Big Apple Holiday

New York City rolls out the red carpet for visitors, with all the magic of the season.



Ice-skaters enjoy the Rink at Rockefeller Center

Will Steacy

Few places epitomize the holiday spirit more than New York City. Bustling crowds, dazzling light displays, the sweet smell of chestnuts roasting, street musicians playing holiday tunes—the city’s festive vibe fills the air. Although a weekend in the city requires some significant planning, it’s easy to get there from here. Catch an early-morning nonstop flight from Orlando, and you can be on the streets of Manhattan by noon. Here’s a seasonal don’t-miss guide for the Big Apple.

Courtesy Macy’s, Inc.

Macy’s and More. Everyone loves a parade, and one of the world’s biggest kicks off the holiday season in New York City. The 88th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade makes its way from Central Park West, down 6th Avenue, past 42nd Street and winds up at Macy’s in Herald Square. Millions watch as marching bands and clowns perform, floats glide by and, of course, the famous giant balloons loom overhead.

Speaking of Macy’s, the classic film Miracle on 34th Street was set at the world’s largest department store, and that spirit is alive and well at Santaland. Stop by and tell jolly St. Nick your holiday wishes in the midst of decorated trees, “snow” and busy elves. 

Another holiday icon is the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree; this year’s tree-lighting ceremony takes place Dec. 3. Earlier that same evening, a menorah-lighting celebration will be held outside Brooklyn’s Borough Hall at Columbus Park.  

Ice-skating at Rockefeller Center is a quintessential winter-in-the-city experience, made even more so when the towering tree lights the night. Just 150 skaters can be on the ice at any one time; make reservations (therinkat-
rockcenter.com) so you can spend more time on the ice, rather than standing in line. A few other spots to practice your spins and jumps are the Winter Village at Bryant Park and Central Park, or skate indoors at Chelsea Piers.  

 Gene Schiavone

Song and Dance. For the 82nd year, the Rockettes take center stage at Radio City Music Hall for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, (radiocitychristmas.com) featuring classic performances such as “The Living Nativity” and “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.”

Another must-see holiday tradition is The Nutcracker, and several companies are staging performances in the city this winter. The New York City Ballet (nycballet.com) celebrates the 60th anniversary of George Balanchine’s rendition of the all-time classic; Balanchine was the ballet company’s founder and founding choreographer. The curtains are closing after this year’s American Ballet Theatre (abt.org) performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (bam.org), as the company is taking its Alexei Ratmansky-choreographed rendition on tour to Orange County, Calif., beginning in 2015.

On a different note, Musica Sacra’s rendition of Handel’s Messiah will be performed at Carnegie Hall (carnegiehall.org) on Dec. 23. Or listen to jazz legend Louis Armstrong’s voice recording of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas and other seasonal favorites during 40-minute guided tours of the Louis Armstrong House Museum (louisarmstronghouse.org) in Queens throughout December.  

Shop Around. Even New York department stores get in the spirit with inspired window displays. Besides perennial favorites Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Barneys, other musts include Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co. and Cartier, which gets dolled up with a big red ribbon tied around the building.

Courtesy FAO Schwarz

Also not to be missed is FAO Schwarz, where everyone can be a kid again. The flagship store’s three levels are filled with toys beyond the wildest imagination, and if it all gets a bit overwhelming, simply enlist a personal shopper to offer direction. 

In addition to brick and mortar shops, holiday markets pop up throughout the city, featuring homemade goods, treats and gifts. Annual favorites include the markets in Union Square, Columbus Circle, the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park and the Grand Central Holiday Fair.  

Sweet as Sugar. If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth at the end of the day, visit Little Italy (littleitalynyc.com) in lower Manhattan and peruse the bakeries filled with traditional Italian desserts such as cannoli, biscotti, panettone and, of course, New York cheesecake. 

A sweet feast for the eyes only can be found at the Le Parker Meridien hotel (parkermeridien.com), which hosts the annual Gingerbread Extravaganza. Don’t try to take a bite out of these tantalizing masterpieces created by chefs from local restaurants and bakeries, but you can vote for your favorites. 


Travel Tips

A memorable visit to the Big Apple requires planning ahead—from the flight and the hotel to getting around town and entertainment.

  • Airlines that fly nonstop from Orlando into New York’s LaGuardia and JFK airports include American, Delta, JetBlue and United. It’s a 2½ hour flight, one way.
  • Looking for a hotel? Check out nycgo.com, where you can type in the neighborhood you want to stay in and get lodging suggestions.
  • Get around like a local. Buy a 7-day unlimited pass, good for both subway and local bus service, for $30. Details are at mta.info
  • New York City is busier than usual during the holidays. If you want to see a show, go ice-skating, or dine at a special restaurant, check ahead for availability.
  • Wait until you return home to wrap your holiday shopping finds. At the airport, TSA agents may ask that wrapped gifts be unwrapped for inspection.
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