NEW YORK (CBS New York/AP) — A high-kicking Kung Fu Panda and a diary-toting Wimpy Kid joined the giant balloon lineup as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade unfolded Thursday, drawing tens of thousands of spectators to the annual extravaganza on a chilly, overcast morning.

LINKS: 2010 Parade Photos | Parade Guide | Parade: Then & Now Pics | Weather | Traffic & Transit

WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell Reports

107145746 10 Massive Turnout In Big Apple For Thanksgiving Parade

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (credit: Getty Images)

Along with the turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been a Thanksgiving tradition for more than 80 years. Millions of people lined the streets of Manhattan to get an up close look at the 58 balloons, 27 floats, 1,600 cheerleaders, 12 marching bands, and 800 clowns for the 84th annual celebration.

From Shrek to Spider-Man, all the heavy hitters showed up in big fashion Thursday. The Big Apple’s friendly neighborhood wall-crawler has a new fan in Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He said in a CBS interview that he had traditionally favored Snoopy, but after the Marvel Entertainment character was involved in a recent event promoting city services for job-seekers, “Spidey is my new favorite.”

This was Madeline Marr’s first time here, and she showed up early to get a front row seat. “Since 4:45, I stayed the whole time since now,” the 9-year-old said. “It is cold!”

So did Stephanie Murphy, who lives just two blocks away and comes every year, but this was her first time up close. “It’s just exciting. It’s part of thanksgiving it’s part of New York, it’s part of I don’t know….celebrating!”

Around 8,000 people marched, floated and anchored down balloons through the streets of Manhattan, but that was nothing compared to the nearly 4 million who bundled up and huddled in to get a glimpse of their favorite characters.

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Surveying the scene with four of her relatives, Emily Hine confessed that she’d initially been loath to come from Boyertown, Pa., about 100 miles southwest of Manhattan.

“I was dreading the crowds, but I’m enjoying it more than I anticipated,” she said, adding that the balloons are bigger than she’d imagined from watching previous years’ parades on TV. “It’s more up-close and personal.”

Other celebrities at the parade include India Arie, Keri Hilson, Arlo Guthrie and Miranda Cosgrove.

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Standing on a stepladder her family had brought from Mamaroneck, a New York City suburb, 9-year-old Melissa Machado was looking out for Victoria Justice, the star of Nickelodeon’s “Victorious.”

“She’s a famous person, and I always see her shows,” Melissa explained after the actress-singer passed by on the Build-A-Bear Workshop float.

Emily Rowlinson, a tourist from London, squealed and snapped pictures with her cell phone as the massive Smurf balloon floated by a packed sidewalk along the route.

“We don’t have anything like this in England,” she exclaimed. “We have parades. We don’t have any sort of huge, floating beasts. It’s very cool.”

“Kung Fu Panda, Spongebob, Spiderman,” 12-year-old Jordan Medina recounted.

As millions more watched the live broadcast on television, revelers gathered nationwide for other parades in cities such as Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Entertainers on tap in New York included Kanye West, Gladys Knight and Colombian rocker Juanes. The Broadway casts of “American Idiot” and “Elf” performed, along with marching bands from across the United States.

Perched on her father’s shoulders, 16-month-old Stella Laracque wriggled and danced with excitement as SpongeBob SquarePants, Hello Kitty, Shrek and other beloved figures wafted past her.

“She doesn’t really know the characters, but she’s loving it,” said her father, Mike Laracque of Manhattan.

“I got two celebrities to point at me! I got Miranda Cosgrove and that one guy on Big Time Rush,” said an excited 10-year-old Isaiah McDaniels.

Another new balloon character was Virginia O’Hanlon, the 8-year-old girl whose letter to the editor elicited the response, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Speaking of whom, what would the Parade be without the big man himself? As always, a jubilant Santa was the big show’s big star, officially ushering in the Christmas season. A huge cheer erupted as he passed by a crowd gathered about midway along the route.

The Macy’s parade started in 1924 when employees from the department store marched in costume from Harlem to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street. The parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 because rubber and helium were needed for World War II, making Thursday’s parade the 84th.

The parade followed the route it inaugurated last year, starting on Central Park West and proceeding down Seventh and Sixth avenues to 34th Street. The route had to be changed when vehicles were banned from parts of Broadway.

Workers had removed street lights and traffic lights to make way for the massive balloons and were standing by to replace the equipment.

“As soon as Santa Claus drives by, the poles go back up,” said Tom Carola, a worker with an electrical-contracting company hired by the city.

Organizers were also watching the wind closely throughout the course of the parade to determine just how high the giant balloons should fly.

“We have what we call a “Flight Profile,'” John Piper, of Macy’s, said. ” What we’ve done with our whole engineering team is to tell us what is the maximum safe flying height for that balloon.”

Gusty winds that blew through New York Wednesday diminished dramatically by Thursday morning. In 1997, a gust of wind blew the Cat In The Hat balloon into a lught police, which then fell and injured several people.

WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reports

In Detroit, a morning drizzle and chilly temperatures weren’t enough to keep John and Matt Fisher from attending that city’s parade.

The father and son from Hamtramck, Mich., had their RV set up a day ahead of time and by Thursday morning had a prime spot for watching it — equipped with coffee, hot cocoa, soup and chili dogs.

“Got to see Santa,” said John Fisher, 53. “If we don’t see Santa, we’re not sure he’s gonna bring presents.”

A block away, a German exchange student was watching his first Thanksgiving parade.

“This is great,” said Jonah Boyd, 16, of Hamburg, who didn’t know much about the American holiday before arriving in South Lyon, Mich., where he is staying with a host family. “All I knew was that people ate turkey.”

Before the race, Boyd, his girlfriend and her family watched thousands of runners take part in the annual Turkey Trot race. A similar race in Buffalo, N.Y., attracted more than 12,000 runners, the most ever in the event’s 115-year-history, organizers said.

Many participants in Detroit wore costumes: One ran in a Santa suit, complete with sack. An elf was spotted as well. Others were wearing Halloween-type outfits, including runners dressed as Iron Man and Captain America.

Perhaps the most appropriate attire belonged to the two Turkey Trotters wearing turkey hats.

(TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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