After a scaled-down celebration in 2020, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade returned in full force Thursday morning for its 95th anniversary.
The parade, which travels 2.5 miles between West 77th Street and Central Park West and Macy's in Herald Square in Manhattan, is featuring 15 giant character balloons, 28 floats, 36 novelty and heritage inflatables, more than 800 clowns, 10 marching bands and nine performance groups, a host of musical stars and the one-and-only Santa Claus.
"It's beyond exciting. It's been a year in the making," Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade producer Jordan Dabby told FOX Business. "We are incredibly proud of what we accomplished last year, but to have live spectators lining the parade route and in our grandstands is something that that we are eagerly anticipating."
Macy's capped the overall number of participants to between 800 and 1,600 people, and all volunteers and staff are required to be vaccinated, wear face coverings and, depending on their role, additional protective equipment. Social distancing was also be implemented at all interior and exterior parade operations, including costuming areas, seating and participant check-in.
Both Macy's and the Thanksgiving Day parade production team declined to disclose the total cost of this year's event, emphasizing that the celebration is a gift to the people of New York City and to the millions of viewers that watch each year.
Five new floats are making their debut, including Peacock's "Birds of a Feather Stream Together," the Louisiana Tourism Office's "Celebration Gator," Kalahari Resorts and Conventions' "Colossal Wave of Wonder", Disney Cruise Line's "Magic Meets the Sea" and Heinz's "Gravy Pirates" floa-lloonicle.
Meanwhile, new balloons joining the lineup include Netflix's Ada Twist, a Funko Pop!- inspired Grogu from Star Wars' "The Mandalorian," a new Ronald McDonald, and Pokemon's Pikachu and Eevee. Macy's will also have two of its own special appearances: Toni the Bandleader Bear and a reindeer puppet named TipToe.
For Louisiana, the parade is a way to show the world it has reopened for business after the state's tourism took a hit in 2020 due to COVID-19 and two hurricanes. The state plans to spend approximately $1.3 million to showcase its Celebration Gator in the parade for the next three years.
"We had four record-breaking years [for tourism] prior to COVID, and we're already seeing bookings, conventions and groups coming back to Louisiana," Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser told FOX Business. "We think this will get people excited. Hopefully, it'll drive them to our website or make them think about Louisiana and plan a trip here."
For Heinz, it's an opportunity to not only sell its popular gravy but also to make the Thanksgiving holiday more fun for kids. Along with the "Grace and the Gravy Pirates" float, Heinz has launched an accompanying children's book.
"While Thanksgiving is beloved by grown-ups, children sometimes feel otherwise due to long car rides, boring adult conversations, without the fun of candy, costumes and fireworks," Heinz Gravy marketing lead Kaitlyn Kicia said. "We hope our involvement in this year’s parade and introduction of ‘Grace and the Gravy Pirates’ will help families – especially kids – find the magic in Thanksgiving."
For Pokémon, it's a celebratory conclusion for a company milestone.
"As our 25th anniversary celebrations begin to wind down, the 95th parade is a wonderful bookend to a year full of amazing moments with our fans," Pokémon Company International Senior Director of Marketing Tim Moore said. "With new video games Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Pokémon Shining Pearl and Pokémon Trading Card Game products launching in time for the holidays, participating in the parade is a fun and impactful marketing vehicle for Pokémon."
As for McDonald's, their new Ronald McDonald balloon is an update to an old classic, which made its parade debut back in 1987.
"This will be the balloon’s fifth design in its history," a McDonald's spokesperson said. "With the new balloon, we’ve incorporated a symbol of Ronald’s role as McDonald’s Chief Happiness Officer in bringing happiness and joy to communities around the world with the addition of a heart on the balloon."
"Ronald McDonald has been a national icon amongst families for more than 65 years," McDonald's added. "He brings a sense of nostalgia our fans across generations can relate to, and we’re excited for people across the country to experience this again, together, with our new balloon."
In addition to the new balloons and floats, Dabby teased that viewers at home should keep an eye out for special moments that will incorporate augmented reality.
"I think we have something for everybody, no matter where you live in the United States," he said. "What I hope the audience takes away is that we are genuinely thrilled to be back doing the parade that everyone has come to love and admire. It is a national institution for people across the country, and we are beyond thrilled to be able to do it in the way we always envisioned it to be done."
The parade will be broadcast live on NBC and streamed live on Peacock from 9 a.m. to noon. An encore performance of the celebration will also air at 2 p.m.