Balloons, dancers and a cheering crowd: Macy's Thanksgiving parade returns in 'full strength'

Balloons, floats, marching bands, clowns and performers — and, of course, Santa Claus — once again moved though roughly four kilometres of Manhattan streets on Thursday as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade returned with precautions.

'America is back,' U.S. president says in phone interview

Spectators react as they watch the 95th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Thursday. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Crimped by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade returned Thursday in full, though
with precautions.

Balloons, floats, marching bands, clowns and performers — and, of course, Santa Claus — once again moved through roughly four kilometres of Manhattan streets, instead of being confined to one block or sometimes pre-taped, as they were last year.

Spectators, shut out in 2020, lined the route again. High school and college marching bands from around the country were invited back to the lineup; most of last year's performers were locally based to cut down on travel. The giant balloons, tethered to vehicles last year, got their costumed handlers back.

To U.S. President Joe Biden, the parade's full-fledged return was a sign of renewal, and he called NBC broadcaster Al Roker on-air to say so.

"After two years, we're back. America is back. There's nothing we're unable to overcome," Biden said over the phone from Nantucket, Mass., where he was watching the broadcast with his family.

See marching bands, performers and massive balloons pass cheering crowds: 
A marching band performs in Manhattan, one of several musical groups to take part in the parade. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Performers attend the 95th annual parade. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
The Snoopy balloon soared through Manhattan on Thursday as crowds once again converged for the annual parade. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
An Ada Twist, Scientist balloon flies during Thursday's parade. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
A balloon featuring Red Titan from Ryan's World flies during the parade. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Cheerful Christmas-themed floats were part of Thursday's display. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The Thanksgiving parade is the latest U.S. holiday event to make a comeback as vaccines, familiarity and sheer frustration made officials and some of the public more comfortable with big gatherings amid the ongoing pandemic.

Parade a 'sign of our rebirth,' NYC mayor says

"Last year was obviously symbolic. It wasn't everything we would have liked to see in a parade, but they kept it going," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news briefing Wednesday. "This year, the parade's back at full strength."

"It's going to be a great sign of our rebirth."

Safety provisions were part of the plan — organizers said parade staffers and volunteers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks, though some singers and performers can shed them.

There was no inoculation requirement for spectators, but Macy's  encouraged them to cover their faces. A popular pre-parade spectacle — the inflation of the giant balloons — was limited to vaccinated viewers.

The Thanksgiving event also comes days after an SUV driver plowed through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people and injuring more than 60. Authorities said the driver, who has been charged with intentional homicide, was speeding away from police after a domestic dispute.

De Blasio said Wednesday there was no credible, specific threat to the Thanksgiving parade, but the New York Police Department's security measures would be extensive, as usual.

Thousands of police officers were assigned to the parade route, from streets to rooftops. Cars were blocked from the parade route with sand-filled garbage trucks, other heavy vehicles and approximately 163,000 kilograms of concrete barriers.

See behind the scenes as crews set up
Inflation team members inflate the Boss Baby balloon during Macy's 95th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade's 'Inflation Eve' in New York on Wednesday. (Jeenah Moon/The Associated Press)
Crews worked ahead to get ready for the parade, which was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. ET. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
The Grogu, or 'Baby Yoda,' balloon is a new addition to the parade. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
Chase, from the hit children's show PAW Patrol, is readied for the big show. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Inside the barricades, the parade featured about 8,000 participants, four dozen balloons of varying sizes and two dozen floats.

New balloon giants joining the lineup include the title character from the Netflix series Ada Twist, Scientist; the Pokemon characters Pikachu and Eevee on a sled (Pikachu has appeared before, in different form), and Grogu, aka Baby Yoda, from the television show The Mandalorian. 

New floats were coming from entities ranging from condiment maker Heinz to NBCUniversal's Peacock streaming service to the Louisiana Office of Tourism.

Entertainers and celebrities were set to include Carrie Underwood, Jon Batiste, Nelly, Kelly Rowland, Miss America Camille Schrier, the band Foreigner and many others. Several Broadway musical casts and the Radio City Rockettes also were due to perform.