Few places are more magical than New York City between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. With the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, tree in Rockefeller Center, ice skating, decorated windows along Fifth Avenue, and so much more, it’s the perfect destination to get in the holiday spirit.
The Roberts Family of Baltimore has made visiting New York City around the holidays practically an annual event. Last Thanksgiving, Christine and George Roberts and their three daughters were up by 4:30 a.m., traipsing through the streets of New York City, on their way to secure a prime spot to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
“I grew up on Long Island, so holiday trips to NYC were common,” Christine Roberts says. “I wanted my daughters to have great memories of the holidays in New York, too.”
New York City’s proximity to Maryland makes a day or weekend trip possible and, with a bit of advance planning, you can create an itinerary that’s affordable and filled with fun the family won’t soon forget.
Holiday fun in NYC
Kicking off the holiday season with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade was a huge hit for the McCarthy family of Centerville.
“It was tons of fun for the whole family,” mom Mary McCarthy says. “I couldn’t believe how well-managed and non-chaotic it was.”
Finding the right spot for the parade is key. Christine Roberts suggests scouting out a spot a couple of blocks north of Columbus Circle, on the east side of the street.
“Just get there before 6 a.m.,” she warns. “If you don’t get your spot, you will likely end up behind crowds of people or being unable to get close to the parade route.”
During a quick overnight trip the McCarthy family managed to hit the parade as well as Times Square, the American Girl store and the Toys R Us, which features an indoor Ferris wheel that Mary McCarthy calls “pure magic.”
The ideal itinerary changes based on kids’ ages. As Roberts’ girls got older, the family’s plans shifted.
“We went from making sure we saw a show to break up the day to just exploring,” Christine Roberts says. And trips to the American Girl store, which are a hot ticket for many young girls, are not requirements for those with older families.
Old standbys, like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes and the Rockefeller Center tree lighting and skating rink, are classic holiday excursions. But they’re only the tip of the iceberg.
Jennifer Grove, a Severna Park native who now lives in New York with her sixth-grade daughter, makes the most of the city every holiday season.
“We go to see the Unicef snowflake floating above Fifth Avenue, opposite Tiffany’s,” she says. “Then we shop for a new holiday ornament at Bergdorf Goodman. Their holiday windows are the best!”
The pair also make it a point to see “The Nutcracker” ballet at Lincoln Center and to check out Christmas trees all over the city. In addition to the famous tree at Rockefeller Center, they love the trees in Washington Square Park and Bryant Park (where there is free ice skating), at The Plaza (making a side stop at the hotel’s Eloise shop) and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The tree tour includes treats, too, including cookies and milk at Momofuku’s Milk Bar, hot chocolate at Max Brenner’s and pastries at Maison Kayser.
How to Get There
From Maryland, your best bets are to drive or ride the bus or train. Each has its pros and cons.
Driving offers the most flexibility, but traffic between Maryland and New York is notoriously messy, and once you’re in the city, you won’t need a car. Plus, parking can be expensive. If you do decide to drive, be sure to scope out parking options near your hotel or close to the activities you have planned. Consider using online services such as Park Whiz, Parking Panda or SpotHero to reserve a space in advance.
Numerous buses shuttle passengers from Baltimore to New York, sometimes at very low costs, although bus trips are not always cushy or speedy. The train, on the other hand, is pricier (especially the Acela), but faster and more comfortable. Both buses and trains run frequently, especially during the busy holiday season.
Where to Stay
With plenty of hotel rooms all over the city, where you stay is simply a matter of which neighborhoods you’ll visit most and how much you want to spend.
The McCarthy family secured a great deal in downtown Manhattan thanks to the Marriott points her husband racked up through business travel. Many credit cards offer points that can lead to major cost-savings, too (but be sure to check for blackout dates before booking).
Even during the busy holiday season, there are deals in the city.
“There are certain ‘holiday’ dates that are considerably less expensive than others,” says Barry Tenenbaum of New York City Vacation. He suggests checking out the trip planning tool and quote wizard on his company’s website, nyctripquote.nyctrip.com, which allows users to see options at a variety of price points. Other trip-planning organizations include New York Guest, NYC Insider Guide, NYC Tourist and New York City Vacation Packages.
The Roberts usually stay with family on Long Island during their trip. Staying in an outer borough or just outside the city on Long Island or in New Jersey broadens hotel options. Travelers seeking a room with a view might look for a hotel in New Jersey towns such as Jersey City, Hoboken or Weehawken, then hop on a ferry to get into the city. Companies like Seastreak and NY Waterway run private ferries, and The Port Authority operates a commuter ferry with numerous stops in New York and New Jersey.
The only downside of New York during the holidays is the crush of crowds, which makes getting from place to place take a little longer. But as long as there are Christmas carols on the radio, even traffic can be filled with holiday cheer.
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