NEW YORK — Crimped by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade returned Thursday in full, though with precautions.
Balloons, floats, marching bands, clowns and performers — and, of course, Santa Claus — once again wended though 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometers) of Manhattan streets, instead of being confined to one block or sometimes pre-taped last year.
Spectators, shut out in 2020, lined the route again. High school and college marching bands from around the country were invited back to the lineup; most of last year’s performers were locally based to cut down on travel. The giant balloons, tethered to vehicles last year, got their costumed handlers back. And celebrities were in tow.
One of the most memorable guest appearances came from the "Blue's Clues" hosts Steve Burns, Donovan Patton and Joshua Dela Cruz, who got the range back together.
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'Blue's Clues' hosts reunite on float: Steve Burns says it 'feels just like yesterday' he was on show
Nearly 20 years after the original "Blue's Clues" host abruptly left the children's show to go to college, Burns returned with fellow hosts Patton and Dela Cruz for a reunion that left many fans emotional.
Burns, Patton and Delal Cruz performed "You Can't Spell Blue Without You" together on this year's "Blue's Clues" float, which has been a part of the festival since 1999, according to parade host Savannah Guthrie.
"It feels just like yesterday, that you asked us to play. Stopped shirt, notebook, but that wasn't all it took. Through the seasons, through the years. There's a reason we're still here," the trio sang in celebration of the generations of fans who supported the series for the last 25-years.
— Nickelodeon (@Nickelodeon) November 25, 2021
"Loved seeing all our #BluesCluesAndYou fam together at the #MacysParade," tweeted Nickelodeon, the show's network "Anyone else suddenly getting really emotional?"
Someone was definitely cutting onions in the Twitterverse.
Burns hosted the show from 1996 to 2002, and was closely associated with its success in catering to preschool-aged kids. He was replaced by Donovan Patton as Steve's younger brother "Joe" from 2004 to 2007. Dela Cruz hosted the revival "Blue's Clues & You!" since 2019.
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President Biden calls Al Roker: 'America is back'
"Oh my gosh, look at who’s calling," the "Today" show host said, while showing the president's face pop up on his phone.
“After two years, we’re back. America is back. There’s nothing we’re unable to overcome,” Biden said over the phone from Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he was watching the broadcast with his family.
Roker responded: “Thank you so much. I hope you’re going to continue to watch the parade. Santa is coming. Santa is coming, Mr. President!”
“I’m waiting for Santa,” Biden replied.
NBC News' Andrea Mitchell shared a picture of the sweet encounter on Twitter. The photo shows the first couple smiling in front of the television as they lean into a cell phone held by Biden.
— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) November 25, 2021
Harry Connick Jr. looks unrecognizable as Daddy Warbucks from 'Annie Live!'
Daddy Warbucks is in the house.
Connick Jr. made his first live appearance as Daddy Warbucks at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Thursday alongside "Annie Live!" co-star Celina Smith. The duo sang "I Don't Need Anything But You" after climbing out of an old school car.
His signature hair was nowhere in sight. Connick Jr. donned a full white suit and a bald cap, which appeared to catch people's eye. Not in a good way apparently.
"Harry Connick Jr. is playing Jeff Bezos in the TV version of 'Annie,'" @JoePontillo tweeted. User @Donewitheveryt6 added, "Is it just me or is Harry Connick Jr. in a bald cap the scariest thing ever?"
— NBC Entertainment (@nbc) November 25, 2021
"Annie Live!" will air Dec. 2 on NBC at 8 p.m. EST.
Safety measures in place: Vaccine mandate, masking
The Thanksgiving parade is 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. A popular pre-parade spectacle — the inflation of the giant balloons — was limited to vaccinated viewers.
Large police presence after Christmas parade tragedy
The Thanksgiving event also came days after an SUV driver plowed through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people and injuring over 60. Authorities said the driver, who has been charged with intentional homicide, was speeding away from police after a domestic dispute.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday there was no credible, specific threat to the Thanksgiving parade, but the New York Police Department’s security measures would be extensive, as usual.
“I’m very confident in what the NYPD has prepared to keep everyone safe,” he said.
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Thousands of police officers were assigned to the parade route, from streets to rooftops. Cars were blocked from the parade route with sand-filled garbage trucks, other heavy vehicles and approximately 360,000 pounds (163,000 kilograms) of concrete barriers.
Bomb-detecting dogs, bomb squad officers, heavy-weapons teams, radiation and chemical sensors and over 300 extra cameras also were dispatched to the parade route, NYPD Chief of Counterterrorism Martine Materasso said.
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Inside the barricades, the parade featured about 8,000 participants, four dozen balloons of varying sizes and two dozen floats.
New 'Baby Yoda' float, more star appearances
New balloon giants joining the lineup include the title character from the Netflix series “Ada Twist, Scientist”; the Pokémon characters Pikachu and Eevee on a sled (Pikachu has appeared before, in different form), and Grogu, aka “Baby Yoda,” from the television show “The Mandalorian.” New floats are coming from entities ranging from condiment maker Heinz to NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service to the Louisiana Office of Tourism.
Entertainers and celebrities include Carrie Underwood, Jon Batiste, Nelly, Kelly Rowland, Miss America Camille Schrier, the band Foreigner, and many others. Several Broadway musical casts and the Radio City Rockettes also performed.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2021 returns to its pre-pandemic form. Here's what to know
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Macy’s Thanksgiving parade: 'Blue's Clues' hosts reunite, more moments