Unseasonably balmy weather greeted cheering crowds as the giant balloons in the traditional Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade floated through the streets of Manhattan.
"My 5-year-old and the beautiful weather" helped prompt Dorothea Geiger to join the throng of spectators waiting at the end of the parade outside Macy's giant store, where Lauren ticked off a list of her favorite parade characters, topped by Dora the Explorer, Shrek and Scooby Doo.
"And we're going to see Santa. Did you know that?" Geiger, 38, of Freeport, told Lauren, eliciting a squeal.
The parade, held on a sunny morning with a temperature nearing 60 degrees, offered a mix of new attractions and longtime favorites, solemn tributes and lighthearted spectacle.
Shrieking youngsters lined the streets as the balloon floated down Central Park West, including an imposing Ronald McDonald and a huge Snoopy controlled by several dozen volunteers holding ropes.
"We never dreamed we would get up this close; a nice New York City policeman let us through," said Carole Kagan of Chicago. Her awestruck daughter Elena, 8, screamed with excitement and pressed against a metal barrier as the "Barbie as the Island Princess" float passed.
Carrying banners and flags, some 10,000 participants - half of them Macy's employees - set out on the parade route down the west side of Central Park, then down Broadway through Times Square. The lineup included three new balloons, 2,000 cheerleaders, 800 clowns, the Radio City Rockettes and 11 marching bands - including the Virginia Tech Regimental Band, playing in honor of the victims of last spring's campus shooting.
"The whole experience is special," said Rich Piasio of Wilmington, N.C. He and his wife wore Virginia Tech sweatshirts as they waited for the band.
"It's kind of nice after what they went through," said Linda Piasio, a native of Blacksburg, Va., where the school is located.
Near Columbus Circle, people cheered as the white-uniformed Tech band, nicknamed the Highty-Tighties, put on an elaborate marching show.
The 81st annual parade started with a Michael Feinstein tune specially written for 600 kids from around the nation, whose opening number was choreographed by John Dietrich of the Rockettes.
The festivities began Wednesday night when workers inflated 11 giant helium balloons, including the new ones: William Steig's swamp-loving ogre Shrek, Sesame Street's fairy-in-training Abby Cadabby and Hello Kitty Supercute, the cape- and tiara-wearing feline superhero.
The parade also is one of two opportunities a year for Broadway to strut its stuff on national television. But for the cast of "Legally Blonde," the parade was a showcase without a show.
The musical is one of more than two dozen productions shuttered by a Broadway stagehands strike. Although its cast won a spot in the parade, their costumes and props were locked behind the stagehands' picket lines.
Four Broadway shows - "Legally Blonde," "Mary Poppins," "Young Frankenstein" and "Xanadu" - nabbed coveted positions in the parade, the only annual event besides the Tony Awards that provides a TV spotlight for the Great White Way.
But because of the stagehands' contract dispute with the League of American Theatres and Producers, cast members of "Legally Blonde" couldn't use their costumes and props when they perform the show's "What You Want."
"We're going to have a national spot on television, and we're going to be half represented," said Jerry Mitchell, the show's director and choreographer. "We're going to be the only musical performing without our props and costumes, which I find very disheartening."
Because anyone appearing in the parade falls under a TV contract with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, "Legally Blonde" performers were not crossing picket lines by marching, according to their union, Actors' Equity.
The other three Broadway productions in the parade were not on strike because their theaters have separate contracts with the league.