This story was reported by Maria Alvarez, Sophia Chang, Paul LaRocco, and Mark Morales. It was written by LaRocco.
Darlene Murray stood in Herald Square, amid a throng of spectators gathered for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and allowed herself a moment to soak in the spectacle.
“As crazy as the world is right now, it’s so nice,” said Murray, of Sayville. “To be here together with total strangers, there’s no feeling like this.”
Murray, whose son, Kenny, was among the performers in the 90th annual holiday tradition, joined an estimated 3.5 million others from around the world who lined up Thursday along the 2.5-mile route in Manhattan.
They saw a procession that included 43 balloons, 26 floats, more than 2,100 cheerleaders, clowns and dancers — and was protected by more NYPD officers and equipment than ever before.
More than 3,000 uniformed officers were on hand, and for the first time, all cross-street traffic was blocked off. Massive sand-filled trucks formed a barrier meant to prevent a terrorist attack like the one in July in Nice, France, where a truck mowed down crowds of Bastille Day revelers.
For many, however, the parade’s added police presence didn’t take away from the celebration.
Iconic balloons like Charlie Brown drew cheers as did the newcomers from the movies “Trolls” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” Mini-performances from Broadway shows including “Hairspray” and “Paramour” entertained the crowds stationed closer to Macy’s flagship store.
“This is so Americana,” said Joanne Buto, of Fairfax, Virginia, who took in the holiday spectacle while visiting her in-laws in the city. “The pageantry of it all.”
Spectators began snatching up spots at some viewing points before 6 a.m. — more than three hours before the parade began at 77th Street and Central Park West.
Haley Wandro, 22, who recently moved from Manhattan to Waterloo, Iowa, was one of the early arrivers.
“I feel safe,” she said of the added security, as families around her were wrapped in heavy coats and blankets against the early morning cold.
Parade organizers said the crowd’s size was expected to approach last year’s, which was described as “record breaking” despite apprehension after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that had also brought increased security measures.
This year, city officials utilized “vapor wake” dogs capable of tracking an explosive through crowds. A recent article in an ISIS online magazine mentioned the parade as an “excellent target,” but police said they never received any credible, specific threats.
“We heard something about it when we were boarding our flight on Tuesday. We thought about it, but we decided to come,” said Dan Solly, 59, who traveled from Atlanta with his wife, Sandy, to celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary. “We thought they have everything under control.”
And was it worth it?
“It’s tremendous,” he said. “This was a bucket list item for us.”
The parade’s traditional ending was marked, shortly after noon, with the float carrying Santa Claus turning the corner from Sixth Avenue onto 34th Street. Soon, another Thanksgiving tradition took hold in midtown with all the precision of a parade marching band — the cleanup.
Broom-toting city crews swept up thick mounds of colorful confetti while others fired up industrial strength vacuums to suck up the tiny cuts of paper and anything else remaining after the crowds left.
“It was grand. It exceeded my expectations,” said Taylor Craig, a 26-year-old Washington State resident who took in the parade with his wife from a viewing area at Seventh Avenue and 57th Street.
Chen Abitbol, 31, who flew in from Jerusalem for the holiday, said the parade was “cool, but I though there would be more music and dancing.”
But another attendee said the parade’s sheer size and scope is something that can’t be truly represented on TV.
“It’s always better live,” said Hayes Young, 58, from Middletown, New Jersey, who tries to attend the parade each year. “You could sit at home and watch anything.”