By Mariel S. Clark and Jim Scott
MIDTOWN — Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly led bagpipers, floats, marching bands and thousands of marchers clad in green to kick off the 249th annual St. Patrick's Parade up Fifth Avenue on Wednesday.
Parade goers with green shirts, hats and matching green-painted faces took advantage of unseasonably warm weather to watch what organizers bill as the world's oldest and largest St. Patrick's Day parade. More than 1 million people are expected to line the Midtown parade route to watch the festivities.
"We've heard this is the best parade in the world," said Jennifer Gaffney, who flew in from Scotland with friends to watch the parade.
This will be the last year that the parade will be allowed to march its traditional route before the city introduces a cost-cutting strategy in April to reduce all parade routes by 25 percent.
St. Patrick's Day in Manhattan is known just as much for packed bars and lots of over-indulging in drink throughout the day as it is for the actual parade. This year the NYPD is implementing a new strategy to crack down on drinking and public intoxication.
Police officers will be dispatched along the parade route with strict orders to confiscate alcohol and discourage any unruly behavior from parade-goers.
Officers will also commandeer alcoholic beverages in major transportation hubs like Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal, the Port Authority Bus Terminal and Staten Island ferry terminals.
The parade is expected to run until 4:30 or 5 p.m., for its 249th consecutive year. It will specifically honor fireman, policeman, the Marines and the Boy Scouts of America, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, according to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee.
Kelly, the police commissioner, offered his thoughts on being the parade's grand marshall.
"It is a terrific honor and I’m very proud, my family is proud and as Irish Americans, as I say, it was always known as a very important event," Kelly said in an interview with NBCNewYork.com.