There are few places to see Santa in New York City that compare with Macy’s Santaland, so we were filled with Christmas joy when we learned the magical holiday experience was returning for the 2021 holiday season. There’s a reason it lands on our list of holiday must-do’s annually.
While your Santa photo-op looks a little different in 2021, the Macy’s Santaland experience is no less magical. We got a sneak peek at the display and it still overflows with its usual cheer, including live “elves,” an enchanted forest, animatronic toys, and a train display.
As in previous years, visitors must book a FREE reservation to visit Santa at Santaland, which requires some planning but does mean a much shorter wait when you get there. Read on for everything you need to know about visiting Santaland in 2021 and find more holiday fun in our Guide to Christmas and the Holidays in NYC.
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Santa’s elves offer a warm greeting to visitors arriving at Santaland.
Macy’s Santaland Basics
Macy’s Santaland is located on the eighth floor of the flagship store in Herald Square, on 34th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. Santa flies in at the tail end of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and officially starts taking requests on Black Friday, November 26. He’ll hold court through Christmas Eve.
Here’s how it works: All visitors must make a reservation to schedule their visit with Macy’s Santa. Reservations are FREE and can be made starting Sunday, November 21, 2021, by logging on to macys.com/santaland to select a time. Reservations can be booked five days ahead of time—so if you’re hoping for a Christmas Eve reservation, you’ll have to wait to book it. Pro tip: Macy’s releases a new day of reservations each morning at 5:30am.
Your reservation guarantees your spot in line. So, yes, there will still be some sort of line, but it should be shorter—and allow for social distancing. We always recommend families go early to beat the crowds. By early, we mean both early in the day and early in the season. If possible, go on a weekday immediately after Santaland opens. Santaland opens each day when the store opens (most days, that’s 10am) and closes at 9pm. Monday through Wednesday mornings are a good bet.
Admission to Macy’s Santaland is FREE, but you’ll be hard-pressed to pass up a photo package of your cutie on Santa’s lap as you exit. Prices start at $39.99. Digital packages are also available. You can, however, take a quick shot with your phone, too. Having an official photo in that Macy’s frame, though, is classic holiday memorabilia.
Peek at the displays from Macy’s old Miracle on 34th Street windows.
There is plenty to see even before you get into Santaland, starting with the Hallmark Channel Ticket Booth, where guests imagine they’re purchasing tickets for a journey on the North Pole Express. Just before you board, peek at the animatronic displays from Macy’s old Miracle on 34th Street windows. Chatty elves with names like Licorice, Tootsie, and Clementine move visitors along and engage kids with tales of Santa’s workshop, keeping everyone’s energy up as they wait their turn to see St. Nick.
Check out Santa’s overflowing sleigh as you wait your turn. Photo by Diane Bondareff for Macy’s
Once you’ve journeyed through the train, you arrive at a holiday wonderland filled with stuffed animals on glittering mounds of artificial snow, giant toy soldiers, trees festooned with ornaments and lights, a new-this-year present-wrapping station starring Mrs. Claus, a sleigh overflowing with gifts, a massive train display ensconced behind glass, and a 6-foot-tall Christmas tree.
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Look at the larger-than-life goodies at the bakeshop.
If you’ve been before, you’ll recognize many of the characters. The reindeer have been spruced up, and there are brand names all over, including the Domino Sugar Bake Shoppe with its giant gingerbread men, Aflac Ducks mingling by the ice rink, and Lionel Trains’ Industrial City.
Multiple Santas are on duty in private rooms, preserving the illusion of one true St. Nick. These rooms have gotten a socially distant makeover this season. Instead of sitting on jolly old St. Nick’s knee, kids pile on top of stacks of presents to announce their Christmas wishes to a busy Santa working behind his desk, and then everyone can pose for a festive photo. While you don’t get a lot of time with the man of the season, you’re rarely rushed. Almost all Santas listen to a child’s entire wish list before posing for pictures with the family, and we’ve found them to be very patient and accommodating to those with fearful (or crying) babies and toddlers. All visitors get Santaland pins, and photo packages come with a complimentary cardboard frame.
Masks are required of all visitors at all times—and Santa and his elves are doing their part, too, in festive seasonal masks of their own.
Kids will love the train display, holiday lights, and other decorations that adorn the Santaland trail.
Know Before You Go to Macy’s Santaland
You must make a reservation. All visitors must make an appointment online at macys.com/santaland. Reservations can be booked up to five days in advance, and new reservations are released at 5:30am each day.
Bring your own camera/phone. There are plenty of photo-ops throughout Santaland. Although Macy’s hopes visitors purchase photo packages, the staff won’t prevent you from snapping a quick pic with jolly old St. Nick.
Bring your stroller or baby carrier. Young children need a stroller; otherwise, they’re in for plenty of standing. There’s also one stroller-only elevator reserved for visitors, which is helpful when the store is packed with holiday shoppers. The elevator bank near 35th Street and Broadway is often less crowded, too, whether you’re traveling with a stroller or not.
Ask if you want to see a Claus of color. If you are interested in a St. Nick of color, ask an elf if one is on duty. Likewise, if you prefer to visit in Spanish.
Mail a letter directly to Santa and Macy’s donates to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Photo courtesy of Macy’s
Write a letter to Santa to help others. Macy’s is again partnering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help make the dreams of critically ill children come true. Support its work by having your child write a letter to Santa. Print out the letter and bring it to the mailbox in Santaland, or send it online. For every letter Macy’s receives, the company donates $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million.
Save time to see Macy’s holiday windows. You’ll find the classic Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus displays on the 34th Street side, and the six new window scenes along the Broadway side of the store star Tiptoe, a new reindeer character who has to learn to believe in herself to help Santa deliver on his Christmas promises.
Hungry? Try Koreatown on West 32nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, which is full of Korean restaurants. Just north of the store, you’ll find an outpost of kid-pleaser Shake Shack. The Tick Tock Diner on 34th Street and Eighth Avenue offers traditional diner fare. Stella 34 Trattoria, on the sixth floor of Macy’s, is an Italian eatery ideal for families, which also hosts weekly brunches with Santa. And if you’re hungry in line, there is an Au Bon Pain directly across from Santaland on the eighth floor for sandwiches, coffee, or juice and cookies for the kids.
Prefer a virtual visit? The Macy’s Santaland at Home experience that debuted in 2020 is back for another run. The entire online experience has been re-made and is slated to launch Friday, November 26, too.
This post is updated annually. Unless noted, photos by Diana Kim