Visiting Santa at Macy’s 34th Street


I had some initial hesitations about making the trip to Santaland: the New York Christmas tradition is notorious for long lines, crowded elevators, and over-eager elves. And then there was the high probability that our toddler, who most likely wouldn’t remember any of this by the following year, would cry at the sight of that big, bearded fellow in a red suit.

And yet, in spite of these very reasonable reasons to stay away, Aron and I felt compelled. How often will we be in New York City with a young child at Christmastime? We had to see it! Natalie Wood and little Ralphie… David Sedaris and a singing Zoey Deschanel… they all compelled us.

Here’s the thing: Activity-wise, it was possibly the highlight of the trip!

The night before, when we decided we would go, we did some internet-searching for tips and discovered that you can get an express-pass to beat the lines (specific directions below). The store opened at 9am, so we got a pass for 9:15am just in case the crowds were heavy. But as it turned out, 9am on a Wednesday early in the holiday season is a pretty great time to go. There were only a handful of other children there and we even waved some past us because the line, once you get into “Santaland,” is really one of the best parts of the whole affair!



I have a feeling Hudson could have watched the trains in there for as long as we were willing to let him. He wanted to touch the singing snowmen, pet the swaying reindeer, and jump up and down on the lighted rainbow bridge. And, for the most part, he could!

Sure the first time an elf greeted us with a wide smile and a booming, cheery “Hello, Merry Christmas!” I was a bit taken aback (chuckling as all of Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries came rushing to mind), but honestly it was so nice to be surrounded by so many people who were being so… nice! It was a little like Disneyland in that way. It just made you feel happy! And then, also like that time we first walked into the Magic Kingdom with Hudson, it just made me feel all emotional! Granted, I’m seven months pregnant and quite a few things bring tears to my eyes these days, so maybe I’m alone here, but all the lore, all of the nostalgia, all of the projected anticipation and the sentimental feelings that come with taking your child to meet Santa and thinking about how your parents took you and now you have a child of your own… it just all hit me when I saw Hudson running wide-eyed and gleeful into Santaland and both Aron and I admitted that it was very emotional!

When we got to the front of the line, our personal elf came to meet us and take us to Santa. She introduced herself as “Winterbell” and Hudson actually said “Hi, Winterbell” in a soft voice and answered that his name was “Hudson.” We had told him that he was going to be asked what he wanted for Christmas, so he was also pretty quick to tell her “Train!” when that question came about. At that point I figured we were in the clear!

And when we first saw Santa, Hudson barely seemed to notice him. No tears! But then all of that build-up to the “train” meant that he really wanted to hold the train on display on one of the fake shelves inside. And for some reason, I didn’t think to just reach for it and let him hold it. He kept pointing to the wall saying “train, train!” and we all just froze until Santa reached out to pick him up and pull him onto his lap. Well, that was the end of the tear-free meeting. I asked if I could take the train down for him (and they said sure!) but it was too late. And so there we all are, sitting with Santa together this year. Now when you ask Hudson about Santa, he’ll tell you: “I cry. I cry Santa.”

“It’s okay,” I tell him. “I did too.”

A few tips we picked up:

  • Go early in the season, preferably on a weekday, and as close to opening as possible to avoid long waits. Rumor has it that the elves’ estimates are pretty spot-on, if there is a line. And I have a feeling that most of the time there is; I think we probably got pretty lucky.
  • The part of the line that begins at the Polar Express line has plenty to entertain small children, so that bit is fairly painless, but if you wish to skip it all and go expressly to Santa, get an express pass. You can pick one up 48 hours in advance, either in person at kiosks located in the store’s Cellar or on the 9th floor by Holiday Lane, or via Macy’s app. (This site does a great job of walking through the slightly complicated app.)
  • There are actually multiple Santas (shhhh…), each in a room of their own, so you get a chance to warm-up to Santa a bit more than you might in a more public place.
  • Santa is on the 8th floor. You can take the escalators, but the fastest way is usually to board an express elevator. When you enter off of Herald Square, make an immediate right to find four elevator doors. The two on the right go expressly to the 8th and 9th floor (handy also, we learned a while back, for wedding registries).
  • Visiting Santa is free, but a professional photo costs a pretty penny (I believe around $17 to start). Macy’s is very nice, however, about allowing personal photography as well, and there’s no pressure to buy (but you probably will).
  • Save time to check out the holiday windows! The ones along 34th street are their “classic” displays; the ones along Broadway change every year.

P.S. Hudson’s first time meeting Santa.

Related posts:

Travel Guides

Browse By Category