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Macy's Thanksgiving Day ParadeMacy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

New York City, New YorkNew York City, New York

Finding your spot along two-and-a-half miles of New York City streets with 3.5 million other spectators to watch giant helium balloons, floats, bands, and celebrities march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is, for some, as much of a holiday tradition as turkey and dressing.

  • The famed Radio City Rockettes kick off Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with their famous eye-high kicks. Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.
  • Macy's Great American Marching Band delights 3.5 million spectators along the parade route. Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.
  • The Pillsbury Doughboy comes to life at Macy's Balloon Inflation. Get to New York City a day early to watch the action near Central Park West and the American Museum of Natural History between 1 and 8 p.m. on Nov. 21. Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.
  • Tom Turkey and Kermit the Frog are two long-standing features in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.
  • Mount Rushmore's American Pride by The South Dakota Office of Tourism strolls down the streets of New York City. Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.
  • Ronald McDonald stands 67 feet tall, 61 feet long, and 29 feet wide. His shoes alone are 6 feet long. Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.
  • Diana Ross, accompanied by her family, will perform on the Heartwarming Holiday Countdown float by Hallmark Channel. Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.
  • You'll have to be really creative to hide this Elf of the Shelf. At 46 feet tall and 64 feet long, this balloon is one of the biggest in the parade. Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.
  • Santa ends the parade in grand fashion on a sleigh that is 60 feet long and 3.5 stories tall! Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.
The lovable Charlie Brown floats by with his red kite in hand. Photo courtesy of Macy's Parade.

More than 50 million people watch on television, according to Macy’s, but nothing compares to experiencing it in person. Excitement along the parade route is palpable regardless of whether it's cold, windy, rainy, or sunny. Spectators stand several rows deep on each side of the route, but the floats and certainly the balloons are elevated enough so that there’s no bad view. (If you are able to get in front, good for you! When I took in the parade, I was about five rows back and loved every minute.)

To get the full parade experience, arrive a day early so you can head to the balloon inflation area at 77th Street and 81st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, where Macy’s will fill the balloons between 1 and 8 p.m. on Nov. 21.

This year's parade is the ninety-second since 1924; it was canceled from 1942 to 1944 during World War II. This year, Macy's says its parade will feature 16 giant character helium balloons and 43 other types of balloons (along with 1,350 handlers), 26 floats, 12 marching bands, four Broadway musical performances, and more than 8,000 participants. (This is not a place to have a fear of clowns, with 1,000 clowns and 23 “clown stilt walker units.”)

The parade will feature performers such as the Radio City Rockettes, Barenaked Ladies, John Legend, Martina McBride, Pentatonix, the Sesame Street cast and Muppets, Sugarland, Johnny Orlando, and more. And it will end with St. Nick himself. Santa’s sleigh will be the largest float in the parade, at 60 feet long and 3.5 stories tall.

Now that’s a way to usher in the holiday season in grand fashion!

Tips for flying to NYC

New York City’s Class B airspace is among the busiest in the country, and fast-talking air traffic controllers can be intimidating.

If you want to fly as close to the city as possible and land at a nontowered airport, consider Linden Airport in New Jersey. It’s the most convenient if you are flying in from a southerly direction. I’ve flown into Linden in a Super Cub on floats and stayed under New York’s Class B airspace (the Class B starts at 800 feet msl over the airport). It was difficult to spot from the air at first, but a Home Depot with its large orange overhang near the runway provides a good visual cue. The airport is busy with helicopters refueling. The 4,137-foot-long runway keeps larger jets away and is perfect for light general aviation airplanes.

Flying in might seem like the easy part when you consider driving in New York City. Rental cars are always an option, but buses and trains might make ground transportation a little less stressful.

The New Jersey Transit train station is just a short taxi ride from the Linden Airport and provides service between Linden and Penn Station in New York City. 

Teterboro Airport in New Jersey is the next closest to the city but is extremely busy with corporate traffic. Buses and trains are about one mile from the airport, and taxi service is available too.

Train stations are within a few miles of New Jersey's Morristown Municipal Airport and Essex County Airport, both to the west of the city. If you are up for the drive, Morristown’s airport boasts that it is an easy drive to Manhattan just 26 miles away (they even include a video of the route).

Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York, is to the north. You can take a taxi from the airport about 8 miles to the White Plains Railroad Station.

New York's Republic Airport is closest from the east. The Farmingdale Ronkonkoma Branch is just over two miles from the airport and is 30 miles from Penn Station.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Travel, US Travel

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