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November 24, 2011

A Pre-Thanksgiving Day Treat: Macy's Parade Balloons Up Close

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Kermit the Frog

Last night I did something I’ve always wanted to do. That’s head over to Central Park West around 79th street, the night before Thanksgiving and watch as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons are inflated.  I’d never done it before so when I got the opportunity to go behind the scenes with a group of fellow bloggers, courtesy of Macy’s, I jumped at the chance.

B. Boy in Progress

Our small group met on Columbus Avenue and 75th street around 4 o’clock and were greeted with a steady drizzle but excited tourists and New Yorkers, eager to get a preview of the big parade.  As with any big event in New York, there are glitches and even though we had bona fide press passes firmly around out necks, the NYPD didn’t want to let us into the restricted area where all the balloon goodies waiting.  But our contact Lauren Roseman did some fast talking and got us through.  

Safely behind the police barricades, we were able to get a closeup look at some of the hard work that goes into getting the 15 giant balloons and 44 mid-size balloons ready for their Thanksgiving Day close-ups.  There were spotlights along the street so workers and spectators could see the balloons more clearly and large speakers piped out jaunty Christmas music.


Julius the Monkey

First we hit 79th street where the balloons at the head of the parade are located.  They’re lined up on the street in the order they will appear in the parade.  Earlier this week, they were transported through the Lincoln Tunnel from their new studio home in Moonachie, New Jersey, to the streets of Central Park West.


Gotta Have Those Instructions

I felt like a kid seeing all my favorites:  Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, Sponge Bob and Kung Fu Panda.  Many were already inflated and tied down with netting, sandbags and tie lines to keep them in place.  What I found most surprising was that there were actual posted instructions next to every balloon showing how they should be inflated and how they should be positioned.  

Here's a slide show of some of the balloon goodness:

There are several new balloons this year and we got a chance to see those as well.   There’s Julius the sock monkey, based on the Paul Frank sock puppet.  He has such a sweet face he could become a new favorite of mine.

“He’s about 65 feet long.  About 45 feet tall.  He’s got a jet pack on his back and he’s set to go,” said Holly Thomas, a Macy’s parade spokesperson.  

He also needs 85-90 handlers to keep airborne.  

As part of Macy’s "Blue Sky Gallery Series," the newcomer this year is a specially designed balloon, “B. Boy,” by filmmaker Tim Burton.   It’s a midsize balloon that came about when employees from Macy’s checked out the Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art last year.   

"Tim actually created B. for us,” said Orlando Veras, a spokesperson for Macy’s.  “We talked to him and he understood what we wanted and what the series was about.  We showed him a lot of different renderings and pictures of balloons throughout the years and here we have B. as a result."  

Also new is something called a tricaloon.  It’s a bike-powered balloon and there are two.
"We wanted to do something very fanciful like from the 20s and 30s so one is a big tough guy with a Mom tattoo and one is a bulldog,” said Veras.

Finally, there’s a new elf balloon designed by Queens graphic artist, Keith Lapinig, who won a nationwide contest to design an elf to be made into a balloon for this year’s parade.

By the time night had fallen, the rain had stopped, there was a seasonal nip in the air and scores of kids and their parents lined the barricades taking pictures and anticipating what all those balloons will look like as they follow the parade route through Manhattan on Thanksgiving morning.

If you can't get to the parade in person, you can watch it live on NBC on Thanksgiving Day at 9/8c.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Cross Posted from BlogHer

Note: Macy's provided the press tour only; no other compensation was received by BlogHer or me personally. All images were taken by me, Megan Smith.


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