This story was reported by Kristopher J. Brooks, Christine Chung and Mark Morales. It was written by Michael O’Keeffe.
Giant balloons of favorite cartoon characters and performances by A-list celebrities — both are often cited as the best part of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan.
But for Elizabeth Zambrana of East Northport, the best part of the 91st edition of the parade on Thursday was the army of NYPD officers who kept the crowd along the 2 1⁄2 -mile route safe.
“I liked the way the security was,” said Zambrana, 41. “I felt no worries.”
An estimated 3.5 million people braved chilly early morning temperatures to line up along the route from West 81st Street and Central Park West to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square on West 34th Street. Many more gawked from windows in high-rise buildings.
More than 8,000 people marched in this year’s parade, which included 26 floats, 12 marching bands, more than 1,000 clowns and 17 of the iconic balloons, including old favorites SpongeBob SquarePants and Charlie Brown as well as newcomers such as Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen” and Jett from “Super Wings.” Music industry stars, including Smokey Robinson, the Goo Goo Dolls, Common, Wyclef Jean and Gwen Stefani performed.
“I think the parade makes the holiday more special,” Zambrana added. “You’re not just at the table eating all day.”
Jennifer Newman of Maryland and her father, Ed Senkevich, who lives in New Jersey, were among the 60 or so people who guided the Charlie Brown balloon along the parade route. Participating in the parade has long been a family tradition.
“It was exciting to hear the crowd cheering for us,” said Newman, 27. “It went by too fast. It’s a special way to spend Thanksgiving.”
But security for the parade, which took place three weeks after the Halloween terror attack on a Tribeca bike path that left eight people dead, was on many people’s minds.
Zambrana’s aunt, Maria Morales of East Northport, said the added law enforcement muscle was noticeable — and welcome.
“I feel safe,” said Morales, 56. “It’s too bad that that’s the way it is these days, but I felt very comfortable.”
City officials said security along the parade route would be intense, although no specific threats were received. The NYPD deployed aviation units, heavy weapons teams, rooftop surveillance teams and canine units. They parked sand trucks along the route to stop potential vehicle attacks. Vapor dogs — animals that can follow an explosive package through a crowd — patrolled the route.
“You can see smiling cops all over the place,” NYPD chief of patrol Terrance Monahan said Thursday on NBC’s “Today” before the parade started. “You can also see cops with the heavy weaponry along the route. We’re going to have cops you’re not going to see positioned all along to keep everyone safe.”
“The entire route is secured,” Monahan added. “No crosstown traffic, no cars can get onto the route. We look at everything that happens around the world and we adjust and we make everything different as we go along to get things better, to keep it safe for everyone.”
The parade was largely free of security incidents, except for a candy cane balloon that popped after it drifted into a tree.
Security was especially tight near the parade’s finish line in Herald Square. An NYPD helicopter flew overhead while uniformed officers, detectives and members of the counterterrorism unit cradled long guns.
“There’s security and officers here every year, but I did notice there’s more and that they blocked more streets off,” said Christine Peterson of Manhattan, who said she has been going to the parade for a decade. “And I’m OK with that.”
B.G. Hamrick of West Virginia traveled to New York with his family to watch the parade for the second time.
“There was nothing like experiencing it live,” said Hamrick, 51. “We just love the atmosphere, the celebration, the fun.”