicks off when the jolly one makes his way to Herald Square. Make your list, check it twice, and head to one of these hotels for the best viewing of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:

1. Marriott Hotel Marquis New York City — The premier Times Square hotel is currently offering a “Thanksgiving Parade Package” for four which includes a special buffet breakfast and access Minskoff Theater for unparalleled views as the Parade as it makes it way down 7th Avenue.

2. Mandarin Oriental Hotel New York City — The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is currently offering a “I Love a Parade Package” which includes accommodation, a signature Thanksgiving-themed welcome amenity and exclusive access to the Mandarin Ballroom where you’ll have panoramic views of the Parade.

3. Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square New York City — The Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square has a “Thanksgiving Parade View Package 2010″ which includes an overnight stay in a parade view suite plus full breakfast for up to four people, parking for one car per day, welcome amenity upon arrival and 15% discount off of the hotel’s Thanksgiving buffet on Thanksgiving Day.4. Wellington Hotel New York City — The Wellington Hotel is offering a “Thanksgiving Package” including accommodation, full American breakfast and shopping and sightseeing discounts.

5. Renaissance Hotel Times Square New York City – Situated at Two Times Squares 714 7th Avenue at West 48th Street, the Renaissance Hotel Times Square is one of the top places to preview the parade.

6. Trump International Hotel New York CityThe Trump International Hotel on One Central Park West is a prime location with the Parade passing by the hotel. There is also a Parade party in front of the hotel’s five star restaurant, Jean Georges.

7. Park Central Hotel New York City – The Parade will pass directly in front of the Park Central Hotel on 870 7th Avenue, allowing guests to view the festivities from the comfort of their hotel rooms. Request a room with a parade view and you’ll see the entire event unfold before your eyes.

8. The Manhattan at Times Square Hotel New York CityThe Manhattan at Times Square Hotel — formerly Sheraton Manhattan at Times Square — is an ideal base with a view of the parade.

9. The Michelangelo Hotel New York City — Situated on 152 West at 51st Street, guests can appreciate the views of the city from the Michelangelo Hotel as the parade makes it way down 7th Avenue.

10. The Bryant Park Hotel New York City – Located on 40 West at 40th Street, The Bryant Park Hotel faces Bryant Park with a view of 6th Avenue in New York City. Request one of the 50 rooms that have a view of the Parade.

Daily deal – 5 piece Springfield luggage set at Macy’s for $49.99

We are now a little too close to Christmas to rely on online orders and shipping, so my daily deal for today is available online and instore.

This “Springfield” luggage set is available at Macys.com and most Macy’s retail stores. The set usually retails for $200, but is currently on sale for just $49.99.

Included in the 5 piece set are 3 rolling suitcases, a beauty case/tote and a travel accessories bag.

The set is available in red and blue. The rolling bags feature a full steel frame construction, and all bags are made of high density polyester.

As always with luggage like this, I would not recommend it for the frequent flier, but if you only take the occasional trip, it should work out just fine.

You’ll find the luggage set here, which is where you’ll also find the instore inventory locator.

(Via: Fatwallet.com)