NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City welcomed back the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with open arms, and under picture-perfect skies, as the iconic march returned for its 95th year.
It felt like there were more people than ever before lining the streets from Central Park West down to Herald Square.
Thousands of marchers, hundreds of clowns, dozens of balloons and floats - and, of course, Santa Claus - marked the latest U.S. holiday event to make a comeback as vaccines, familiarity and sheer frustration made officials and some of the public more comfortable with big gatherings amid the ongoing pandemic.
Still, safety measures continued. Parade staffers and volunteers had to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear masks, though some singers and performers were allowed to shed them. There was no inoculation requirement for spectators, but Macy's and the city encouraged them to cover their faces.
The parade stepped off at 9 a.m. on the Upper West Side, and what followed were all the sights and sounds this one-of-a-kind parade has delivered for decades.
The parade featured 15 giant character balloons, 28 floats, 36 inflatables, 9 performance groups and a host of celebrities, including Jon Batiste, Kristin Chenoweth, Foreigner, Kelly Rowland, Rob Thomas, Carrie Underwood and Santa Claus.
Some of those balloons were four stories high and as wide as a New York City taxicab.
Also taking part were ten marching bands from all across the country and 800 very enthusiastic clowns.
They marched the 2.5 mile parade route with joy - and it was very much what New Yorkers needed after last year's made-only-for-television parade, which was shortened to one block due to the pandemic.
And out there in the streets today, was one of Eyewitness News' own: Producer Andy Savas and his wife, Aransas, who had close ties to Snoopy as balloon handlers.
It was Andy's first time in the parade and Aransas' second. Was it everything Andy thought it would be?
"Everything - everything, that and much more!" he said. "My goodness, it's like a bag of potato chips on top of Thanksgiving! It's incredible!"
Others along the parade route were excited as well.
"Everyone's masked, I'm vaccinated, we feel safe," said one woman told us. "And it's great starting to get things back. It's great to see the city coming back again."
The balloons were blown up Wednesday ahead of their Thanksgiving Day flights, with the annual inflation event from noon until 6 p.m. -- for vaccinated guests only.
Thirty-six novelty and heritage inflatables joined this year's edition.
The new class of balloons included Ada Twist, Scientist by Netflix; a Funko Pop! inspired Grogu (a.k.a. Baby Yoda) from the Star Wars series "The Mandalorian;" Ronald McDonald by McDonald's USA; and Pikachu & Eevee by The Pokémon International Company.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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