Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation

Get a preview of the larger-than-life characters in the iconic NYC parade

86th Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade's 'Inflation Eve'
••• John Lamparski / Contributor/Getty Images

If you're in the Big Apple for Thanksgiving, why not check out some big balloons? A fun outing is to see how the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade balloons come to life. Taking place in the afternoon and evening before Thanksgiving Day, at the Macy's Parade balloon inflation you'll get a preview of the larger-than-life characters in the next day's parade. 

The inflation takes place at the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. You can access it at the public entrance on West 79th Street and Columbus Avenue.

Tips for Going to the Parade Balloon Inflation

Time it right. The earlier you arrive, the less crowded it will be — but also the less impressive. You can enter the viewing area at 1 p.m., but keep in mind that the balloons begin taking shape around 4:30 to 5 p.m. and last admission to the balloon inflation area is 8 p.m. 

Pick a good spot. There is a designated viewing path for observers. The path for the balloon inflation winds around the American Museum of Natural History, beginning at 79th and Columbus and travels along Columbus Avenue, 77th Street, Central Park South, and exits at 81st Street. 

Hop on the subway. Consider taking public transit to the balloon inflation. Crowds will make parking nearby nearly impossible and access to the area will be difficult for taxis. The subway trains serving the balloon inflation area are B or C to 81st Street/Museum of Natural History.

Keep your kids close. If you're visiting with young children, keep a close eye on them. It gets crowded, and once it's dark, they can be hard to keep track of.

Macy's Balloon Trivia

  • Giant helium balloons first appeared in the parade in 1927, replacing the live animals that once participated.
  • The balloons were the original creation of Tony Sarg, a Macy's designer and famous puppeteer.
  • Felix the Cat (the parade's first character balloon), a dragon, an elephant, a hummingbird, a dinosaur, a dachshund, and a Toy Soldier were among the first balloons in the parade.
  • In 1927, the balloons were filled with air and held up with sticks.
  • In 1928, helium was used to fill the balloons and keep them afloat.
  • From 1928 to 1933, the giant balloons were released at the end of the parade.
  • Beginning in 1929, the balloons released at the end of the parade featured a return address label and $100 was awarded to those who returned the balloons.
  • In 1934, the first Mickey Mouse balloon appeared in the parade.
  • In 1942, the balloons were donated to the World War II cause because 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.
  • Some special Macy's parade balloons include the following types:

                Falloons: Introduced in the 1980s, "falloons" are float-based cold air balloons.

                Balloonicle: Introduced in 2004, "balloonicles" are self-powered cold air balloon vehicles.

                Tricyloons: Introduced in 2011, "tricyloons" are cold air balloons attached to a tricycle.

  • Depending on the balloon size, it takes 30 to 100 balloon handlers to guide the giant helium balloons along the parade route.