There are certain New York experiences that native residents happily leave to the tourists. New Years Eve in Times Square is one (really, anything in Times Square) and for me, for a long time, meeting the Macy’s Santa in Herald Square was another.
But the Santaland at Macy’s is a pretty neat experience it turns out; even for jaded New Yorkers. And the Macy’s Santa is usually very photogenic and friendly. If you can find a way to avoid the long line it really is worth a stop on your New York City holiday tour.
Here’s my advice for avoiding that killer crowds and having a good visit with St. Nick.
Don’t wait in line
The cue on a weekend really is two hours long. Skip it. You can use the Macy’s Website to book an express pass time to visit. Fifteen-minute slots open up on a rolling basis 48 hours in advance. So 10:00 A.M on Sunday becomes available at 10:00 A.M. on Friday. As far as I can tell it disappears by about 10:05.
When I started fiddling with the site at 11:10 A.M. on a Thursday in mid December, there were slots still open that day and the next, but it took me 20 minutes of trying to eventually get a pass for 11:30 A.M. on Saturday (I was aiming for 11:00). The site is clunky; I had to try two different laptops to get it to work. In theory you can also book via the Macy’s app, but I couldn’t figure that out at all.
Note: An express pass is essential if you’re visiting with anyone under 5. Otherwise the wait is just too long. The 30 minutes we waited can push some kids’ to their limit. But the regular line is full of very small children in their holiday best having meltdowns I can sort of understand.
No Express Pass?
I asked one of the elves what the best time is to visit Macy’s Santa if you don’t want to bother booking an express pass. She said weekdays as soon as the store opens or the last hour before it closes.
Two years ago we found ourselves at Herald Square at 8:00 P.M on a rainy Thursday night and decided to try a Santa visit and indeed the line wasn’t bad. We probably waited 30 to 40 minutes but my daughter was too entertained by the North Pole scenes to care. She was also 7 at the time, old enough to really want to meet the old guy in red.
If you try this strategy I would say the earlier in December the better. As schools let out the week leading up to Christmas I imagine this works less well. And keep in mind that Mr. Claus disappears after December 24th.
After stopping to admire the decorated windows outside, we showed up at 11:10 on Saturday with our express pass printed out. We were showed where the other 11:30s were cued. We probably had 15 to 20 families ahead of us. But that was nothing compared to the regular line snaking across the 8th floor.
The North Pole
The regular line snakes through an elaborate North Pole Santa village with fairies, a magical tree and much more, all covered in snow. The express line winds past it so that you can see it, but you don’t actually get to walk through it. Tiny Traveler and I both think it’s a lot of fun, and there is a trade-off in skipping the full experience for the shorter wait.
The Big Guy
Macy’s secret is that it has a warren of rooms with Santas to which elves guide Santas. It’s done well and the kids seem to be so caught up in the prospect of meeting the big guy that they don’t notice.
Our Santa was very soft-spoken and immediately read my shy daughter, giving her space and letting her warm up to him before getting her to sit for photos.
I had my phone with me and they were fine with me taking my own photos in addition to their official ones.
The Second Line
You get a ticket that you can use to view and buy the Macy’s photos, but that’s yet another line, and it was long and hectic. I estimate it would have been another 40 minutes easily. I skipped it. If I could have looked at the photos on line when I got him later I probably would have ordered some, but the store doesn’t offer that option.
If you’re really determined to have formal photos with the Macy’s Santa, I recommend you have a second adult with you to take the kids for something to eat while you wait in line.
Getting a Snack After
There is an Au Bon Pain right outside Santaland. Walk right by. It’s a zoo. Macy’s has several places to eat on other, quieter floors, including a sit-down pub with an inviting menu in the Cellar.
You also have all of Manhattan at your disposal right outside. If it’s not cool cold, check out the kiosk that sells fresh Belgian waffles with sweet and savory toppings in the square across from the Broadway entrance. Shake Shack is one block north at 36th Street. It will also have a line, but it moves. And it’s very good.
The area around 33rd between 5th and 6th avenues is Koreatown. You’ll find fast foods like noodles and fried chicken and several grill-your-own barbecue places. They’re pricey but fun and worth trying if you’ve never done it. I think kids 7 or 8 and up will appreciate it best. Because of the hot grill in the center of the table it’s not the most relaxing option with toddlers.
Tell us how your visit with Macy’s Santa goes!