NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Millions of people lined the streets of New York City Thursday for the 86th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The parade stepped off at 9 a.m from 77th and Central Park West with more than 3 million people in attendance and another 50 million watching on TV.

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PHOTOS: 86th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

There were some new characters to Macy’s lineup of  giant balloons this year, including Elf on a Shelf and Papa Smurf and a new version of Hello Kitty.

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg reports

Parade classics like Kermit the Frog, Mickey Mouse, Spongebob Squarepants and Spider-Man, along with hundreds of clowns, 28 floats, bands, performers also made their way down the parade route.

A giant Mickey Mouse balloon floats by during the 86th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012 (credit: Juliet Papa/1010 WINS)

This year, the city gave away 5,000 seats to the parade to families hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy.

“It was very difficult, but days like these are nice,” said Diane Plataroti, whose family was without power for 10 days after Sandy.

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Many say the bright balloons and annual tradition would give a much-needed lift to the city and to storm survivors still rebuilding.

Thomas Share who lives on Beach 117th street in the Rockaways cheers during the 86th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 22, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Andrew Kelly/Getty Images)

“It means a lot,” said Karen Panetta of Queens as she sat in a special viewing section for storm victims. “We’re thankful to be here and actually be a family and to feel like life’s a little normal today.”

Organizers said the high-flying parade showed that not even Sandy can hold New Yorkers down.

WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reports

“It’s a joyous occasion and a time for renewal and to lift everybody’s spirit and that’s what we’re going to do,” said
Amy Kule, executive producer of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

After stepping off from 77th and Central Park West, the parade continued south to Columbus Circle where it turned onto 59th Street. It then headed downtown on Sixth Avenue and stays on the Avenue of the Americas all the way to 34th Street and Macy’s.

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