“I love the fact that they are doing reservations this year because in the past there were lines that would go around for at least three hours,” said Ms. Maldarelli, her son and daughter in line with her. “This is a lot easier,” she said.
The rules for seeing Santa vary across the country.
At the Galleria Mall in Houston you can reserve the time online but first must pay a $10 deposit to hold your slot. At the Westfield Countryside mall in Florida you can skip the line by reserving a photo package online and reserving a time.
For Macy’s Herald Square you don’t need a deposit, but it might be hard to reserve a time closer to Christmas. The dates are opened up at the beginning of the week and filled quickly.
By Friday morning, both weekend days were fully booked, and Monday had one slot available: at 8 a.m.
A spokeswoman for Macy’s said the company hopes reserving time can help cut down long wait times.
“With thousands of visitors to Macy’s Santaland each year, wait times could be quite long on the busiest days,” said Susan Tercero, Macy’s group vice president of branded entertainment, in an email. “The new reservation system is designed to minimize this by scheduling visitors to join the line at a time of their choice, allowing for the best possible holiday experience.”
At some department stores and malls, scheduling your time with Santa also allows you to choose the race of your Santa.
Candace Lai-Fang, who lives in Maryland, wanted her newborn son to take a photo with a black Santa, so she made a second trip after having him photographed with a white Santa.
“I saw on Facebook that a relative had taken her son to get Santa pictures, and her Santa was black,” said Ms. Lai-Fang on Wednesday. “I took my son that weekend to retake his pictures,” she added.
“I had my picture taken with a black Santa as a child, and I wanted my son to do the same,” said Ms. Lai-Fang, who traveled to the Prince Georges Mall, in Hyattsville, Md., with her 6-month-old son for the second photo.
For most families, the visit is all about the photo, even if they have to schedule it beforehand.
“When you get the pictures every year it kind of touches your heart,” Ms. Maldarelli said. “The picture says this is what Christmas is about,” she added, her 9-year-old daughter looking on in a red and green plaid dress.
“It’s magical,” Ms. Decesare said. “Christmas time is magic, and this is going to keep happening, we are going to keep coming.”