MIDTOWN — Thousands of New Yorkers and tourists gathered to watch the 86th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, as balloons and floats made their way along a new route down Sixth Avenue.
For the first time, the annual kickoff to the city's holiday season bypassed Times Square, its iconic helium balloons set to float from West 77th Street and Central Park West, south to Columbus Circle, across West 59th Street, then down Sixth Avenue to end at the iconic Macy's storefront at Herald Square.
Several young children sat on their parents' shoulders hoping to get a view of floats. Others munched on churros as their parents sipped coffee while bundling up to keep warm in the 45 degree weather.
Shontelle Schmidt, 39, left her house in Rhode Island at 5 a.m., along with her husband and three kids, to catch the parade. As a Spider-Man balloon passed by the family gasped in unison.
"This has been on our bucket list forever! We had to do it," Schmidt said.
Anna Leier, 41, a Brooklyn Heights resident, stood with daughter India, 9, and son Tom, 11, near Columbus Circle. It was the family's first time at the parade since the children were infants.
"How much helium do they use?," asked India as the balloons floated by.
"A lot, I think," her mother replied.
This year's floats will include colorful characters like Papa Smurf, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Hello Kitty, and the parade featured performances by Carly Rae Jepsen and the Olympic gold-medal winning gymnasts of the Fierce Five.
Mark Ferguson, of Rockland county, brought his 2-year-old daughter, Gabriela, to the parade for first time.
Asked what she wanted to see, Gabriela said, "big balloons," before hiding in her dad's shoulder.
"I want to see Hello Kitty," Ferguson said. "She's a big fan."
As the parade got underway, performers were preparing to join in on the fun.
Kelly Howell, 33, was part of a roughly 30-person group of Macy's Elvin Clowns, clad in festive red and green outfits, pointy eats, and red-painted noses and cheeks.
"For me, it's seeing the people's faces — adults and kids who are all excited," said the former Macy's employee and "clown captain."
Her boyfriend, Eugene Blanding, 38, joined her in the march.
"We were amped up since last night," he said. "We didn't go to sleep."
At around 11 a.m., a man performing as a clown collapsed on Sixth Avenue between West 38th and 39th Streets. Fire Department officials said they assisted the man, but did not take him away in an ambulance.
Along the back of the route, workers are already starting to clean up at around 11 a.m.
Workers in cherry pickers were unscrewing street signs along Central Park West, while people on the ground used ropes to pull traffic lights back over the street.
Parks and Sanitation Department crews were following behind, picking up trash. Several park workers said they started cleaning at 6 a.m. and hope to finish by 2 p.m. — if not sooner.
"It's a lot of full coffee cups and sandwiches," said Diane Baez, 34, a Parks worker.
She said Parks employees were brought in from different districts.
Baez added that she's looking forward to finishing early and heading home for Thanksgiving dinner.
"I left my food cooking," she said. "So when I get home, it will be done."
As the parade wrapped up by Herald Square, staff deflated balloons near West 40th Street and Seventh Avenue, as bystanders watched.
"You don't realize how much work goes into it until they're all taken down," said Kelly Hilly of Masspequa, Long Island. "When you watch it on TV, you don't see that because they just show it in the air, flying. And they're huge, it's crazy!"