"I'm jumping out of my body, I'm so excited!" said Maggie Toth, 20, of Groton, Conn. "I've watched the parade ever single year on TV, but I never thought I'd come to it."
In the 2002 parade lineup were Nickelodeon's "Little Bill," the parade's first African-American balloon, and a float commemorating the 100th birthday of the teddy bear.
Suzette Samson, a traveling nurse, made sure she was stationed in New York City over Thanksgiving so she and her adult children and their spouses could come to the parade.
As a child, Samson's parents brought her to the parade from their home in Buffalo.
"It's history repeating itself," said Samson, who was wearing a Santa Claus hat and had positioned her family's folding chairs over a steam grate. "It's a little smelly, but it's warm."
The temperature was in the 20s, with a light breeze. Under guidelines adopted after a 1997 accident that severely injured a spectator, the balloons would have been grounded if the wind had been strong.
Last year's parade was filled with patriotic floats and tributes to heroism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. This year's event, broadcast nationally on NBC, was a return to a more traditional format, said the parade's producer, Robin Hall.
Still, new attractions were created including a 33-foot-high showboat float.
Charlie Brown was the first of 14 giant helium balloons to enter the parade, chasing his elusive football all along the route in his first appearance in the event.
"We've had five different Snoopys in the history of the parade, but we've never had Charlie Brown. ... So we're really, really thrilled to have him," Hall said.
Besides Charlie Brown, other balloon debuts in the parade include a mustachioed Mr. Monopoly. Kermit the Frog returns after a 12-year absence.
Before Santa and his reindeer bring it to a close, the parade will feature 1,000 cheerleaders, 500 clowns, 25 floats, 12 marching bands, 10 novelty balloons, four toy floats and three "falloons"