Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade steps off

The popular Smurf balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving

The popular Smurf balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Credit: Handout)

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Millions of spectators and TV viewers are watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade today -- the 86th year of soaring balloons, festive floats and hundreds of cheerleaders, dancers and clowns.

The festivities began at 9 a.m. There will be 28 floats and 16 giant helium balloons featuring such child favorites as Charlie Brown, Wimpy Kid, Kung Fu Panda, Sonic the Hedgehog and Spider-Man.

Several cartoon-character balloons are making their debut, including "Santa's Elf on the Shelf," and "Papa Smurf." Two new floats to look out for: "Wonderland of Goldfish" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

Organizers helped families impacted by superstorm Sandy, donating 5,000 tickets for spectator seating at Herald Square, where the parade features its holiday stage show.

"It is during these turbulent times in our history we hope the Macy's Parade serves as a beacon of hope," said Amy Kule, parade executive producer.

Shernice Blackman, 59, of St. Albans, Queens, received tickets for her two daughters and their three children who were made homeless by Sandy.

"This is a very big lift for our family," Blackman said.

An estimated 3.5 million people are expected to line the parade route, with more than 50 million more watching the event live on TV or mobile devices.

The parade began at 77th Street and Central Park West, traveling south to Columbus Circle where it will turn onto Central Park South and continue along Sixth Avenue to 34th Street. There, it will make its final turn west onto Seventh Avenue, ending at Herald Square.

Police urge parade-goers to use public transportation.

Street closures include: Broadway between 34th and 38th streets; Seventh Avenue from West 34th to West 42nd streets; 59th Street east between Seventh Avenue and Central Park West; 59th Street west between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West; 35th Street between Fifth and Eighth avenues; 36th Street between Sixth and Eighth avenues; 37th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue; 38th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue; Eighth Avenue between 34th Street and 40th Street; Broadway between 38th and 59th streets; 33rd Street between Seventh and 10th avenues; 39th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue; and 40th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue.

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