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“When it’s windy it’s a struggle,” he said. “But today is great weather.”

Macy's predicted 3.5 million people could crowd the parade route, while an additional 50 million watched from home.

The parade begins at 77th Street and heads south on Central Park West to Seventh Avenue, before moving to Sixth Avenue and ending at Macy's Herald Square.

Sherre Chaplen, 49, of Thomaston, Conn., said she was surprised by the energy of the clowns and musicians, who are often overshadowed by the balloons on television.

Chaplen came to New York with her teenage daughter and husband.

“This was on the bucket list,” she said. “It’s so much different seeing it live than at home. It’s something everyone should do at least once in a lifetime.”

The parade got its start in 1924 and included live animals such as camels, goats and elephants. It was not until 1927 that the live animals were replaced by giant helium balloons. The parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 because rubber and helium were needed for World War II.

Since the beginning, the balloons have been based on popular cultural characters and holiday themes. Returning favorites this year included Buzz Lightyear, Clumsy Smurf, SpongeBob SquarePants and Kermit the Frog.

The 2011 parade also featured an elf balloon designed by Queens resident Keith Lapinig, who won a nationwide contest.

All the balloons are created at Macy's Parade Studio in New Jersey, and each undergoes testing for flight patterns, aerodynamics, buoyancy and lift. The floats are driven into New York through the Lincoln Tunnel before the parade.


Associated Press Writers Cristian Salazar and Julie Walker contributed to this report.