MANHATTAN — New York City’s annual kickoff to the holiday season, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, returns Thursday with a slew of new balloons and floats that will travel down a brand-new route.
The parade has marched down Seventh Avenue in Midtown for the past several years. But, as DNAinfo.com New York first reported in early 2011, the route has changed for the 86th annual parade, bringing the towering helium behemoths down Sixth Avenue to the parade's end point in front of Macy’s Herald Square location.
"Macy's officials feel that Sixth Avenue is, quite simply, the safest route for the world-famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," Macy's spokesman Orlando Veras said last year in a statement explaining the move, which rankled business owners in Times Square.
Veras described Sixth Avenue as "a passage that's both wide and straight, with none of the pinch-points, obstructions or sharp turns that complicate Seventh Avenue." He added that spectators will be able "to see the parade as it's meant to be seen — up close and personal."
To accommodate the parade and its estimated 3.5 million spectators, road closures will make much of Midtown and the Upper West Side impassable until early afternoon Thursday.
On the Upper West Side, where the parade’s 56 balloons are inflated starting Wednesday, those shutdowns will begin as early as Wednesday morning, police said.
The balloon inflation is one of the most highly anticipated elements of the parade, giving fans of the 88-year-old extravaganza an up-close look at what will be soaring through the skies above Manhattan.
The inflation event is open to the public from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, and visitors can enter the staging area at West 79th Street and Columbus Avenue.
Then, on Thursday, the parade itself kicks off at 9 a.m. on West 77th Street and Central Park West, making its way south to Columbus Circle. At Columbus Circle, the parade will wind east along 59th Street to Sixth Avenue, where it will continue all the way to West 34th Street before turning west to end in front of Macy's Herald Square.
Each year, the balloons are a major draw for the parade, and 2012 marks the debut of several newcomers.
At 36 feet tall, 38 feet wide and 50 feet long, Hello Kitty will ride an airplane through the New York City skies on Thanksgiving this year.
Papa Smurf, measuring 51 feet tall, 36 feet wide and 46 feet long, will dance along the route with his festive red bowtie and cane.
And the Elf on the Shelf, the holiday doll that has become a fast-growing holiday tradition, will make his grand debut as a massive parade balloon measuring 46 feet tall, 28 feet wide and 64 feet long.
In addition to the balloons, the parade will also feature 28 floats, 11 marching bands, 1,600 cheerleaders and dancers, 900 clowns, a host of celebrity performers —Carly Rae Jepsen and gold-medal-winning gymnasts the “Fierce Five,” to name a few — and of course, the one-and-only Santa Claus.
“This incredible cavalcade will make its way down Sixth Avenue, a path that marks only the seventh time the parade has changed its route,” said Amy Kule, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, in a statement.
“And, as it has during turbulent times in our history,” Kule added, “we hope the Macy’s Parade serves as a beacon of hope for all who tune in and gather with friends and family to give thanks this season, as they continue to heal from the devastating aftermath of super storm Sandy.”