2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: 7 Things to Know Before You Go

The view of Buzz Lightyear from the Empire State Building in Manhattan during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2008.

Fifty million TV viewers typically watch the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade from home, but the experience pales in comparison to watching the floats, entertainers and celebrity performers live, curbside in Manhattan.

Ask anyone who’s gone and they’ll likely give the same response: Those who can join the 3.5 million spectators that line the 2.5-mile parade route should not miss their chance to do so this year for the 88th annual installment. Taylor Swift, Kiss, Hilary Duff, Nick Jonas, Sting and many more will be performing on some of the 27 floats—not to mention 12 marching bands, 1,300 dancers, 1,000 clowns and especially Santa Claus!

“This is a record-breaking year…as we debut the largest new cast of giant character balloons ever assembled, along with five amazing new floats,” said Amy Kule, executive producer of the parade, in a news release. The new additions to the 16 giant character balloons—aside from 33 novelty balloons—include Pikachu, Skylanders Eruptor, Paddington Bear, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Thomas the Tank Engine and the Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger.

The parade will be broadcast live starting at 9 a.m. through noon, as usual for those unable to attend. But for those willing to brave the crowds and the cold, here are seven things Long Islanders heading to New York City for Turkey Day need to know:

The parade route starts on the upper west side and concludes in Herald Square.
The parade route starts on the upper west side and concludes in Herald Square.

THE ROUTE: The parade starts on the Upper West Side at the corner of West 77th Street and Central Park West, heading southbound for 18 blocks to Columbus Circle, where it turns left onto Central Park South. Two blocks later, it turns right onto 6th Avenue before continuing another 25 blocks to Macy’s at Herald Square—where West 34th Street, Broadway and 6th Avenue meet.

GETTING THERE: Mass transit is the way to go because only the foolish drive into the city when gridlock is guaranteed there. Long Island Rail Road riders can take the subway to the start of the parade by catching the A or C trains from Penn Station to West 72nd Street. Straphangers can also take the 1, 2 or 3 train from Penn to 59th Street/Columbus Circle, where there is viewing from The Shops at Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Center. Since there is no public viewing in Herald Square, LIRR riders looking to get a spot near there should walk north on 7th Avenue from Penn and then one block east on any block north of West 38th Street—or take the 1, 2 or 3 trains to Times Square and walk east to 6th Avenue.

ARRIVE EARLY: Much like the Black Friday sales that follow, the early bird gets the worm. Those hoping to secure a good spot to watch a parade that draws millions of spectators need to stake their claim before dawn—usually by 6 a.m. That ensures being able to use a beach chair in the front row instead of having to stand for hours on end.

VIEWING AREAS: Not all streets are open on both sides. For example, spectators are only allowed on the west side of Central Park West, where the parade runs from about 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. But, the parade is viewable from both sides of 6th Avenue, where it starts at about 9:30 a.m., and spectators should arrive by 7 a.m. The closer to Herald Square, the less likely it is to find a spot—between West 42nd and 59th streets is the best bet for latecomers. There is also limited public viewing on the south side of West 34th Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue.

WHEN NATURE CALLS: Midtown Manhattan is already a tough place to find a bathroom without being forced to buy something at a random restaurant. That will become even harder on parade day. With that in mind, it is best to relieve oneself before wading into the crowd instead of having to give up a good spot if nature calls before the parade ends. Experienced parade-goers skip drinking anything to avoid the urge striking before their favorite floats go by.

STAY WARM: No parade is worth getting hypothermia for. Dress warmly, pack a bag with an extra blanket and prepare for the possibility of bone-chilling temperatures with some hand and feet warmers. Or, just go with someone huggable and count their body heat as something for which to be thankful.

STAY FESTIVE: Don’t be the party pooper who rains on the parade. Since this is a media-saturated event, be prepared to wind up on TV, from live cameras on a float capturing special moments along the route to 360-degree panoramic photos where fans can find themselves part the action.

BONUS: OK, we said this was seven things parade-goers need to know, but here’s one more for those who can’t get enough of the parade and want to see the balloons inflated the night before. Arrive at 3 p.m. Nov. 26 between West 77th and 81st Streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. There will be no public viewing from the north side of 81st or the south side of 77th.