Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation

Fantastical Floats Are Prepared For Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Parade
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images

The Macy's giant balloon inflation celebration is canceled in 2020, but you can still watch the Macy's Day Parade on Thursday morning, November 26, via television broadcast.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of the most iconic holiday events, capturing the attention of the entire nation on the Thursday morning of Thanksgiving. If you happen to be in New York City for Thanksgiving and want to see the parade in person, it requires waking up at the crack of dawn to reserve a spot along the parade route and waiting for hours in the cold. However, those who are looking for a unique parade experience or are simply late sleepers have another way to experience the Macy's Parade.

Head to the Upper West Side on the day before Thanksgiving and you can see the massive balloon floats virtually come to life as they're inflated in preparation for the big day. It takes all afternoon to blow them up, so you have a large window for stopping by. Plus, walking around and watching the balloons is often easier on young ones who are averse to sitting on the sidewalk for hours on end. Even though it doesn't include the dancing and the music that comes with the parade, visitors of all ages will be amazed as piles of rubber on the ground slowly transform into animated characters right before their eyes.

How to See the Balloon Inflation

The balloon inflation takes place each year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The viewing area opens at 1 p.m. and guests are permitted to enter up until 8 p.m., with the last floats usually blown up by 10 p.m. While this event isn't quite as busy as the parade itself, there are still a million spectators who come out to see the inflation, and lines can get long. To avoid the worst of the crowds, show up when the gates first open—just be aware that there are also fewer balloons to see.

You can see the balloons inflated on the streets all around the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. The entrance is at 74th Street and Columbus Avenue, where everyone has to pass through security before entering. Once you're inside, you can stay for as long as you like and watch the floats as they rise up, casually strolling along the guided route before arriving at the exit at 81st Street and Central Park West.

Getting to the Balloon Inflation

The easiest way to arrive is to use the subway, taking the B or C train to the 72nd Street station, where it's just a five-minute walk to the event entrance. The exit is conveniently next to the 81st Street subway station, so you can quickly hop back on the train once you're done.

You can try taking a cab as well, but the blocks around the entrance get busy, especially in the evening. Not only is it crowded, but many of the surrounding streets are also closed off, so there's a good chance you'll need to be dropped off a few blocks away anyway. Add all of that to the holiday traffic of people leaving the city and you're likely to spend extra time just sitting in the car—and running up the fare.

Stay Safe

If you're visiting with young children, keep a close eye on them. Between the masses of people and the excitement of the balloons, it's easy to lose track of little ones. Even though there are a lot fewer people at the inflation than there are at the parade itself, the constant moving and walking around offers plenty of opportunities for someone to get separated.

Before heading out, don't forget to check the weather forecast for the day and into the evening. At the end of November in New York City, temperatures can range from a pleasantly warm autumn day to a full-blown snowstorm and everything in between. Bundle up and don't forget to pack a scarf, beanie, gloves, and other winter essentials just in case it gets bitterly cold.

History of the Macy's Balloon Floats

While it may seem like the floats have always been an essential part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, that wasn't always the case. The first parade walked through the streets of New York City with marching bands and live animals in 1924, but it wasn't until three years later that the first giant balloons made an appearance.

  • Giant helium balloons first appeared in the parade in 1927, with Felix the Cat starring as the first balloon float to hover through Manhattan. Balloons were filled with air and held up with sticks.
  • In 1928, helium was used to fill the balloons and keep them aloft. From 1928 to 1933, the giant balloons were released at the end of the parade with a return address label and a $100 reward to those who returned them.
  • In 1934, the first Mickey Mouse balloon appeared in the parade.
  • In 1942, the balloons were donated to the World War II cause as rubber was needed for life vests, lifeboats, and more.
  • In 1958, a helium shortage meant that the balloons had to be inflated with air and hoisted with cranes for the parade.
  • In 1994, the pre-parade inflation becomes a public event that spectators can attend, and it's only grown in popularity since.
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