NEW YORK (AP) – The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade stepped off Thursday with soaring balloons and high-stepping bands as police went all-out to secure it in a year marked by attacks on outdoor gathering spots.
With new faces and old favorites in the lineup, the extravaganza began wending through 2 ½ miles of Manhattan on a chilly morning.
Timothy McMillian joined his wife, their 9-year-old daughter and his in-laws at 6:30 a.m. to stake out a spot. The relatives had come from Greensboro, North Carolina, to see in person the balloons, marching bands, performers from Broadway hits and elaborate floats they’d watched on TV for years.
McMillian, a 45-year-old schoolteacher, booked a hotel months ago, but he started to have some concerns about security when a truck attack on a bike path near the World Trade Center killed eight people on Halloween.
“With the event being out in the open like this, we were concerned,” he said. “But we knew security would be ramped up today, and we have full confidence in the NYPD.”
Authorities say there is no confirmation of a credible threat to the parade, but they were taking no chances after both the truck attack and the October shooting that killed 58 people at a Las Vegas country music festival.
“Every year, the NYPD has done more to keep this event tonight and the parade itself safer,” Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio told crowds gathered to watch the balloons being inflated Wednesday. “Because we understand we are dealing with a very challenging world. And so the amount of resources and personnel we put in has increased each year to make us safer.”
New York Police Department officers with assault weapons and portable radiation detectors were circulating among the crowds, sharpshooters were on rooftops and sand-filled city sanitation trucks were poised as imposing barriers to traffic at every cross street.
The mayor and police brass have repeatedly stressed that visitors shouldn’t be deterred. But they’re asking spectators to be alert for anything suspicious.
Police officers will escort each of the giant balloons to help monitor wind speeds and ensure the wafting characters don’t go off course, but winds weren’t expected to climb above 17 mph.
In 2005, a balloon caught an unexpected gust of wind and struck a lamppost in Times Square, injuring two people. Since then, the parade has been accident-free.
The 91st annual parade features new balloons including Olaf from the Disney movie “Frozen” and Chase from the TV cartoon “Paw Patrol” will be among the new balloons Thursday, along with a new version of the Grinch of Dr. Seuss fame.
Paul Seyforth took in the Olaf balloon as he attended a parade he’d watched since the 1950s. He’d flown in from Denver to spend his 50th wedding anniversary in New York and see this year’s parade.
“Not a lot’s changed — the balloons, the bands, the floats — and that’s the good thing,” said Seyforth, 76, who’d attended the parade in person a few times before. “The crowds are still the same, but there’s a lot more police here. That’s the age we live in.”
Smokey Robinson, The Roots, Flo Rida and Wyclef Jean were among the stars celebrating, along with performances from the casts of Broadway’s “Anastasia,” ”Dear Evan Hansen” and “SpongeBob SquarePants,” plus a dozen marching bands.
“This is my favorite thing ever,” musician Questlove told The Associated Press as he got ready to ride the Gibson Guitars float with his bandmates in The Roots and late-night host Jimmy Fallon of “The Tonight Show,” where The Roots are the house band. Questlove said being in the parade is “probably my favorite perk” of the job.
“To go from being a spectator to being up here, it’s kinda cool,” he said.
Added singer-songwriter Andy Grammer as he got on the Homewood Suites float: “It’s kind of like being at the center of Thanksgiving.”
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