Does it get any better than that? Well, no, but a laundry list of add-ons makes family visits to the Big Apple a November adventure to be remembered forever.

Does it get any better than that? Well, no, but a laundry list of add-ons makes family visits to the Big Apple a November adventure to be remembered forever.

The official kick-off to the Christmas season in New York City will make you a believer in the city's nickname, "The City that Never Sleeps." Who wants to waste time sleeping when there's so much to see and do 24 hours a day?

The Macy's arade actually starts the day before Thanksgiving with the balloon inflation. "Our balloon inflation is, for many people, almost as exciting as the parade itself. Inflation grows each year with more parade lovers coming out Thanksgiving Eve to experience it. This has become in many ways an annual tradition and event unto itself," said Robin Hall, executive producer/director of the annual event.

The pre-parade party began in 1927 when New Yorkers discovered the fun to be had just watching the monster balloons fill the sky. And preparations begin early. By mid-morning the balloons arrive in their crates from the parade studio and enormous canvas drop cloths are laid out to cover all of 77th and 81st Streets, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, encompassing the American Museum of Natural History.

The balloons are tethered to the street with huge sand bags, as helium from one of four tanker-trailers begins to inflate them. By the time everything is filled with helium, the balloons fill two city blocks. Visitors are asked to leave by 10 p.m., but if you can stay up past midnight, stroll over to Amsterdam Avenue, where you can see a pre-parade convoy as the balloons are taken on a test drive.

The parade itself needs no description, except perhaps for one balloon. Robin Hall was delighted to report that Spider Man is back this year, updated and refurbished. He sailed over Broadway in the 80s and 90s, but was retired in 1998.

If you'd like to see the parade from a hotel along the parade route with street-side windows overlooking Broadway, there may still be some rooms available. Expect to pay more than the going rate for such a ringside seat. However, this might be the best year to give it a try. With the recession in full flower, many rooms are available at the time this is being written.

Ordinarily, everything is sold out as of early October. Check out About.com/New York City Travel. There is a special section on parade-view rooms. Some individual hotels that still have rooms are Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, Novotel New York Hotel, Marriott Marquis, and Crowne Plaza Times Square Hotel. All the hotels have Thanksgiving family packages.

My family has been to New York many times. All of us love theatre, and we usually go once a year to see a Broadway show. This year is a great time to take the family for the same reason my family loves New York.

The Lion King is still there and a re-staging of Mary Poppins is on Broadway. The Addams Family with Nathan Lane is in rehearsal for a spring opening. I'm fairly sure that will be our choice next year.

My daughter took Grandson No. 1, Michael, and me to see The Lion King when Michael was 4 years old. It was the biggest treat of his life at that time, and is still a highlight. We also saw Peter Pan, with Mary Lou Retton as Peter, who soared over our heads on invisible wires. Michael loved it.

It is my policy to pay whatever outrageous price it takes to see our Broadway choice for the year. The first morning we are in New York, I go down to the TKTS booth in Times Square and buy half-price tickets to whatever show is available. It was this arrangement that took us to see Peter Pan.

The grandsons went to New York with their mother last year and saw Spamalot. It was more of a "discover New York" trip for them. Mandy, my daughter, has been going to the city for years and she wants the boys to love it as much as she does.

They took in the usual tourist attractions, such as a ride on the Staten Island ferry, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Museum of Natural History. Strawberry Fields was grandson Evan's favorite. It's the huge garden dedicated to John Lennon and recognized by 121 countries as the Garden of Peace. He was impressed with its massive size.

On a personal note, let me tell you my favorite place to stay in The Big Apple. It's the Radio City Apartments. Right in the middle of everything that is New York, the building is straight out of the 1940s, but it's clean and the apartments are different sizes with small kitchens. Some sleep as many as five. It is economical and the location is perfect. If you are interested, you'd better plan way ahead. It's very popular and is often full months in advance.

No matter when you go or what you see or where you stay, New York City is someplace that everyone should experience at least once in his or her lifetime. Chances are one time won't be nearly enough.


Mildred Moss is Columbus Parent Magazine's travel writer.