By Karen Moul
Now in its 85th year, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is as much a holiday tradition as turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole. More than 3.5 million people are expected to line the parade route and 50 million more will watch on TV.
The parade's signature element is the gigantic helium balloons that tower over the streets of New York City. Each year, more than a million people flock to the Upper West Side the night before the parade to see the balloons inflated. This afternoon SciFi Vision joined in the fun with a special behind-the-scenes tour.
By 4 pm, large crowds were already lining up behind the barricades near Central Park, but we were lucky to pass through and meet with parade organizers. The streets were closed and giant balloons were everywhere, tied down with ropes and nets and sandbags to keep them from floating away.
There are a total of 59 balloons this year: 15 giant cartoon characters and 44 smaller balloons. The tallest is Spongebob Squarepants, Kermit the Frog is the longest, and Po the Kung Fu Panda takes the most helium.
Among the new ballons this year is the Aflac duck, sitting on a sleigh and ready to hit the slopes. The duck won't actually fly, he's what Macy's calls a "ballonicle": a balloon-on-wheels with a motorized vehicle inside that drives down the street. There's another ballonicle that looks like a Christmas tree ornament.
Also new is Paul Frank's Julius the Monkey, and Sonic the Hedgehog returns after taking a hiatus for a few years. But the most-anticipated is "B.," a new character created by filmmaker Tim Burton as part of Macy's "Blue Sky Gallery" series of balloons by famous artists. Unfortunately, when we visited B. hadn't been inflated yet
But we had great views of Spider-Man, Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, Kool-Aid Man, Snoopy, Weiner Dog, and a big blue Smurf. An inflation crew of about 100 people moved among them, getting everything ready for tomorrow. In the morning, each balloon will be topped off with a little additional helium to ensure that they all fly high.
The parade will air on NBC with the Today Show
's Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, and Al Roker hosting the telecast. Celebrities joining the festivities this year include Mary J. Blige, Neil Diamond, Cee Lo Green, Avril Lavigne, and the Muppets.
But the real stars of the show are the 59 balloons; 27 floats; 1,600 cheerleaders, dancers and performers; 800 clowns; 11 marching bands; and the one-and-only Santa Claus.The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade airs on NBC beginning at 9 am in all time zones.